Dubai is well-known for its massive skyscrapers like Burj Khalifa (the tallest building globally, 828 meters or 2,717 ft.) and Marina 101 (residential tower with 425 meters or 1,394 ft.), its shopping malls, its diversified culture, and its commitment to tolerance. I’m an ex-pat currently based in Dubai since 2016 and learned how to maximize our fun and learning experiences when traveling around Dubai’s metropolis.
I’m excited to share this with you!
16 Things You Must Know to Skyrocket Your Dubai Travel Experience
1. Dress Up Modestly
You’ll find Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), one of the significant GCC countries in the Middle East. As an Arabic country, it has a strong loyalty and dedication to its religion – Islam. Part of the locals’ culture and traditions is to warrant their commitment to their Islamic or Shariah law. Hence men wear their Kandura while women wear their Abaya and hijab to encourage modesty, humility, and self-restraint. It is practical to observe and follow dress code guidelines as a sign of respect and cooperation to Shariah law.
It does not imply that you will need to wear Kandura, Abaya, or Hijab, but the point is to be more considerate and modest in your attire while in the UAE.
It is permissible to wear swimwear at pool or beach resorts, for example. Furthermore, non-Muslim women and men may wear revealing clothing, but modest clothing is preferred.
Helpful Read: 11 Myths about Islam and Muslims
2. Avoid PDA
In general, PDAs (public displays of affection) are not suggested in Dubai and the UAE. Even in other Islamic countries, PDA is prohibited. You will typically see signs upon entering malls or in public areas to remind everyone. Muslims express their love for their husband or wife in private. In contrast, some areas in Dubai allow husband and wife to hold hands, especially when crossing roads and pedestrians. Kissing and caressing with your partner is appropriately done privately.
3. Ask permission before taking pictures
Be cautious when taking pictures or videos, especially in areas where cameras and camcorders are not authorized. These are typically government facilities, private properties, and terminals. When you’re not in a tourist area, it’s better to get permission before taking pictures to avoid potential offenses.
4. Follow national and local laws and guidelines
Dubai strictly enforces policies, guidelines, and regulations to maintain peace and order. All locals and non-locals are expected to observe and follow Dubai’s and UAE’s secular and Shariah laws. Here are some of Dubai’s standard public policies.
- Use of facemask in public nowadays due to pandemic crisis
- No jaywalking instead strictly uses of pedestrians
- Men are expected not to use the Women and Children sections in metro trains and buses
- Not chewing of gums or eating inside the metro trains or buses
- Following traffic regulations when driving
- No loitering or littering in public especially at night
- Avoid smoking in non-smoking areas
- Following the speed limits when driving
- Defaming or bullying someone online
5. Strictly follow Alcohol guidelines
Alcohol is only permitted to be consumed privately or in licensed public places. In addition, to drink legally in the UAE, a person must be at least 21 years old. There are also licensed supermarkets that sell non-halal food for non-Muslims, like pork. However, Muslims prefer halal food; hence alcohol and pork are strictly regulated.
6. Always bring your ID
When travelling as a tourist in Dubai, keep your IDs (passport and visa copy) with you. These are your identification documents if authorities stop you. Do not be scared if the police check on you because this is standard procedure. They want to ensure the safety of both locals and visitors. Prevent potential troubles from causing harm to people. The police are extremely friendly and approachable. They even bring their beautiful service cars around the Burj Khalifa and other tourist areas so that the public can happily take pictures. Sometimes, they ride horses!
7. Many establishments accept card payments
Many establishments in Dubai accept card payments, both debit and credit cards, in addition to cash. When I travel, I only carry few dirhams and mostly use cards to make purchases. So I can say that digital transformation is one of the city’s perks for its residents.
8. All SIM cards are to be registered
When purchasing a SIM card, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to provide a copy of your passport and visa. The government requires that all SIM cards be registered before use. In the event of an emergency, authorities want to ensure safety and easy contact tracing. In addition, the life of your SIM card is determined by the expiration date of your visa. As a result, you can renew your registration once your visa has been renewed. There are there telecoms – Etisalat, Du, and Virgin Mobile.
9. Keep a NOL card
NOL card is a lifesaver! It’s what you use to pay your metro train, trams, and bus rides. NOL cards come in different colors and use. Here are the two major cards:
Silver NOL – it’s the typical card use by the public. It automatically calculates the cost of your trip and deducts it from your balance. You can get it at a low price and use it immediately. You may use it on all forms of transport, Dubai public parks, Etihad Museum, and 2000+ shops across Dubai.
Gold NOL – I called it a privilege card because it allows you to ride on Gold Class cabin in Metro and tram. It is also valid on all transport modes, Dubai public parks, Etihad Museum, and 2000+ shops across Dubai.
For more details, you can visit the NOL card official site – HERE.
10. Check the Islamic Holidays
It’s better to check the Islamic holidays before travelling to Dubai, so you are fully aware of what to expect. For example, during Ramadan, there’s a strict regulation regarding eating between sunrise to sunset in public places. It’s because that’s the period when Muslims are fasting. Therefore, most food establishments are closed until 7 PM or are strictly regulated. In addition, drinking water in public during Ramadan may be considered rude except when in food courts.
