For most Western tourists, the UAE offers an environment that is extremely familiar. The malls are extraordinarily modern, filled with virtually any product available in the West. The less well-known side of the UAE includes remote, magnificent desert dunes on the edge of the Empty Quarter and awe-inspiring wadis in the northeast bordering Oman.
Arabic is the official language, English is widely spoken throughout the emirates especially in shops, souqs, and always in hotels.
Because of its proximity to Dubai and the lower cost of living in Sharjah, many people live in Sharjah and work in Dubai. This causes daily traffic jams and lengthy delays during rush hours
The UAE is four hours ahead of GMT, and there is no time change during summer.
The domestic supply is 220 volts and British-style 3-pin electrical plugs are used (Type G or 13 amp plug). Socket adaptors are readily available in local stores. Most electrical goods sold in the UAE have European 2-pin plugs.
Weights and Measures
The UAE uses the metric system, although even the British and US standard weights and measures are understood.
Clothing & Dress
Typical light-weight summer clothing is ideal for Dubai weather. Usually, casual clothing is used. It is best to avoid swimsuits, shorts, bikinis, and revealing tops, and confine them to beach resorts. (see dress code)
Most public toilets at the shopping centres, museums, public gardens, are clean and well-maintained. The public toilets in souq and bus stations usually have only gents toilet. On the city outskirts, although there are public toilets available at petrol stations and restaurants, they usually lack toilet paper and may not be in good condition.
Food and Water
The standard of food hygiene and water quality is usually high, especially in larger centres, although in smaller cafes of remote areas, one cannot be very sure about the conditions. Water is usually desalinated, and so normally safe to drink, but, it is better to use bottled water, and you may need to drink plenty of it, in the scorching heat.
The United Arab Emirates Dirham (UAE Dirham) is the local currency. There are no currency restrictions in the UAE, and all major currencies in the world are accepted and exchanged.
These come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1000 dirham, while coins are used in denominations of 25 and 50 fils and 1 dirham. The dirham is index-linked to the US dollar. All banks offer cash withdrawal facilities from ATMs scattered across major hotels and malls. Do not involve in money exchanges on the streets, as it is not a permissible transaction, due to the possibility of fraudulent notes being offered.
GSM services are available and the mobile phone code within the UAE is 050. A particular SpeakEasy GSM mobile service helps tourists and visitors who are unable to use their own mobile phones in the UAE. You also have the option of purchasing a temporary SIM card and use it in your own handset with a temporary card. Etisalat can be contacted for further details by dialing 101.
Most four and five-star hotels offer internet to their guests for free or with small hourly rates. You will also find FREE internet service available at certain stores, restaurants, or even in some public spaces around Sharjah.
The General Post Authority is quite efficient. The post offices function from 8 am to 11.30 pm (Saturday to Wednesday), while on Thursdays it functions from 8 am to 1 pm and from 4 pm to 8 pm. Fridays are closed.
Normal shopping hours are from 9 am to 1 pm and from 4 pm to 10 pm although the majority of the shops stay open all day. Some supermarkets are even open all 24 hours. However, on Fridays, being the Islamic day of rest, all shops close for prayers between 11.30 am to 1:30 pm.
All government establishments work from 7:30 am to 3:00 pm.
Private offices have their own working hours that are usually longer. The government offices are usually closed for their weekend holiday at mid-day on Thursday, and open only from Saturdays. The weekend holiday of private offices, however, may vary.
Arabic is the main language in Dubai. The majority of the local people here can understand and speak English.
Religion and Etiquette
Sharjah strictly adheres to Islamic Laws. Islam, being the official religion in Dubai, it is better to not publicly criticize or distribute any material against it. Eating in public is prohibited from sunrise to sunset during the month of Ramadan.
Other common western habits that attract stiff penalties are swearing, rude remarks, public display of affection, choices of clothing such as women revealing bare arms, legs, or midriff.
Also refrain from eating, drinking, or smoking in public places between sunrise and sunset, during the month of Ramadan.
Taking photographs of sensitive UAE military and civilian sites or foreign diplomatic missions could result in arrest, detention, and prosecution by local authorities. Further, engaging in mapping activities using GPS equipment, without coordination of UAE authorities, will have serious consequences. For photography and film-making please arrange a permit in advance through Sharjah Government Media Bureau.
Sharjah is one of the safest places in the world, given, the tough laws that it implements. Respect the laws and their culture, while also enjoying your vacation in Dubai.
Local culture is unique and can be highly conservative, but overall they are quite attuned to the ways, customs, events, media, and manners of the world. Emiratis welcome visitors and can be extremely generous but it is important to respect the traditions and people of the country you are visiting including the dress code.
Dress Codes For Women
Women do not have to cover their heads, faces, and hair with a scarf or something similar when in public, although Muslim women, particularly Gulf Arabs, do cover their heads with a scarf for cultural and religious reasons. But, when visiting a Mosque, women have to cover their hair, bodies, and legs, although covering the face is not a must.
