10 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Dubai
“It seems like yesterday when this building was oh so tiny. How’d this happen in just a year!?” I pondered, breaking my neck trying to look out the window from inside the car as we passed Burj Khalifa in 2015. “Well you know, Arushi, while you were gone, three floors were being built each and every day, rain or shine, bound to a contract.”
That was three years ago. Inspired, to this day, I wander around this country, newer each time than it was before. UAE is anything but stagnant; it is a representation of innovation, change and growth. But it is a lot more than the pictures you see, of the pink skyline painted in shaded layers behind the skyscrapers that kiss the clouds above.
You know it is truly Dubai when the flight attendants say ‘Marhaba, welcome to Dubai!’ When you look around, you see faces of expats from all over the world, calling this foreign land their home; you see buildings, sand and the ocean when you drive, as you try to avoid the chasing sun; You see art, in the way the infrastructure manages to flirt with you and keep you entertained no matter where you go. Here is an informative list that summarizes the personality of Dubai and answers all the important questions you have before visiting:
How is the weather year round?
Since Dubai is very close to the equator, it has a fairly even year-round weather. While the scorching sun shines 365 days a year, the Arabian Sea brings cold winds that keep the heat controlled at night. The warmest months are usually from May to September, and the coldest months are from November to February (as shown in the graph below).
The precipitation here is minimal generally occurring three-four days tops during the cold months. If you are planning a visit, generally the best months would be in the winter as you will be able to do more outdoor activities like surfing in the beaches, roaming around the Al Bastakiya Quarter (or Old Dubai), or zip lining with mountain views at Ras Al Khaimah.
What languages are spoken in Dubai?
Even though Arabic is the national language of UAE, 80% of people living in the country are expats, making English the primary language of communication. No matter where you go, people will know English in this country. However Arabic is compulsory for primary school students as it is representative of the country. The street signs, boards and banners are generally written in Arabic followed by English diction.
Why are the weekends in Dubai different from the rest of the world?
Yes, Dubai’s weekends aren’t your typical Saturday-Sunday; they are in fact Friday-Saturday holidays. This is because UAE follows the Shariah Law of Islam, where Friday is a holy day comprising of prayers with Jamat in mosques. A lot of companies and schools give their employees and students half days on Thursdays as it leads to the weekend. UAE isn’t the only Islamic country with Fri-Sat weekends; there is also Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Qatar, Libya, Syria and Saudi Arabia.
That’s right, UAE is a tax haven, i.e. no income taxes. Every penny you earn here is every penny you save. That is also one of the reasons why the cost of living is so high. It is government’s only source of income. Recently, as of last year, a 5% of Value Added Taxes (VAT) have been implemented on all businesses. That has technically raised the cost of living even more. The trick is, if you are good at saving, you stack up on your earnings and afford the taste of luxury here.
Do I tip in Dubai?
While tipping in Dubai isn’t necessary by law, customers generally tip between 10%-15% depending on the service satisfaction. Note that many restaurants include a small tip in the bill. However if you do not want to tip, you would not be frowned upon. Either way, it is expected to be respectful toward the staff.
Calculating the time difference from my home country:
UAE functions under one time zone i.e. GMT plus 4 hours.
What are the methods of communication?
The phone code for UAE is + 971. There are three service providers namely Du, Virgin and Etisalat. Over the last few years, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services like FaceTime, WhatsApp calls and Facebook calls have been blocked in the UAE due to private provision of VoIP services.
How to get around?
The Dubai International Airport offers free shuttles to different Emirates in the country, provided you have tickets as a proof. In 2012, Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) installed Metro System which is the world’s longest fully automated driverless system. It also includes Dubai Tram, Abras, Dubai Bus, Dubai Water Bus, Water Taxi and Dubai Ferry. Uber also operates in Dubai.
9. DRESS CODE:
What to wear?
Since UAE is a muslim country, tourists or residents of all sexes are expected to dress conservatively. By conservatively, I do not mean covering heads for women or wearing long trousers for men. Dubai is more liberal than the neighboring Emirates and even more so than the neighboring Middle Eastern countries. Authorities do not bother unless you wear something revealing enough, that it’d make you look out of place.
10. FLIP SIDE:
Is there anything else apart from lavish buildings, glitz and glamour in Dubai?
A country is never what they market it as: it is a lot more. To every downtown, there are suburbs. On the outskirts, away from the tallest building in the world, a manmade island on an ocean and a snow ski in the midst of the desert, there is world far from the lenses of the cameras. There, the oldest forts of Dubai, trade routes, and old markets (including the gold souq) stand strong. It is an authentic experience to be walking down those streets and experiencing UAE’s culture untouched by many tourists.
Until next time,
*All pictures in this post are original.*