ABU DHABI // Several Canadians have reported being caught out by new visa requirements that left them stranded at Abu Dhabi International Airport, unable to enter the country.
The rules went into effect on January 2, and Canadians must pay $250 Canadian (Dh925) for a non-renewable 30-day visitor's visa, $500 for a three-month stay or $1,000 for a multiple-entry, six-month visa.
Donald Caulfied, 69, who works in motion picture lighting in Toronto, found himself stranded at the airport yesterday after returning from a brief holiday in India.
In November, Mr Caulfield joined his wife, a teacher in Abu Dhabi who lives here on a residency visa, for the Formula One Grand Prix.
Upon learning about the new visa regulations, Mr Caulfield said he visited the Canadian embassy in Abu Dhabi between Christmas and New Year to inquire about the new law.
"They said they didn't know what was going to happen," he said, speaking from the Abu Dhabi's airport yesterday.
On January 1, Mr Caulfield left for Mumbai, and inquired with UAE customs and immigration authorities before departing about the change in visa laws.
"They assured me that I could return because my wife is here," he said. "Essentially they stamped the exit pass on my passport, cancelling my entry visa that I had received that morning."
Yesterday morning Mr Caulfield's wife, Joanne, rushed to the airport with her passport to prove her husband intended to spend three days in the UAE with her before returning to Canada.
But she said she was told to visit the Immigration Department in Abu Dhabi, where she was asked for a marriage certificate.
Their marriage certificate was in Toronto, she said.
The distress phone line at the Canadian embassy in Abu Dhabi told her that the embassy did not issue visas and that her husband must abide by the laws of this country.
Mr Caulfield, who wears a hearing aid, had no access to its batteries, which are in his luggage, as is essential medication.
He is booked on a plane to leave Abu Dhabi early today after spending 24 hours at the airport.
Last week, Darius Mosun and his business partner, Jonathan Mark, spent 20 hours at the airport in Abu Dhabi after learning they could not re-enter the country following a side business trip to Saudi Arabia.
Mr Mosun said he missed an important business meeting after authorities told him his visa was good for a single entry only.
Canada was one of the 33 countries whose citizens could get a free visa upon arrival, but relations have soured since a diplomatic dispute erupted earlier this year over airline landing rights in Canada.
Following the row, Canada's military base in Dubai was closed.
The acting assistant undersecretary for Naturalisation, Residency and Ports Affairs then warned that Canadians would not get a grace period when the new visa regulations took effect.
Maj Gen Nasser al Minhali said that anyone arriving without a visa would not be granted admission.
"Implementation will take effect as of day one. Canadians will be treated as any other nationals who require visas," he said.
UAE airlines have said that the visa laws would not affect business.
A spokesperson for Emirates said: "There is no evidence that Canadian travellers are deterred from coming to the UAE because of visa requirements.
"Capacity to and from Canada is severely constrained due to the limited number of flights."
BOOKING ONLINE IS 'CHEAPER AND EASIER'
Both Emirates airline and Etihad Airways announced in the wake of the changes that they are offering cheaper visa alternatives for travellers booking online.
The process is cheaper and quicker than going through the UAE's embassy in Ottawa, the Canadian capital.
Passengers are advised to apply to the embassy 15 days in advance, but the process through Etihad takes between five and seven days.
A 30-day visa costs US$250 (Dh918) through the UAE Embassy in Ottawa but can be bought for $74.50 through Emirates, and $83 via Etihad.
Canadians can travel easily around the region to countries such as Qatar, where they receive visas on arrival.
A multiple entry visa for up to 180 days costs $180.95. For Jordan, a six-month multiple entry visa costs just $42.