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11 Things you Should Know Before Travelling to Dubai, UAE

Author Sidharth Krishna
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For most travellers, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, can provide the exotic escape we seek from life. Be it the city’s mystical beaches, the mesmerising nightlife or the materialistic indulgences, there’s undoubtedly something for everyone in this oasis of the desert.

However, just like all oases, one must beware of the mirages. Like sirens, they lure you down the path to temptation, desire, risk, and tragedy.

Dubai PIN

When to Visit Dubai? Timing is Everything.

The best time to visit Dubai depends on the types of adventure you wish to take. I, personally, live for winter in Dubai. It’s when the weather isn’t too hot or too cold but just right. It’s the perfect time of year for you to take to the beach for pure relaxation as the cool breeze runs through your hair eroding away your worries. Most importantly, it’s Christmas in Dubai! Streets will be decked out with holiday decor. People will be jolly, and the weather will be forgiving. The winter season is, without a doubt, the best time to plan a visit to Dubai.

View of Dubai Marina
A view of the Dubai Marina

Is Dubai expensive? Keep reading…

The problem with all this joy is that it comes with a high price tag. Airline prices to Dubai will be higher during the winter months. Hotel rooms will be more expensive, and shopping may leave a more significant dent in your wallet. Generally, items such as jewellery, souvenirs and clothing tend to be more costly during the winter season as that is the time when the tourism industry is at its highest.  Since the summer months of May are scorching hot, people tend to stay within their homes for as long as possible. Hence, this leads to prices being lowered to entice shoppers into the malls.

If you’re looking for a more affordable visit, travel to Dubai during the summer when air tickets and hotels are more budget-friendly. Your visit will still be a pleasant experience but, due to the summer heat, a lot of your experience will be indoors in places such as malls, movie theatres, and restaurants. Of course, you can still spend your time in Dubai, exploring the splendid outdoors; you’ll have to remember to stay hydrated and pack some sunscreen.

Public Transportation in Dubai. NOL means YES.

Dubai metro station

When it comes to the question of how to get around Dubai, there are a few options from renting a car, taking a taxi, to utilising Dubai’s public transportation.

The most popular mode of transportation that travellers think of are city taxis. And to be fair, taxis offer a pretty comfortable ride. In Dubai, the cars are in pristine condition, the drivers are quiet and friendly, and most importantly, the drivers take safety seriously.

As tempting as a taxi cab may appear to be, it isn’t ideal for daily exploration and commutes due to the excessive expense and dent on your travel budget. For this reason, I recommend purchasing an NOL transit card at your nearest petrol station. This rechargeable card will give you access to the city’s reliable metro system and extensive bus services. Before you go on a long and relentless tirade about how you detest the thought of utilising public transit in all its forms, allow me to tell you that Dubai ensures that their public transportation system is affordable, safe, and comfortable. Most importantly, the buses and metros are punctual. Those qualities are rare for a public transit system in most cities.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: You must have a NOL card in order to ride public transportation in Dubai. Drivers will not accept cash.

Big Bus Tours Dubai

What to Wear in Dubai – Dressing Respectfully in a Muslim Country.

Arabic girls having coffee

Deciding what to wear in Dubai can be a little challenging to explain especially if visiting Dubai as a woman. Now, Dubai loves to present itself as a diverse and westernised tourist hotspot in the Arab world, a region of the earth that isn’t reputed for its enthusiasm towards those very ideals. Although those adjectives can be attributed to Dubai in many respects, it is still a traditional Islamic nation at heart. A lot of tourists in Dubai find themselves summoned to the nearest police station as they have failed to keep this in mind.

When it comes to clothing, Dubai is far more lenient than its regional neighbours in the Middle East. Women don’t necessarily have to wear the abaya (a long robe or cloak) at all times, and people are allowed to show a little more skin then they could if they were in say, Saudi Arabia. If you’re out in public, one good rule of thumb is to cover everything from shoulders to knees. Avoid accentuating cleavage or hips. Bikinis and swimsuits are permitted, if you’re in a beach or swimming pool that is. If you’re planning on exercising those travel-weary biceps, wear a track shirt and long pants.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: Should you find yourself face-to-face with an individual who sees your attire unsuitable (this rarely happens), speak calmly and say you’re going back to your residence to change. Don’t escalate the situation further. Remember, even if what you’re wearing may not be illegal, a lot of people may not embody the same mentality as you.

