In recent years the government has launched several initiatives to make Dubai more accessibility friendly through the Dubai Disability Strategy 2020. Most buildings are wheelchair accessible, but drop-down kerbs are still rare and practically nonexistent in Bur Dubai and Deira.
International airports Both airports are equipped with low check-in counters, luggage trolleys, automatic doors, lifts and quick check-in. Dubai International has a special check-in gate for travellers with special needs and a meet-and-assist service.
Public transport Dubai Taxi has a limited supply of 'special needs taxis' – vans with wheelchair lifts – but they must be ordered several hours in advance. Some local buses and all water taxis are wheelchair accessible. Dubai’s metro has lifts and grooved guidance paths in stations and wheelchair spaces in each train compartment. Most parking areas in Dubai contain spaces for drivers with disabilities.
Accommodation International chains and all top-end hotels have rooms with extra-wide doors and adapted bathrooms. Even budget hotels have lifts.
Sights & attractions Shopping malls are accessible, as are most bars and restaurants. Some beaches, including Kite Beach and Jumeirah Public Beach, have boardwalks leading through the sand to the waterfront.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
In malls and most stores, prices are fixed, but in souqs and outdoor markets, it pays to know some bargaining basics.
- Compare prices at a few shops or stalls so you get an idea of what things cost and how much you're willing to pay.
- When you're interested in buying an item, don't show too much enthusiasm or you'll never get the price down.
- Don't pay the first price quoted. This is actually considered arrogant.
- Start below the price you wish to pay so you have room to compromise – but don't quote too low or the vendor may feel insulted. A good rule of thumb is to cut the first suggested price in half and go from there. Expect to finish up with a discount of 20% to 30%.
- If you intend to buy more than one item, use this as a bargaining chip – the more you buy, the better the discount.
- Take your time and stay relaxed. You can come away with an enjoyable experience whether you end up with a bargain or not.
- If negotiations aren't going to plan, simply smile and say goodbye – often the vendor will follow and suggest a compromise price.
Dangers & Annoyances
- Dubai has a low crime rate, and violence is rare. Petty crime, such as purse snatching and pickpocketing, does occur, especially in crowds and at the souqs.
- The US Department of State and British Foreign Office periodically warn travellers of a general threat from terrorism, but this is usually because of the UAE's geographical location more than any focused threat.
- Dubai has among the highest incidences of accidents and road fatalities in the world. Speeding is common.
- The Gulf may look innocuous, but rip currents can be very strong and drownings regularly occur.
Government Travel Advice
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smarttraveller.gov.au)
- British Foreign Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
- Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.government.nl/ministries/ministry-of-foreign-affairs)
- German Foreign Office (www.auswaertiges-amt.de/DE/Laenderinformationen/Uebersicht_Navi.html)
- Global Affairs Canada (https://travel.gc.ca)
- Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.anzen.mofa.go.jp)
- New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
- US State Department (http://travel.state.gov)
Classic student and youth cards are of little use in Dubai.
Go Dubai Card (www.smartdestinations.com/dubai) Savings of up 52% on admission to 37 attractions, including Burj Khalifa, Aquaventure and Ski Dubai. Available from two (adult/child Dhs1099/849) to seven days (Dhs1999/1449).
The Dubai Pass (www.visitdubai.com/en/deals-and-offers/dubai-pass) Introduced in 2018 and similar to the Go Dubai Card, with up to 60% savings on Dubai's most popular attractions. Choose from Dubai Select or Dubai Unlimited options with prices starting from adult/child Dhs425/405 for three activities to Dhs929/874 for an unlimited choice during high season.
iVenture Card (www.iventurecard.com/uk/dubai) Smart card with up to 60% discount on 30 major attractions. Unlimited access during five days in a seven-day period costs adult/child Dhs1395/1275; a flexipass with three/five attractions over a seven-day period costs Dhs575/875 (child Dhs525/815).
The Entertainer (www.theentertainerme.com) Voucher app for 'buy one, get one free' deals on dining, attractions, bars, spas, health and fitness; valid one calendar year; available on Google Play and App Store; Dhs445.
Groupon (www.groupon.ae/coupons/dubai) Website and app for discounts on everything from seafood buffets to car rentals.
