Dubai, although a Muslim emirate, is one of the most liberal of all emirates in the Middle East. However, there are some definite rules that need to be followed, in order to avoid any faux-pas, so as to not offend the local populace. Further, these tips may help you in taking care of everything that you need to, before planning a travel to Dubai.
Best time to plan a visit to Dubai
The best time to visit Dubai is during the period November and April, as the weather is rather pleasant during this phase (with temperatures in the low 30s). During the summer months, Dubai is horribly hot with temperatures even going up to 48°C.
The Ramadan period may seem to be a good period to visit, only if you are interested in Islam. But, if you plan to shop and indulge yourself in the best foods served at restaurants and bars in Dubai, then the Ramadan period is best avoided. The exact dates of Ramadan vary from year to year.
There are plenty of sporting activities hosted by Dubai, including the Desert Classic, Dubai Tennis Championships and Rugby Sevens. If you are a sports buff, you may consider visiting Dubai during this period.
Travelling with Children
Small children are welcome in Dubai, just as in any other part of the world. Dubai is a destination that kids would love to visit, as there are plenty of activities for children, both in and around the star hotels, special amusement parks, green areas, museums, swimming pools, theme parks, and entertainment centres. The bigger hotels offer a good choice of kids’ meals, apart from baby-sitting services available at main hotels, if required.
Dubai is a safe destination for women travellers. Women are permitted to drive, work etc, and lead a liberal lifestyle here, in comparison to several other Gulf counterparts. However, you may be in for unwanted attention if you are travelling alone. Women travellers should be aware that they are visiting a place that adheres to strong traditional roots. It would probably be better if you plan a relaxed visit and stay in one of the four or five star accommodations in Dubai, so that you can use the private beach facilities in the hotel. It is better to avoid wearing tight or revealing clothes when travelling away from the beach clubs and resorts. For instance, loose trousers and long sleeved cotton shirt may fit the bill. When socializing in local company, it is better to wait until a hand is offered to you for a handshake, as some devout Muslims do not prefer to shake hands with women. In UAE, usually women are given priority and attended first at banks, post offices, police stations, while the government offices have a separate queue for women.
Travellers with special needs
The Dubai International Airport has a special handling area for passengers with special needs. Therefore, wheelchair passengers will receive more personalized service. Several star hotels have rooms specifically meant for use of the disabled, while even major shopping malls have good access and facilities for people with special needs. Even the Transport Taxis in Dubai are fitted to accommodate wheelchairs.
Accommodation in Dubai is highly expensive. So plan in advance. The room rates drop considerably during peak summer, but, it may not be the best time to enjoy an outing in Dubai. Dubai has several other good and decent two-star accommodations too. If you find the five-star hotels too expensive, you may choose to stay in the two-star, and use the rest of your money food, purchase, and entertainment. Larger families can consider a shared accommodation.
The UAE is one of the very few nations that do not have any reported cases of holiday sickness, as reported by leading international magazines. This is due to major success of government immunization programs, the high standards of hygiene maintained in hotels and restaurants, and availability of clean drinking water.
As for vaccinations, no special immunizations are required. But, it would do good to find out in advance whether the area you are visiting is free from health-risks. Tetanus injections are usually recommended, if you are considering a long trip. Polio has been eradicated. Hepatitis A is rare, and can be avoided if precautions are taken. Hepatitis B, C, D is transmitted only through sexual contact, blood transfusions or use of un-sterilized needles. Mosquitoes are few in towns and cities, therefore it is not considered as a risk. In any case, it is better to use a suitable insect repellent, to avoid being bitten.
Dubai, being a hot city, the sun can be fierce all through the year, and travellers are at risk of heatstroke or heat exhaustion. Therefore, ensure that you carry adequate sunglasses, hats, and sun creams.
The medical facilities are generally very good in public hospitals, and may deal an emergency free of charge. However, it is wise to carry medical insurance to cover all eventualities, as, if you need to visit a private hospital, the treatment can be quite expensive.
