Dubai is becoming a hotspot for vacations in the Middle East. It has everything — epic skyscrapers, luxurious five-star hotels, humongous malls, exquisite restaurants, gorgeous beaches, and more. I’ve visited this incredible destination four times and I cannot seem to get enough of it. Dubai has it all and the city has done a fantastic job at offering points of interest to fit any demographic. I truly believe that it’s a destination that everyone should visit once in their lives. With that being said, here are twelve travel tips and tricks for Dubai that you should keep in mind before visiting so you can have the best vacation and make the most of your time in this grand city.
1. Visa Requirements
The UAE offers free visas on arrival for 30 days or 90 days depending on your nationality. Americans, Australians, and Canadians are eligible for this. Check out this website to see if you’re able to get a visa on arrival. In addition, your passport has to have six months validity from the date of arrival.
If you come from a country that’s not eligible for a visa on arrival, contact your local embassy to make sure you have the proper paperwork in order.
A common question I see regarding entry requirements to the UAE is, “Can I still enter if I’ve been to Qatar or Israel?” The answer is yes. Having a Qatari or Israeli stamp in your passport should not cause you any trouble when entering the UAE. I visited Qatar prior to visiting Dubai and I was never asked about it.
Moreover, a handful of nationalities are able to extend their 30/90 day visas. Applying for an extension is rather pricey so I recommend doing a visa run to a neighboring country. You get to explore a new place for essentially the same price as an extension. We visited Kuwait for a few days and were able to re-enter the UAE on a new visa without any issues. Most people travel to Oman to reset their visas.
2. Customs and Immigration
The customs and immigration officers in the UAE are some of the nicest I’ve met in all of my travels. They all treat me with respect and like I’m a long lost sister of theirs for some reason. I’ve never had any issues with them and I’ve never been asked more than a few questions.
With that being said, a smile and a simple “hello” can go a long way with them. They are the first locals you’ll encounter when entering the country and they do their best to give you a first great impression.
Also, the UAE is pretty strict in terms of what you can and cannot bring into the country. Here are a few items that are not permitted in the country:
- Israeli goods
- Pornographic materials
- Pork products
- Firearms and weapons
This website has an extensive list of items that are not permitted in the country. If you have doubts about bringing something, it’s better to leave it at home. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
3. Best Time to Visit
When is the best time to travel to Dubai? Personally, I travel to Dubai during the summer months (May-September) because hotels are cheaper and there are fewer tourists. If you can stand the scorching heat and humidity, I highly recommend going during the summer. It’s not for the weak though. In terms of Celcius, highs are in the mid-40s and humidity is nearly 90%. I went to the beach one day and only lasted ten minutes before I felt like I was going to pass out from a heat stroke. If you decide to visit during the summer to save money, which I highly recommend doing, stay hydrated and limit your time outdoors.
For those of you who don’t care about saving money and taking advantage of low season prices, the winter months (October-April will be the perfect time for you to visit. Highs are in the mid-20s Celcius and humidity is lower. However, be prepared for there to be heaps of tourists and to pay a premium for hotels. The hotel we stay at in the summer runs around $110 per night. It jumps to $350+ per night in the winter.
There’s a common misconception that Dubai is dangerous because of it being in the Middle East. In reality, Dubai is the safest city I’ve visited. I’ve walked around at all hours of the night and I’ve never had any issues. In my opinion, Dubai is one of the safest places in the world for solo female travel. You can walk down alleyways in the middle of the night and nothing will happen to you.
This is due to Dubai’s rigid laws against crime. People are scared of committing crimes because of the harsh consequences. Therefore, bust out your diamond rings and your Chanel handbags. No one is going to steal them from you.
Dubai is the only place where I leave my personal belongings unattended while I step away. For example, I don’t pack up my computer and take it with me when I step away while working at a coffee shop. I just leave it. Sometimes I won’t come back for 30 minutes and it’ll still be there untouched.
I know a lady who accidentally left her diamond ring in the back of a taxi. The driver tracked her down and safely returned it to her. I feel like this would have turned into “finders keepers” in most other countries.
5. Getting Around
There are several ways of getting around in Dubai. The taxis are safe and most of them accept credit cards. Make sure you clarify that before getting in. Also, all of the taxis are metered. I’ve never been ripped off by a taxi driver in Dubai.
