The Ultimate Checklist Before Departing for Dubai

Dubai is easily one of the world’s most up and coming cities; from dazzling skyscrapers to to-die for beach side destinations, this city is brimming with excellent dining, nightlife, and adventures waiting just on the other end of your plane ride.

But before you head out, or even before you book your flight, there are a couple things to keep in mind that come with travelling to the City of Gold, so give this list a look to make sure you’re all set and ready for your next adventure!

Catch up on your decency laws.

This might be a little foreign to you, but Dubai has something called decency laws, and it’s important that you don’t break them because while most Western countries also have them (like no nudity in public places, no barefoot in restaurants, etc.) they’re a little stricter in Dubai and it’s better safe than sorry with your dress code. While making the locals feel uncomfortable, and possibly getting you into situations you’d rather not be in on your holiday, ignoring these dress and decorum codes is just bad form.

A couple of rules to live by to make your life easier: cover your shoulders, midriff, and chest area, and make sure your garments are past your knees, especially if you plan to travel outside of Dubai, and especially if it’s Ramadan. The religious festivals require a little more decorum, and so do the other areas outside of the bustling metropolis. A good rule of thumb to live by: if you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see you wear it, then don’t!

Other things to be aware of outside of dress code: No kissing in public (you could face jail time), don’t put anything in your mouth in public during daytime if it’s Ramadan, and don’t play loud music in public—you are not entitled to any form of legal support or representation (even from your Embassy) in Dubai, so if you break the law, and get caught, you’re on your own!

Start a swear jar well in advance.

Swearing in public is an absolute no-no so if you’re one for a potty mouth, it’s better to break the habit long before you head outside of the comfort of your own borders. The bonus part of having a swear jar is that you can save a little extra spending money for your trip, especially if you’ve got the vocabulary of a sailor, and all that loose change in your pocket might just remind you that uttering one bad word could land you far worse than a dollar here or a dollar there.

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Check the visa requirements.

While some places allow you to travel within their borders with little more than a passport, UAE might not be on that list for you, depending on where you’re heading from. US, Malaysian, most European, Australian and even South Korean residents have to get a visa to visit the country, along with many other countries around the world (or they have to be personally invited!). So better than landing and realizing that the all-inclusive “oasis in the desert” resort you booked is not going to be a reality because you can’t actually get in the country, just cross your t’s and dot your i’s beforehand and it’s smooth sailing along that piping hot desert sands all the way to the pool.

For a full list on who needs to get a visa prior to visiting and who doesn’t, check out the Emirates website before buying your ticket and save yourself a lot of trouble.

Know your transport.

Taxis are easily the best way to get around town; walking is too hot, driving takes more than a death wish (just my opinion!) and the Dubai Metro is new (and therefore somewhat limited). The good news is that taxis are more than plentiful, and they’re fairly reasonably priced. If you call a taxi from the street they charge a base fee and then add money based on distance rather than time, and having change will certainly lend you bonus points with the drivers because large bills can make them a little cranky.

If you’re planning on going the way of a private driver, know that most of your drivers are going to know the best places to go in and outside the city and are great additional tour guides. You can find something incredibly luxurious, or something a little more economically friendly, if getting around this way is your pick.

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Tipping has it’s own rules.

Much like many places in Europe, tipping is included in the bill, but one thing that’s unlike places you’ve probably been before, is that the added tip goes straight to the company and not your server. So if you receive really spectacular service and you want to say a personal thank you to your waitstaff, tip in cash (and only cash) on top of the added percentage on your bill. It’s also customary to tip your taxi driver by rounding up to the nearest 5 AED, but it’s more if they help out in additional to regular taxi service, like carrying your bags or providing valet parking services.

Make your reservations later.

Arabs like to enjoy the nightlife, so if you plan on picking a 5-star dinner destinations to wow your fellow travellers with, definitely don’t plan on eating before 8:30pm—you’ll just be among lots of other tourists who aren’t in the know. While you can easily get a table at 9pm, the best time to plan your dinner is after 10pm; it’s just the way the locals like it and if you want the most authentic experience, it’s the way to go.

For the best restaurants in Dubai, you’re going to want to make reservations at the same time you book your flights; hopefully a few weeks in advance of your actual trip. This way you can ensure you get a table. Also, remember that public drunkenness is definitely frowned upon and can lead to imprisonment if you’re caught so don’t get crazy with the cocktails and absolutely arrange for post-dinner transportation.

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Download Postagram.

While this tip isn’t exclusive to Dubai, I do suggest that everyone download the app for wherever they’re travelling because my favorite thing to get people while I’m travelling isn’t magnets or shot glasses, it’s postcards, and with Postagram, it’s even more personal.

The great thing about this app is that you can use photos straight from your Photos or even your Facebook, Gmail, or Instagram, to send personalized postcards from your phone. For 99 cents a card, you can personalize a message, post your own breathtaking shot of places you’ve travelled, and send an actual card that will arrive in their postbox, all from your phone. I mean really, how cool is that?

*Pro-tip: While Dubai is very beautiful, from the modern architecture to the colorfully dressed locals, don’t take someone’s picture in public unless you have express permission, or any building that might be tied to the government or military. It’s another one of their jail-able offenses!

Practice haggling in the mirror.

While many things are all above-board when it comes to Dubai, haggling is one of the things that still goes strong in the area. In Old Dubai it is more common to haggle your way to a great bargain than to just go with what you see on the price tag—so take a change in any of the souks you wander into to find a price that suits your budget! Or even if you don’t think the price is bad, it’s still a great cultural milestone to partake in, so name your deal and have fun!

While Dubai may be different from any place you’ve ever been to, just remember that it’s bustling culture is one of a kind, and if you follow all these tips to prepare yourself, you should be left worry free. So go out, book your flight, and have a great time!

Bon voyage!

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