Undoubtedly one of the most popular destinations in the entire world, the United Arab Emirates tops the travel bucket list for people who want to visit the Middle East. However, amid all the luxury and grandiosity, the UAE remains a traditional country.
There are certain rules and laws that one must abide by which are a bit different from the rest of the world. Here are some of the things you should know when traveling to the UAE, including what you should and should not do, bring, and say during your stay.
The UAE Is a Conservative Muslim Country
The UAE is a conservative Muslim country, so modesty in clothing and behavior in public is expected of both citizens and tourists. Revealing clothes that show too much skin is frowned upon in public spaces like shopping malls, parks, and dining establishments.
Tourists need not cover up from head to toe, but they must ensure their shoulders, arms, and knees are covered. For ladies, showing cleavage is discouraged. Though it is not illegal, you’ll get nasty looks from everyone, so be sure to respect the culture and follow it.
Public displays of affection are also not welcome. It is illegal for people of the opposite sex to share hotel rooms unless they are married or closely related. Being LGBTQ is illegal here and imprisonment, deportation, and fines await those who are openly LGBTQ.
Learn Some Arabic
While the English language is widely spoken and understood in the UAE, learning basic words and phrases in Arabic, the country’s official language, will do you good. It will show the people that you have taken the effort to learn more about their place.
You will find it easier to strike up a conversation with the locals and get along with them if they see that you respect their culture and language and that if you have something in common to talk about.
Alcohol Is Expensive Here
Due to religious reasons, alcohol is not widely available in the country. You will not find any liquor stores, and there are only a few licensed establishments that are allowed to sell alcohol.
Some emirates such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai have establishments where alcohol is available, while in some like Sharjah, alcohol is completely forbidden. Because of this, alcohol can cost a lot more than what you would spend in most other countries.
If you want to drink, head to a bar or restaurant within a hotel complex since hotels are the only licensed establishments that can serve alcoholic drinks. Most local hotels won’t require that you are guests in order to be able to dine at their restaurant, so head to any hotel should you want a drink.
Gold Bars Are Not the Currency Here
Contrary to what is often seen in movies, UAE’s currency isn’t gold bars – but there’s plenty of them here! You can even get bars of gold from a vending machine. This isn’t surprising as most of the world’s physical gold is traded here in the UAE.
The famous gold souks which supply about 10 tons of gold every day are also the best places to get your own gold bars and jewelry. The world’s most luxurious hotel, Burj Al Arab, is covered with a 24-carat gold leaf on the inside.
The currency in the UAE is called the dirham. They are available in 5, 10, 20, 50, 200, 500, and 1,000 notes. The 20 and 200 banknotes are rarely used, though.
Don’t Travel to the UAE During Ramadan
Don’t be tempted to fly to UAE during the Ramadan season even though you might get super cheap airline deals – you won’t enjoy your stay if you’re not a Muslim! Ramadan is a sacred and holy time for the Muslims, so you won’t have any entertainment venues to visit during your stay.
Moreover, you are only allowed to dine in public places until after sunset and evening prayers. Because the Ramadan season changes every year, be sure to look it up before planning a trip to UAE and steer clear of that month.
The best time to visit the country is from October through April when the temperature is cooler, more comfortable, and the heat is more bearable. The months of June to September rarely drop below 45 degrees Celsius, so if you’re not used to the heat, avoid the UAE even though flights are a steal!
Public Transport Can Be Terrible – Opt for Rentals or Taxis
It is recommended that you rent a car for the entire duration of your stay if you do not want to experience public transport, especially between towns and cities. Renting a car is the way to go because it’s very cheap – you only have to pay $30 USD a day and the gas is inexpensive.
You don’t have to worry about parking your rental as almost all public car parks and hotels have either free parking or very cheap parking fees. If you don’t want to rent a car, you can always hire a taxi. Taxis are widely available in all of the major cities in the country and are also inexpensive.
Taxi rates start at 20 AED while street pickup rates start at 3 AED. Remember to have small bills when paying as drivers will not accept large bills. If you’re a woman and are wary of riding taxis alone, you can hail a ladies taxi, which are cabs with bright pink rooftops.
Tipping Is Not Required
Tipping is not required nor expected in the UAE, but it is a well-appreciated gesture. Do not hesitate to leave a 10% tip in cash if you were wowed by excellent and great service.
Most restaurants add a standard 10 to 15% service charge to your bill at the end of your meal, so don’t worry if you do not feel like tipping. The service charge is divided among all staff, not just the wait staff, so if you were really pleased with the wait staff’s service, you can give an extra tip.
For taxi drivers, tips are also not expected but are greatly appreciated. A 5 AED tip would be plenty or you can also round the fare up to the nearest note and ask them to keep the change. Bag carriers at hotels are usually tipped 2 AED.
The Food Is Really Good in the UAE
Arab food is extremely flavorful and delicious, so be sure to indulge your taste buds with some of UAE’s finest dishes. Be sure to grab a bite of the authentic falafel and kebabs made of all kinds of meat excluding pork. Be sure to try the shawarma – spicy meat wrapped in a soft flour tortilla.
Try the authentic Emirati and Persian Gulf cuisine and taste the cinnamon, nutmeg, and herbal-citrusy Eastern Spice blend called the za’atar. If you don’t want to eat alongside tourists, don’t go for dinner before 8:30 PM. Arabs and expats eat much later, from 10:00 P.M. onwards.
If you’re missing food from your particular home, don’t worry because you can access global cuisine in the UAE. Try a range of cuisines such as Indian, Italian, French, Japanese, American, and much more. Dining experiences will suit all budgets so you will surely find the right restaurant for you.
Check What’s In Your Luggage
The United Arab Emirates strictly implements zero-tolerance anti-drug laws. Be prepared for a thorough search at airports. Any kinds of sex toys, pornographic materials, and prohibited drugs are not permissible.
Be sure to check the list of banned substances and items from a UAE consulate or embassy before traveling to the UAE. Carrying medications that are sold over-the-counter in some countries could get you arrested. Remember to carry a doctor’s prescription for any medication that you’re bringing with you.
Travelers passing through with trace amounts of narcotics can be punished with imprisonment up to four years, so check and double-check your bags to make sure you don’t end up in jail while on holiday.
These are the most important facts to know before traveling to the UAE. Although UAE is a fairly conservative country, you will still have loads of fun discovering the places, trying the food, and experiencing the culture in this country.
Enjoying the grand architecture and exciting activities in the UAE is just a part of your trip. Learning a bit of the language, dressing appropriately, and respecting local customs will help you enjoy your visit to the UAE so much more. Remember to travel safely and responsibly to get the most out of a trip of a lifetime to the UAE!