Soooo many people frequently ask me “Is Dubai Safe”? I can see the genuine curiosity on their face about the futuristic desert oasis. But I also notice they’re hesitant given the geographical location. As a female American expat living here for 9 years whose traveled to numerous cities over 43 countries so far, I can honestly say I haven’t felt safer anywhere else.
Dubai is largely sheltered from the situations that have unfolded with its neighbors. And that is in huge part due to the UAE’s never ending efforts to protect the emirate and country as a whole. While Dubai gets criticized for being stringent with their visa requirements (not based on religious affiliation), these methods are also what help to safeguard it. You may think its unfair but the United States, England and many other countries partake in the same visa practices.
While I feel selective country profiling isn’t ethical or can’t really protect any place fully from harm, the UAE has a strict zero tolerance law when it comes to extremist or terroristic activity and/or perspectives.
So Is Dubai Safe?
Is Dubai Safe? I say yes it is. And that too from a woman’s perspective. Not only is harassment illegal, physical fighting and cursing are also illegal. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to walk into a pub or sporting match knowing that things will, for the most part, always remain civilized. Keeping that in mind, here are some travel tips and general advice for when you visit Dubai.
Travel Tips for Dubai
Time of Year – this may be an obvious one but you’d be surprised at how many of my friends ask if they can visit over their summer holidays. It’s the desert. It’s hot, like really hot. Outside seating is no longer available, some venues actually close in the summer months and many expats take their annual leave during this season. Visiting between October and April will make your experience much more enjoyable, especially for things like desert safaris. True, prices are lower in the summer months but you can find good deals in shoulder season as well. For a list of other questions I get asked about Dubai, read Dumb Questions About Living in Dubai 🙂
Ramadan – Ramadan is a holy month in the Middle East. More conservative clothing should be factored in (shoulders covered and try to keep it below the knee). Loud music is prohibited and eating, drinking and /or smoking in public until sundown is not permitted. Alcohol is only served after 7 or 8 pm. Since Ramadan is based on the lunar calendar, the month in which it falls changes every year. Many visitors still come and enjoy the wonderful sights. But if nightlife and drinking are part of your main criteria, you may want to avoid traveling here this month.
What to Wear – Dubai is not particularly restrictive when it comes to dressing, especially compared to other Middle Easters countries. You’ll find both men and women in tank tops, short shorts and skimpy wear on the beaches and in the nightclubs. However, if you decide to visit one of the mosques open to the public, you will need to cover up. Avoid sheer clothing or clothes showing too much, you know what I mean. More modest clothing should be observed in Ramadan as noted above. And make sure to dress up. Dubai has a lot of swanky places to eat and drink in.
Money – The currency is known as UAE Dirhams (AED). It is pegged to the US Dollar at a fixed rate 3.67 UAE Dirham = $1 USD or $1 USD = 0.27 Dirham. ATMs can be found everywhere from hotels, to malls, to petrol stations and on the streets. Currency exchange vestibules can also be found in many places.
Tipping – This is a grey area. With so many international expats and visitors coming from different cultures, there is no hard and fast rule. Most establishments include a 10% service charge on your food and beverage bill. However, it is widely believed that servers never see this money. In fact, restaurants have openly admitted it goes to paying overhead costs. I always leave an additional 10% in cash on the table unless the service is exceptionally bad. Adding it on to the credit card doesn’t guarantee they’ll get it. Even if you don’t want to leave an additional 10%, leave something. They get paid peanuts and I mean peanuts.
Alcohol – Do not get drunk and act stupid in public. While drinking alcohol is common and readily available in most hotels and sporting venues, public drunkenness is not tolerated. Also note that alcohol is heavily taxed and generally expensive in the emirate. Beers start at AED30, around $8 USD a pop, and cocktails start from AED40 at a minimum. Avoiding alcohol is the easiest way to save some dough if you’re on a budget.
Is Dubai Safe?
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Transportation – The metro is a recent phenomenon in Dubai. Some areas are well served by the metro such as the malls, others not so much. However, Dubai Taxi and Uber are safe, widely used and very economical. Download Careem at the app store, a similar service and local competitor to Uber. You can easily rent a car too. The roads are new and smooth and on the right side of the road. However, the road network system can get complicated and getting used to driving styles of the many different nationalities may be a challenge for you. Think NYC meets Mumbai meets London meets Singapore.
Dubai Airports – DXB International Airport is one of the most efficient airports I’ve travelled through. Most times I’m out of the airport with checked luggage in hand within 30 minutes. This was the case even when I didn’t have a work visa and had to stand in the immigration line with everyone else. Another point to note, the duty free shopping is extensive. So when you’re about to leave, get to the airport early if you need to do some shopping before hopping on that plane (especially if departing from Terminal 1 or 3).
PDA – Holding hands or a kiss on the cheek is fine if you’re husband and wife. But making out or excessive canoodling in public is not.
Medication – Make sure you keep medication clearly labeled in their container and with a prescription just in case your bags get checked. Strong pain medication is heavily regulated. Of course you will find ibuprofen and acetaminophen at any pharmacy over the counter. But don’t expect to re-up on contraceptives or anti-depressants here as rules vary across the emirates. Do not even think about bringing drugs/narcotics with you or asking anyone for them while you’re here. You will get arrested and go to jail.
Cursing – Cursing is not tolerated. Speak to everyone with respect and avoid swearing loudly in public spaces or even sticking your middle finger up. Yes, you can be arrested for cursing at someone. And please don’t be one of those idiots who takes a selfie while flipping the bird.
Shopping/Products – You’ll find every major brand here when it comes to fashion and cosmetics. However, if you’re coming from the States, many of them will be sold at a premium compared to what you pay at home. For nationals of other countries, this may be at a discount depending on what your country’s import duties are.
Pictures of Locals – Ask before clicking. While taking pictures of locals in national dress in any country makes for a great photo, don’t take pictures of women or men without permission. In fact, you could get in trouble if you post it to social media and that person reports it or takes offense.
Hope you found Is Dubai Safe? useful for answering any concerns or questions you had. Feel free to leave a comment in the section below.
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