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It has been a long pending dream for my dad to travel to Dubai. Although my brother and I weren’t keen on going to Dubai, we finally gave in and decided to do a family trip together to Dubai for a week in November 2018 during Diwali holidays.
Considering many Indians travel to Dubai quite frequently, I assumed it’s going to be an easy ride for the visa. However, I wasn’t ready for what came next.
I soon found out that the UAE Embassy doesn’t get involved in issuing visas to ordinary citizens.
On the other hand, you can get your visas issued through half a dozen means, and that’s the problem. As a lot of different entities are involved in issuing the visa, there is no regularity and they charge invariably different prices confusing the customers further.
Dubai visa has to be one of the trickiest visas I’ve applied to date. Not because there’s a lot of paperwork involved — there isn’t.
Just that there are many ways to apply for a UAE visa.
Visa on Arrival with a US visa
This is probably the easiest and fastest of them all. If you have a US visa on your Indian passport, then you can get a visa on arrival on arriving at the port of entry in UAE for a maximum of 14 days. The entry permit to UAE will cost AED 100, renewable for only one time at a cost of AED 250. US visa is definitely beneficial to have if you travel internationally quite often. If you don’t have a US visa yet, it’s about time you apply for one!
Request your relative in UAE to apply for a tourist visa for you
If you have any relatives living and working in Dubai, then they can apply for a tourist visa for you. Check this post for more details on the same.
Request your hotel in UAE for an invite
I was staying in Hotel Ibis Central in Dubai for 3 days. So thought of checking with them first regarding the tourist visa.
I asked my hotel Ibis Central in Dubai for the invite. And they told me that it would cost AED 345 (along with insurance of AED 40). Also, it would take approximately 5 working days and a deposit of AED 5000 per requested visa as an assurance. The deposit would only be transferred back once you send them a copy of your exit stamp within 3-4 weeks. This seemed too much of a hassle and unnecessary complication, so I decided to do to not take this approach.
Check with your UAE tour operator if they provide UAE visit visa
If you have booked for say – Desert safari or Dubai or Abu Dhabi tours already, then you can check with the tour operators to apply for a tourist visa for you. I haven’t reached out to any tour operator for the visa, and I’ll update this section once I find a relevant and reliable tour operator to apply for visa services.
Directly apply for UAE tourist visa through Emirates/Etihad post flight booking
Emirates airline has made the tricky UAE visa process easy by having an option to apply for tourist visa directly from their website. If you are booking your flights through Emirates or Etihad airlines and don’t have a US visa, then this would definitely the best option.
Apply for a Dubai Tourist visa through a travel agent based out of India
After vetting out most of the options, I started panicking about the visa situation as I had less than a week to go for the trip. I finally decided to approach an online travel agent based out of India to apply for our UAE visa.
If you go through a travel agent as I did, you’ll find there are one too many providing assistance to UAE visas, each with their own set of rules.
Here are a few of the online agents that I reached out to and my experience with them. Turns out, all of these travel agents, in turn, apply for tourist visas through an agent based out of Dubai.
I found their price too steep. They quoted Rs. 8000 per person for the express visa. I found later that express visas are used when you’ve around 3 days or lesser for your departure. In my case, since I had just less than a week to go for the visa, this was completely unnecessary. And they weren’t frank me with me regarding this. So, I decided not to go ahead with them. I would definitely think twice before availing of their services the next time.
Musafir quoted Rs. 6200/- per person for 14 days UAE tourist visa. They requested the following documents from my side – Scanned passport and photo and PAN copy and confirmed return air ticket. They shared the payment link with me to make the payment. I was in talks with Thomas Cook at the time, and I liked their experience better, so I decided to go with Thomas Cook.
Thomas Cook quoted around Rs. 6100 per person. And I was glad that they asked for the application form — none of the others did. When it comes to visas, I feel more the documents, the better. I also found the agent to be more knowledgeable than Musafir or Akbar Travels. So it was an easy choice to go with them.
I was applying for a visa for me and my family. They shared a payment link with me, and soon after I made the payment, they started with our applications.
I was only able to submit about a week prior to my travel. So, I wasn’t sure if I needed to go for an express visa facility which would cost another Rs. 1000. And Akbar Travels suggested me to go for it. Also, the Musafir agent seems to be quite shocked that I’m booking the visa only a week before the travel and pushed me towards an express visa as well. Only the Thomas Cook agent convinced me that the express visa is not necessary as I still have time and that I can go for normal processing. So, it only made sense for me to go to the Thomas Cook agent as they were clear and forthright with their customers.
