Dubai is not just a city. It is a confluence of cultures, resulting in a kaleidoscope of diverse people, languages, and perspectives. This makes the independent city Dubai, one of the seven emirates of the UAE, an extraordinary place for travelers globally. You can come to Dubai, satisfy your wanderlust in the opulence and luxury the city has to offer, deepen and broaden your understanding of the world.
With thousands of travel blogs and top travel guides tailored to tourists visiting Dubai, there is not one that you can rely on for some of the most critical information you will require. If you are looking forward to your next vacation in Dubai, read this guide to know all the essential information that will come in handy when you are there.
Getting to the Dubai
Dubai, the Middle East’s largest airline hub, boasts amazingly great connections globally with their Emirates Airlines and other carriers. These include a vast number of direct flights to different destinations in the US, UK, Australia.
Other options for getting to the UAE are somewhat limited for western visitors. It is easy to travel overland into the United Arab Emirates from different parts, including Oman and Saudi Arabia. There are very few to almost no ferry services to Dubai, even though Dubai is an extremely popular destination on various cruise itineraries.
Flights options from the US and Canada
Currently, there are multiple nonstop flight options to Dubai with Emirates Airlines from New York, Chicago, Orlando, Washington D.C., Boston, Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Seattle, Toronto, San Francisco, and other locations with either one or two stop options with different carrier airlines. Flights from the East Coast of the US take approximately 12-14 hours to reach, and flights from the West Coast take approximately 16 hours to reach. Flights from Houston and Dallas take between 14-16 hours to reach Dubai.
The best time to visit Dubai is during the colder months, i.e., from December to February. The city, during these months, enjoys a pleasant Mediterranean climate with average temperatures being in the mid 60 degrees.
Accommodation options in UAE
Dubai has a wide range of accommodation options, most of which are aimed toward big spenders. There are also a few great options of mid-range places with a decent selection, but little to almost none for real budget travelers.
High-end accommodation options
At the top end of accommodation options in the UAE, fantastic hotels, some of the best on the planet, are recommended by the leading travel guides. This ranges from the futuristic Burj al Arab to conventional Arabian-themed hotel-cum palaces like One&Only Royal Mirage and the Al Qasr. When it comes to comfort, all the top hotels in Dubai are outrageously luxurious regarding standards with extravagant suites, indulgent spas, bars, and Instagram-worthy private beaches. The size and style of these places make them a tourist attraction of their own, where it is highly possible you would love to spend at least one day without feeling the need to leave.
Some of the top hotels like the Umm Suqeim and Dubai Marina are spread out along the beach and around the Palm. However, there is a shortage of accommodation options with an oceanfront view, meaning the best places get booked out in an instant, especially during the winter months.
There are innumerable options when it comes to finding the best mid-range hotels in Dubai. They are comfortable, functional, and easy to live in, though not as magnificent and opulent as the top-class hotels.
Real budget accommodations
There are very few or almost no budgeted options in Dubai. A double occupancy room would cost anywhere less than $70, and a single occupancy room would be under $55. The great news here is that stringent Government regulations and standardized benchmarks ensure these budget hotels are clean and well-maintained. They come with en-suite bathrooms, hot water, satellite TV, and a refrigerator. WiFi is also more or less available universally in even these budget hotels, though some hotels may charge for it separately.
The Government grades the accommodation options in Dubai based on a star-rating system compared to those used globally, starting from a one-star hotel to a five-star deluxe option. The city also houses its first-ever seven-star hotel i.e., Burj al-Arab.
Despite the glitter and glimmer of the westernized veneer, you must know Dubai is an Islamic state, and visitors are expected to adhere to the local cultural norms. And according to some of the top travel guides, if you do not, you will have to risk certain consequences. (Remember Sex and The City 2 Movie? Just about that!)