Common ridesharing apps are Careem and Uber. I didn’t use Careem much, but Uber is reliable and about the same price as a taxi. I personally prefer taxis to Uber because taxis are everywhere and I don’t have to wait for one.
It wasn’t until my third trip to Dubai where I used public transportation. Dubai has a great metro system and it’s worth using. It will save you heaps of money. Here are some tips for the metro:
- It only runs until 10 pm on weekdays and midnight on the weekends.
- It doesn’t get you everywhere in Dubai.
- You’ll need to get a Nol card to use the metro. It’s an electronic ticketing card similar to an Oyster card. For more information on the Nol card, visit this website.
- The Nol Gold Card is not worth it. It allows you to sit in a premium area, but it’s not worth it. I saw no difference between basic and premium.
- There are also a few separate sections for women. Men are not allowed in that area and will get fined if they do so. Note — you don’t have to sit separately if you don’t want to. Just make sure you’re not sitting in a women’s only section.
- All announcements are made in Arabic and English.
- The metro can get very stuffy and crowded during rush hour. I generally avoid it during peak hours.
- Do not eat and drink on the metro. It’s prohibited.
Dubai also has a bus system, but it has heaps of stops because it covers more areas than the metro. I’ve only used the bus once and it was a great experience. It’s air-conditioned and the seats are comfortable.
6. Where to Stay
An important travel tip for Dubai is to do thorough research when figuring out which area you want to stay in. There are so many fun and bustling areas to stay in Dubai that it can seem overwhelming at first glance. I’ve broken down the areas for you so you can decide which one is right for you.
This is the area I always stay in when I visit Dubai. I like it because it’s a little quieter than the downtown area. Specifically, I stay at Grosvenor House. It’s a five-star, luxury hotel owned by Marriott and it’s my second home. The Dubai Marina is manmade and it has beautiful views of skyscrapers across the water. There are also several delicious restaurants in the area. You’ll have everything you want in this area.
Jumeirah Beach Residence
This is the area to be in if you want to access to pristine beaches. I’ve never stayed in this area, but it’s right around the corner from the Dubai Marina. Grosvenor House has a sister property here, Le Royal Meridian Beach Resort & Spa, and I’ve been there a few times. This area is essentially a huge boardwalk and it’s filled with restaurants and hotels.
I’ve stayed in Downtown Dubai once and loved it. I stayed at the Renaissance by Marriott and it was amazing. I got upgraded to a corner suite because of my status and I had incredible views of the Burj Khalifa. This area also houses the Dubai Mall. If you want to stay in a really lively and active part of town, this is the area for you.
This is where the infamous seven-star hotel, Burj Al Arab, is. The Palm Jumeirah is the world’s most famous manmade islands and it resembles a palm tree. This area is a little more secluded than the others, but you’ll pay a premium for that.
7. Shuttle Services
Most hotels in Dubai offer free shuttle services throughout the day to the malls in the city (Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates). Don’t forget to ask your hotel about this because this will save you money from hiring an Uber or taxi. There are designated pickup and dropoff spots at the malls so be mindful of this.
Speaking of malls, they are grand and spectacular in Dubai. You should still go check out Mall of the Emirates and Dubai Mall even if you’re not into shopping.
There are heaps of malls scattered across the cities with stores like Gucci, Zara, Chanel, and more. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes though because you will be walking a lot.
The prices at stores in Dubai are significantly higher than in other places due to the import fees. As a result, I typically don’t shop in Dubai much. However, their summer sales are pretty good. Some stores offer a storewide discount of 50% off and these sales usually last all summer.
The Dubai Mall is a tourist attraction itself. You can easily spend a few hours here without stepping foot into a single store. There’s a huge aquarium on the ground level in this mall. I haven’t paid to go inside of it as you can see lots of marine life from the outside. They have a tank that is 2.6 million gallons. Woah. It also has an Olympic-sized skating rink and a virtual reality park.
Head on over to the Mall of the Emirates to cool down at Ski Dubai. Yep, you can go skiing in the middle of the desert. Amos did it and he had so much fun. They even have Gentoo and King Penguins here.
Lastly, it’s fun to watch the luxury cars roll up to the malls. You’ll spot Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Bentleys and more.
