My journey from London Heathrow to Dubai…

A number of UAE residents found themselves stuck abroad, after the UAE temporarily suspended entry into the country on Thursday, March 19, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

I happened to be one of those residents. Following a quick trip home to the UK in March, I was due to fly back to Dubai that particular Thursday. Instead, I woke to the news that UAE airports had closed… and with it came the uncertainty that many fellow UAE residents unable to return have felt.

Now, safely ensconced in my Dubai apartment, after three months in the UK, I’m here to tell you everything you need to know if you’re yet to return to the UAE.

From approval to arrival, here is my firsthand account of returning to the UAE… 

Approval

Over the past three months, there have been many different registration forms to apply to return to the UAE. It started with the Twajudi form, and after that, came the ICA approval form. Then, some good news arrived that residents would be welcomed back from June 22. With that came a brand new form, which can be found on the General Directorate of Residency and Foreign Affairs (GDRFA) website. 

If you’re stuck, here’s a step by step process:

  1. All you’ll need to fill out the GDRFA approval form is your passport, visa and Emirates ID
  2. Enter your visa number, country and year of birth
  3. Enter the country you’re travelling from and the port you’re arriving in (Dubai International Airport DXB)
  4. Enter your email address
  5. Upload copies of your documents – visa, passport and Emirates ID
  6. It will take you to a payment page, but don’t panic as it’s classed ‘Free of Charge’
  7. Submit your application
  8. Your application will be marked ‘under process’, for which you’ll receive an email

I received my approval in just over 24 hours after submitting my application.

Booking your flight

When booking your flight, simply ring Emirates. If you had a flight booked already that you were unable to board due to the travel restrictions, just tell the operator your ticket number and they will change the booking to your preferred flight. You will need to quote your unique GDRFA approval number in order to successfully book your flight. 

Check in

Check-in at the airport is a relatively simple process (except if the baggage carousel stops working and your plane is delayed, which happened in my case). I flew from London Heathrow (LHR), where everyone in the airport was wearing face masks (which is mandatory) as were the Emirates staff who were stationed behind perspex screens. After handing over your passport, you will need to quote your GDRFA approval number so make sure you have it handy.

The flight

The Emirates flight was a very calm experience. Social distancing was observed in seating. Those on a row of three were sat next to the window with the whole row to themselves. Those on a row of four were positioned at either end of the row.

Emirates staff, who are wearing full PPE, handed out sanitisation boxes to every passenger, which include a face mask, disposable gloves, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitiser.

You will be served food twice throughout the flight. The first was a tray meal with a choice of chicken or vegetarian, and the second was a sandwich.

Upon disembarking the flight, you will need to hand Emirates flight staff a health declaration form and a quarantine undertaking form. Both forms should be printed and filled out at home prior to your flight.

Arrival into Dubai International Airport

I wasn’t sure what to expect upon arrival, however it was a seamless experience from start to finish. Walking through to immigration, the airport was so calm and quiet.

Stationed in front of the usual immigration desks are a number of registration desks, where you’ll hand over your passport and your Dubai contact number, and then pick up another form.

Once through, you’ll be directed to the Covid-19 test centre booths. The swab test takes no more than four seconds. It is uncomfortable but manageable.

You’ll be required to fill out the form you collected from the registration desk and download a new app, named the Covid-19 – DXB Smart App, available for iOS and Android.Then simply grab your suitcase from the carousel and off you go.

From the plane to the taxi, it took no more than 40 minutes.

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Do you need to have proof of being Covid-19 free before boarding?

There have been a number of conflicting reports about whether UAE residents stranded outside the country must take a test in a UAE-approved laboratory in their own country before boarding the plane to the UAE.

When I spoke to Emirates prior to rebooking my flight, they’d been informed that this was not the case for Dubai, and that people with a valid Dubai residency would be able to travel and take the test when they arrive at DXB airport.

It’s best to speak to Emirates or check information on the ‘Flying you back to Dubai’ page on the website.

Results from your Covid-19 test

I received my negative Covid-19 result via text within 24 hours of taking the test. Once this has been received, you do not need to quarantine, but will need to do so until then.

Now to get back to exploring Dubai…

Image: Getty