A statement that we live by… it’s always interesting to learn about different cultures and local traditions. However, if you haven’t travelled to the Middle East before, there are a few important things to know before visiting the UAE, particularly Dubai. It would be unwise to get caught out if you aren’t familiar with, and don’t respect Dubai’s local rules and laws.
Little things that we take for granted in the UK, Europe or the USA such as enjoying a drink outdoors, holding hands with a loved one or having a cheeky cuddle aren’t traditionally acceptable in public spaces in Dubai – although things have relaxed slightly in recent years.
If you want a hassle-free holiday or vacation and don’t want to end up paying a hefty fine, read our helpful guide of 11 important things to know (with DOs and DON’Ts) before you visit Dubai. But first…
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Table of Contents
1. Prior to January 2022, the weekend fell on a Friday and Saturday
The above is true! You might turn up in Dubai on a Friday, thinking that it’s the start of the weekend. Not anymore! Unlike other Arabic countries such as Qatar, Egypt, Oman, and Bahrain (who maintain a Friday-Saturday weekend), the United Arab Emirates now aligns with the western world and enjoys a Saturday-Sunday weekend. UAE nationals and those living there also used to have very short weekends with little free time off work. However, starting in January 2022, some businesses in the public sector now only have to work a four-and-a-half-day week.
The working week will begin early on Monday mornings at 7:30 am and will end at 3:30 pm, except for Fridays when workers finish at noon, allowing plenty of time for leisure and activities. This change makes the United Arab Emirates the first area in the world to shun a 5-day working week, hopefully it will catch on everywhere else too!
2. You can only drink alcohol in licensed venues
Enjoying an evening out in Dubai can be much the same as in the western world, albeit with a few caveats. For example, you can’t freely enjoy a drink or appear intoxicated on the street, in public places or on the beach. However, tourists DO drink alcohol in Dubai, mainly in hotel bars, restaurants, or licensed establishments. The legal drinking age is 21 and visitors can obtain a liquor license to purchase alcohol (although this isn’t usually necessary if staying in a hotel).
Dubai’s local laws also have zero tolerance for drink-driving, so if you’re planning to rent a car in Dubai, don’t even have a sip of alcohol before getting behind the wheel.
3. Pork is not readily available in restaurants
There are many different types of food and international cuisine available in Dubai, but if you’re a fan of eating pork, you won’t readily find it on any menus. The Islamic religion doesn’t advocate the eating of pork meat; however, it’s not completely forbidden for tourists to dine on, and it can still be found in Chinese-style restaurants serving chop suey and other meat-infused dishes. Psst… we stumbled upon some delicious baby back ribs in Wavehouse restaurant during a stay at the Atlantis The Palm Resort – very tasty, hehe.
If you search hard enough, you can also find pork in some ethnic supermarkets in the city, although if you plan to pop across the state line to Sharjah for the day, it is still classed as illegal.
4. You will need to try and dress modestly
Dubai is quite tolerant when it comes to dress code, however, there are still some rules for visiting Dubai that the western visitor should heed. The first thing to remember is that women in the UAE dress conservatively and tourists are expected to follow suit, especially in public spaces or places of worship.
When out and about, Muslim women tend to cover their heads and hair for religious and cultural reasons. They also keep shoulders covered and wear skirts that fall below the knee. Therefore, if you’re browsing the shopping mall or a local museum, DON’T wear spaghetti straps or tiny miniskirts and DO dress modestly and respectfully. With that being said, women should feel free to wear a bikini when on a public beach.
Men should also consider their attire whilst in Dubai. For example, shorts and vests (tank tops) aren’t acceptable to wear in restaurants.
5. You shouldn’t show too much affection in public
We all love a bit of romance, especially on holiday, but if you’re thinking about holding hands or planting a sloppy kiss on your partner there are important things to know before visiting Dubai.
This state is governed by Islamic laws and even kissing in public (especially if unmarried) can create a multitude of problems, ranging from disapproving looks to fines, deportation and even spending time in a police station holding cell!
Dubai’s local laws may sound harsh, especially when it’s totally natural in Europe to greet friends with a kiss on either cheek, but here you should respect their customs and DON’T kiss or be overly affectionate in public spaces. However, DO feel free to enjoy yourself in private in a hotel suite away from prying eyes!
6. You can’t just turn up and fly your drone
If you love aerial photography or shooting videos, you may be tempted to take your drone on your trip with you. However, before you start to pack your bags, there are a few important rules for visiting Dubai with a drone that you should know.
If you plan to bring your drone, you must register it with the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority or GCAA, but it’s highly unlikely you will be granted a permit unless you’re a registered citizen in the country. We applied for a drone permit in 2017 when we visited for a few days – “access denied” !!
