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Updated 15 September 2021

After enduring months of doubt and uncertainty, thousands of UAE residents stranded in their home countries due to the current travel suspension can now finally breathe a sigh of relief as the government announced a special category of residents now permitted to re-enter the country.

Entry is subject to the appropriate return permit based on their issued visa and destination. For non-UAE residents travelling from certain countries, approval from the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship (ICA) must first be obtained, and, if they’re residing in Dubai, approval from the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA) is also required.

The following is the breakdown of the return permits for residents outside of the UAE.

ICA approval required for UAE residents from specified countries

First and foremost, if you’re a holder of a Dubai residence visa travelling from a restricted country, GDRFA approval is required for your return to Dubai apart from the ICA approval. All other residence visa holders need not apply for the GDRFA approval. 

Please note that Dubai residents arriving from Bangladesh, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Uganda, Vietnam, and Zambia are required to obtain both the GDRFA approval and the ICA approval.

Dubai residents

Apart from obtaining the GDRFA and ICA approval, UAE residents from the above-specified countries must also ensure that they are able to satisfy all the necessary entry requirements to Dubai as outlined below.
  • UAE Residence Visa holders must have GDRFA or ICA approval to enter the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This does not apply to passengers who have other visas, such as newly issued residence or employment visas, short stay or long stay visas, visit visas or visas on arrival.
  • Passengers arriving from the countries above must present a negative COVID‑19 PCR test certificate with a QR code issued within 48 hours prior to departure from an approved health facility.
  • Passengers must also present a Rapid PCR test report with a QR code for a test conducted at the departure airport within six hours of departure.

Passengers travelling from other countries must have a negative COVID‑19 RT PCR test certificate for a test taken no more than 72 hours before departure.

For passengers travelling to Dubai as their final destination from Bangladesh, Nigeria, Vietnam and Zambia travel is currently not possible as there are no rapid PCR testing facilities at the airport.

COVID‑19 PCR test exemptions:

  • All UAE nationals returning to Dubai from any country are exempted from the pre‑departure COVID‑19 PCR test requirements but must take a PCR test on arrival.
  • Non‑UAE nationals accompanying a first‑degree UAE national family member and domestic workers accompanying a UAE national sponsor are also exempted from the pre‑departure COVID‑19 PCR test requirements but must take a PCR test on arrival.
  • Children below 12 years old and passengers with moderate to severe disabilities

Dubai testing requirements

All passengers travelling to Dubai from any point of origin (GCC countries included) must hold a negative COVID 19 RT‑PCR test certificate for a test taken no more than 72 hours before departure, except for travel from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Uganda, Vietnam, Zambia (for which specific requirements are stated above).

The certificate must be a Reverse Transcription‑Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT‑PCR) test. Other test certificates including antibody tests, NHS COVID Test certificates, Rapid PCR tests and home testing kits are not accepted in Dubai. Travellers must bring an official printed or digital certificate in English or Arabic to check in – SMS certificates are not accepted. PCR certificates in other languages are acceptable if they can be validated at the originating station.

COVID‑19 RT‑PCR test certificates must be issued by an authorised facility in the passenger’s departure country. Certificates that have already been presented for travel to another destination can’t be used for re‑entry even if they are still within the validity period.

For passengers arriving from the following countries, it is mandatory that the COVID‑19 RT‑PCR report includes a QR code linked to the original report for verification purposes. The QR code must be presented at check‑in and to representatives of the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) upon arrival in Dubai airports: Indonesia, Sudan, Lebanon, Egypt and Ethiopia.

Note, Indian Nationals with a normal passport who are travelling to or from India via Dubai can obtain a visa on arrival in Dubai for a maximum stay of 14 days provided they:

  • have a visitor visa or a green card issued by the United States, or
  • a residence visa issued by the United Kingdom or European Union


Test on arrival

Passengers arriving in Dubai from the following countries will be required to take another COVID‑19 PCR test on arrival at Dubai International airport:

Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Cambodia, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Georgia, Ghana, Greece, Guinea, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Poland, Philippines, Qatar, Rwanda, Russia, Senegal, Slovakia, Somaliland, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe.

Transiting in Dubai

All transit passengers must complete all the requirements of their final destination.

Transit passengers from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Uganda, Vietnam, Zambia, and Indonesia must present a negative COVID‑19 PCR test certificate for a test taken no more than 72 hours before departure:

All other transit passengers are not required to present this certificate unless it is mandated by their final destination.

