10 things you must know BEFORE you travel to the UAE

The UAE, specifically Dubai, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world today. People from all over the world flock here throughout the year and Dubai Airport hosts more than 12 million tourists a year.

Although predominantly Islamic, the UAE is very different from most of its neighbours. There are a lot of misconceptions and fallacies that exist about this country. Here are 10 things that you must know BEFORE you travel to the UAE. I hope this answers most of the questions that you might have.

#1 It is NOT as conservative as many of you might think

Although malls usually have a dress code displayed right at the entrance, I have rarely seen people follow it. You will often find women (and men) in shorts and t-shirts or even short dresses. Yes, other emirates like Abu Dhabi and Sharjah are a lot more conservative than Dubai and while entering a holy place like the mosque, you’re definitely expected to cover your arms and legs fully. But feel free to wear whatever you feel like at the beach or while dining out / partying in Dubai.

#2 Public display of affection is frowned upon

Although holding hands is acceptable, do not get cosy in public places and kissing is not okay. You won't get arrested for it but if you make a lot of people uncomfortable, you might get a warning from the cops.

#3 Alcohol is expensive!

It is not very easily available (only hotels are allowed to serve) and emirates like Sharjah are completely dry. Although you do have licensed shops that sell alcohol in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, many do not let you buy unless you have a license yourself. For cheap alcohol, duty-free shops at the airport might be your best bet.

#4 Driving in the UAE

If you plan to rent a car and drive, be careful of the rowdy drivers in the fastest lane. Although the driving is a lot more organised here than many other parts of the world, at speeds of 140 kmph, you need to be a very confident and calm driver to be able to not get intimidated by constantly tailgating boisterous drivers out there. Stay in the slower lanes if not too comfortable, and do NOT drink and drive. There is a zero tolerance policy for drinking and driving. Alternatively, the city is well connected by the metro and taxis are easy to find.

#5 Do not worry about safety

Dubai is one of the safest cities in the world and the nightlife is amazing. Places are well connected with the metro as well as ample taxis, which are available through the night. Crime is not one of the things that should be of concern while travelling here. Having said that, no matter where you are in the world, it always helps to be aware of your surroundings and follow common sense.

 #6 Make bookings in advance

Book your visit to ‘At the Top’ Burj Khalifa in advance, especially if you plan to travel during the peak season (Nov – Mar). Last minute tickets at the counter are not only more expensive but might also be sold out.

#7 Beware of what materials you carry in your baggage

Any sort of drugs (weed, marijuana) is absolutely NOT ACCEPTABLE as is pornographic material, sex toys, etc. Read a complete list here.

#8 Tipping

Tipping, although a custom, is not mandatory. On an average, a 10-15% tip is considered good but unlike the US or Canada, nobody will come asking you why you didn’t tip if you don’t!

#9 Travelling during Ramadan

If you’re travelling during Ramadan (I would NOT recommend you to), you must know what to expect. You cannot eat or drink in public places during the daytime, until the prayers in the evening at sunset. Most restaurants are closed (or only deliver). Entertainment such as loud music, dancing, etc is prohibited throughout the month so clubs usually stay shut. Alcohol is served after the sunset prayers in most bars, but no music and parties happen. You’re also expected to be dressed conservatively during this period.

#10 Weather

Although the weather is warm throughout the year, May – September can get particularly hot. Luckily all malls and indoor places are air conditioned. December – January can have chilly evenings, so bring lightly warm clothing along.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me in the below comments section.

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24 thoughts on “10 things you must know BEFORE you travel to the UAE”

    1. Driving, although organised, can get a little tough with speeds going as high as 140 kmph on the highways & main roads, I’d recommend confident drivers only to rent cars and drive around. Ample speed cameras are there on the road and exceeding the speed limit (by more than 20 km/hr) can lead to hefty fines. However, there are (mostly) no parking issues, ample parking spaces on the streets as well as malls are available. Street parking is usually paid and malls usually free of charge (especially during weekends). Taxis are metered and would cost approx 2.3 dhs / km. The minimum fare is 12 dhs (up to 4 kms) from one point to the other within the city and starts from 25 dhs if taken from the airport. Hope that answers all your questions 🙂

    1. Haha, alcohol is an issue here. It is available only in hotels’ restaurants and it costs anything upwards of USD 10 for a glass of wine and beer too! Best idea to pick some up from the duty free 🙂

  1. It’s good to know UAE isn’t as conservative as it’s made out to be. My mum and step dad are heading to Dubai next week so I’ll be sure to pass these tips on to them. Thanks

  2. Fantastic blog, covering somewhere that is on my list for this year. While I HOPE I already knew most of the cultural sensitivity stuff, I’m glad that you posted your tip to get tickets in advance. Would’ve hated getting there and not being able to go up the tower.

    1. Its mostly during peak season that the tickets are hard to get. At the counter, they charge you almost 4 times the price!

  3. I’ve not been to an UAE state yet, though was considering Dubai for my 30th country as part of my 30 before 30. It was during Ramadan though, so after reading your post I’m quite glad I didn’t. I did go to Jordan during Ramadan though, but seems that country is a lot more relaxed x

    1. I traveled to Jordan during Ramadan a couple of years back and I also found it a little more relaxed in terms of food being served in more places openly. Here in Dubai, you will find (although limited) restaurants as well which will have a curtain to cover their dining space. Only popular tourist malls like Dubai Mall will have a few restaurants open during the day. Otherwise, hotels do provide room service and most restaurants allow only take away. It’s just not that much fun though 🙂

  4. UAE is definitely on this list of places to go to, I’ve had a lot of friends who have been there and they same, that it’s not as conservative as you may think. It’s funny how some countries are perceived to be a certain but once you’re there you see it’s not like that.

    1. Dubai is less conservative than the other Emirates like Sharjah and Abu Dhabi. I guess these perceptions are because of the more conservative neighbours 🙂

  5. These are some really great tips! I’d heard about the no PDA rule, but honestly thought everyone dressed conservatively in Dubai. I also never knew about travelling during Ramadan or the tipping tip, so many thanks!

    1. Dubai has a pretty cool party scene as well 🙂 And although they have the no PDA rule, it’s quite relaxed unless you get too cozy 🙂

  6. Although you mentioned that anyone is free to wear whatever they want at the beach or while out partying, I personally still feel uncomfortable wearing less conservative clothing and feel like I’m going to get in trouble anytime.

    As for accommodation (since you tackled public display of affection and this is somewhat related), did you have a partner when you travelled there? Where did you guys stay? I’ve heard that only married couples are allowed to stay in the same hotel room?

    1. I’ve never felt uncomfortable in a 2-piece at a beach or in a sexy dress at a party or dinner. I actually live here. Yes, it’s a bit hard for unmarried couples to find a good hotel to live in (together) because of the rules. However, not all hotels are strict about it. Usually, the strict hotels would specify this on their website. If you’re looking for a decent budget hotel, Citymax, Ramada and Grand Millenium are a few chains that don’t usually create an issue as long as you can produce your IDs and don’t cause any trouble 🙂

  7. These are some really helpful tips. UAE is pretty much a mandatory stop-over on the way to Europe from Australia, so that’s how most Australians end up visiting it en-route. Have you been to other Middle Eastern countries, and if so, how do they compare in terms of conservatism?

    1. Thanks Kate. Yes, the UAE is definitely more open and less conservative than most of its neighbours – Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi. In the UAE, Dubai is the least conservative of all emirates.

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