Guide to Competing in Abu Dhabi

I’ve had a lot of questions before my first trip to the UAE. As a female traveller, I wasn’t sure what would be safe to do, wear or visit or how everything works in the country. Whether you’re considering competing in UAEJJF’s Abu Dhabi-based events or simply visiting the city for holiday, here is a short guide to getting around it.

1. Check if you need a visa to enter the UAE

Citizens of many countries, including the UK, simply have to go through passport control at the airport upon their arrival. There, they will be issued a free visa valid for 3 months. If you are visiting the Emirates for the first time, it will be issued as a stamp in your passport. You will also be automatically enrolled into the country’s e-passport system, which means that on your next trip all you’ll need to do is scan your passport at the e-gate.

To check whether you are eligible for the free visa click here.

2. Book your flights & hotel

The best time to book your flight is no earlier than 4 months before and no later than 1 month before your journey. Travelling with Emirates, Etihad and British Airways has been a positive experience so far. The flight will set you back £320-£400 and may be cheaper if you book through external agencies rather than the airline website – the case with British Airways, who will also charge you extra for the luggage.

Even if you’re travelling to Abu Dhabi for a competition, it is still worth it to stay in an area where there are other things you can enjoy. Apart from the Grand Mosque, there are hardly any other tourist attractions near the venue (more on this later). The most interesting area to stay in seems to be the strip along the Corniche Beach (see map below). There are plenty of restaurants, service points, and shopping malls around there and the location also allows relatively easy access to the beach, Louvre, Heritage Village and a few other things mentioned below.

Both times, I was able to book the hotel for £200-£320 – double/twin room for 6 days in a good location. This is the price range for standard 3-star hotels, often coming with rooftop pools.

3. Taxis

Taxis is Abu Dhabi are relatively cheap, which makes the distance between your hotel and the Mubadala arena irrelevant. They are all clearly marked, fitted with meters and driven by uniformed drivers. It is also the policy, that if the driver doesn’t turn the meter on for the ride, it is free of charge.

Travel from the Airport to Corniche area will cost about AED 90-150 (£19-31) depending on the traffic. Make sure that you get into one of the taxis waiting outside the airport, rather than opting for a fixed price ones, which are generally more expensive.

Travel from the Corniche area to the arena will cost about AED 30-50 (£6-10) depending on the traffic.

4. Weigh-In

Towards the end of 2018, UEAJJF have altered their weigh-in rules. It is now legal to weigh in wearing leggings or long shorts and an opaque t-shirt instead of a gi.

However, as a female, it’s important to remember that you may not be able to compete wearing leggings and a rashguard under your gi on the day. According to the rulebook ‘in the female divisions it is mandatory for the use of a stretchy or elasticated one-piece suit (leotard) that hugs the body beneath the gi; it can be short of long sleeved. It is also permitted for athletes to use one-piece swim garment (bathing suit) or gymnastic top.’

The rulebook itself is tricky to find, so being unaware of the uniform requirements, on my first visit I was forced to buy a full-body suit at the venue, which is a good option if you forget your gear on the day. The downside is, it is priced at AED 157 (£33) and it’s impossible to put on or take off, not to mention that make bathroom trips more challenging than the competition itself. Really, it’s best to buy that swimsuit.

On the other hand, some women competing in my last event there, got away with wearing leggings and rashguards. Sometimes the uniform is not being checked very carefully, but if this is noticed then there is no way around it.

5. Safety & Buses

During my first trip to the Emirates, I was joined by the lovely champion Ffion Davies. Even though we are both small blondes, there wasn’t a single moment when I felt unsafe on the streets of Abu Dhabi. Most people on the streets are South-East Asian workers, mainly from India and the Philippines, who generally have a friendly attitude towards tourists. Light skin and hair turns heads, but only because it’s a curious sight in the area.

In terms of dress code, wearing long skirts and dresses covering the shoulders, or loose t-shirts and shorts reaching down to the knee (the perfect excuse to walk around in grappling shorts all day) proved to be a good idea.

If you’re on a really tight budget, you can get around Abu Dhabi on buses. They are very cheap, clean, air-conditioned and are split into men’s and women’s sections. They are easy to navigate, but the journeys take ages. Find more information here.

6. Things to Do

There are many better guides listing the city’s numerous attractions, but here is a short list of my personal, affordable favourites.

  • The Grand Mosque – within walking distance from the arena. It’s convenient to visit it after the weigh-in or after the tournament.
  • Corniche Beach – there are paid and free sections, some of which allow sunbathing in swimsuits.
  • Rent a bike – and ride along the beach boulevard. Cyacle operates many pick-up and drop-off stations across Abu Dhabi.
  • Umm Al Emmarat Park – beautiful park in the centre of the city. Tickets cost AED 5 (£1) per adult.
  • Filipino Panaderias/Bakeries – full of delicious pastries, including some interesting finds such as a sweet bun with berry filling, sprinkled with… cheddar? Look for them in back alleys.

I hope I haven’t missed anything important, but if I did, let me know :) Enjoy your trip to Abu Dhabi!

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