Tips to follow the culture and etiquettes
1. Avoid drinking excessively and try not to appear drunk in public. Display of drunkenness in public, outside a licensed venue, is against the local laws and can result in you being locked up. Find out more about the drinking laws in Dubai. Also, while you are at it, do not drive under the influence of alcohol. There are strict penalties for the same.
2. Do not, we repeat, do not engage in PDA. Public Display of Affection is considered inappropriate in Dubai’s culture. It could get you anything, from embarrassment to a few days to weeks in prison. Holding your loved one’s hands or giving them a peck on the cheek is okay, but anything more than that is frowned upon. Refer to the case of Michelle Palmer and Vince Acors here to know more.
3. Do not use offensive gestures and swears when in public. Do not try to give a finger to anyone or even stick your tongue out. All of this is considered rude and can get you jailed in Dubai. This is extremely important when you are driving in a frustrating traffic lane.
4. Do not shake hands with an Emirati woman unless offered first by her.
5. Use your right hand for eating and drinking.
Dressing up in Dubai
When it comes to following general etiquette in Dubai, visitors must dress up as modestly as they can, except around the hotel pool area. Not dressing up modestly is potentially punishable under their local laws. There are no defined rules of what attire is decent and what is not, but for obvious reasons, steer clear of the extra-short shorts and skirts or extremely revealing tops and necklines. Not only will you attract attention and raise eyebrows, but you could also attract punishment.
As per the top travel guides, Dubai, without a doubt, is not a budget destination. Although it is possible that you can get by without spending thousands of dollars unless you are willing to splash a certain amount on the extravagance the city has to offer.
The biggest fundamental cost of your trip to Dubai would be accommodation. At the lowest scales, it is easily possible to find a double occupancy room for around or under $70. Other upmarket hotels can go up to $140 per night. You might not find a room in the fancier five-stars for less than $280 per night, which is usually the minimum. It can run over this base amount.
Eating and other fluid costs
You will have to keep in mind other costs before planning your trip, including fluid charges, usually eating, drinking, and going around.
Eating is, of course, an essential aspect of your vacation. You can eat on a budget in shawarma cafes or curry houses of Karama and Bur Dubai for as little as $4 per person. However, in upmarket establishments, a meal with drinks is likely to cost around $70 per person. Of course, the sky's the limit in such restaurants.
Tourist attractions can also put a huge hole in your pockets, especially if you are traveling with your kids or the whole family. The admission cost for the Adventure Park in Dubai, which is the best part of your trip as per the top travel guides, can cost you $280 for four people.
What comes as a breather is the transportation cost, which is modest compared to other expenses here. The city houses a metro system and an inexpensive taxi system, saving you hundreds of dollars.
The usual room rates at the more expensive hotels in the city are subject to a 10% service charge. Along with this, there is also another 10% Government tax levied on the room. These taxes can either be clubbed to the quoted price for your accommodation and can sometimes be separate. So, whenever you are looking to pay your entire bill, cross-check beforehand, or you might be surprised with an inflated 20% on your overall bill.
You will also have to pay a reasonably modest tourist tax, or "Tourist Dirham," known officially, on your overnight stays. According to the top travel guides, this can range anywhere from 7dh ($1.91) to 20 DH ($5.44) per night.
For almost all the restaurants, the prices automatically will include all the relevant taxes, in addition to a 10% service charge.
Law and order
Dubai is exceptionally safe, although many expats and tourists manage to get themselves arrested for breaching different local laws. Violent crimes are unknown, and instances of petty theft are relatively uncommon. The only time you could be at risk is either while crossing the road or while driving.
Top travel guides suggest that if you are looking to call for police in emergency cases, please dial 999. You can also get the police’s Tourist Security Department at the toll-free number, functioning round the clock on 800 423.
Prescription drugs and illegal substances
If you are looking to be safe, ensure that on no account should you try to enter or transit through Dubai when you possess any form of illegal substance. According to some of the top travel guides and blogs, for drug trafficking, there is a drug penalty imposed, and there is a mandatory sentence of four years in prison for anyone caught with drugs or other substances.