I found out about this option much later. iVisa provides visa services all over the globe. They have good customer reviews as well. But they are slightly more expensive than the options mentioned above. If you haven’t booked through Emirates or Etihad airlines, then iVisa might be the next best option.
Booking UAE return flights
I found reasonably priced flight tickets to Dubai two weeks prior to our intended travel date through Oman Air, and I booked it right away. The return flights to Dubai with a layover in Oman came up to about Rs. 16000 per person.
Once I started my visa process, I was soon going to find out that applying through Oman Air comes with an added caveat of getting something called ‘Ok to Board’. Till now, I had never heard anything about this. And when I checked with few of my friends who visited Dubai recently, I realized that Ok to Board varies from airline to airline. The contradictory opinions online about Ok to Board with regards to Oman Air didn’t help either.
What I had anticipated would be a quick process of submitting a few documents soon spiraled into a frantic researching spree while chasing a tight deadline.
I sought the help of facebook groups and the opinion about Ok to Board varied there as well.
Ok to Board
The only problem I had with the Thomas Cook agent is that they seem to think that Ok to Board wasn’t required for us.
I then contacted the Oman Air call center, and they told me clearly that Ok to Board is mandatory without which I won’t be allowed to board a plane. I’m writing it here so that you can save the time I didn’t.
So, what’s Ok to Board exactly? And why is Ok to Board needed when you already have the visa?
Turns out, Ok to Board is basically a confirmation from the airlines, that they can let the passengers onboard. Apparently, there are a lot of fake UAE visas in circulation, that the airlines decided to have another level of scrutiny before letting the passengers board the flight to UAE.
Ok to Board is applicable for passengers boarding through Indigo Airlines, Air India, Air India Express, Emirates and Etihad with ECR (Emigration Check Required) passport. If you are traveling with the above airlines, but have ECNR (Emigration Check Not Required) passports, then Ok to Board is not needed.
Or the other hand, all passengers traveling through airlines like Spice Jet, Air Arabia, Fly Dubai, Kuwait Airways, Gulf Air, Oman Air, SriLankan Airlines required OK to Board with ECR passports or not.
So, what are ECNR passports? By default, Indian passports are ECNR passports if the candidate is Class X pass or pays income tax. Usually, blue-collar workers fall into this category.
UAE Tourist Visa Confirmation
We received our single-entry tourist visas with a validity of about 2 months just a day after the application was submitted. Please note that the visa processing duration varies, so make sure you apply for visa latest by 10 working days to avoid headaches.
I received a single-entry short-term visa valid for 58 days from the date of issue, and valid for 30 days stay.
Ok to Board Confirmation
Once I got my visa confirmed, I decided to sort out the Ok to Board hassle. Since there was an office of Oman Air in Bangalore, I thought of skipping the agents and getting it done myself. Turns out, all you have to do is walk into the office and provide your visa and return tickets, and you’re good to go. I received a confirmation number approved by the airlines that we are now ‘Ok to Board’.
Ok to Board would have cost another Rs. 500 to go through the agent while it was done at no extra charge at the office. If you are walking into the office, then reserve around 30 minutes of your time there. The only problem arises when you don’t have the airlines office in your city or it would consume too much time that it’s better delegated to the travel agent. In that case, contact airlines first to confirm if you need Ok to Board or not, and then approach a travel agent to get it done for you. You’d need at least 1-2 days for the process is done through an agent.
Please note that Ok to Board stipulation is a flight requirement. So, your airlines would have a final say in it. No matter what your travel agents confirm, make sure you check with the airlines on how to proceed. I further enquired about it at the airline counter at the airport as well, and they confirmed that it’s indeed needed. Without which they won’t allow you to board the flight. However, the policies keep changing, and no one knows for sure what’s happening — least of all travel agents. So make sure to check with the airline.
Documents to be submitted for UAE visa
- Scanned copy of the front and back pages of the passport
- Copy of the PAN card
- A scanned color copy of the passport-sized photograph taken against a white background (Please make sure you scan this through a real scanner and not just take a photo of it)
- Confirmed air ticket (Some say it’s mandatory, and some don’t)
- Filled application form (Only Thomas Cook asked me for this. And it seemed more genuine as they were asking for it. That’s one of the main reasons I went with them)
I received the soft copy of the UAE visa in my email through the travel agent.
Tips before applying for UAE visit Visa
- Friday is a holiday in the UAE. So, plan in advance to receive the visa if you’re traveling over the weekend.
- It’s always a good idea to book for fully refundable flight tickets when you’re unsure about the visa.
- Always confirm with your airlines if Ok to Board is required or not.
If you have any concerns while applying for UAE visa, feel free to drop in a comment below, and I’ll try my best to answer your question.
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