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13 Misconceptions About Dubai Every Tourist Should Know

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One of the fastest growing cities of the world, Dubai is a favorite destination for tourists from all over the world. However, Dubai also has it’s share of misconceptions that cross the minds of many tourists. Let’s clear out some of the common myths about Dubai that you should not believe in.

Dubai is known for fast cars, luxury hotels, designer shopping and vibrant nightlife. Its also known for having strict rules and laws that can get tourists into trouble. However, a lot of the time, these rules and laws have been blown out of proportion by the western media and are far from the truth.

I have lived in Dubai for almost five years now and can tell you that, for the most part, what you have heard previously are myths. Here are some of the most common misconceptions tourists have about Dubai.

Common Misconceptions About Dubai

1. Everyone in Dubai is rich

I wish! It’s true that there is a lot of wealth in Dubai and many business people are rich, but the average Joe is just like anyone else. Yes, there is tax free earnings in Dubai, but rents are high and the cost of living is also high, so there’s not much room to build up a fortune.

As with anywhere else, there is also poverty in Dubai, with many expats working just to send money back to their families in their home country.

2. It is illegal to drink alcohol

no alcohol Misconceptions About Dubai

While it is illegal for Muslims to drink alcohol in Dubai, tourists and non-Muslim residents are free to drink at home, in bars, clubs, restaurants and hotels. Up until recently, non-Muslim residents were required to apply for an alcohol licence in order to drink alcohol, however this is no longer required.

There is a huge bar and club scene in Dubai and most tourists enjoy the famous Friday Brunch experience – all you can eat and drink for up to four hours – every weekend.

(Funny story: I never drank alcohol until I moved to Dubai!).

3. Women must cover up

No need to cover up at pool or beach

Although it may be easier deciding what to wear every day if we had to wear burkas, women are free to wear what they choose in Dubai. And yes, this includes Muslim women. It is their choice to wear a burka or more western attire.

Bikinis are worn on the beach and it’s not always necessary to cover your shoulders or knees when out and about. Some malls do have signs requesting that shoulders be covered when entering, however this is not enforced on tourists. That being said, tourists should still be respectful and mindful of culture, especially when nearing a mosque.

4. Everywhere is closed during Ramadan

While this may have been the case decades ago, Dubai now keeps everywhere open for tourists and non-Muslim residents during Ramadan. Most restaurants won’t have outdoor seating during this time and windows and doors will be blocked out. However, in some of the more touristy areas, such as The Walk JBR, outside seating remains open during Ramadan.

While not enforced on tourists, it is frowned upon to eat, drink and smoke in public during Ramadan. Although Muslims will have no problem with you eating and drinking in front of them, it is still important to be respectful if visiting Dubai during Ramadan and to remember that people are fasting throughout the day.

5. Women are not allowed to drive

Not true! Up until June 2018, there was in fact only one country in the world where women weren’t allowed to drive – Saudi Arabia – but this has all changed now. And in Dubai, women drive buses, taxis, trains and fly planes!

6. It’s too expensive to visit

It is true there are a lot of luxury hotels and fine dining restaurants in Dubai, and if you have cash to splash, then Dubai is definitely the place to do it. However, it is absolutely possible to visit Dubai on a budget. There are many free things to do in Dubai, taxis are very cheap and you can even find hostels with pools overlooking the beach!

7. It never rains

Rain over the Marina Towers
Rain over the Marina Towers

Yes, it’s the desert, and yes, it hardly ever rains in the desert. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t rain in Dubai! Every year, the government undertakes a cloudseeding exercise to make it rain. This usually results in one or two weeks of rain and thunder and lightning storms towards the end of February or beginning of March every year.

While it doesn’t rain an awful lot in Dubai, that doesn’t mean the weather is always perfect. During the late summer months, particularly August and September, temperatures can rise to 50 degrees Celsius and the humidity makes it near impossible to do anything outside. For tourists, this isn’t the best time to work on your tan. For this reason, the best time to visit Dubai is during the cooler months from October to May.

