When I first told people I was going to Dubai, I was bombarded with a whole load of this kind of advice;
“Don’t drink alcohol, you will get arrested!”
“Don’t take any pain killers with you or you will end up in jail!”
“Make sure you cover yourself from head to toe, it’s illegal to show any skin!”
Seriously, it got to the point that I was actually getting kind of nervous about going.
I think Dubai and the United Arab Emirates in general are widely misunderstood by many of us westerners, so I wanted to debunk some of the myths that surround this beautiful country, answer some of the questions I asked and have been asked and pull together a bit of a list of do’s and don’ts for a visit to Dubai, so that if you are considering a visit you can go there and relax, and enjoy all the incredible things there are to do.
FIRST… A LITTLE ABOUT THE RELIGION IN DUBAI
Islam is the predominant religion in Dubai and their customs and values are very important to them so it is incredibly important that visitors show respect to both their beliefs and their practices.
Muslims in Dubai are called to pray five times a day and you can hear these calls through speaker systems dotted all around the city. It is truly a beautiful sound and one of the things I will always remember about my visit to Dubai.
Other religions are accepted by the Emiratis and visitors and expats are free to practice their beliefs in a mutually respectful way.
HOW SHOULD I DRESS IN DUBAI?
Whilst Emiratis abide by their own traditional dress code, it is expected that visitors also show respect for local customs by dressing conservatively.
This doesn’t mean you need to cover yourself from head to toe, but it does mean that you do dress modestly. It is preferable that you do cover your shoulders and knees when in public, you do not wear clothes with offensive slogans or expose offensive tattoos and you do not wear your swimmers outside of the pool or beach areas.
CAN I HOLD HANDS WITH MY PARTNER IN DUBAI?
Married couples are allowed to hold hands in public, but hugging and kissing and public displays of affection aren’t generally tolerated. Again, you just have to remember that it is a very modest country so your behavior should be modest at all times.
CAN I SHARE A ROOM WITH MY BOYFRIEND / GIRLFRIEND IN DUBAI?
Sex outside of marriage and living with your partner out of wedlock is illegal in UAE as is sharing a hotel room with your boyfriend / girlfriend… that being said… I asked the hotel staff about this and they told me that most of the major hotels don’t enforce this rule - BUT just don’t flaunt it in their face.
Call yourselves Mr & Mrs yadayada anyway and stick to the rules about PDAs.
CAN SAME SEX COUPLES SHARE A ROOM IN DUBAI?
OK, so the deal is - homosexual behavior is illegal in Dubai and actually considered a criminal offence… so again be conservative. Book a twin share room for you and your partner and behave modestly and discreetly in public.
CAN I DRINK ALCOHOL IN DUBAI?
Contrary to popular belief – Yes, tourists over the age of 21 CAN drink alcohol in Dubai, but only in licensed restaurants, hotels, bars and private venues.
It is against the law to drink outside of these places and you cannot purchase alcohol in a liquor shop or market without an alcohol license.
CAN I TAKE MY MEDICATION TO DUBAI?
There are very strict laws in Dubai when it comes to medication and many medicines are forbidden. That being said, I took with me Panadeine Forte, Anti Anxiety medication, and Epipen and antihistamine. It is recommended however that you carry with you a letter from your Doctor detailing your medication and their reason for use.
Make sure you only take the amount you need whilst you are there and keep it in its original packaging with a prescription label – even for non prescription drugs.
Like most countries, illegal drugs are strictly forbidden and carrying, using or even residual on your luggage could lead to imprisonment or deportation. Don’t be a fool about drugs at all in this country.
CAN I SMOKE IN DUBAI?
Yes, you can smoke tobacco in Dubai. You must be over 18 years old and only smoke in permitted areas.
IS IT TRUE YOU GET ARRESTED FOR SPITTING IN DUBAI?
Ewww, I mean spitting in general is pretty gross and yes, you can get arrested for spitting. You can also be arrested for swearing, sticking your finger up and being aggressive in general. You could also face immediate deportation.
CAN YOU FREELY PHOTOGRAPH IN DUBAI?
Of course you can, but like anywhere, if you don’t know someone, ask their permission before you take their photo. Don’t take photos of Arab women as it is considered rude and do not take photos of government buildings.
SHOULD YOU SHAKE HANDS IN DUBAI?
I got confused with this one as I had read that women should not shake hands with men in Dubai. But the rule of thumb is men do not shake hands with Muslim women and some local men prefer not to shake hands with women in general.
Follow their lead – wait for a hand to be offered.
CAN YOU DRINK THE WATER IN DUBAI?
Yep, totally. The water is safe to drink but bottled water is available everywhere too.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO GO TO DUBAI WEATHER-WISE?
July (summertime) can get to over 50˚c so pretty darn hot and humid. You are in the desert after all. January (wintertime) is milder and the temperature can get as low as 15˚c so it really depends on what floats your boat.
We were there in winter and the weather was pretty much perfect in my books.
Everywhere is air-conditioned in Dubai so make sure you carry a cardi or a wrap with you too.
IS THE SHOPPING GOOD IN DUBAI?
Ummmm is the Pope a Catholic?
The currency in Dubai is the Dirham and currently $1 Australian is equivalent to 2.97 Dhs.
You can use your keycard and credit cards to pay in shops and to withdraw money from ATMS but most markets and souks only deal in cash.
Gold is especially affordable in the souks, but do your research first and know what you should pay before you negotiate. Speaking of negotiating, it is acceptable to bargain in souks and markets but not in a mall or regular shop.
If you want to have a go at bargaining in the souks, ask for their starting price and offer 50% of that price as your first offer then go from there. Be respectful and do not agree on a price and then renege.
The shopping in Dubai is phenomenal… I mean HELLO The Dubai Mall! Shops in malls are generally open between 8am-10am and 10pm Saturday to Thursday and some shops and malls are closed on Fridays and during Ramadan until 2pm.
We found most of the souks closed for a rest period from around lunchtime until 5pm and shopping comes alive again in the cool of the night.
DO I NEED A VISA TO GO TO DUBAI?
If you are from Australia, you do not need to source an advanced VISA. You are given a 30-day visit visa when you pass through immigration.
Our guide explained to us that Dubai has evolved a lot in recent years and the government has relaxed many of their rules and regulations to become more tourist friendly.
It IS truly a fabulous country to visit. Not only is Dubai culturally rich and a feast for your ALL of your senses, it is fun and safe and the perfect place for a family holiday or a wonderful place to stopover en route.
For more information on Dubai, visit Dubai Tourism here.