Top 10 Things to Know When Traveling to the UAE

Located in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates is very safe country with the comforts and luxuries of home combined with a taste of the exotic. As one of the most liberal countries in the Gulf, you can come here to party, shop, explore the Bedouin culture, or enjoy a desert safari with elegance and ease. Whatever you plan to do in the UAE, there is important information you need to know in preparation for your trip.

Here are my top 10 things to know when traveling to the United Arab Emirates.

Teri with falcon trainer2

Me with the Bedouin Falcon Trainer in the desert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sharjah

Emrati kids at the Sharjah International Book Fair (Photo by Tomas Loewy)

 

 

 

 

 

#1 When to Go:
It’s best to travel to the UAE between the months of October and March. From April to September in the Middle East, the desert can be unbearably hot. Also, avoid Ramadan! Why? Because you are not permitted to eat or drink in public until after sundown and business hours can be erratic and it’s simply not an ideal time as a tourist.

In Dubai

Me in Dubai

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#2 Money:
The official currency is the UAE dirham (Dh). When you arrive at the airport, use an ATM to withdraw Dirham for the best exchange rate. You NEED local currency here. At the time of this post, the exchange is $1 US dollar equals 3.67 Emirati Dirham, but exchange rates change all the time, so be sure to check it before you leave. Do yourself a favor and download the currency exchange app so you can always stay abreast of current exchange rates no matter where you travel.

#3 Food:
The modern diet of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is cosmopolitan with dishes from around the world. You can find delicious Middle Eastern food with a mix of meat, fish, lamb, goat and beef along with the regional authentic falafel, kebab, shawarma. Hotel restaurants have a more international selection and are the ONLY places where alcohol is served. This is why all UAE nightclubs are located in hotels.

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Mezze – hummus, tabouleh and moutabe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#4 Electricity:
A question that is often asked when traveling abroad is what electrical converter will you need. In the UAE, they use the British three-pin rectangular plug. So, make sure to pack your universal convertor.
#5 Tipping:
There are no hard and fast rules about tipping in the UAE. At most restaurants, a 10 to 15 percent service charge is added to the bill. Your waiter may or may not receive this, so if the service was really good, you might want to leave a little extra tip in cash. As for tipping your taxi driver, round up to the nearest note.

#6 Taxis/Transportation:
Taxis are reasonably inexpensive and easy to find. All taxis are metered and can be hailed from the street. Make sure to have change handy, as Dubai’s taxi drivers have an aversion to large notes. Most taxis do not accept cards so make sure you have enough dirham for your ride.

#7 Safety Precautions:
Bad driving – people aren’t very courteous on the roads so keep this in mind.
If you’re at the beach, be aware of the strong currents, which have been known cause people to drown in even the shallowest of waters every year. Have fun, but be safe!

#8 No No’s:
Public displays of affection are highly offensive and prohibited. Maintain respectable adoration and wait until you’re in private to be affectionate in the UAE. As long as you behave reasonably respectfully, and sensibly, you’ll be fine. In Sharjah, the most conservative emirate, you should NOT hold hands or kiss in public. It is not tolerated by the police and beware of residents who might tell on you.

#9 How to Dress:
It is best to avoid clothing that might be regarded as offensive. Anything that is too tight, too low cut, or showing too much skin or anything that is not conservative can cause unwanted religious or legal attention. It is better to cover the knees, shoulders, and everything in between.

In Dubai, you can get away with much more especially, when going to the night clubs. However, be mindful that the UAE is not South Beach. The UAE is a Muslim country and they have rules. If you have to ask whether it’s acceptable or not, assume it isn’t.

When visiting a mosque, no one can wear shorts even if it’s 100 degrees outside. Men should wear pants that are ankle length and women should wear pants or skirts/dresses that are loose and to your ankle. Your arms must be fully covered either by a scarf or your shirt. Women must cover their hair with a headscarf.

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Taking a selfie outside of Al Noor Mosque in Sharjah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#10 Key Phrases:

In Arab countries there are phrases that you will hear all the time like Salam-wa-leykum (Peace be upon you).  It’s always a nice gesture to learn a few things in the local language so try these out and see the response you’ll get from locals.  They will appreciate the gesture even if your pronunciation isn’t spot on.

• Marhaba = Hello
• Salam-wa-leykum = Peace be upon you
• Waley-kum-a-salam = Reply (Peace be upon you too)
• Shukran = Thank you
• Aafawn = You’re welcome

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