9. Don’ts for Tourists
Laws for tourists in Dubai are relatively relaxed compared to other Middle Eastern countries. However, you should still be mindful and respectful of these laws and other things when visiting.
Drugs are strictly illegal in Dubai. Dubai has a zero-tolerance policy for them. Don’t have them on you and don’t consume them. You’ll definitely face jail time and I highly doubt it’s going to be fun.
Surprisingly, Dubai is not a dry country. You can consume alcohol as long as you are drinking in a licensed setting, usually hotels, restaurants, or clubs. Keep in mind that the drinks are notoriously expensive in Dubai. Also, the legal drinking age is 21.
You will quickly land yourself in jail if you are sloppy and disorderly in public while being drunk. If you have a fun night out and you’re sloshed, call an Uber or a taxi and go home immediately. Whatever you do, do not get blackout drunk.
Definitely do not drive regardless of how little alcohol you’ve had because the legal limit in Dubai is zero.
Public Displays of Affection
Keep your hands off your partner while in public in Dubai. Save that for your hotel room. Definitely don’t hug and kiss your partner in public either. It’s not appropriate and you’re disrespecting the culture if you do this. As long as you keep PDA for your hotel room, you’ll be fine.
If you’re traveling to Dubai during the holy month of Ramadan, please be mindful of public eating and drinking. Dubai is even more conservative during this month. It’s forbidden to eat and drink in public during daylight hours this month. However, some food courts have an area blocked off for non-Muslims to eat. Just be smart about this.
Do not take photographs of anyone without asking for their permission first. Never take photos of Emirati women in abayas, police officers and military officials.
You certainly don’t have to dress like locals when visiting Dubai. Dubai is pretty chill in terms of dress code compared to other neighboring countries. However, you should still be respectful and mindful of your clothing choices.
Always cover your knees and shoulders. Do not wear transparent and tight-fitting clothing. If you would be ashamed of wearing an outfit in front of your mom, you probably shouldn’t be wearing it in Dubai.
You also don’t need to wear a burkini to go to the beach. A Western swimsuit is perfectly fine for the beaches. But, you must cover up before leaving the beach.
All in all, exercise caution, use your common sense and be respectful when visiting Dubai. This will usually help you stay out of trouble.
10. Traveling on a Budget
Yes, it is absolutely possible to travel to Dubai on a budget. More and more hostels and budget accommodation options are popping up. However, keep in mind that you’re not going to find a $10 hostel here. Plus, taxis in Dubai are cheaper than in other countries. If you want to save even more money, use public transportation. You can even find cheap eats throughout the city, especially smaller Indian and other Asian restaurants. Moreover, you won’t even have to buy a local SIM. Immigration officers are now giving them out to tourists.
Be sure to use this coupon to get up to $51 off your first stay with Airbnb. It will definitely help your budget.
11. Weekends Start on Friday
Weekends start on Friday in Dubai because Friday is a sacred day of worship for Muslims. The workweek is from Sunday to Thursday. Friday in Dubai is the equivalent of Saturday in the States. If you’re wanting to hit the clubs, Thursday and Friday would be the days to do so. Locals have the Sunday blues instead of the Monday blues.
12. Dining Options
Dubai is a foodie’s heaven. Dubai has so many American restaurants if you’re missing some home cooking — Chili’s, The Cheesecake Factory, Five Guy’s, El Chico, Texas Roadhouse, IHOP, Wingstop, and more. However, these restaurants are a tad pricey. If you want to eat on a budget, stick to more local, mom and pop restaurants. Alternatively, fast food isn’t that expensive here either.
In addition, Dubai elevates the brunch game. You won’t ever have brunch anywhere in the world as you will in Dubai. Brunch in Dubai is a combination of an epic feast and good entertainment. Brunch usually starts at noon and lasts until 4 pm. The brunch is boozy and the price tag is hefty. If you have the budget for, I highly recommend splurging on it. You’ll get free-flowing drinks and live entertainment. Also, most places offer a set menu for brunch. You can order anything off of that menu and it’s included in your flat rate. Don’t forget to dress the part when going out for brunch because it’s a fancy event.
If you’re wanting to partake in the legendary brunch scene, I highly recommend going to a five-star hotel restaurant. Grosvenor House offers a killer brunch at Toro Toro. You can have all sorts of South American food and you can even make your own sangria.