Several days ago, a huge story exploded in the news about a couple who was jailed in Abu Dhabi for having premarital sex. The woman went to the doctor because she was ill and it turned out that she was pregnant. Soon thereafter, she and her fiancé were arrested and have been detained without charge. Stories like these have been permeating the news cycle lately. It’s creating fear among travelers and making people worry about visiting Dubai. Although I can’t speak for countries such as Iraq and Syria (I’m going to take a wild guess and say that they’re pretty dangerous), I can speak for the United Arab Emirates and I believe that Dubai is very safe. That being said, there are still some important dos and don’ts of visiting Dubai.
Dubai is not a pedestrian-friendly city and it can get so hot that you probably don’t want to be walking around. I tried to walk around once and became lost. Don’t be like me. Take a taxi. The taxis are fairly cheap and lots of the drivers speak English. Women and children can ride in a special taxi that is only for women. If you feel like spending a little bit more, you can take a luxury taxi. The cheapest taxis are still very nice and there’s really no reason to shell out the big bucks on a luxury ride.
Ride the Metro
If you want to get around like a local, do ride the Dubai Metro. The Metro is so impeccably clean and well maintained that riding it is an attraction on its own. For those of you who are traveling into the city from the airport, the Metro goes directly to the terminals. Choosing which train car to ride in can be confusing. There is a women and children car that only women and children can use. If a man is in it, all of the women will glare at him and bore their souls into him. On the contrary, women can ride in the ‘general public’ car without an issue. I personally prefer to ride in the women’s car because it’s usually less crowded.
Wear Light and Loose Clothes
News flash – it can get really hot in Dubai. Like so hot that virtually everywhere is air-conditioned. That being said – be prepared for warm temperatures, even in the winter. The stark contrast in temperatures can lead some people to wonder what to wear in Dubai. Well thankfully, you don’t need to stress out too much about your clothing. If you wear looser clothes, it will help the air to move around your body and won’t make you as hot. Additionally, looser clothes won’t show off your womanly shape, which is frowned upon in Dubai.
Be Prepared to Dress Modestly
Here’s the thing. Dubai is very westernized. The United Arab Emirates, especially Dubai, has an enormous amount of ex-pats. I saw plenty of women walking around without their legs or shoulders covered. That being said, I advise dressing modestly. There’s a reason that the saying “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” is so famous. That is exactly how you should travel and it is applicable to every spectrum of the traveling world. When in the Emirates, do as the Emiratis do. And if you’re a woman, I recommend covering wearing conservative clothes. I found some websites like this one to be very helpful in deciding what to wear and how I was going to style my clothing. However, there are some things you should know if you’re a woman going to Dubai.
Some Places Have Dress Codes
If you choose to not dress conservatively, you won’t be thrown in jail for it or anything like that. Dress code laws do exist but for the most part, they can be fairly lax. Some restaurants may choose to not serve you and you may receive some judgmental stares, but you’re not going to get hauled off. Be aware that the Dubai Mall requires that you cover at least your shoulders and knees, so plan accordingly. However, I chose to be respectful of the Muslim faith and cover myself while in Dubai. It was a completely personal decision because I wanted to be respectful and blend in with the locals. I personally think locals treated me better in public because I made that choice. One driver even said that he thought more highly of Americans because I was willing to show respect for their faith.
You Will Receive Stares if You Aren’t Covered
Remember, the culture of Dubai is very conservative. So even if you don’t get in trouble for what you’re wearing, expect to see some disapproving stares. You’ve been warned.
See the Burj Khalifa
You can’t go to Dubai and miss the Burj. Visible from nearly everywhere in the city, the world’s tallest building commands the skyline. Tickets to the very top can be pricy and on hazy days you can’t see very much. If you go to the top on a clear day he view is outstanding. Regardless of the weather conditions, at least go to the bottom of the Burj and get vertigo by staring at the top of it. If you can, watch the fountain show that takes place in the lake in front of the Burj throughout the day! A bonus is that it is right by the mall, so you can kill two birds with one stone. A Dubai vacation wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Burj Khalifa.
Observe Friday as a Holy Day
Holy days vary in different religions, and in Islam, Friday is considered a holy day. The Metro will not run until later on Friday afternoon, and some things may be closed on Fridays. Since Dubai is such a worldly metropolis, the city does not completely shut down on Fridays but just anticipate that when making your plans.
Leave the City
Dubai is an incredible city with so much to see but you should definitely leave the city at some point during your stay. One of the most common ways to do so is to take a desert safari. There are dozens of different desert safaris ranging in price from moderate to expensive. Most of them are very similar, so don’t feel like you have to over indulge. Desert safaris usually consist of a four-wheeler ride, henna tattoos, holding a falcon, a camel ride, and a festival for dinner. Even though these desert safaris aren’t technically in Dubai, they’re still one of the top things to do in Dubai for tourists. It may be typically geared toward tourists but is still a fun way to experience some authentic culture and see more than just the hustle and bustle of Dubai.
