Planning to visit Dubai soon? Prior to your trip, it is important to note that the UAE has some strict laws that tourists should be aware of. In the past, visitors have found themselves in legal trouble because of their ignorance about the law. People sometimes forget that Dubai is not as liberal as most Western countries, especially in terms of gender equality and sexuality, and hence break the laws unintentionally. So read up on the following travel tips and advice on Dubai before you jet off to the most captivating city in the world.
1. Travel during off-peak season for the best deals
Unlike most places where peak tourist season falls in the summer months, Dubai is not a popular tourist destination during that time. Due to its extremely hot weather, the months of May to September is actually Dubai’s off-peak season. In other words, this is the best time to travel there for cheap flights and hotels.
Dubai is an expensive destination, so visiting during off-peak season will save you a lot. You will get a chance to experience the luxury of the city, without the heavy burden of expenses. However, be prepared to encounter temperatures with an average high of 41°C (106°F). As long as you can handle the weather, there is nothing else stopping you from visiting this summer!
2. Applying for a visa
Dubai has relatively strict visa regulations. Only 47 countries in the world can get a free visa-on-arrival at Dubai International Airport. These visas range from 30-day validity to multiple entry 90-day visa with a 6-month validity. All other nations will need to apply for a visa with a sponsor (typically hotels, airlines etc.) prior to the trip.
As with any country you visit, tourist visas are dependent on your home country. It is encouraged that you check Dubai’s visa policies for your country specifically before you book your flight. It may take some countries longer than others to obtain a visa to the UAE.
The following countries do no require pre-entry visas to the UAE: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Seychelles, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, USA, and The Vatican.
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3. Check your medication
Some prescription drugs (such as valium), which may be legal in your home country, are banned in UAE. Before your trip, don’t forget to check online what medication is legal.
Try to avoid bringing any illegal medication with you. But if the medicine is crucial to your health, get a doctor’s note before you leave to verify your prescription and carry the note with you throughout your trip. You could risk being fined or jailed without a doctor’s note. No one wants a vacation ruined by an innocent mistake.
4. Exchange some local currency
It is usually recommended to have some cash on you at all times, because you never know when you might need it. The currency used in Dubai is the UAE dirham (most commonly shortened to AED or Dhs). The current US exchange rate to the local currency is pegged at 1 USD = 3.675 AED.
The cent version of AED is called fils. Coins can be valued at 25 or 50 fils, or 1 AED. Banknotes come in 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1000 AED. Try to obtain smaller change if possible — they are generally more widely received in public.
It is best to exchange some in your home country before flying out to Dubai. But if you don’t get a chance to, you could also exchange money at the airport, banks, or money changers in malls and markets.
5. Getting around the city
Don’t expect to walk a lot within the city. Despite its high-technology architectural projects, Dubai still lacks pavements, traffic lights, and pedestrian crossings. It is difficult to just cross a road, much less navigate through the city.
If you are planning to get around Dubai primarily by public transportation, buy a pre-paid Nol card at the beginning of your journey. The card can be purchased from ticket offices, or ticket vending machines in metro stops and bus stations. It will give you access to most forms of public transportation (i.e. metro, bus, and waterbus) in the city.
Driving yourself around or taking taxis are also fairly economical ways of getting around. It will definitely cost more than public transportation. But if you’re traveling with several people, splitting the cost of a rental car or taxi rides may add up to just slightly more than the cost of public transportation.
Just like most countries in the world, taxis are charged by the meter. Even though all taxis are supposed to accept both cash and credit cards now, the credit card machines don’t always work. Be prepared to pay cash. The driver should have change, but it is best to carry smaller bills to avoid any confusion.
Tip: The best taxis to take are usually the ones with the red roof, as they are trained and monitored by the government’s Road & Transportation Authority.
Dubai Cultural Tour With Transfer Included
6. Staying safe
With a low crime rate and little violence, Dubai is generally considered a very safe place, even for solo female travelers. However, that does not mean nothing bad ever happens. Remember to take standard precautions as you would anywhere else in the world, such as avoid walking on the streets alone at night.
Also, keep an eye out for your personal belongings. Petty theft (such as pickpocketing) is fairly common, especially in crowded areas. Always keep your bags within your line of sight, and don’t leave it unattended anywhere.
7. Dress code
Even though it is a city in a Muslim country, Dubai is considerably liberal in terms of dress code. However, visitors should still try to dress modestly out of respect. In other words, avoid tight-fitting and over-revealing clothes. Women should also not expose their shoulders, cleavage, and thighs. Beachwear is acceptable but only at the beach.
Do note that if you are planning to join the Jumeirah Mosque tour, both men and women need to be appropriately covered. Whether you are Muslim or not, everyone needs to respect the fact that it is a religious site. Men should be covered from the neck down, while women are asked to wear a head scarf such that only their faces are exposed.
