TOP 13 IMPORTANT THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE VISITING THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
TOP 13 important things you should know before visiting the United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates… What an exotic country! The world`s most spectacular architecture along with the endless desert and stunning beaches! So many foreigners are driven to visit this land! Such various experiences you can gain! Yes, this is truly a fabulous land and a good entry into the Arab world. So here are some tips that might help you to enjoy your first steps in the UAE even more!
1. The land
The United Arab Emirates is the land in the Middle East. It is a federation that consists of seven emirates – Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm Al Quwain. Each emirate is governed by a different ruler, called the sheik, and each of them has absolute power over their land, but together they form the Federal Supreme Council. These members then elect the prime minister and president of the nation. Abu Dhabi serves as the capital of the UAE. The land of the Emirates has been occupied for thousands of years, but now most of the population consists of expats.
Abu Dhabi and Dubai are undoubtedly the most popular places to visit in the UAE. Yes, they are worth visiting as the architecture is just incredible there! However, you should also consider taking a tour in the desert and visit those oases that grow eucalyptus and date palms.
But returning to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, it is worthwhile to know that each of them is very special. Dubai, e.g., has created several man-made islands – you`ve probably seen the palm-tree-shaped island in some TV shows. Dubai International Airport is the third-busiest in the world! Abu Dhabi, on the other hand, is the UAE’s biggest economy. You`ll find impressive sites like the largest mosque in the UAE! Other emirates will reveal agricultural lands and mountains as well as a beautiful coastline.
Yes, UAE can get a bit too hot. It is not uncommon that temperatures reach over +45°C in the summer, and can hit even +49°C. But in the UAE, temperatures vary – so depends on where are you going. The climate generally is subtropical-arid with hot summers and warm winters. The hottest months are July and August, while in the mountains temperatures are much lower. In January and February, the temperature can drop to +10°C. By the way, dust storms are something that occurs in the UAE, and they really worsen visibility.
So when to visit the UAE? Well, we recommend you to decide on your destination first, and then check the weather! In the hottest summer months, it is cheaper in Dubai, as not many can bear that heat. If you prefer lower temperatures, choose the winter months of December and January, but remember to bring extra clothing and book your accommodation in advance! In the shoulder season of May and September, you`ll find good prices, and the weather would be nice, too.
There are around 10 million people living in the UAE, but the funny part is that expatriates and immigrants make up to 88% of the population! Yeah, the UAE has the highest migrant rate in the world! And therefore, it is a very diverse country. Here you will find many Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Europeans, Latino-Americans, and many other nationalities. We have to mention that there are more males than females, and the gender imbalance is huge. Even if the women are now participating more in everyday life, women’s participation in the labor force remains one of the lowest in the world, most of the ladies traditionally get married and raise children as house-wifes. Working women usually go for education and health care. And even if it is considered that women have equal rights as men, there`s patriarchy in the UAE and it is still visible in society – men take all the main roles in politics and religious areas.
Basically, Emirati society is divided into nationals and immigrants. There`s also a cast system and four main social classes – the ruling families whose members have lots of power and prestige; the merchant class that now generally do the international trade; the new middle class or professionals with free state education; and the low-income groups, like Bedouin nomads and oasis farmers. Immigrants also divide into three main groups – top professionals who receive a high salary; middle-range professionals; and semi-skilled and unskilled workers with low salaries.
4. Language and culture
The official language in the UAE is Arabic. But, of course, as this is such a diverse country, English, Hindi, Urdu, Farsi, and also Filipino are widely spoken. And you`ll be able to get around with English easily.
And then we come to the culture. Even in the biggest cities, it seems that the traditions have gone along with the skyscrapers and shopping centers. You`ll find Arabic and Islamic traditions, as well as Bedouin heritage. And travel outside Dubai and Abu Dhabi, or visit museums and different events that will reveal to you the uniqueness of this country!
Of course, there are some rules you should better know before coming to the United Arab Emirates. Dubai is a bit more open than other places around the UAE, but you should think of the customs and follow the rules, always. You can get deported and end up with a big fine if you do not follow the rules of the country. Yes, this is not your average “I want and I do” destination. In Sharjah, e.g., you can even end up in jail for swearing or taking photos of people without their permission. Avoid public display of affection. No, you do not have to cover totally like in extreme Muslim countries, just be respectful and dress modesty. But when entering a mosque, you will need to cover up.