To be respectful of the UAE culture, it is best to remain covered from the shoulder at least to the knees. For instance, although t-shirts (preferably with sleeves covering at least the upper arm) are fine, spaghetti tops for women may not be appreciated in public areas. Also, very tight and/or low-cut t-shirts are also considered offensive. It is not permitted to wear transparent clothing.
When visiting a government office (including visa, driving license, hospital), women are required to dress more conservatively.
In more traditional areas such as villages and souks, markets, and other areas, short skirts are not considered appropriate for women, and long skirts below knee length are preferred. Western tops with revealing plunge necklines are strictly prohibited.
Dress Codes For Men
Men wearing shorts, although may be considered odd, are unlikely to get into trouble. However, cycling shorts that reveal certain contours or boxer shorts may result in a warning from the authorities. Wearing cycling shorts when cycling should be fine.
Sports clothing appropriate for the sport being played is allowed at the sports venue. However, any combinations of t-shirts and shorts are not a problem, even if worn elsewhere on the way from a sports location. At the beach, a swimsuit is acceptable.
When visiting a Mosque, men are required to be dressed in long trousers.
T-shirts with offensive slogans or pictures, gestures, or obscene language that might cause religious or cultural offense are not acceptable.
The UAE takes an infamously strict line on medicines, with many common drugs, notably anything containing codeine, diazepam (Valium), or dextromethorphan (Robitussin) being banned unless you have a notarized and authenticated doctor’s prescription. Visitors breaking the rules, even inadvertently, have found themselves deported or jailed. The US Embassy to the UAE maintains an unofficial list of what may not be imported. However, as many people have noticed even when having all the correct documentation in both English and Arabic has not been enough to be able to bring in some medication and have resulted in both refusal of entry into the UAE and in some cases fines or jail time. It is advised not to bring any kind of medication with you if you can manage without them.
Don’t even think about bringing in narcotics: possession of even trace amounts leads to a minimum of four years in prison. Using Khat/qat (a flowering plant that contains an alkaloid called cathinone) which is popular in other nearby countries (notably Yemen) is also illegal, with life prison sentences possible.
Citizens of Australia, Brunei, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Ireland, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, United Kingdom, and the United States, in addition to persons holding British National (Overseas) passports may obtain a free visa on arrival valid for 30 days. A Visa extension is possible for a fee.
Citizens of the European Union (except Ireland), Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, San Marino, Seychelles, Switzerland, and Vatican City do not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
Citizens of India holding a valid US visa or Green Card do not require an advance visa or visit purposes and can get a visa on arrival, valid for 14 days, from any port of entry. It costs AED 100. The US visa/GC must be valid for 6 months beyond the date of arrival. An extension is possible for another 14 days for an additional fee.
If you are traveling from India please get a stamp of ‘OK to Board’. Most of the time, it is arranged by your travel agent. In case he hasn’t then as soon as you get your Visa; take your Visa, Passport, and Ticket to your Airlines office and get the stamp of ‘OK to board’. Without this stamp, you might not be allowed to travel to UAE.
Several other countries are eligible for free hotel/tour-sponsored tourism visas. See UAE Interact for the latest details.
All other nationalities will be required to apply for a visa in advance, which will require a sponsor from inside the UAE. Your travel agent will usually be able or arrange this for you if you book your hotel through them.
Most major credit cards can be used in local ATM machines to withdraw cash in the local currency. By using your credit or debit card in an ATM you will receive the average daily bank rate exchange conversion.
Here are two of the money exchange providers in the UAE that have outlets in most larger shopping malls.
- UAE Exchange
- Al Ansari Exchange
If you are traveling to explore the business, investment opportunities, or starting an exchange business you would need to know about money exchange companies, which can be easily found online.
Banknotes come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1000 dirham, while coins are used in denominations of 25 and 50 fils and 1 dirham. The dirham is index-linked to the US dollar.
Polio has been eradicated. Hepatitis A is very rare and can be avoided if precautions are taken. Hepatitis B, C, D are transmitted only through sexual contact, blood transfusions, or the use of unsterilized needles.
Mosquitoes are few in towns and cities, therefore it is not considered a risk. In any case, it is better to use a suitable insect repellent, to avoid being bitten.
The sun can be fierce all through the year, and travelers are at risk of heat stroke or heat exhaustion. Therefore, ensure that you carry adequate sunglasses, hats, and sun creams, and plenty of drinking water.
The medical facilities are generally very good in public hospitals and may deal with an emergency free of charge. However, it is wise to carry medical insurance to cover all eventualities, as, if you need to visit a private hospital, the treatment can be quite expensive.
Most medicines are available at pharmacies. Some pharmacies are open 24 hours a day.
There are good dentists available, including orthodontists.