It is imperative to know that carrying drugs in your urine or your bloodstream is also illegal. So, even if a microscopic amount of banned substances are found, no matter how invisible to the naked eye, you can be held accountable for owning the same.
Dubai’s drug laws also extend to some prescription drugs, which include melatonin and codeine. Both these substances are treated as illegal. If you are on any type of prescription medicine, please bring a supporting document from your doctor and the original prescription from home. Also, remember that you cannot get more than three months of supply into the UAE.
It would be great if you can retain the original packaging of these medicines and carry them in your hand luggage. The list of prescription medicines is posted on the Government websites as well as the Embassy websites. Here is one such link for controlled medicines in UAE.
US citizens are granted a free thirty-day visa on arrival. Apart from the US, people from the UK, Canada, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand are offered similar visas as well.
However, please check your visa requirements with the UAE embassy directly, which is subject to change.
You will require your passport, which is valid for at least six months after the date of entry. If you have an Israeli stamp on your passport, it will not be a problem. The visa can be easily extended for 30 more days at the cost of $168 or 620 DH by simply visiting the Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs, next to the Bur Dubai Police Station, from Sunday to Wednesday between 7:30 AM to 7:30 PM.
As far as custom regulations are concerned, a visitor is allowed to bring up to 400 cigarettes or 50 cigars or just 500 gms of tobacco, about four liters of alcohol, or two 24-can cases of beer. You can carry cash and traveler’s cheques for up to a value of 40,000 DH (approximately $10889).
You are not allowed to carry the following prohibited items:
2. Pornographic materials
3. Material that is offensive to Islamic teachings
4. Non-Islamic propaganda
5. Evangelical literature
6. Goods of Israeli origin
Homosexuality in Dubai
Dubai is not very friendly toward the LGBTQ+ community. Homosexuality is illegal under the UAE laws, with a punishment of up to 10 years in prison.
However, despite the stringent rules and regulations, some top travel guides have found a loophole. The city boasts a concealed and clandestine homosexuality scene, attracting tourists and foreigners, and Arabs from less permissive cities around the Gulf.
Other Tourist essentials
Given that tourism is extremely important to the economy of Dubai, there is surprisingly a frustrating lack of proper visitor information on-ground. There is no proper tourist office catering to foreigners anywhere in the city.
There are facilities like the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing and information desks that are handled erratically at Terminal 1 and 3 at the airport; there are also facilities at the Deira City Center, Ibn Battuta mails, Bur Juman. However, they are not very practical and feasible.
The best magazine in Dubai, Time Out Dubai, is present at all bookstores around the city, carrying listings about happenings in Dubai. You can gather your information regarding nightlife, the best clubs, restaurants, new openings, etc., from this magazine. You can also refer to some of the top travel guides available online for further information. However, keep in mind that you need to perform your research before you travel to Dubai.
Traveling to Dubai with disabilities
Dubai has made considerable efforts to cater to tourists coming in with disabilities. Dubai is ranked as the most accessible destination in the Middle East. Most modern hotels make provisions for guests with impaired mobility. You will also find specially adapted rooms in most four and five-star hotels in Dubai. There are, however, limited options for such rooms and facilities in three-star hotels or lower.
Malls in the city also have special facilities, which include accessible parking spaces and equipped toilets. The city’s heritage buildings are old and hence not accessible enough.
Transportation in Dubai is also set up in an accommodating manner for travelers with disabilities. The Dubai Metro facilitates visually and mobility-impaired visitors, with facilities like tactile guide paths, ramps and lifts, and wheelchair spaces in different compartments. There are also provisions for accessible-friendly taxis, which can be booked on 04 208 0808. Such facilities are also present at the airport.
Here we end with Dubai’s top travel guides for your next vacation. Keep our leisure travel guide handy, bookmark it; you will need it when you get there! Till then, happy vacationing to you.