10 things visitors can do in Dubai that they couldn’t a decade ago

(CNN) — Champagne corks will be popping among the tourist communities of Dubai with the news that liquor licenses are to be granted to foreign visitors, in a softening of previously strict rules on alcohol consumption.

Under the new terms, non-Muslim visitors can apply for a 30-day license that allows them to purchase alcohol from designated outlets, to be accompanied by a code of conduct note with guidelines on responsible drinking.

The pace of change has been one of the few constants in the rapidly developing Emirate, which went from sleepy fishing community to global capital in the latter part of the 20th century. Development has continued apace ever since — and to culture and custom as well as skylines and shorelines.

Of course, the Gulf region is still socially conservative, and Westerners often face restrictions they would not encounter at home. But changes over the past decade are making life easier for foreign visitors.

We look at some of the new possibilities.


Own your own company

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has repealed the requirement that all businesses must be at least 51 per cent owned by a national, allowing for full foreign ownership of a company in the Emirates. Restrictions remain in place in industries such as oil exploration and security, but sectors including transport, hospitality and even space exploration are now up for grabs for expats.

Secure long-term residency rights

The UAE doesn’t offer foreigners permanent residency, and some foreign workers and students have been frustrated by a system of short-term visas that allowed for little security or forward planning. The UAE government has now responded by creating five and 10-year visas that can be applied for by investors, entrepreneurs, doctors, art and culture specialists, and “outstanding” students — and cover their families too. Of course, millions of foreign workers not meeting those criteria won’t be eligible.
University students with a distinction grade point average of at least 3.75 are among those now eligible for long-term visas in the UAE. Pictured, Middlesex University Dubai.

University students with a distinction grade point average of at least 3.75 are among those now eligible for long-term visas in the UAE. Pictured, Middlesex University Dubai.

Courtesy Middlesex University Dubai

Receive state funding for your start-up

As part of Dubai’s strategy to become a leading global player in business and technology, the Emirate has established several well-funded accelerator programs to support entrepreneurs developing innovative business ideas. These have largely focused on Emirati-owned companies, but in recent years some of the largest programs have been opened to foreign nationals — including the Mohammed Bin Rashid Innovation Fund worth 2bn dirhams ($544 million).


Get around underground… and on the water

The Emirate was once considered near-impossible to navigate without a car, but that is changing. The Dubai Metro opened in 2009 and has provided a mass-transit system suitable for a modern metropolis, with an extension due to open ahead of the Expo 2020. Public transport has also expanded into the waterways with the advent of water taxis and water buses along the coastline.

Live in a renewable energy-powered home

For a climate of year-round sunshine Dubai has been relatively slow to embrace the possibilities of solar energy. But the Emirate is making up for lost time with plans to install solar panels on 10 per cent of Emirati homes, and the first solar powered apartments now on the market. With a colossal $13.6bn solar park in development, capable of powering 1.3 million homes, the possibilities are set to expand while the prices shrink.
Dubai's Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park.

Dubai’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park.

EDF Renewables/Masdar

Receive cutting-edge medical treatments

Medical tourism is a fast-rising business in Dubai with reported growth rates of 13 per cent per year and plans to attract 500,000 international health tourists by 2021. Elite institutions such as King’s College Hospital have now set up shop in the City of Gold. With high-class facilities and a government push to attract doctors, Dubai is becoming known for advanced treatments, including 3D-printed prosthetics.

Tourism & Leisure

Virtual thrills

Dubai is on the frontline of virtual reality innovation and offers a broad sweep of goggle-enabled thrills. Visitors can try their hand at simulated skydiving at the iFly Skydiving simulator, pilot a virtual jet with the Emirates A380 Experience, play at being a racing driver at Dubai Autodrome, or star in blockbuster action movies, like The Void: Ghostbusters Dimension, at Hub Zero.

Walk on water

Palm Jumeirah, a huge artificial island, was operational in 2006 and the arduous process of dredging land from the sea has continued ever since. Progress on grand designs such as “The World” archipelago was set back by the global financial crisis, but its Heart of Europe resort is currently under development. And new islands are still emerging from the ocean – such as the Bluewaters Island which opened to the public in 2018.

See Dubai, before it was Dubai

The dizzying pace of change might make Dubai seem as if it has sprung up overnight, but the city has a history that the government is increasingly keen to draw attention to. The revitalized historical district gives a taste of Dubai in its previous guise as a humble fishing port, with museums and exhibitions detailing the simpler way of life that prevailed before the age of skyscrapers took hold.

Tour the city by bicycle

Dubai has not traditionally been considered an accommodating destination for cyclists but the creation of dedicated car-free circuits and cycle paths in the city – and the desert – have made it easier to explore on two wheels. The proliferation of specialist equippers, popular races, and cycling package holidays have helped take a previously niche pursuit into the mainstream.

This article originally appeared here