My Entry Into The UAE Was (Temporarily) Revoked

I’m very fortunate when it comes to immigration, as I almost never get sent to secondary screening. Sometimes I’m surprised by that, given how many stamps I have in my passport. I don’t think that this is how it should be, but I suspect being a white, male traveler, with an American/German passport, is part of that.

In the hundreds of times I’ve entered countries, I can count on one hand the number of times that I didn’t have a totally smooth process. So when things don’t go right, I do for a moment get worried, especially in countries with a lot of inconsistent rules and laws.

Anyway, yesterday upon arrival in Dubai I queued at immigration, and after about a 10 minute wait, got up to the counter. The immigration officer stamped my passport as usual, but then stopped for a second. He looked at his computer, and continued to do so for maybe 1-2 minutes. My general approach when it comes to encountering situations like this is that “less is more,” so I didn’t ask what was going on, but just stood there.

Eventually he ushered me over to another desk, where he put a different stamp in my passport. At this point I realized that this stamp was intended to undo the entry stamp he originally put in there, as he stamped the word “Cancelled” on my entry stamp twice — he was revoking my entry to the UAE.

He gave me tiny slip of paper (which he ripped from a bigger random piece of paper), and scribbled something on it in Arabic, and told me to go to counter #1. This was back before the immigration checkpoint, so I had to walk back in the direction I came from.

This wasn’t just a random secondary screening, but rather I was being sent to the immigration office. Hmmm…

I don’t want to say that I was worried, since I didn’t do anything wrong (as far as I knew), but I think just about anyone feels some level of uneasiness when their entry stamp into a country is revoked, and they’re sent to some desk.

So I went up to that counter, and presented my boarding pass and the piece of paper with something scribbled on it. He looked at it, and said “have a seat.”

“Okay. Is there something wrong?”

“Just have a seat.”

At this point I was a bit worried, as I wasn’t sure what was going on.

10 minutes passed… 20 minutes passed… 30 minutes passed. At this point I tweeted the following:

At this point a friend texted me, saying that he always has to go through secondary immigration at Dubai Airport, but doesn’t have the same issue at Abu Dhabi Airport. At first I figured our situations were different, but he said that they always write something on a piece of paper in Arabic, tell him to go to the immigration counter in the back, they do something, and then 30 minutes later all is fine.

Whew, I was at ease when he said that, since it sounded similar to my situation.

Sure enough, a few minutes later my name was called and I was given my passport back and told to just walk straight through immigration, without any sort of an explanation. Whew!

So what caused this? I’m not sure exactly, but I’ve consistently had some mild computer issues when entering the UAE. I’m not sure if it involves the fact that I sometimes enter the UAE on my German passport, and other times on my US passport. Or if it involves that I have E-Gate in the UAE, and sometimes only use it on arrival and not departure, or vice versa (since the machines seem broken half the time).

So as scary as having your entry stamp revoked can be, sometimes weird things just happen and there’s nothing to be worried about.

Comments

  1. Dubai does an extensive travel document forensic inspection. Something about the security features or wear / tear of the passport triggered secondary document inspection. Get a new passport and treat it kindly or this will continue to happen.

  2. So they didn’t stamp your passport again? The last stamp you have is the “cancelled” one? This might confuse the immigration officer when you’re leaving, I guess.

  3. Ben. Same exact thing happened to me in AUH. I was with my mom cousin and Aunt and they were freaking out since they went though OK and I was being held. Just as you I experienced a 30 min hold time and then was handed my passport back no further questions. I have been back twice since then with no issues

  4. Its quite possibly the combination on arriving on one passport and leaving on another. If both your passports are not linked to one entity in their immigration system it could appear that you have overstayed your visa at some point. According to their records you haven’t left the country but here you are turning up at the border trying to get back in, which would cause some initial confusion.

  5. @Bmlynn You need to enter the US using your US Passport. The German passport is just useful to enter the EU or some other countries that don’t require EU citizens to go through visas and long lines.

  6. Forensic inspection as @The Dude said would make sense — half the time, I can’t tell if your passport is a small notebook or a legal document for entering countries.

  7. Bmlynn, I imagine one reason is that the German passport entitles Ben to full Freedom of Movement in the EU/EEA/Switzerland.

  8. @bmlynn His parents are German, so having a German passport allows him to travel to European Union and Schengen countries without the hassle of visas or their equivalent.

  9. I every now and again have a similar problem when entering Dubai. I don’t have my visa cancelled but am sent to the immigration counter. The reason is that my name matches someone else’s name in the system that is on a black list (probably from when the property bubble burst and people left the country with huge debts). What gets me is that the other person, as far as I can tell, has a different date of birth and country of birth so I don’t know why this happens. For this every reason I cannot apply for an e-gate even though I’m in Dubai about 6 times a year.

  10. I wish I was as lucky as you to have both US and German passports…thats like the dream team right there

  11. I have been sent to the same counter. It seems to happen when you have a lot of entries to the UAE in a short while. I have never received an explanation for what they are actually checking.

  12. I have consistently been sent to secondary screening the last 2 years in DXB. The reason I was chosen was because my last exit out of UAE was AUH and that sometimes their immigration systems didn’t link up meaning it appears as though you’ve ‘never left the country’.

    Was your last exit out of AUH, and at an e-gate as well?

  13. As I got told, it’s often the reason Sam mentions: two files/accounts opened for the same person, one on entry and another on exit (maybe due to different passports on entry and exit, or as in my case: a failed attempt by the immigration officer on getting me registered for the smart-gates. This resulted in two accounts and sent me to the immigration exactly that way also, but got temporarily fixed there in matters of seconds, though not without a lot of typing at the next exit from the UAE). After that (and two more attempts on registration and sorting out the correct accounts) things smoothed out.

