United Arab Emirates Relaxes Visa Restrictions to Get Chinese Shoppers Past the Airport

The cabinet in Abu Dhabi has adopted the decision to allow Chinese visitors visas on arrival when they enter the United Arab Emirates in an effort to further stimulate Chinese investment, trade, and tourism. The decision is expected to give retailers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi a boost as the United Arab Emirates has become a key transit hub between China and destinations in Europe and Africa.

Currently, Chinese nationals are required to apply for a UAE visa before entering the country, which typically requires a $90 fee, filling out a visa application form, and presenting various pieces of documentation that prove identity and the duration of stay in the UAE. Additionally, Chinese nationals require a local sponsor for the visas, which is usually taken care of by a tour operator or a hotel of high enough caliber to provide this service. Transit passengers who do not intend to leave the airport before their connecting flight are not required to obtain a valid visa for the UAE.

The United Arab Emirates has already established itself as a business center for Chinese traders and is an important piece of the puzzle in China’s “Belt and Road” initiative that aims to improve cooperation and trade between China and countries across Eurasia. Roughly 350,000 Chinese people live and work in the United Arab Emirates, and a large part of its Chinese visitors are exclusively visiting the country for business-related reasons with limited spillover into the greater tourism and hospitality industry.

The decision will likely make a big difference as numerous major airlines such as UAE flag carriers Emirates and Etihad Airways, as well as Chinese carriers Air China and China Southern Airlines traffic a vast number of routes between Chinese cities and the UAE. In addition to their business traveler clientele, much of the capacity is utilized by Chinese travelers that seek to visit popular destinations throughout Europe. Although the UAE’s role as a place for Chinese layovers has proven lucrative for duty-free shops inside airport terminals, downtown malls and retailers have yet seen little of the layover windfall.

When the liberation of visa policies towards Chinese tourists has been rolled out, it can be expected that more Chinese layover passengers will opt to take a trip downtown to explore Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s vast shopping opportunities and extravagant malls. For Chinese travelers, it will present an excellent opportunity to pick up some additional goods on their return trips back to China. For the United Arab Emirates, it is expected to prove a driver for tourism revenue growth, particularly for convenient shopping experiences and shorter tourism experiences that can be enjoyed in the duration of a layover.

With complicated visa regulations out of the way and security a non-issue, the United Arab Emirates also has the opportunity to properly market itself as a primary destination for Chinese tourists. Whether that would be a fruitful venture remains to be seen, and some transit destinations have already surrendered to their main role as transportation hubs rather than the end-goal of a longer journey. Finland, for example, predominantly promotes itself as a layover destination in Asian markets with its campaign “Stopover Finland” and offers experiences catered to layover passengers’ limited time in the country. Needless to say, the relaxed visa policy presents the UAE with many new opportunities to profit from the global Chinese tourism boom.

The United Arab Emirates government has yet to announce an official implementation date of its new visa policy for Chinese travelers.

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Destinations, Travel