8. You need to speak Arabic

Quite the opposite in fact! The UAE has approximately 91% expat residents and only 9% Emirati residents. Because of this, even the locals speak English, unless they are speaking directly with another Arabic person.

Of course, tourists will likely pick up some Arabic words on their visit to Dubai:

  • Shukran – thank you
  • Yalla – let’s go / come on
  • Inshallah – God’s will (used in the form of ‘What time will you be making the delivery?’, ‘Ah 4pm Inshallah’ which could mean anytime in the next week!).

9. Dubai is not safe for women

On the contrary, I have felt safer here than in any other country I have travelled to. Women are respected in Dubai and have the same constitutional rights as men. It is very safe to walk home from a bar at 2am on your own. You’ll find many other people out and about and will never feel intimidated just because you’re walking alone at night.

Speaking of safety, there is very little petty theft here. While tourists should always be vigilant when they travel, its not uncommon in Dubai to leave your handbag on the beach, pop in for a swim, and come back to your handbag still sitting there where you left it.

10. You can’t practice other religions

While the UAE is predominantly a Muslim country, with over 80% of the population being Muslim, they are very tolerant and accepting of all religions. There are many places of worship, dating back to the early 1960s, dotted around Dubai and neighboring emirates for Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists.

Non-Muslims are also most welcome to join their Muslim friends in celebrations, such as sharing Iftar after a day of fasting during Ramadan.

11. Christmas isn’t celebrated

Christmas in Dubai

Christmas may not be a national holiday in Dubai, but if visiting Dubai over the Christmas period, you will find the malls fully decorated, Christmas music playing and Christmas parties all over town. And of course, the big man himself, Santa, always visits Dubai at this time.

For Christmas Day, tourists can book a festive bunch at any of the hotels in Dubai. At Mina A Salam brunch, Santa sails by in a dhow boat, stopping for pictures and handing out sweets.

12. Dubai is not sustainable

It has taken Dubai somewhat longer than other cities to work on their carbon footprint, however Dubai is now aiming to have the smallest ecological footprint by the year 2050. With electric metro and trams and being one of Tesla’s biggest markets for electric cars, it is slowly improving its sustainability.

A new housing development, Sustainable City, sees more and more recycling of water and waste and produces more energy than it consumes. And Dubai is currently building a huge solar plant out in the desert which is set to produce the cheapest and cleanest electricity in the world.

13. There are gold dispensing vending machines

Ok this one may be true, but not all over Dubai, and it’s definitely not a daily occurrence that locals go to withdraw from the gold dispensing machine! In my five years living in Dubai, I have yet to see a gold dispensing vending machine, let alone use one.

But with all of these myths debunked, what are some of the rules that actually are true and can get you in trouble as a tourist?

  • Public displays of affection: Of course, you can hold hands, you can have a quick kiss with your other half and hug friends. But anything more than a little kiss is seen as too much affection that should be private and you may be asked to stop, or worse if the incident warrants it.
  • Hand gestures & cursing: Rude hand gestures are not allowed in Dubai and if caught can land you a fine or jail time. Same goes for cursing and using profanity towards someone.
  • Nudity: There are no nudist beaches in Dubai! I’ve definitely seen bathing suits that leave little to the imagination, however nudity is a no-no here.

I hope the above common myths have cleared up any doubts you might have had about visiting Dubai in the past, and you can now start planning your adventure to the desert.

About the author:

Ellie is a travel blogger over at www.tickingthelist.com. She focuses on creating a dream bucket list and showing people how to accomplish everything on their bucket lists. Her own bucket list has almost 200 items on it and you can follow her progress here. Ellie has lived in the UAE for almost 5 years, and it serves as an excellent hub for her many international adventures.

Follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest

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Anjali Wadhwa (cheerfultrails) is a travel consultant and enthusiast who has traveled to 15+ countries. She shares about her explorations through her writings. You will find detailed itineraries, best travel tips and well experienced recommendations for food, transportation and hotels on her blog.

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