Most medicines are available at the pharmacies. Some pharmacies open 24 hours a day. The Municipality emergency number, 04 2232323, lists the location of open chemists.
There are good dentists available, including orthodontists.
Personal Safety and Security
The UAE, particularly Dubai, is a safe place to visit. It is designated as one of the safest holiday destinations by the international travel industry. However, it is wise to carry travel insurance and follow normal precautions to safeguard yourself and your valuables.
Some emergency numbers are given here:
Dubai police hotline (Al Ameen service) - 8004888
Ambulance - 998 or 999
Fire - 997
Police - 999
Coastguard - 04 3450520
On dialling 999 or 04 2821111, during an emergency, Dubai Police guarantee that a police helicopter will be there within 8 minutes at the location.
For non-emergency cases such as traffic queries, complaints or suggestions, general information like address or location, and police events, call 901 in Dubai.
Due to the low crime rates in Dubai, it ensures a trouble-free stay for visitors. Nevertheless, you are advised to take care of your valuables in busy public places and when using the public transport. Further, due to the present international scenario, visitors to Middle Eastern nations are advised to remain vigilant due to threat of terrorism. Special care is required when visiting entertainment venues that are largely western-oriented. Further, avoid participating in any sort of political gathering or demonstration.
Although tipping is not expected, it is a common practice to do so. For the staff at hotels, gratuities are given based on one’s discretion. Majority of the restaurants include service charges to the bill. In case this is not included, you may add 10percent of the total to the bill value. However, taxi drivers do not expect to be tipped. Supermarket baggers, bag carriers and windscreen washers at petrol stations are generally given Dh.2.
The films are readily available, and so are the processing facilities and colour prints. It is better to ask people before photographing. Avoid photographing Muslim women. Avoid taking photographs of docks, airports, government buildings, and telecommunication equipment, military and industrial installations.
Alcohol is permitted in Dubai. It can be purchased at the Duty Free Shop at the airport (limit per person is four bottles), as it cannot be purchased in the supermarkets or liquor stores here, unless you are a Dubai resident with an alcohol license. Dubai does not allow consuming alcohol on the streets. Drinking and driving is strictly prohibited. Also, no alcohol will be served on public holidays, periods of mourning, or in public places.
Dubai has absolutely no tolerance towards drug offences, and you may face serious consequences if caught. Dubai has its own regulations regarding controlled drugs. So, if visiting with prescription medicine, it is better to verify if your medicines have any particular restrictions. For instance, Tylenol 3 is restricted due to the presence of codeine in it. So it is best to check before travel. Also, if you are travelling with prescription medicine, it is better to carry only the amount required for your travel.
Public display of affection should be avoided, as it is considered offensive. Dubai follows the Sharia law, and hence, unmarried couples who are travelling together will have to look for separate accommodations. Homosexuality is also not permitted in any part of the UAE.
It is best to check with your local embassies for visa requirements, as they are likely to change often. Majority of nationals enter Dubai on a tourist visa for nearly 60 days. Some are not permitted entry without a valid visa on arrival. Check with your travel agent and confirm the visa requirements for your country, before planning your trip to Dubai.
When on a visit visa, you are allowed to use International driving license. But, when you are a resident, you will have to apply for a Dubai driving license. Dubai sticks to left-hand driving. Drinking and driving can attract huge fines, imprisonment, lashing or deportation. In case of any accident, remain there with your car, and call the police, who will handle it as per the local laws. Speeding is common in Dubai, and therefore, if you do not follow traffic rules, the chances of you being knocked out are also common. Taxis are expensive in Dubai, and therefore, renting a car is considered a better option.
UAE, being tax-free country with little import duties, there are few restrictions on the items that you are allowed to bring in and take out of the country. Dubai is liberal about the duty-free allowances, wherein nearly 2000 cigarettes, 400 cigars and 2kgs of tobacco are permitted. Alcohol is allowed to be imported only by non-Muslims.
Dubai forbids import of firearms or dangerous weapons, religious propaganda, unstrung pearls, and raw sea food.