8. Social etiquette
Due to Islamic tradition, some local Emiratis will avoid shaking hands with the opposite sex. If you are unsure when greeting someone, wait until the other person extends his hand first. While foreigners are not expected to know or use all the little subtleties in the local greeting methods, don’t forget to maintain basic manners and respect for their culture.
Also, be sure to keep public displays of affection to a minimum. Hugging and kissing are not acceptable. And holding hands is frowned upon, so try to avoid it as well. If you are traveling with a partner other than a heterosexual spouse, do not flaunt your relationship in public. Sex outside marriage and homosexuality are considered serious offences. Even sharing a hotel room may possibly land you in legal trouble.
Any form of offensive language, spitting, and aggressive behavior (e.g. hand gestures) is not acceptable You could risk a jail sentence or deportation for something as simple as swearing. Be respectful; make sure both your words and actions are polite at all times.
People love to take photos when they visit a new place, because it is the best way to hold on to memories. While this is acceptable almost everywhere in the world, be cautious of what you’re capturing in Dubai. Taking pictures of airports, government buildings, and religious institutions are forbidden. Photographing the local people, especially women, is also considered ill-mannered. Always ask for permission before you start snapping away.
When accepting food, always do so with your right hand. The left hand is considered ‘unclean’, reserved for practices such as using the bathroom. Holding a drink in your left hand is tolerable, but not encouraged. In addition, never cross your legs when you are sitting at a meal. Pointing the soles of your feet towards anyone is considered rude and disrespectful.
Even though tap water is technically drinkable and will not kill you, it is advised that you don’t drink it. Water from the tap is typically low in quality, and may taste different to what you are used to. In case your stomach cannot handle it, sticking to bottled and filtered water is your safest option. When in restaurants, request for local bottled water. Imported water costs significantly more and you won’t be able to tell the difference.
Dubai has strict alcohol laws. With the exception of restaurants, bars, and clubs, drinking alcohol in public is illegal. Because of its Islamic religion, Dubai requires anyone who wants to drink at home to obtain a liquor license first. Tourists are often fined for drinking without a legal license. If you decide to drink at a licensed venue, keep your tolerance in check. Being intoxicated in public is illegal and may land you in trouble with the law. Alcohol is only allowed for those over 21 years old.
Dubai Moonlight Dinner Cruise
10. Tipping culture
Tipping is Dubai is not compulsory or expected, but is a customary practice. For restaurant waitstaff, a service fee is usually included in your bill. However, if a restaurant has no indication of service charge, a small 10-15% tip is common practice. With particularly good service, some may choose to add a tip on top of the service fee.
For taxi drivers, it is recommended to add a small tip of 5-10 AED (1.4-2.7 USD), depending on the distance and duration of your ride. Many people also choose to just round their ride fare to the nearest 5 AED. For example: if the ride costs 21 AED (5.7 USD), pay the driver 25 AED (6.8 USD) without asking for change.
11. Coffee ceremony
If you are lucky enough to experience a traditional coffee ceremony, don’t forget to take note of the ceremony’s etiquette. This is something you would experience if you meet a local Emirati, or on a desert safari tour.
The coffee ceremony is an important part of Emiratis’ hospitality. As with dining, the cup of coffee should always be accepted in your right hand. It is typically considered polite to drink at least 3 cups. Don’t forget to shake the cup from side to side when you have finished the coffee to indicate to your host that you are done.
Ramadan is a month of fasting for Muslims. During this period, they are only allowed to eat after sunset. The meal typically consists of a variety of fruits, vegetables, halal meats, and bread. While the specific date of Ramadan changes every year, it usually falls some time in June or July. This coincides with Dubai’s off-peak traveling season and partially explains why the city is much quieter during this time.
Even though there may be fewer tourists, it is important to show respect for their religion. Regardless of personal religious beliefs, all visitors should not smoke, eat, or drink in public from sunrise to sunset. If you are traveling with children, don’t worry about Ramadan. Kids are exempted from this religious practice, and are allowed to eat during the day.
During this month, many food stalls will close from dawn to sunset (the daily fasting period), and only open in the evening. That is when people start going out for dinner once the fast breaks. If you’re just there on holiday, don’t worry about having accessibility to food during this time. Hotels and malls keep food options available for non-Muslims.
Dynamic, distinctive, and dazzling
Despite Dubai’s modernity, certain aspects of the city have maintained its traditional, cultural, and religious roots. Even though tourists are not always expected to know every detail about its culture, that does not mean we should be completely uninformed. Some basic understanding of Dubai’s etiquette and law will prevent you from both offending the locals and getting into legal trouble. A little knowledge goes a long way here. And with these travel tips and advice, you are sure to have the best possible time in Dubai.
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