It's always important to know the differences of your next destination so you can be fully prepared, but in places like Dubai it's especially essential to be aware of local customs and strict laws.
before you go
- Check Visa requirements by country of origin. For US citizens, you can obtain a Visa on arrival at no cost.
- CDC recommends that your MMR and Tdap vaccinations are up to date.
- Certain prescription drugs are illegal (i.e. xanax) and technically require a notarized document by prescribing MD and UAE embassy, however this is only if your bag is searched and likely will not be an issue for most travelers.
- Make sure to bring a G-plug style converter for your electronics. This is a 3 prong plug in triangular formation and 220v/50Hz.
- Official languages are Arabic and English
- Tap water is potable
- Currency: Dirham or AED (As of 2017 1 AED = $0.27 USD)
- Card is accepted many places, but always carry cash in case
- Tipping: Some bills may include a service charge but it is still customary to tip 10-15%
- Temperatures range from 14C/76F - 41C/106F, with August being the hottest month. Rain is rare and humidity is low.
- Thursday and Friday are the big nights to go out.
- The UAE is ruled under Islamic law and practices Sharia law. For more info on this, read the culture section below.
staying in touch
Traveler SIM cards via networks Etisalat or Du are available if you have an UNLOCKED smart phone with SIM capability. If you have Sprint Global Roaming, your phone will work at no extra cost in Dubai. WiFi is largely available but is not always free depending where you are accessing it.
- Walking: I prefer to walk a lot because its cheap and allows you the option of snapping photos of the city; however, walking some places can be difficult or rather round about due to how the roads/sidewalks are setup, so it is helpful to gps route even when walking. I noticed whether walking or driving that a location could be only a mile away, but because of the routes it may take you 5 miles of traveling to actually reach that destination.
- Bike: Rentals available via BYKY, I never saw anyone on a bicycle in the city though.
- Taxis: Taxis are metered and considered safe. There is a line of pink taxis in Dubai for women only but its rare you will be able to hail one, but you can have one dispatched to you. Be aware only 40% of taxis in Dubai accept card.
- Uber: Both Uber car and Uber Chopper are available here (yes you read that right - you can get a helicopter through the Uber App).
- Car: You can rent a car pretty cheaply in Dubai, and gas is pretty cheap as well. It's always a good idea to have an International Driver's License which is pretty easy to get (I got mine through AAA).
- Palm Jumeirah Monorail: privately owned rail that takes you to the end of the palm, links to tram system.
- Metro: The metro in Dubai is clean, fast, and affordable. Be aware that the first car is typically for women only, and if you're a male you can be fined for riding in it. You can also be fined for eating, drinking, chewing gum, or napping on the metro. RTA operated.
- Tram: Rail system different from the Metro but connects to it and is also RTA operated.
- Bus: Cheap, air-conditioned, RTA operated with an extensive network.
- Abras, Ferry, Water bus, water taxi: All RTA operated transportation via water.
- Nol Card: This is a prepaid card that works with RTA operated transportation.
While Dubai is very westernized, the UAE is still a Muslim country and that practices Sharia law. What this means is that laws follow that of what the Quran preaches and heavy penalties can be imposed for violators. What does this mean for you?
Don't do illegal shit - just don't, it's not worth it. Trace possession of a drug (including in your bloodstream) can get you a minimum of 4 years in prison. Life in prison and the death penalty can be sought for drug charges and other nonviolent crimes as well.
Watch your mouth - profanity or anything anti-Muslim is punishable by law.
Alcohol cannot be purchased at stores by tourists (only by licensed residents). The legal drinking age is 21 and alcohol is served in bars and hotels. Be careful not to be obviously
drunk in public as public intoxication is illegal.
Electronic cigarettes are illegal.
Never photograph police officers or government buildings. You should also not photograph women wearing hijabs unless given permission. Hijabs are the typical head scarves worn by Muslim women in this region. Some may also wear a niqab, which covers the nose and mouth, but leaves the eyes exposed. There are other types of head coverings as well.
Never ride in the front seat of a cab unless the driver is a woman. Be aware that some transportation or restaurants may have "family" or "female" cars/sections where men are not allowed.
Unless you are at the beach, it is customary to cover your shoulders, chest, and knees while in public. For those women going out at night, you will still see women in tight and/or revealing get ups - if you go this route, it is wise to have something with you to cover up while in transit.
Direct eye contact is interpreted as flirtation. Wearing a wedding ring may help defer unwanted attention (though I never did this and didn't have much harassment).
PDA, premarital sex, and homosexuality is illegal. If traveling with your partner it is best to say you are married, but still be aware PDA can land you in jail. Additionally, it's technically illegal to share a hotel room with an unwed member of the opposite sex. If pregnant, you may be asked to show proof of marriage if seeking medical care.
I have heard police take harassment very seriously in the UAE, however in regards to rape I have also read that a woman must have 4 male witnesses to confirm the allegation. Be aware that when seeking help for something of this nature, you sadly may be charged with a crime.
During Ramadan, do not eat, drink , or smoke in public between sunrise and sunset.