Other general information
The Tourism Department has set up a series of tourist information bureaus in the city. Each of these offices will issue maps and brochures about the hotspots in the city, and other information on public transportation, shopping and accommodation.
The information counter at the Dubai Airport is open 24 hours. The main bureaus in the city are located in Baniyas Square and on SHK Zayed Road, while the smaller bureaus are located in several main shopping centres in the city.
The UAE is four hours ahead of GMT, and there is not time change during summer.
Domestic supply is 220 volts.
Weights and Measures
The UAE uses the metric system, although even the British and US standard weights and measures are understood.
Typical light-weight summer clothing is ideal for Dubai weather. Usually casual clothing is used. It is best to avoid swimsuits, shorts, bikinis, and revealing tops, and confine it to beach resorts.
Most public toilets at the shopping centres, museums, public gardens, are clean and well-maintained. The public toilets in souq and bus stations usually have only gents toilet. On the city outskirts, although there are public toilets available at petrol stations and restaurants, they usually lack toilet paper and may not be in good condition.
Food and water
The standard of food hygiene and water quality is usually high, especially in larger centres, although in smaller cafes of remote areas, one cannot be very sure about the conditions. Water is usually desalinated, and so normally safe to drink, but, it better to use bottled water, and you may need to drink plenty of it, in the scorching Dubai heat.
The United Arab Emirates Dirham (UAE Dirham) is the local currency in Dubai. There are no currency restrictions in the UAE, and all major currencies in the world are accepted and exchanged. Bank notes come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000 dirham, while coins are used in denominations of 25 and 50 fils and 1 dirham. The dirham is pegged to the US dollar.
All banks in Dubai offer cash withdrawal facilities from ATM’s scattered across major hotels and malls. Do not involve in money exchanges on the streets, as it is not a permissible transaction, due to the possibility of fraudulent notes being offered.
GSM services are available and the mobile phone code within the UAE is 050. A particular Speak Easy GSM mobile service helps tourists and visitors who are unable to use their own mobile phones in the UAE. You also have the option of purchasing a temporary SIM card and use it in own handset with a temporary card. Etisalat can be contacted for further details by dialling 101.
Most five-star hotels in Dubai offer internet accessibility to their guests for free or with small hourly rates.
The General Post Authority in Dubai is quite efficient. The post offices function from 8am to 11.30pm (Saturday to Wednesday), while on Thursdays it functions from 8am to 1pm and from 4pm to 8pm. Fridays are closed. In Dubai, the main post office is located at Zaizabeel Road, Bur Dubai. The smaller post offices are scattered in Deira, Satwa, Karama and Jumeirah.
Normal shopping hours are from 9:00am to 1:00pm and from 4:00pm to 10:00pm, although majority of the shops stay open all day. Some supermarkets are even open all 24 hours. However, on Fridays, being the Islamic day of rest, all shops close for prayers between 11.30am to 1:30pm.
Office working hours
All government establishments work from 7:30am to 3:00pm. But private offices have their own working hours that are usually longer. The government offices are usually closed for their weekend holiday at mid-day on Thursday, and open only from Saturdays. The weekend holiday of private offices, however, may vary.
Arabic is the main language in Dubai. Majority of the local people here can understand and speak English.
Religion and etiquette
Dubai strictly adheres to the Islamic Laws. Islam, being the official religion in Dubai, it is better to not publicly criticize or distribute any material against it.
Eating in public is prohibited from sunrise to sunset during the month of Ramadan.
Other common western habits that attract stiff penalties are swearing, rude remarks, public display of affection, choices of clothing such as women revealing bare arms, legs or midriff.
Also refrain from eating, drinking or smoking in public places between sunrise and sunset, during the month of Ramadan.
Taking photographs of sensitive UAE military and civilian sites or foreign diplomatic missions could result in arrest, detention, and prosecution by local authorities. Further, engaging in mapping activities using GPS equipment, without co-ordination of UAE authorities, will have serious consequences.
Dubai is one of the safest places in the world, given, the tough laws that it implements. Respect the laws and their culture, while also enjoying your vacation in Dubai.