Cobone (www.cobone.com) Home-grown version of Groupon.
The electric voltage is 220V AC. British-style three-pin wall sockets are standard, although some can also accommodate two-pin plugs. Ask at your hotel for an adapter or pick one up in supermarkets and electronics stores.
Embassies & Consulates
Embassies usually help in cases of a stolen passport but are not sympathetic to those committing a crime locally, even if the actions are legal back home.
With the exception of the UK, most embassies are in Abu Dhabi, the UAE's capital, but the following can be found in Dubai:
Omani Consulate Issues tourist and business visas.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Police||999 (901 non-emergency)|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Here's a quick run-down on what you may and may not bring into Dubai. For the full story, see www.dubaicustoms.gov.ae.
Anyone aged over 18 years is allowed to bring in the following duty-free:
- 400 cigarettes plus 50 cigars plus 500g of loose tobacco.
- 4L of alcohol or two cartons (24 cans) of beer (non-Muslims only).
- Gifts not exceeding Dhs3000 in value.
You are not allowed to bring in:
- Alcohol if you cross into the UAE by land.
- Narcotics of any kind.
- Electronic cigarettes.
- Materials (ie books) that insult Islam.
- Firearms, pornography or Israeli products.
You must declare to Customs:
- Cash (or equivalent) more than Dhs100,000.
- Gifts with a value of more than Dhs3000.
- As of October 2018, all tourists and residents entering the UAE are required to complete a form online before entering the country to obtain approval to carry medication for personal use. The form can be downloaded free on the MoHAP website (www.mohap.gov.ae) or its app.
Passports must be valid for at least six months from the date of entry into the UAE.
Citizens of 49 countries, including all EU countries, the US, the UK, Canada and Australia, are eligible for free 30-day single-entry visas on arrival in Dubai.
- Entry requirements to the UAE are in constant flux. Always obtain the latest requirements from the UAE embassy in your home country.
- Travellers not eligible for an on-arrival visa (including transit visitors) must have a visitor visa arranged through a sponsor, such as your Dubai hotel, a tour operator or a relative or friend in Dubai before arriving.
Visit visas can be extended twice for 60 days for Dhs220 and a fair amount of paperwork by the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs. The process usually takes one day, and you may be asked to provide proof of funds. To avoid the hassle, many visitors opt to leave the country for a few hours and obtain a new entry stamp upon returning.
Visas for Oman
The cost of a 30-day tourist visa for Oman is OR20 (approximately Dhs190). Many nationalities are eligible to apply for a tourist visa online via https://evisa.rop.gov.om. Otherwise, visas are issued on arrival.
Dubai is modern and by and large tolerant, but visitors should also respect that it is a Muslim city. Here are some do's and don'ts:
- Dress Both men and women should dress modestly. Swimwear is acceptable on the beach and by the pool only.
- Public affection Holding hands is OK, long kisses or hugs are not.
- Drinking Don't indulge in excessive public drinking, and never drink and drive.
- Greetings Use your right hand to greet someone or take or give something. Don't offer to shake hands unless it is extended to you first.
- Sitting Pointing the soles of your shoes at anyone or crossing your legs is considered rude.
- Language Swearing and using rude hand gestures could lead to fines.
- Photos Always ask before taking a photo of locals.
- Conversation Don't bring up controversial topics, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Travel insurance covering accidents and medical problems is strongly advised. The standard of medical treatment in Dubai is high, but so is the cost, especially in private clinics and hospitals. A policy that pays medical providers directly rather than you having to pay on the spot and claim later is a good idea. If you have to claim later, make sure you keep all documentation.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
Dubai is extremely well wired, and you should have no trouble getting online. Nearly every hotel offers in-room internet access, either broadband or wireless, usually free. Wi-fi is also ubiquitous in cafes and restaurants, although you usually need to request a password.
Through an initiative called Wifi UAE, there's also free public wi-fi in the Dubai Metro, on public beaches, in shopping malls and at hundreds of other locations in the country. Alas, for now you need a UAE mobile phone number to access this service. Consider buying a local SIM card, which costs just a few dirhams. For a map with all the hotspots, see www.wifiuae.ae.
