Dubai eases restrictions for returning residents, tourists and outbound travel


The emirate of Dubai has announced and set up an alternate procedure to the federal process for those Dubai residents wishing to return, effective immediately. In lieu of applying through the federal authority, the new procedure is processed by Dubai's immigration department and promises an 'instant response'. The divergence of Dubai's regulations from federal rules is also seen with the emirate announcing that tourists will be also permitted to travel into the emirate effective 7 July 2020, with the requirement that a recent COVID-19 negative certificate is presented, alternatively one needs to undergo testing at the Dubai airport. Travel from Dubai to other countries will also be permitted for residents from 23 June 2020. Further, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) federal government has itself also announced that it will be establishing further protocols to enable increased travel of its residents from the UAE to other countries.

An in-depth overview of the current situation

Dubai's Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management announced alternate procedures to the federal process for those Dubai residents (holding a Dubai-issued visa) wishing to return. This application for return will now be processed by Dubai's own immigration department, the General Directorate for Residency and Foreign Affairs – Dubai (GDRFA), and promises an 'instant response'. The GDRFA approval is associated with an Application Number, which is used to enable the booking of a flight to return to Dubai through the Emirates airline website. As yet, other airlines have not commenced regular flights to Dubai.

This process replaces the federal application system under the aegis of the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship (ICA). Residents of other emirates must continue to use this system until and unless the UAE federal authorities announce otherwise. These changes mark a divergence of Dubai emirate regulations around travel restrictions from federal rules that apply to the rest of the country. Even within the country, the emirate of Abu Dhabi has restrictions on travel to Dubai and on those in Dubai entering from entering the Abu Dhabi emirate.

Dubai residents returning to the emirate from abroad must also adhere to strict on-arrival procedures, including testing on arrival, self or designated-hotel quarantine until the test results are issued (and quarantine extended to 14 days if positive), the use of a smartphone tracking app (the COVID-19 DXB), and adherence to the latest protocols in place at time of arrival. In addition, every passenger coming into the emirate must present a complete health declaration form and quarantine undertaking form. Where employers are responsible for an employee's accommodation which is not suitable for quarantine, they may be required to arrange for alternate suitable accommodation.

Tourists will be permitted to travel into the country from 7 July 2020, with the requirement that a recent COVID-19 negative certificate is presented. This must have been issued four days (96 hours) before departure; alternatively, tourists will be required to undergo testing at Dubai airports. Regulations for tourists intending to travel to Dubai include the downloading and activating of the smartphone tracking app, completing a health declaration form before travel, and ensuring that valid health insurance is in place. 

Travel from Dubai will also be permitted for residents from 23 June 2020 with 'no restrictions' subject to host country rules. Only a health declaration form confirming that the person has no COVID-19 symptoms must be completed before departing, and the same rules above apply when intending to return to the emirate.

At a federal level, the UAE announced last week that it will be establishing procedures to enable increased travel of its residents abroad. This includes categorisation of destination countries under differing risk levels, with travel permitted to low risk countries, restricted travel to medium risk countries, and no travel permitted to high risk countries. Further announcements on this are expected in the coming days. It remains to be seen how the federal and Dubai emirate rules will be reconciled.

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