Amongst over 88 million passengers who travelled through the Dubai International Airport in 2017, nearly 50 million used this hub for transiting only, and of these, an estimated 46 million did not leave the airport while waiting for a connecting flight. These figures revealed by Dubai Airports and Dubai Media Office in March, show that average money spend per passenger, at the airport is AED 9 (USD 2.5), while a typical tourist who visits the city spends around AED 966 (USD 263). So, the local government now wants to harness this potential and promote the city experience among the transfer passengers – those with layover time beyond four hours will be encouraged to leave the airport and explore Dubai, whereas those with less time before departure for their next destination will be offered a virtual tour in an effort to tempt them to come back in the future.

But is it really that simple to transit through an airport in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and worldwide?

Transit without a visa in the UAE

In the UAE, passengers can benefit from the concept of transit without leaving the airport, a practice which is also referred to as ‘transit without visa’ or ‘TWOV’. Travellers can enjoy their shopping experience in the duty-free outlets or simply relax in an airport lounge without worrying about UAE immigration requirements. Unless they have been given boarding passes to their next destination before landing in the UAE, passengers should simply approach one of the ‘transit’ counters to get their boarding card as soon as they disembark the aircraft.

TWOV is possible only if the next flight departs from the same airport, therefore passengers arriving, for example, at the Dubai International Airport ‘DXB’, cannot benefit from the transfer without stepping out from the airport if their onward plane departs from Al Maktoum International Airport ‘DWC’ or from another Emirate.

The regional differentiators

Compared to other countries, the TWOV in the UAE is quite straightforward, but travellers must remember to carry valid documents that may be necessary for another destination. This may be required for the issuance of boarding passes. Many countries, including countries in Europe, request prior notice from inbound carriers including transiting passengers’ names, nationalities and even seat numbers, to allow the TWOV. This is, however, likely to happen without the passenger’s knowledge.

In some jurisdictions (e.g., in Egypt), the TWOV is restricted to select nationalities, and in others, the maximum layover between the flights must not exceed a certain amount of time (e.g., in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the UAE the next flight must be within 24 hours). In Saudi Arabia, the next flight must be within 12 hours and no more than one stop-over is permitted; moreover, the TWOV applies only to international airports in Dammam, Jeddah and Riyadh. In Kuwait, those in transit for more than eight hours must be accommodated in the airport transit hotel, a service that sometimes comes as one package provided by tourist agencies or airlines.

Transit without a visa – restrictions

But some countries do not recognize the concept of the TWOV. Something that is quite obvious in one part of the globe is not necessarily mirrored by the regulations in other countries, such as the United States, where transit facilities do not exist and passengers who do not possess a valid visitor visa or who are not from a country that participates in the U.S. visa waiver program must generally apply for a transit visa. In Europe, the TWOV is not possible for travellers from a non-Schengen country arriving in a Schengen Member State and travelling onward to another Schengen destination; in such cases the passengers will be subject to a passport inspection and must have the proper authorisation allowing them admission to the first country of arrival, however, there will be no passport control for their next flight, within the Schengen area, which will be considered to be domestic.

The new airport campaign launched by the Government of Dubai will be beneficial mostly to those who can enjoy entry with no pre-arranged visa, including citizens of countries eligible for visa-free entry or a visa-on-arrival for the UAE. All other passengers will be required to arrange a visa prior to travel or obtain a 96-hour transit visa upon arrival, if they meet the specific conditions. So, considering that different countries have different immigration regulations, it is prudent for passengers to verify their transit options in advance and ensure that they comply with all entry regulations where necessary.