  14. Who are these people that are questioning your passports? Seriously? This is the way it works people. He can have two passports – if you are suspicious – find out about it before saying something stupid.

  15. Using 2 or more passports can be useful in some situations. Using an EU passport in Europe, for instance, makes entry easier and most times no need for a passport stamp.

    However I think it is a mistake to use more than one passport to enter/leave any single country. So if you have used your German passport to enter Egypt, then don’t try and enter Egypt again on a US passport. Seems to me that is asking for trouble.

    The US doesn’t care how many foreign passports you have, as long as you don’t try and use them to enter the US (and why would you?) But I think it is worthwhile to be careful and keep a log of which passports you have previously used in which nations.

  16. This is how all americans should be treated always around the world because this is how you treat your visitors

  17. I once entered through DWC and left through DXB and got flagged. Even though it is one country, the different Emirates customs/immigration are not properly linked with each other.

  18. I hate to say this Ben, but considering you are a well-known blogger, that may of had something to do with it too. Whenever I google airline travel related subjects, your blog consistently is on the first page. In fact, when I was trying to find out more about the electronics ban, your blog was the top hit when I goggled it.
    On your blog you consistently praised Qatar Airways. That shouldn’t matter, you tend to be apolitical in your entries, but sadly such things do matter, and not just in the Middle East. Your recent entry giving positive impressions to the Qsuites, while not enough to be considered “supporting Qatar or opposing the UAE position”, could be sufficient to annoy UAE authorities. Middle Eastern countries have been known to be pesky. Even in Afghanistan, my colleague got shaken down for a bribe, he refused. So they told him he had to wait in this office, though he had a flight to catch in an hour. Finally in the last minute, he realized he was going to miss his flight and had no choice but to yield.
    While obviously you don’t violate the decree, the UAE authorities are probably not thrilled you say nice things about Qatar Airways. This simply could be their way of harassing you.
    For what it’s worth, I’ve gone through UAE on my last passport which was renewed in December, it had an extension page and was packed with stamps and visas, looked like dogs chewed on it. I’ve gotten comments at checkpoints (US CBP complain about the number of countries I’ve been to) but never additional screening because of that.

  19. My wife and I are Americans, residents of the UAE in Dubai. Last year we both got e-Gate cards, and we use them to both leave and enter the country through DXB. No problems so far. Haven’t spoken with an immigration officer for over a year. Now regular Emirates IDs can also be used. I will say that the authorities here are very thorough.

  20. Ben that’s nothing ! In Berlin SXF my friend was questioned at an unofficial immigration after landing even though we were coming from EU and both had EU passports (white European men ).then at the departure after I cleared smoothly security I real used my friend was not following me to the gates.Believe me they had taken him to a separate room where they gay has to take off his clothes and they used some microchips with sensors in particular areas of his body that analysed if he had contact with explosives. And that after a 3 day weekend in Berlin.

  21. Good to hear everything was fine at the end. I had this kind of trouble last week at EWR. Too many US stamps in the passport since it was issued (12/2015) but my BP had started showing SSSS and on that day I went through secondary passport control – after a few minutes I was free to go after explanation I am just frequent flyer chasing miles….totally know how you felt!!

  22. UAE immigration database works on a unique key known as the “UID Number”. The UID is semi-opaque – it is printed on physical copies of visas and entry permits, but not otherwise advertised much. Your UID number is permanent – I have had the same number for around 15 years and through multiple passports.

    The system automatically searches for best match using the basic biographical information contained in the ICAO 9303 standard MRP strip against existing assigned UIDs to match up for repeat visitors, or else issue a new UID number and process the transaction. In 99% of cases, this is a straightforward and quick transaction. However, in some cases, especially where there is a new or alternative passport being used, the system will assign a duplicate UID mistakenly for the same person. On subsequent entries, this will potentially result in multiple matches being found. The resolution for this is to redirect the person to secondary where the duplicate records are merged and this should resolve the issue going forward.

    However, if there is a slight difference between the biographical information between any two passports in use (eg. middle name on one passport but not the other, different nationality, etc..) there is a fairly high likelihood of this being flagged every time the second passport is used (or if the data from the second record is used to overwrite the merged record, then every time the first passport is used).

    Nonetheless, it is nothing to worry about and if you are consistently having this issue then it may be worthwhile to find out your UID number and provide it to the immigration officer at the primary counter to enable quicker processing. I have had to do this for numerous crew members who usually have multiple concurrently valid passports and regularly have this flag at UAE immigration.

  23. You know when @Sean M. Comments about something, it’s very informative. Thanks @Sean for the info.

  24. Why Ben you have dared to write something (anything) that could potentially provoke the ire of some petty tiny little bureaucrat in UAE. That’s what happened. Also you fly on Qatar Airways. They are THE ENEMY. So that’s why they stopped you. To let you know their government (less than 1/10th of 1% of all people in UAE) is very very concerned that you might possibly god forbid not toe their party line. So please: start writing hateful stuff about Qatar to make them happy. Lest you get a triple “cancelled” stamp next time.

  25. At least they didn’t escort you to a darkened room with a bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling and one-way glass along the wall etc. Then a military cop with sunglasses on enters and offers you a cigarette….

  26. @Abdel, you do not need UAE residence to get the egate card. It is totally worth it (I think it is 60usd for two years) if you travel to the UAE a few times a year.

  27. I have a feeling this has to do something with your earlier blog about welcome letter Mr & Mrs. Schlapping

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