Test exemptions:

  • UAE nationals are exempt from taking a COVID‑19 PCR test before departing for Dubai. They must be tested on arrival in Dubai, irrespective if they are holding a valid negative COVID‑19 RT‑PCR certificate from the point of origin.
    This is also applicable for:
    • Passengers accompanying a 1st degree UAE nationals’ relative or domestic workers
    • Domestic workers escorting a UAE national sponsor during travel.
  • Children under the age of 12 and passengers who have a moderate or severe disability are exempt from taking a COVID‑19 RT‑PCR test.
    • Moderate or severe disability includes neurological disorders and intellectual or developmental disabilities. For example: Acute spinal cord injury, Alzheimer’s disease, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Ataxia, Autism spectrum, Bell’s palsy, Brain tumours, Cerebral aneurysm, Cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, Epilepsy and seizures
    • All other passengers, including those who are visually impaired, hearing impaired or physically challenged must hold a negative COVID‑19 RT‑PCR test certificate as per the requirements.
  • There may be specific test exemptions in your country of origin and final destination. Please check the requirements before you travel.


COVID‑19 testing laboratories:

  • The UAE government has specified designated laboratories. You can either use the recommended laboratories in the list or any trusted and certified laboratories in your country of origin to get your COVID‑19 RT‑PCR test.
  • If you are flying from India, Pakistan, Nigeria or Bangladesh , you must get your certificate from one of the labs listed in the designated laboratories document to be accepted on the flight.


When you arrive

  • You may need to take another COVID‑19 PCR test on arrival. If you take a test at the airport, you must remain in your residence until you receive the test result.
  • If the test result is positive, you will be required to undergo isolation and follow the Dubai Health Authority guidelines.
  • You must also download the COVID19 – DXB Smart App for both iOS and Android


Rules for travel from the United Kingdom

All passengers travelling to Dubai from the UK must hold a negative COVID‑19 PCR test certificate for a test taken no more than 72 hours before departure and the certificate must be a Reverse Transcription‑Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT‑PCR) test. Note that NHS Covid Test certificates are not accepted for travel from the United Kingdom.

UAE Nationals travelling to Dubai are exempted from COVID‑19 testing requirements prior to departure but will be subject to a COVID‑19 PCR test on arrival in Dubai.


Abu Dhabi residents

Expat residents looking to return to Abu Dhabi are permitted to do so providing they have obtained the ICA approval beforehand. We also recommend you visit the ICA smart services and enter your passport number, Emirates ID number, nationality and passport type to receive instant verification of your entry status before making your way to Abu Dhabi. 

You must also ensure that you have been fully vaccinated with a vaccine approved in the UAE and hold an official vaccination certificate issued and approved either by relevant authorities in the UAE or abroad. At least 14 days must have passed since the last required dose of the vaccine was administered.

However, as per NCEMA’s announcement, some returning residents are exempt from the vaccination requirement. The exemptions extend to medical and other healthcare personnel working in the UAE, they will be allowed to return regardless of their vaccination status provided other conditions are met.

If you are travelling to Abu Dhabi, you must follow these additional rules:

  • take the PCR test 72 hours before your flight, if you are flying from the United Kingdom
  • download the ALHOSN UAE app on your mobile phones before you travel to Abu Dhabi
  • undergo a thermal screening and another COVID-19 PCR testing on arrival at Abu Dhabi airport.

The rules apply to all travellers, except children under the age of 12.


ICA Smart Services

To obtain the ICA approval, make sure to take advantage of the ICA Smart Services program. Residents looking to return to the UAE may access various services pertaining to visa inquiries, permit inquiries, payment of fees and fines and personal information updates.


A step-by-step guide for all returnees: a quick recap

To sum things up, please take a look at our following step-by-step guide for your return to the UAE.

Step 1: Ensure that your documents are valid. You may do so by registering yourself to the ICA Smart Services here

Step 2: Learn about the rules and requirements of both your airline and airport. Also, please check for any pre-travel approvals set by your country of departure. 

Step 3: Conduct an RT-PCR test at designated laboratories. Be sure to bring the test certificate with you.

Step 4: Book your ticket.

Step 4: Ensure that you have the Al Hosn app installed. Dubai residents are also required to install the DXB Smart App.

Step 5: On your departure date, make sure you arrive at the airport early and have your PPE ready.