The Islamic greeting – al-salam alaykom – might get come in handy. Actually, men tend to do a quick nose-to-nose touch while shaking hands. Women greet each other by kissing several times on both cheeks. Men wouldn`t shake hands with women in public. If you`re lucky to be in a house of the Arabs, keep in mind that the person`s parents usually haven`t been called by their first names but “father or mother of (oldest son).” Also, take off your shoes before entering the house!
The state religion of the UAE is Islam, and that basically leads all the life in the country. Most Emiratis are Sunni Muslims and they follow Sharia law. Sharia law is a code of action that Muslims have to follow, e.g. praying, fasting, giving money to the poor. Well, of course, sometimes it comes quite extreme and there are harsh punishments if one doesn`t obey the law. People under the law are quite limited in freedom of speech and there are some outdated practices. And therefore it is very important for you to respect the country you`re visiting – otherwise, you might get in jail or be deported in the best-case scenario.
But as there are so many other nationalities in the UAE, locals tolerate other religions. Still, you will hear calls for prayers and see that Arabs follow different ways of socializing, of partnership, etc. Generally, never go insulting Islam, don`t be provocative, and enjoy the new culture and practices!
Generally, the UAE is a safe country to travel to and therefore many tourists choose it. But then there are things you should know before coming to the UAE. Firstly, if you are a lady traveler, be cautious as sexual assaults can happen. Do not travel alone during the night.
This is a Muslim country so always respect the law! Culture, customs, and rules will be different than you might have used to. Be careful if you`re driving as road deaths are in a high number here. Speeding is common, while drinking and driving is a criminal offense. And, yeah, if you`re stopped by the Emirati police, be very respectful! Any bad gestures or rude language can lead you straight to jail. But if you`re going to the desert areas, be careful and do take 4 x 4 vehicles, and do not travel alone! Also, pedestrians should be alert! Cross the road on the pedestrian crossing otherwise you might get prosecuted. And remember that drivers might not stop by the crossings. Also, the United Arab Emirates has suspended diplomatic relations with Qatar – so if you wish to travel there after visiting the UAE, check if it is possible at all.
But before arriving in the UAE, check your meds and cosmetics! You`ll need to meet the UAE`s standards which are quite different from the ones you might know. Even some skincare products may contain ingredients that are illegal in this country and you might get criminal charges! You can check the UAE Ministry of Health website for this. Also, remember that sentences for drug trafficking include the death penalty.
So… Let`s start with Dubai. You should know that Dubai is home to the world’s longest driverless metro system with a length of about 75 kilometers. It is super easy to move around, and it is not too pricey, too! There are also public buses operating in this Emirate.
Taxis are available in major cities. The cool thing is that it is not too expensive to go around by cab, they have the taxi meters and can be flagged down on the roadside. Just keep the small change in your pocket. In Dubai, there are some taxis without the meter so you should agree on the price in advance. Also, there are air-conditioned, and non-air-conditioned taxis (cheaper ones) as well as pink female taxis. If you wish to go by taxi for a longer distance, you should also agree on the price first.
But if you go to explore all the country and wish to drive yourself, be careful! As we mentioned before, speeding is common and there`s a high number of road deaths in this land. Never drink and drive as there`s zero-tolerance! It is easy to hire a car which will cost you around 30 euros a day, and the gas is cheap here, too. The roads are of good quality between the bigger cities.
There is also public transport between the cities, but it is limited. There are minivans that run between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. If you wish to reach a specific place, the hotel can help you to organize a ride. And hotels often have their own minibusses that can bring you to the airport or main landmarks of the city. If you wish to go to the desert, take a tour!
And there is an air service here as well. From the UAE you can probably fly to most of the countries on the Planet! Therefore, the UAE might be one of your stopovers at one point, and if it is so – go outside the airport and see at least some of it!
One important thing we want to mention at first, you really don`t need that much to travel around the United Arab Emirates and to explore! Yes, it was shocking that actually food is really affordable and transportation as well. Even if Dubai is mentioned as one of the world`s most expensive places, you can easily go around and not spend that much! Cheap taxis, metro, and even a free SIM will help you to do so much!
But what to do and what to see? Cities in the UAE will amaze you with that incredible architecture, and mosques will leave you speechless! The UAE has the biggest shopping moles on the Planet from which the first place holds the Dubai Mall with 1,200 retail stores! And inside the mall, there aren`t only shops but also aquariums and even ski slopes! The weekend is actually Friday and Saturday, and then you can go to the party as well! Football and cricket are popular, so go for a game! There are beaches that are worth visiting, and check out the human-made islands, too! If you have some bigger savings for your trip, you can go for some tours like e.g. desert tour!