Alcohol in Dubai – Don’t booze ‘n’ cruise.

Alcohol in Dubai
An icy cold Mojito in front of the famous Burj Al Arab

When it comes to the topic of alcohol in Dubai, there are a few things you should know. The excellent news for visitors is that Dubai (unlike most Islamic countries) does permit the consumption of alcohol. In Dubai, the legal drinking age is 21. Only state-controlled stores such as MMI and African + Eastern are allowed to sell alcohol. If you intend on buying a bottle of liquor, then you’ll have to bring your passport and fill out a form. All this being said, it is illegal to drink in Dubai if you are a Muslim or don’t have a license. But to be honest, if you’re grabbing a drink at a bar, you needn’t worry about the bartender policing these rules.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: No matter how brave you may be feeling or how thirsty you are, it is imperative that you do not take your alcohol out in public! This rule includes drinking inside a parked car. Don’t drink and drive people!

Being intoxicated while in public will mean a world of trouble for you if caught. Especially if you’re seen vomiting or causing fights. You could be fined up to Dh5,000($U.S. 1361) and jailed for six months if you’re found drunk in public. So drink in moderation, keep a good hold on your senses, and you should be fine.

Big Bus Tours Dubai

Public Displays of Affection – Quell your passion for romance.

couple on the beach in Dubai

It would be best if you were careful when it comes to public displays of affection in Dubai. Professing your love in an exotic locale for your one and only in the most dramatic of ways can feel euphoric. But you might want to suppress your inner Dicaprio when travelling Dubai. The Dubai government has some pretty strict laws concerning public acts of intimacy.

Be mindful of how you conduct yourself with your romantic partner. While couples may occasionally hug in public, kissing is definitely outlawed. Stroking or petting your significant other is also prohibited. Married couples may hold hands but to be honest, no one’s going to come after you if you hold the hand of your girlfriend in The Dubai Mall.

As much as I support the cause of LGBTQ rights everywhere, it is with a heavy heart that I say that the nation of UAE does neither recognise nor respect the rights of LGBTQ individuals. Individuals can face deportation or imprisonment for ten years if the government perceives them to have committed inappropriate acts. In 2017, a Scottish man was faced with a three-year jail sentence after putting his hand on a man in a bar to not “bump and spill drinks”.

Experiencing the Real Dubai.

Dubai Creek

It’s easy to think of Dubai as a glistening, skyscraper-studded, newly-inaugurated city with little native culture. As such, tourists often ignore the more traditional experiences Dubai can offer in favour of more opulent ones. But make no mistake, Dubai is most certainly a land of rich and vibrant history. One that is still prevalent in the manner modern Dubai conducts itself.

To experience the real Dubai, I recommend you take a boat ride through Dubai Creek. Before the discovery of oil, pearl diving and fishing were the main occupations of the Emirati people. And so, to immerse yourself in the Emirati spirit, hop onboard one of the traditional wooden Dhow boats instead of the modern water taxi for a lovely tour.

Once the Emirati heritage starts flowing through your veins, take the time to visit the various souks of Dubai. “Souk” is an Arabic word for marketplace. If you ever find yourself longing for the Aladdin experience, I highly recommend taking the time to explore the numerous souks of Dubai. Soak up the atmosphere and be transported to ancient Arabia whilst browsing through the bazaar in search of fragrant spices, sparkling gold, or luxurious cloth.

Words matter in Dubai – Be mindful of your statements.

Be careful about what you say in Dubai. Despite being reputed for many things, the promise of free speech is not one of them. While you do have access to popular social media sites such as YouTube, Twitter and Google, do think twice about what you post on these platforms while you are visiting Dubai. Speaking ill of the Emirati government is a very serious offence. Criticising Islam or the policies of the government is also severely punishable by imprisonment.

It’s not just the government you risk offending. If you find yourself in an online feud with an Emirati resident, it’s best to wait till you’re out of the country before you unleash the entirety of your internet wrath. Dubai has some pretty strict cyber laws and spares no expense enforcing them. An unfortunate example of this would be the case of British national Laleh Shahravresh, who was arrested for calling her ex-husband’s new wife a “horse” in a Facebook comment thereby violating the city’s strict cybercrime laws.

Long story short, avoid discussing religion or politics on any public platform while visiting Dubai.