Be Overly Affectionate in Public
Another thing that can deter people from visiting the U.A.E. are their strict public affection laws. Homosexuality is illegal, and public displays of affection are considered a strong offense to public decency. Holding hands in public is the furthest that public affection can go, and even then it should only be between married couples. I did see a local couple (presumably married) holding hands while they walked down a street at night, but that was the most PDA I saw the whole time.
Photograph Locals Without Permission
This should go without saying, but don’t take a picture of a local without their permission. Nobody wants to have his or her space invaded or have a camera thrust in their face. If you want to take a picture of someone, do it from far away enough that it looks like you’re taking a picture of something else. If you want to take a picture of someone, ask for permission. There’s no guarantee they’ll say yes, but at least you’ll be polite about it.
Take Pictures of Government Buildings
If it looks like a really important and official building, just don’t take a picture of it. For the Emirates, they could consider your photo to be an issue of national security and I really don’t think you want to end up in trouble with the law.
Be Drunk in Public
Some countries don’t care at all if you’re drunk in public, but the U.A.E. is not one of them. In fact, only certain four and five star hotels and restaurants will even sell alcohol. Go there if you’re fancying a drink (or seven) but just be careful of your behavior. Whatever you do, DON’T drive drunk because it can get you thrown in jail, regardless of your BAC.
Spend Time Working
Okay, maybe this one is for me and all of the digital nomads who are constantly working. I spent one entire evening in Dubai on my computer, watching Netflix and doing work. Sadly, while doing cool things, sometimes work interrupts. If you’re doing a lot of online work, access your hosted virtual desktop from anywhere through Cloud Desktop Online and save all your important documents on your your collaboration site through Apps 4 Rent. That’s a way to help you out when you’re on the road. So if you absolutely HAVE to work, it’s okay. But don’t spend all of your time with your nose buried in your computer or phone. After all, you’re in Dubai!
Worry about Your Safety
Maybe I haven’t reiterated this enough, but Dubai is incredibly safe. I only felt uneasy one time and that’s when I was after the sun had set and I wasn’t in a touristy area. My mom and I were the only women around and we didn’t know if we were breaking any rules for women by being out so late. Since we were unsure of the rules, we were uneasy and ended up returning to the Burj. That was the only problem I ever had while visiting Dubai, but I wasn’t even scared, I was just being aware of my surroundings.
Dubai is a foreign place to many people; there is no getting around that. But a person’s ability to adapt to that shows how good of a traveler they are. After my trip to Dubai, my messages were inundated with questions from friends who were shocked that I had traveled to such a foreign country. The questions ranged from, “was it hot?” to “were you mistreated as a female?” I can’t get upset with them for their questions because they’re completely valid. For people who haven’t been to these places, it can seem like a vast unknown.
But Dubai isn’t a place that should be avoided. Dubai is an extremely liberal place when compared to other places in the Middle East but people should still take extreme precaution and follow the laws. That being said, I highly recommend visiting Dubai, or if you’re feeling very ambitious, it’s a good place to live. Even if you are on the fence about visiting, a layover is a good way to see some of the city. Emirates airline offers many layovers because Dubai is a large hub, so a long layover may provide you with just enough time to get a feel of the city. Check out Skyscanner to plan the best route to Dubai!
For further information on life in Dubai and what to expect, visit this website about all things Dubai.
Have you ever been to Dubai? Let me know in the comments below if you have any other tips to include!
28 thoughts on “The Dos and Don’ts of Visiting Dubai”
This is a very helpful article! Thanks for the details about how to dress and the info about public transit.
Dubai looks like such a unique place! I would love to visit the Burj Khalifa and go on a desert safari.
It’s such a cool place! Words can’t even begin to describe Dubai well enough!
Your outfit looks really good on you! I think it is right to dress modestly out of respect for local cultures, I lived in India for two years and it really bugged me to see foreign women walking around in short, tight skirts, or with their bras showing. I never wear traditional/local clothes as you did, but I wear loose fitting tops and trousers, simply to stay cool and deter unwanted attention.
I have not been to the ME (other than a night in Doha during a long layover), because it has never been at the top of my list of places to go (it always seems a bit too gaudy, glitzy, overly extravagant. Plus, I hate shopping!), but I have a few friends living in various places, so maybe I should go and give it a chance?
You should definitely give it a chance! It’s not for everyone, but it is definitely a place that I think someone should visit, even just once. I loved Dubai so much and I want to go back to see what other places are like. It’s a different world, but I think that’s what holds so much intrigue and mystery 🙂
Where is the second to last picture of the blue and green building?
It is over by the Creek among the Souks! I do not know specifically where it is, I found it by accident!
It’s the Iranian mosque slightly set back among some building next to the textile souk. It’s gorgeous! BTW you look very nice in your local dress. I would add Don’t use rude hand gestures, that has got a few people into trouble in the past. And do join a traditional meal and chat at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding where you can speak to locals and ask questions about their traditional etc.
Glad you got the chance to visit, it is a cool place with so many things going on. If you’re here again soon drop us an email and we can go for a coffee. firstname.lastname@example.org
Oh thank you so much for this Chloe! I’m so glad that now I know which mosque it is! Thank you for your advice, it’s very helpful!