Food is really affordable in the UAE, and it is also very yummy! At first, the UAE cuisine mainly consisted of rice, bread, fish, goat, sheep, and camel meet as well as yogurt and vegetables. But, of course, this has been changed over time. Now immigrants have brought their cuisine in. Here you`ll find traditional food from Iran, India, the Philippines, Yemen, etc. And fast food is becoming more popular as well. You can find both cheap eateries and luxurious restaurants. Try out falafels, kebabs, shawarmas, Chabab bread, and others, as well as desserts such as luquaimat, aseeda, etc.
Tipping is usually common, but not compulsory. Usually, people leave 10% of the price of the meal or see if the service charge is already included in the bill.
If you`re invited for lunch or dinner at a local home, remember that traditionally people eat with their right hand (important not to use left as it is the “toilet hand”). You won`t get pork and booze, by the way.
It`s not recommendable to travel during Ramadan. Ramadan is a holy month of worship, the study of the Quran, prayer, and fasting. Fasting is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, therefore this is a huge thing in the UAE as well. You will not be allowed to eat or drink in public. But at night people break their fast and enjoy amazing meals in the market. If you happen to visit the UAE during Ramadan, do not get upset! You`ll be part of one of the most important events in the country and at the end of Ramadan, there`s Eid – a huge three-day party!
Alcohol is not a very easy thing in the UAE. By the law, you can only purchase alcohol if you have a liquor license! You can get one if you`re above 21 years of age and you`re Non-Muslim. You have to apply for that in the UAE’s two prominent liquor retailers Maritime and Mercantile International (MMI) or African + Eastern. You`ll get the papers to sign – you have to agree that you`ll behave after drinking (well, and a couple of more rules), and then you`ll be able to purchase alcohol. The license is free.
But where to get booze? The cheapest option is Dubai Duty-Free upon landing as no standard grocery shops sell alcohol. You will be able to drink in some hotels, restaurants, and clubs. Though keep in mind that the license will be valid only in the Emirate in which it`s issued. And behave when drinking! There have been plenty of foreigners who have been arrested and charged for being under the influence of alcohol in public.
But is it possible to drink without a license? In Dubai, you can buy wine, spirits, and beer without a liquor license from Al Hamra Cellar. But, if you`ll get caught drunk or drinking without having an alcohol permit, remember that punishment is imprisonment for a period of six months or a fine of AED 5,000 or both.
Remember that nobody here thinks that drinking is something fun, so don`t brag about it. Also, remember that in every Emirate the rules are different, e.g. Sharjah is a “dry Emirate” which means alcohol is almost entirely forbidden. But if you have a personal alcohol license, you may bring in alcohol from other emirates and consume it at home.
11. SIM and internet
You will easily find Wifi in the UAE. Most restaurants and shopping centers offer free Wifi access. It is also available in Dubai`s metro stations, but there we never could connect without the SIM card. Therefore, if you wish to stay connected all the time, you should purchase a SIM.
If you arrive in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, you`ll find “Du” and “Etisalat” shops in the arrival hall. These are the two service providers in the UAE. You`ll get a SIM card for free but pay for the mobile data plan. Etisalat is said to have the best mobile network in the UAE. By the way, in the UAE, the content on the internet is monitored, so it is best to avoid posting questionable content online, at least while you`re in the UAE.
12. ATMs and cash
You`ll find ATMs all around the country, except the deserted areas, of course. They work very well. The currency of the UAE is the dirham (abbreviated dh). You`ll be able to use your credit or debit card almost anywhere, but cash will also come in handy. Whether you go to smaller shops or in markets, people will take only cash.
This is the tricky part. If you are traveling with your girlfriend or boyfriend (if you`re not married), you might have to look longer for a place that will allow you to stay in one room. It is just because Islamic law prohibits unmarried couples to live together and this relates to hotel rooms as well. The best would be to relate to each other as husband and wife, it might work – especially in the luxurious hotels that will question you less (because you pay more). Well, married couples might be asked for a marriage certificate, so it can be useful to take it with you or just save your wedding photos on your phone.
Yeah, but what about hostels? Even if it is illegal to share sleeping places with strangers, you will find hostels, too. But as it is illegal, you should understand that you may face consequences if being caught. Also, you might not have the most pleasant stay there.
And you need to be at least 18 to stay in the hotel, otherwise, you need to be accompanied by an adult. Also, when booking a hotel, keep in mind that there might be additional taxes and charges – so check it before you book the room!
The United Arab Emirates is an exciting country and we truly believe you`ll enjoy it!