In Dubai, web pages are routed through a local proxy that prevents access to certain sites, including pornography, LGBT sites, websites considered critical of Islam or the UAE’s leaders, dating and gambling sites, drug-related material and all Israeli domains. These are all officially restricted in the UAE. Some users get around this by setting up a VPN (virtual private network) outside the UAE to access blocked content.
Although social media apps, such as WhatsApp, Skype, FaceTime and Snapchat are permitted, their audio and video calling function is blocked by the TRA (Telecommunication Regulatory Authority).
Dubai may seem to be a city where 'anything goes', but this is not really the case. Locals are tolerant of cultural differences – to a point. Go beyond that point, and you could find you are subject to some of the harshest penalties in the region.
As ignorance of Emirati law is no defence, check the Dubai Code of Conduct (www.zu.ac.ae/employment/html/documents/CultureandConductinDubai_000.pdf) to avoid getting into trouble in the first place.
While the drinking of alcohol for non-Muslims is permitted in certain locations, it is against the law to drink in an unlicensed public place. It is also forbidden to buy alcohol from an outlet other than a hotel bar or restaurant without a local liquor licence (exception: the 4L duty-free allowance upon landing). Never offer alcohol to a Muslim, no matter how close your friendship, and remember that drinking and driving is a serious offence.
The laws against alcohol can be confusing, and visitors should be cautious.
A number of laws and codes of conduct govern personal behaviour.
Displays of affection Married couples holding hands is tolerated, but kissing or fondling is considered an offence to public decency.
Nudity Strictly forbidden.
Insults Avoid vulgar language and rude gestures and don't photograph strangers without permission.
Taboo subjects Don't criticise public figures or the government, or discuss politics.
Religion Do not defame Islam or show disrespect towards any religion. Avoid eating, drinking (including water) and smoking in public during daylight hours in Ramadan.
Public nuisance Spitting, playing loud music in public spaces, pet fouling of public areas and littering are all considered public nuisance offences.
Drugs & Illegal Substances
Using illegal drugs in Dubai is considered a crime and simply a bad, bad idea, even though amendments to the anti-narcotics law in 2016 downgraded drug use from a felony to a misdemeanour. Courts now have the option of punishing first-time offenders with a fine, community service or a stint in rehab instead of a two-year jail sentence. Don't let this change fool you into thinking you can get off easily!
There are import restrictions for prescription medications that are legal in most countries, such as diazepam (Valium), dextromethorphan (Robitussin), fluoxetine (Prozac) and anything containing codeine. This list posted on www.uaeinteract.com/travel/drug.asp provides an overview but may not be current. As of October 2018, all tourists and residents entering the UAE are required to complete a form online before entering the country to obtain approval to carry medication for personal use. The form can be downloaded free on the MoHAP website (www.mohap.gov.ae) or its app.
Ignorance No Defence
Penalties for breaching the code of conduct or breaking the law can result in warnings or fines (eg for littering), or jail and deportation (eg for drug possession and criticism of Islam). Ignorance is no defence.
If arrested, call your embassy or consulate and wait until a representative arrives before you sign anything. In a car accident, you should not move the car, even if you're causing a traffic jam, until the police arrive.
The UAE police have established a Tourist Security Department to help visitors with any legal complications they may face on their trip – this may also be helpful if you get into difficulties.
Homosexual acts are illegal under UAE law and can incur a jail term and fines. If you see Arab men walking hand in hand, it's a sign of friendship and not an indication of sexual orientation.
Public displays of affection between LGBT+ partners are taboo.
Many LGBTIQ-related websites, including Grindr and other dating apps, are blocked and not officially accessible from inside the UAE.
Sex outside marriage is against the law. Sharing a room is likely to be construed as companionable or cost-cutting, but being discreet about your true relationship is advisable.
A useful read is Gay Travels in the Muslim World by Michael Luongo.
LGBT Rights UAE (www.facebook.com/LGBTRightsUAE) is a non-governmental organisation that strives to raise awareness about the issues facing the community.
- Newspapers Four English-language dailies are published in the UAE: The National, Gulf News, Khaleej Times and Gulf Today.