Like we previously did, you can actually travel to Dubai with a drone if you’re stopping over en route to another destination like the Maldives. In these cases, airlines such as Emirates request that you pack the drone inside check-in luggage and ensure it’s in a special fireproof case with batteries kept separately. Attempting to carry the drone on board in your hand luggage may result in it being confiscated.
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7. Dubai does have culture, not just shiny buildings
Dubai is known for its futuristic skyscrapers and sleek mirrored architecture, but when you delve a little deeper, you will also discover that the Emirate is brimming with history and culture too. Visitors can step aboard a traditional dhow boat and sail along Dubai creek to colourful spice souks or dine beneath a Bedouin tent amidst desert dunes.
You can wander through Al Fahidi historic district – a labyrinth of narrow lanes with riad-style courtyards or spend time at Dubai Miracle Garden blooming with over 100 million flower species.
If like us, you enjoy learning about the history of countries you visit, Etihad Museum details the vast growth of the state since the 1950s. Alternatively, you can venture to Jumeirah Mosque which offers guided tours and is open to tourists.
8. You don’t have to be wealthy to visit and enjoy Dubai
Dubai is portrayed as a prosperous state and a popular destination for wealthy businesspeople and celebrities. However, don’t let this put you off if you haven’t got an A-list bank balance.
You don’t need a lot of money to enjoy Dubai’s attractions or book a holiday here. If you don’t mind the heat and can travel outside peak season between April and August, Dubai has fewer visitors during these months, thus, dramatically reducing flight and hotel costs. We have personally flown direct to Dubai from the UK in the months of February, May and September for £350 ($390 USD) return (per adult) with Emirates on their fancy A380 planes.
Many of Dubai’s attractions are incredibly cheap or even free to visit including bustling gold souqs and shopping malls. As you may have seen in our Dubai travel guide app, a trip on the Dubai creek water taxi costs less than £1.
As the Emirate is also home to a huge population of Indian, African, and Filipino nationals, you can also find cheap international restaurants in less touristy areas of the city, with delicious hearty lunches costing from around £5-6 ($6.50 USD). Tickets to Dubai Museum and Dubai Fort are cheap too at around £1 for adults and even less for kids.
9. Listen when a Dubai resident tells you that it’s too hot to walk around outside
Dubai gets hot. Fact. This is always something to consider, especially if you’re travelling with children.
Peak season in Dubai is from December through to February during the Dubai Shopping Festival and rates often increase during this time, partly due to the great shopping deals (up to 75% off everything). However, this is peak season mainly because temperatures are cooler and more bearable for holidaymakers.
If you don’t mind a bit of heat (a pleasant 25-28 degrees Celsius or 80°F), late March, May and October are good times to visit. However, when you reach July and August, you’ll find even the locals avoid the streets, as it can be too hot to venture outdoors during the daytime.
One rule to follow in Dubai – if a local says it’s too hot to go outdoors, turn up the air-conditioning or find activities to do in the hotel.
10. Be cautious and ask for permission before taking photos
We love to take photographs whilst on holiday with family or friends and we’re often found snapping magnificent sunsets, scenic landscapes and pictures of the little ones splashing around in the swimming pool.
Most locals don’t mind if you’re taking pictures of your loved ones on a smartphone, but situations can take a turn if you have a full camera kit with a tripod and zoom lens.
In some places in Dubai, such as government buildings, military areas or airports, photography is prohibited without permission being granted. It’s classed as an invasion of privacy, and you could be fined or spend up to 6 months in a jail cell if caught breaking the rules!
Visitors to Dubai who are keen on photography should be sensitive to local culture too, and this means no photographs of women or children without consent.
Also worth knowing – if you take a “selfie” on the beach, in a shopping mall or souq, try not to capture any clearly-identifiable people in the background before publishing the photograph online if you haven’t cleared it with them first.
11. Show respect during the holy month of Ramadan
If you’re not familiar with Ramadan or the customs of Dubai, it’s worth noting the following before you plan your trip.
Ramadan is a time for reflection and togetherness for Muslim people and citizens often take more time to pray in local mosques. During this religious time, it’s legally forbidden to eat, drink or smoke in public areas during daylight hours.
Many restaurants will close their doors until after sunset and shopping mall food courts are screened off. Meals served after sunset are known as Iftar meals, and some restaurants have special buffet menus so that you can help yourself. Music is also played at lower volumes to be respectful and live music is limited during the religious festival.
In 2022, Ramadan started on the 1st of April and is due to run from the 22nd of March to the 21st of April in 2023.
Hopefully, after reading our helpful guide, you’re still planning to visit Dubai and will fully embrace the local culture. Most trips are smooth and problem free, however, we always think the more information you have before you go, the less likely you are to run into issues. This makes for a happy and memorable stay, and like us, you’ll surely want to return in the future. For the record, we’ve never had a single issue during any of our 5 visits to Dubai… just pure enjoyment!