What, When, and How to Eat during Ramadan in Dubai.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is located in Abu Dhabi, 1-hour drive from Dubai

Taking place on the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and the month that the Qu’ran was introduced to the Prophet Mohammed, Ramadan is a time of spiritual and mental enlightenment for many. The holy month certainly does hold a special place in the hearts of Muslims worldwide. 

During the holy month, Muslims everywhere fast from sunrise to sunset. If you’re in Dubai during this time, you too can associate with the spirit of Ramadan.

As much as I despise being Captain Obvious, do not eat or drink in public from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan. Apart from getting a hefty fine, you’ll also risk upsetting nearby locals. Even though there are designated areas where you can eat or drink, I recommend waiting until you get home.

Iftar dinner

PRO TRAVEL TIP: Chewing gum and eating inside your car is also prohibited during the hours of fasting. If you do get invited to an iftar dinner (breaking of the fast), by all means, accept the invitation. It’s a great honour to be asked, and the food served will be heavenly.

In Dubai, make sure you’re well hydrated.

Arabic water bottle

Being in Dubai means drinking lots of water. Tourists often underestimate how much water they’ll need, especially in the middle of the desert. I cannot stress this enough – drink, drink and keep drinking water. Lack of adequate water increases your chances of heat stroke and dehydration. For your well-being, make sure to drink at least eight glasses of water every day. Eating plenty of hydrating foods such as watermelon, tomatoes, and radishes will also help in surviving the Arabian heat.

Big Bus Tours Dubai

Sun Safety in Dubai. Don’t forget the sunscreen.

One of the most important things to carry in Dubai is sunscreen. I don’t mean to sound like a nagging mum but do put some on. One could say that we are in the midst of a skin-disease epidemic. If you’re out in the sweltering heat of Dubai, issues like dark spots and ageing can be disastrous.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: I recommend using sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Make that you reapply the sunscreen every two hours.

Desert Safari Safety when your name isn’t Indiana Jones.

Cars driving in the Dubai desert

While a desert safari can provide a memorable and enchanting experience, it’s essential to take precautions. Although a generally safe activity, there are a few tips you can keep in mind to make sure that you and your travel companions have a good time.

Don’t travel in the desert alone: The thought of exploring the desert while driving in your enormous four-wheel rental is enticing and may lead you to venture out into the sand alone. Exploring the desert alone is by far, the most foolish thing you can do. Always make sure that you travel in a group. Being in Dubai, you’ll find no shortage of tour groups willing to take you on a desert safari.

Pack a few essential items: Although the tour company you hire will have all the necessary things for your adventure, it’s always wise to carry a few essentials of your own. Items such as extra bottles of water, a small first aid kit, some food, and an extra can of petrol might end up saving you.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: It’s a good idea to carry a satellite-guided GPS in the desert as there may not be a robust cellular signal where you may be.

Be aware of your health conditions: Dune bashing is the practice of ramming your car against the sand dunes possibly terrifying the occupants inside! Always remember to wear your seat belt (take it from a guy who was almost knocked out for not doing so). If you’re pregnant, then dune bashing is a terrible idea. If you’re a parent of little kids, you might want to leave them out of this one as well. End of the day, if you think embarking on this journey could put your life at risk in any way, skip it altogether.

Shop Wisely and Legally. Be careful of counterfeit items.

Interior view of the Dubai Mall
Interior view of The Dubai Mall, one of the largest shopping malls in the world

Counterfeit items continue to hinder the Dubai market and economy till this date. In 2020, Dubai authorities destroyed nearly 48,000 counterfeit products. Some of the most counterfeited brands are Vogue, Apple and Chanel. If you’re keen on shopping in Dubai, I recommend buying from vendors situated in malls or at brand named outlets to ensure you are purchasing legitimate goods. Do not risk buying from street vendors.  Play it safe and purchase from a retailer you trust.

Dubai PIN

At the end of the day, Dubai is a fabulous place to visit and is one I recommend to everyone I meet. Dubai is a place like no other. You don’t have to spend every moment of your journey in excruciating angst or worrying about offending someone or being wronged. Just keep these Dubai tips for travellers in mind and join the 3 million of us who have had the privilege of calling this land our home.

We hope you found these 11 things to know before travelling to Dubai UAE helpful when planning your adventure.

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