Wow!! must have been enjoyed a lot there, right? You know what sometimes I feel these rules makes Dubai safest tourist place. Had a wonderful experience last year with my family.
Yes, I do think these rules help make Dubai the place it is! Some people don’t like it, but it’s all about how you can adapt to a foreign place! I’m glad you had a good time when you were there!
I will be arriving in Dubai soon to work as an ex-pat and am preparing myself since I have never been there before.
Tonight, on my computer, I am studying about the Do’s and Dont’s and studying the culture. I wish for my lengthy stay to be an enjoyable one and there’s no better way than to be informed about the culture of the people there.
Also, I’m curious about the food there. I want to try the traditional food of the UAE and am wondering how many different varieties there are. Also, what are the most common International dishes there? Are there also Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Japanese or Korean restaurants?
Thank you for your time in reading my post.
There are so many different types of international cuisine in Dubai! The UAE is a melting pot for lots of ex pats so they have virtually every type of food imaginable! The big malls are a good place to try all sorts of food. Since the UAE is an Islamic country, don’t expect to find pork in a lot of places but they do have substitutes for it!
Great tips, we are heading to Dubai tomorrow and I was wondering what to pack. We went to Morocco last year so I can basically pack the same outfits I wore there.
Have a great time in Dubai! Yes, overall you can wear the same things that you did in Morocco. Dubai is one of the most liberal places for tourists but I personally say it’s better to respect their culture, because I see some tourists wearing some crazy things!
I think this article is fair, but I have to disagree with you about the dress code. I’ve been living in Dubai for nearly 3 years and dressing conservatively is something I’ve never had to do – I dress the same here as I would anywhere else in the world. If you happen to go to a place where they expect a bit more modesty (Ferrari World for example in Abu Dhabi) they will give you a sarong to cover up your legs or whatever, but it’s really not frowned upon, especially in Dubai. Abu Dhabi is a bit more conservative, as are the other emirates. Also, my husband and I are always affectionate in public – nothing overboard of coarse, but hand-holding and kisses are just fine. Just thought I’d offer my opinion 🙂
That’s very good to know, thank you! It’s helpful to get additional information from people who have lived there and can provide a resident’s opinion!
I also lived in Dubai and never wore the traditional clothing because it would have been confusing to others; as a woman but neither Arab nor Muslim, I do not act in the ways expected for those ladies and would have been inadvertently sending very mixed messages. In fact, I would most likely have been interpreted as a poorly behaved Muslim rather than a polite American for the same behaviors! I wore T-shirts and jeans and that worked well for me. You do look very beautiful, and the effort you made is commendable.
Secondly. the Emiratis are very understanding about Western manners being different, especially PDA; my husband and I chose a “hands-off” policy when we were in public, to be the least offensive possible, but Janine is quite right, it probably would have been fine. Generally, unless you’re truly offensively stupid, and push it. especially after someone has gently reminded you how to act, all will be well. Thank you for this wonderful piece.
Hi! I will be visiting Dubai. Silly question… can I wear a 2 piece at the beach? Thanks! And great blog post!
hey girl, that’s not a silly question at all! People in Dubai are very understanding that foreigners aren’t used to their customs. So you’re welcome to wear a bikini at the beach! However, anywhere other than the beach it’s not viewed as acceptable. A lot of places in the Caribbean, if you’re familiar will basically let you wear a swimsuit and coverup anywhere. That’s not the case in Dubai but you won’t get in trouble for wearing one while at the beach. Hope that helps! 🙂
Love for Dubai, beautiful country, beautiful people
fantastic site you have here. Just discovered you using bing! thanks all you empaty into this work.
It makes me really genuinely sad that women in our so-called equal society need to be seen as other mens’ property in order to not be harassed or made to feel uncomfortable. I have experienced this as well in the UK. and it’s really not something we should just accept. We have a long way to go. Just follow local Dubai rules that’s all.
It truly is a shame that we still have these societal norms in this day and age
Hey Marisa, Amazing and detailed post! It’s important to respect the local culture of the country wherever you visit. Dubai is the place where mostly women wear burkha’s. It ‘s there culture so the one who visit there do not wear too short clothes. It will look embarrassing. Though you can wear short dresses on beach – short dress doesn’t means bikini.
Thank you Lora, I agree! When in Rome, do as the Romans do!
Glad you enjoyed Dubai. I saw the article about the couple that got arrested due to not having pre-marital relations but I must say that it is not illegal in the UAE. It happens a lot, and it happens between both locals and foreigners, but nobody gets involved unless they break other laws while being intimate. As you mentioned public displays of affections are not appropriate.
Dubai is much more open than AbuDhabi, but next time you come please do visit the capital. It has beautiful theme parks, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, lovely malls, and islands that have so much going on.
I am from Dubai and our hope is to make everyone feel welcome. So thank you so much for the lovely article and respecting our culture and traditions!
I am so glad that I properly explained and respected your culture. Thank you so much for your additional advice and input!