- Business Emirates Business 24/7 (www.emirates247.com) is a government-owned publication covering business news.
- Entertainment The weekly Time Out Dubai (www.timeoutdubai.com) and the monthly What's On Dubai (www.whatson.ae) are the main listings and lifestyle magazines.
- Lifestyle Friday (http://fridaymagazine.ae) is a free weekly supplement to Gulf News.
ATMs are widely available. Credit cards are accepted in most hotels, restaurants and shops.
Credit and debit cards can be used for withdrawing money from ATMs that display the relevant symbols, such as Visa and MasterCard. Check with your bank about fees.
UAE dirham (Dhs) is divided into 100 fils. Notes come in denominations of five, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000. There are Dhs1, 50 fils, 25 fils, 10 fils and 5 fils coins.
Exchange offices tend to offer better rates than banks. Reliable exchanges include Al Rostamani (www.alrostamaniexchange.com) and UAE Exchange (www.uaeexchange.com), with multiple branches in Dubai.
Visa, MasterCard and American Express are widely accepted and almost everything can be paid for by plastic. If you're asked whether you want to pay in dirhams or your home currency, always choose dirhams, as dynamic currency conversion charges added by merchants or their banks can be as high as 18%.
Since 1997 the dirham has been pegged to the US dollar.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
- Hotels Porters Dhs5 to Dhs10, room cleaners Dhs5 to Dhs10 per day.
- Restaurants For decent service 10%, for good service 15% of the bill, in cash to make sure it goes to the servers.
- Taxis Dhs5 to Dhs10 or round up to nearest note.
- Valets Dhs5 to Dhs10.
- Spa staff 10% to 15%.
Opening hours vary from season to season.
Banks 8am to 1pm Sunday to Thursday, 8am to noon Saturday.
Government offices 7.30am to 2pm (or 3pm) Sunday to Thursday.
Private offices 8am to 5pm or 9am to 6pm, or 8am to 1pm and 3pm to 7pm Sunday to Thursday.
Restaurants noon to 3pm and 7.30pm to midnight.
Shopping malls 10am to 10pm Sunday to Wednesday, 10am to midnight Thursday to Saturday.
Souqs 9am to 1pm and 4pm to 9pm Saturday to Thursday, 4pm to 9pm Friday.
Supermarkets 9am to midnight daily.
Stamps are available at local post offices operated by Emirates Post (www.emiratespost.com) and at most souvenir shops that sell postcards. There is a 24-hour post office at Dubai International Airport.
New Year’s Day 1 January
Commemoration Day 30 November
National Day 2 December
Islamic holidays change dates on the Gregorian calendar because they're based on the sighting of the moon. Exact dates are published in newspapers. The main Islamic holidays are:
Eid Al Fitr Marks the end of Ramadan.
Eid Al Adha Marks the pilgrimage to Mecca.
Islamic New Year (Ras As Sana Al Hijri)
Prophet's Birthday (Mawlid)
Eid Al Fitr
Eid Al Adha
Eid Al Fitr
Eid Al Adha
Eid Al Fitr
Eid Al Adha
Ramadan falls in the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. It is considered a time of spiritual reflection and involves fasting during daylight hours.
Non-Muslims are not expected to follow suit, but visitors should not smoke, drink (including water) or eat (including chewing gum) in public during Ramadan. Hotels make provisions for non-Muslim guests by erecting screens for discreet dining. Opening hours tend to become shorter and more erratic. In 2016 Dubai relaxed restrictions on the daytime sale of alcohol in licensed bars. Some nightclubs are open as well, although live music is a no-no.
Once the sun has set, the fast is broken with something light before prayers. Then comes iftar, a big communal meal that non-Muslims are welcome to join. Many restaurants and hotels set up big festive iftar tents. People then rise again before dawn to prepare a meal (suhoor) to support them through the day.
Dubai has a comprehensive smoking ban in all public places (including shisha), with the exception of nightclubs and enclosed bars. In addition:
- Shopping malls, hotels and some restaurants have designated smoking rooms.
- Designated shisha lounges are common throughout Dubai.