11. Best to visit between October to March
I recommend visiting Dubai between October and March when seasonal theme parks are open. It is also the time of year when most big sales, various perks, and GITEX take place. Moreover, it’s the best time to go travelling because the weather is cooling down. Winter lasts from December to early March.
12. Weekends are Friday-Saturday
Fridays and Saturdays are, indeed, weekends. Business operations begin on Sunday and end on Thursday. On Fridays, Muslim men usually walk with their prayer mats to the nearest community mosque to pray. Fridays are reserved for religious services. You’ll hear the call of prayers siren around the neighborhood, and it’s so surreal, like hearing a beautiful orchestra playing.
After prayers, you’ll see families and friends gathering in parks, beaches, and shopping malls to spend quality time together. It’s an excellent way to wrap up the weekend and get ready for the upcoming weekdays.
13. Shops Limitless
Dubai is famous for its gigantic malls. Imagine a vast human-made aquarium inside a mall. Imagine an indoor ski resort with 22,500 square meters of indoor ski area inside a mall. Yes, they all have these kinds of unbelievably excellent indoor facilities. Endless shops you can choose from. The four best shopping malls in Dubai:
- Dubai Mall (DM) is the world’s largest and visited mall with a total internal floor area of 5.9 million square feet. There are taxis inside which you can ride when you’re tired of walking. 😁 It is the home of Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, a 270-degree walk-through tunnel for a beautiful, immersive experience of the deep sea. The mall has over 1200 retail stores, including Valentino, Gucci, Chanel, Ralph Lauren, and Alexander McQueen.
- Mall of the Emirates (MOE) – this mall has 2.4 million square feet of retail floor space. MOE has a complete array of Fashion Dome and Luxury Wing. Its shops include Centrepoint, DKNY, Boutique 1, Forever 21, Kate Spade New York, and Apple. MOE is the home of Ski Dubai, an indoor ski resort with 22,500 square meters of the indoor ski area.
- BurJuman Mall – the mall includes high brands likes Louis Vuitton, Bvlgari, H&M, Charles & Keith, and Burberry.
- Ibn Battuta Mall (Ibn) is one of my favorites because of its external and internal design. I call it the museum mall. The mall is segmented, and each segment has a name of some world’s famous countries—Architectured according to the country they represent. Countries include India, China, Persia, Egypt, Tunisia, and Andalusia. It’s like touring around the world.
14. Learn Basic Words and Phrases
It’s cool to know helpful words and phrases that you can use to connect with locals as a tourist. Although Arabic, Urdu, and Hindi are the most widely spoken languages, most people are fluent in English. So here are some actual words and phrases for you to remember.
- Maharba – Hello / Welcome
- Shukraan – Thank you
- Yalla – Let’s go
- Khalas – done / OK / alright / finish / enough / stop it
- Habibi – friend / love / dear
- Shukriya – Thank you
- Bhai – Brother
- Acha – Yes / OK
- Nahi – No
- Kya haal hai? – How are you?
Bonus: Tagalog / Filipino
Komusta – How are you?
Salamat – Thank you
Ate – Sister
Kuya – Brother
Kabayan – literally means countrymen but also Filipino people
Helpful Read: 15 Must-Know Words When in Middle East
15. Install 2GIS (online / offline Map)
It’s helpful to have and use Google Maps to navigate Dubai, but it’s even better to have 2GIS installed on your phone. 2GIS is a map of Dubai that can be viewed both online and offline. You will have full access to each building; details such as company names and contact information are available. In addition, you’ll see which roads have toll gates, distances, and route options from point A to B. Also, it will advise you on which public transportation to take, how much you may be charged, and so on. The best part is that it works even if you don’t have internet access.
16. Diversified Culture
What I like best about Dubai is its diverse culture. It encourages tolerance and allows its locals to live happily and freely. I met people of various nationalities, including Africans, Afghanis, Pakistanis, Indians, Filipinos, Chinese, Koreans, Americans, Australians, and Italians.
It’s fascinating to visit hypermarkets like Carrefour because you’ll see various food and commodities based on nationality. People are open-minded and freely exchanging ideas and thoughts. Some issues arose, but people can quickly resolve them due to the people’s high discipline culture.
Dubai, in my opinion, is a free and democratic emirate because people are free to enjoy what it has to offer. You can freely explore Dubai as long as you follow the rules and don’t step on anybody. I hope I’ve shed some light on what to expect when you visit Dubai. There’s a lot more I can tell you about in my following blogs!
Traveling is an excellent teacher because it provides unique experiences. It teaches us to discover ourselves when we are outside of our usual surroundings and comfort zone. The best part is that you will meet people from all walks of life who will inspire and motivate you to look on the bright side of life despite differences and difficulties. Life, as I always say, is difficult, but it is also beautiful. And it’s even more beautiful when you travel!
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