The Canada vs. UAE Visa Dispute
The United Arab Emirates rocks. There’s the showiness of that brash upstart Dubai, the refined grandeur of splendid old Abu Dhabi, and the allure of the underrated oasis town nicknamed “Garden City” — Al Ain. Even that empty desert-y bit. That’s pretty sexy too.
But it all sucks if you’re Canadian.
And the suck factor rises exponentially if you’re a Canadian in Oman trying to get into the UAE. Here’s why.
When I went to the UAE back in 2006, Canadians did not need a pre-arranged visa to enter the country – a visa-on-arrival was freely issued at the airport. Hand ‘em your passport, state your business, and voilà – 30 days to explore. (Did I mention it was free?) But now? Now there are more hoops than Barnum & Bailey. And wildly expensive hoops at that.
During the time I went to the UAE, the cost for a 30-day non-renewable visa for Canadians was $250 Canadian (CAD). If you wanted a three-month stay visa, the cost was $500 CAD, or you could go all out and pay $1,000 CAD for a multiple-entry six-month visa.
Okay, I thought, this is not so bad. The UAE is close. So close you can almost smell the money wafting over the sand dunes. We have a car here so I can drive to the Oman/UAE border to at least save on airfare. Dubai is a only 4.5 hour drive from Muscat; Abu Dhabi is 5.
After tracking down the phone number for the United Arab Emirates embassy in Muscat, I asked if it was possible to get a visa there and drive across the border. “I’m not sure,” was the response. So he gave me the phone number for the guard station at the actual border crossing. “Oh yes, if you have visa no problem,” said the cherry-sounding chap there. So off to the UAE Embassy in Muscat I went; grudge-bearing Omani rials in one hand, visa-yearning passport in the other.
“Oh no, we only offer diplomatic visas here.”
Christ. “So no way at all to get a visa for the UAE here in Muscat?”
“Only through your hotel in the UAE or an airline.”
Turns out, if you book a return ticket online with Emirates Airlines, you can get a 96-hour transit visa for $61.50 CAD. Etihad Airlines offers a similar 96-hour visa if you’re flying into Abu Dhabi. The cost is $68. (Check out the ridiculous job titles that appear on the visa application.)
The thing is though, you have to fly into one of those two cities. So much for having a car.
What to do. What to do.
In the end, Federico dropped me off at the airport here in Muscat, and then drove to the Dubai airport to meet me. Since he’s Italian, he got the visa-free treatment at the UAE border (plus a few hive-fives of “Go AC Milan!”) Cost for him? A tank of gas (about $15 CAD – gasoline is really cheap here.) Cost for me? With flight and visa it was $221. Still cheaper than $250 for that 30-day visa, but certainly not cheaper than free.
Anatomy of a Kerfuffle
So why the sky-high fees? Here’s an annotated timeline of what led to the visa fees for Canadians:
– October 2007: Emirates Airlines starts to fly into Toronto three times a week. Etihad Airlines follows suit with three of its own shortly after. The UAE wants more.
– Sometime in 2010: Canada offers up more flights to Vancouver and Calgary, but with reduced capacity to Toronto. “In the name of Allah, we want more Toronto!” says the UAE, adding: “P.S. What’s a Calgary?”
– October 2010: Tired of years of negotiations with no progress, the UAE shuts down Camp Mirage – a military base in Dubai that the Canadian military has used rent-free for years. Cost to Canadian taxpayers: $300 million CAD.
– October 2010: Canada’s chief knuckle- and heel-dragger, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is all like: “Oh no they didn’t!”
– October 2010: Canada’s Defence Minister Peter MacKay finds out “Oh yes they did!” when his military C-17 jumbo transport plane is denied landing at the base.
– November 2010: UAE announces that starting January 1, 2011 Canadians will require a visa to enter the country.
– January 2011: After seeing the visa prices, a collective wetting of the pants for Canadians who actually know where the UAE is. Many contemplate the drastic step of obtaining US citizenship, since visum USA is still free.
How Nuclear Energy Almost Saved Me $85
It’s not all tit-for-tat though, there’s a dash of olive-branching lately as well. In September of this year, Canada and the UAE signed a deal that would see Canada help the UAE hop on the nuclear energy bandwagon. The UAE responds by lowering the visa fees by 25%.
Nuclear power as a symbol of peace. Now that’s rich.