After living in Abu Dhabi for almost 2 years, I’ve compiled a list of the 10 most common questions I get asked. There are common misconceptions about the Middle East and I hope you’ll this useful!
Quick note: It’s easy to get Abu Dhabi and Dubai confused. Abu Dhabi is the capital and the largest Emirate in the UAE. Dubai is about an hour to an hour North of Abu Dhabi. It’s arguably the most popular tourist destination in the Middle East.
Are Abu Dhabi & Dubai safe to visit?
Absolutely. Abu Dhabi is ranked the safest city in the world. Additionally, the UAE is ranked the second safest country in the world behind Finland.
Is there a dress code for women?
As a sign of respect for the UAE’s religion (Islam) and culture, there is a general dress code. I normally tell my friends to pack what they would normally wear at home, but also to pack some items that cover your shoulders and knees for public places (I.e. Malls). In Abu Dhabi hotels (with the exception of Emirates Palace), restaurants and clubs, you can wear “what you would wear at home to go out” (I.e. Dresses, shorts, tanks etc). You are allowed to wear bikinis at the beach and pool.
In Dubai, the dress code is more relaxed because of the increasing tourism industry. However, I still recommend covering your shoulders in the malls and public areas as a general rule of thumb. You’ll find that many tourist areas are quite relaxed. You’ll commonly see women wear shorts and tanks in some areas. It’s also quite cool indoors since the AC is always at an all-time high! Be aware that if you’re showing cleavage, you may be asked to leave even though your shoulders are covered.
Am I allowed to drink alcohol?
Yes. As a tourist, you are allowed to drink in hotels, bars and restaurants serving alcohol. This is provided that you’re over 21. Drinking or being drunk in public is illegal and is not tolerated.
Are women allowed to drive in the UAE?
Yes, women are allowed to drive.
Do I need to bring cash? How much do I need to bring?
You can use your credit card for almost all transactions. However, Abu Dhabi/Dubai are both large cash societies. The taxis here do not take card, so bring a few hundred dirhams to be safe.
Is tipping necessary?
Tipping is not expected like it is in North America. As a general rule of thumb, you can round up your bill or tip what you feel your server deserves. A lot of restaurants will include a service charge, so double check your bill prior to paying.
I heard PDA is illegal – Is this true?
Any public displays of affections such as kissing is illegal here and can be considered public indecency. Holding hands is acceptable if you are a married couple. In saying this, you will still see hand holding everywhere, especially in tourist areas where they never enforce this rule. In my experience, the locals are so used to the high expat population (>80%) but not dressing modestly and kissing are big no-no’s.
What language do they speak in the UAE?
Arabic is the main language in the UAE, but the most commonly spoken language is English.
When is the best time to visit?
The best time to visit the UAE is from November – March. The warmer months of May to October are extremely hot and humid. Temperatures can reach as high as 50°C or 120°F!!!
Do I need a visa to enter the country?
You require a visa to enter depending on your nationality and the duration/purpose of your trip. This site provides a lot of information on whether you require a visa prior to entering the country.