- All hotels have nonsmoking rooms; some hotels are entirely nonsmoking.
- Getting caught lighting up in a nonsmoking area means a Dhs500 fine; this goes up to Dhs1000 if a cigarette butt is tossed into the street.
- Smoking is prohibited in public parks, beaches and recreation areas.
- Electronic cigarettes are illegal and likely to be confiscated on arrival.
- Smoking is not permitted in cars where children are present.
Taxes & Refunds
Hotel rooms, food and petrol are all now subject to 5% VAT. A 'sin' tax was implemented in 2017, which doubled the price of tobacco products and energy drinks. Prices of sugary drinks increased by 50%.
A 10% room tax (plus 10% service charge and a tourism tax of Dhs7 to Dhs20) is added to hotel bills.
The UAE has a modern, efficient telephone network and three mobile networks: Etisalat, Du and Virgin Mobile. Calls within the same area code are free.
Coin phones have been almost completely superseded by cardphones. Phonecards are available in various denominations from grocery stores, supermarkets and petrol stations.
Calls made from social media apps, such as WhatsApp and Skype, are not permitted.
|Calling Dubai from abroad||+971+4+subscriber number|
|Calling abroad from UAE||00+country code|
|Dubai area code||04|
|International Directory Assistance||151|
|Mobile numbers||050, 055 or 056|
Mobile phones operate on GSM900/1800, the same as Europe, Asia and Australia. Mobile numbers start with 050, 055 or 056.
Local SIM cards are available in electronics stores and some grocery stores. A local number is needed to access most public wi-fi.
Dubai is four hours ahead of GMT. The time does not change during the summer. Not taking daylight saving into account, when it’s noon in Dubai, the time elsewhere is as follows:
Paris & Rome
Perth & Hong Kong
Public toilets in shopping centres, museums, restaurants and hotels are Western-style, free and generally clean and well maintained.
Toilets in souqs and bus stations are usually only for men.
The hose next to the toilet is used for rinsing (left hand only if you want to go native); toilet paper is used for drying only and should be thrown in the bin to avoid clogging the toilets.
Dubai Department of Tourism & Commerce Marketing No brick-and-mortar office but a comprehensive website and a call centre for information on hotels, attractions, shopping and other topics.
Travel With Children
Travelling to Dubai with kids can be child's play, especially if you keep a light schedule and involve them in day-to-day planning. There's plenty to do from water parks and playgrounds to theme parks and activity centres. Most beach resorts operate kids' clubs.
- Public beaches
- Beach clubs
Most beachfront hotels have kids' clubs. Among the best are Sinbad's at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Club Mina at the Le Meridien Mina Seyahi, and the Fairmont Falcons Kids' Club at the Fairmont Dubai on Palm Jumeirah.
- Water parks
These are a hit with everyone from tots to teens. For spine-chilling slides, Aquaventure on Palm Jumeirah is a suitable launch pad, while the original family favourite, Wild Wadi Waterpark, has options for nervous nellies as well as adrenaline junkies. Popular Legoland Water Park in Jebel Ali is geared more towards younger kids, while the newer Laguna Waterpark has a wave pool where you can surf. A cheaper, low-key alternative is Splash 'n' Party in Jumeirah.
- Dubai Mall Ice rink
If liquid water isn't keeping your little ones cool enough, have them do pirouettes and disco dancing at the Olympic-sized ice rink at Dubai Mall.
- Ski Dubai
Tackling the snow slopes and meeting penguins at Ski Dubai in the Mall of the Emirates. Now how cool is that?
Theme Parks & Museums
Dubai is working towards positioning itself as the theme park capital of the Middle East, so there's always something new here.
- IMG Worlds of Adventure
Pose for selfies with 'real-life' dinos and go on adventures with Marvel and Cartoon Network characters in the world's largest indoor amusement park.
- Dubai Parks & Resorts
- Hub Zero
Gamers make a beeline to this indoor theme park for a VR immersion, race simulators and laser tag battles.
- Museum of Illusions
A fascinating new museum for kids of all ages with its playful optical illusions and trickery.
Kids fascinated by the underwater world will be enchanted by the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo at Dubai Mall or the labyrinth of underwater tanks and fish-filled tunnels at the Lost Chambers at Atlantis the Palm.
- Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary
This protected area offers junior birders the chance to observe flamingos and other feathered friends through binoculars.
- Green Planet
This indoor rainforest brings the tropics to the desert complete with birds, frogs, lizards, butterflies, turtles and other critters.
- Meydan Horse Stable Tour
See championship thoroughbreds train and even swim in their own pool on behind-the-scenes tours of the famous stables.
- Dubai Butterfly Garden
Pose with gorgeous winged creatures in this enchanting indoor garden with attached museum.
- Desert Safari Park
A vast reserve with some 2500 animals, ranging from lions to crocodiles, plus a petting farm and reptile house.
Playgrounds & Parks
This vast trampoline park offers a fun bouncy day out for kids and adults alike.
This interactive miniature city for kids in Dubai Mall offers the ultimate in role-play options.
- Mattel Play! Town
At this relatively new contender tots get to interact with Barney & Co in 'edu-taining' play.
- Zabeel Park
This sprawling central park counts a lake with boating, adventure playground and lots of shade among its assets.
- Desert Explorations
For the ultimate holiday pic to impress their pals back home, consider sandboarding, camel riding, going on an overnight desert safari or even a trekking trip to the Hajar Mountains. A recommended company is Platinum Heritage Tours.
- Al Boom Diving
Young divers over 12 years of age are eligible for open-water dives with this well-respected outfit.
- Skimming the waves
- Where to eat
It's perfectly fine to bring your kids to all but the most formal restaurants, although they (and you) might feel more relaxed at casual cafes, bistros and family restaurants. All the malls boast extensive food courts where kids can browse and pick what they like. Hotels have at least one restaurant suitable for families, usually the 24-hour cafe or the buffet restaurant. There's also a growing crop of kid-geared cafes, including BookMunch Cafe and Unicorn Vibes Cafe.
- What to eat
Discerning young diners may like to ease themselves into Middle Eastern cuisine with a shawarma, essentially a hot chicken wrap that's suitably tasty (and delightfully messy). Ice cream and frozen yoghurt parlours abound as well.
Need to Know
- Formula & disposable nappies (diapers) Sold at pharmacies and supermarkets.
- Kids’ clubs Many hotels have kids’ clubs and activities.
- Strollers & car seats Bring your own.
- Transport Children under five years of age travel free on public transport.
- Blogs See www.sassymamadubai.com, www.mommyindubai.com and http://dubaimoms.com.
Adopt-a-Camp (www.facebook.com/AdoptaCamp-128987127135944) Nonprofit works to improve daily conditions in labourers' camps by distributing food, clothing and toiletries; organising legal and medical aid; and providing English lessons.
Al Noor Training Center for Children with Special Needs (http://alnoorspneeds.ae) This organisation always needs volunteers to help with children's activities in the classrooms, fundraising, event organisation and administrative areas.
Volunteer in Dubai (www.dubaicares.ae) Essentially a central clearinghouse for volunteer opportunities available in Dubai.
Many people imagine that for women to travel to Dubai is much more difficult and stressful than it is. First up, let's debunk some of the most common myths:
- You don’t have to wear a burka, headscarf or veil.
- You are allowed to drive a car.
- You won’t be constantly harassed.
- It's safe to take taxis, stay alone in hotels (although you may want to avoid the fleabag hotels in Deira and Bur Dubai) and walk around on your own in most areas.
Attitudes Towards Women
Some of the biggest misunderstandings between Middle Easterners and people from other parts of the world occur over the issue of women. Half-truths and stereotypes exist on both sides: foreigners sometimes assume that all Middle Eastern women are veiled, repressed victims, while some locals see Western women as sex-obsessed and immoral.
Traditionally, the role of a woman in this region is to be a mother and matron of the household, while the man is the financial provider. However, as with any society, the reality is far more nuanced. There are thousands of middle- and upper-middle-class professional women in the UAE, who, like their counterparts elsewhere in the world, juggle work and family responsibilities.
The issue of sex is where the differences between the cultures are particularly apparent. Premarital sex (or indeed any sex outside marriage) is taboo, although, as with anything forbidden, it still happens. Emirati women are expected to be virgins when they marry, and a family’s reputation can rest upon this point. The presence of foreign women provides, in the eyes of some Arab men, a chance to get around these norms with ease and without consequences – hence the occasional hassle foreign women experience.
What to Wear
Even though you’ll see plenty of female tourists wearing skimpy shorts and tank tops in shopping malls and other public places, you should not assume that it’s acceptable to do so. While as hosts they’re often too polite to say anything, most Emiratis find this disrespectful. Despite the UAE's relative liberalism, you are in a country that holds its traditions dear, and it's prudent not to parade a different set of values. A bit of common sense (such as covering up to and from a beach party or when taking a taxi to a nightclub) helps keep the peace.
Generally speaking, dressing ‘modestly’ has the following advantages: it attracts less attention to you; you will get a warmer welcome from locals (who greatly appreciate your willingness to respect their customs); and it’ll prove more comfortable in the heat. Dressing modestly means covering your shoulders, knees and neckline. Baggy T-shirts and loose cotton trousers or below-the-knee skirts will not only keep you cool but will also protect your skin from the sun. If you travel outside Dubai, keep in mind that social norms are more conservative elsewhere in the UAE.
Tips for Women Travellers
Dubai is one of the safest Middle Eastern destinations for women travellers, but unwanted attention is almost inevitable and solo travellers are sometimes mistaken for ‘working women’, regardless of age, looks or dress. Although it doesn't officially exist, prostitution catering to both expats and locals is common in clubs, bars and on the backstreets of Deira and Bur Dubai.
Here are some tips to help ward off unwanted attention and generally make travelling as a woman easier:
- Wear a wedding ring – it will make you appear less ‘available’ (but be ready for awkward questions about abandoning your home and kids).
- If you’re unmarried but travelling in male company, say that you’re married rather than girlfriend/boyfriend.
- Avoid direct eye contact with men (dark sunglasses help).
- Don’t sit in the front seat of taxis unless the driver is a woman.
- On public transport, sit in the women’s section towards the front.
- If you need help for any reason (directions etc), ask a woman first.
- If dining alone, ask to be seated in the ‘family’ section of local eateries.
- If someone follows you in his car, take a picture of his licence plate or just get your mobile phone out.
- Look and be confident. This is the best deterrent for unwanted attention.
If you enter the country on a visit visa and then find work, you will have to leave the country for one day and re-enter under your employer’s sponsorship, though some companies will pay a fee to avoid this.
If you have arranged to work in Dubai in advance, you will enter the country on a visit visa sponsored by your employer while your residence visa is processed. This process involves a blood test for HIV/AIDS and lots of paperwork, including obtaining an attested good-conduct certificate from your home country before your residency visa is granted.
Those on a residence visa who are sponsored by a spouse (who is in turn sponsored by an employer) are not officially permitted to work. They are also subject to other restrictions such as requiring a consent letter from their spouse before applying for a tourist visa to visit other Gulf countries, or to apply for a driving licence.
If you obtain your residence visa through an employer and then quit because you’ve found something better, you may find yourself under a six-month ban from working in the UAE. This rule is designed to stop people from job-hopping.
If you are employed in Dubai and have any work-related problems, you can check the Ministry of Labour Helpline's website (www.mol.gov.ae) for advice.
While plenty of people turn up in Dubai on a visit visa, decide they like the look of the place and then scout around for a job, this isn’t really the most effective way to go about it. First, most employees are on a contract that generally lasts for three years. Secondly, there are a lot of sums to be done before you can really figure out whether the amount you’re offered is going to be financially viable.
Employers in Dubai are very fond of people with qualifications, and this tends to count for more than the number of years of experience you have in a job. Qualified teachers, nurses and those in engineering are highly valued in Dubai and are well paid.
The Khaleej Times and the Gulf News publish employment supplements several times a week. When you find a job, you will be offered an employment contract in Arabic and English. Get the one in Arabic translated before you sign it.
Job recruitment agencies include the following:
Business Aid Centre (www.bacdubai.com)
SOS Recruitment Consultants (www.jobs.abudhabi.ae)