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6 pieces of practical information you need to know before travelling to Dubai

Are you booking a holiday to Dubai? Or maybe you are flying out to the city of the Burj Khalifa real soon?  Before travelling to Dubai, you might want to take a look at these 7 pieces of practical information.

As an expat, I get a lot of questions about the internet, te electricity in Dubai or even the drinking water.

I have made a list of practical information topics when going to Dubai where I try to answer all questions you might have before flying over to Dubai.

Dubai Time Zone

Dubai’s time zone is Gulf Standard Time. 

The only countries under Gulf Standard Time or GST are Oman and the United Arab Emirates of which Dubai is part. 

Gulf standard time operates on GMT+4 which means there is a 4 hour time difference with the United Kingdom in winter and a 3 hour time difference in summer. When you are flying in from Europe you will experience a 3 hour time difference in winter and a 2 hour time difference in summer. When you are flying in from the USA you might experience a large amount of jetlag as there is an 8 hour time difference between Dubai and New York, a 10 hour difference between Dubai and Denver and an 11 hour difference between Dubai and Los Angeles 

Dubai time zone is GST (GMT+4)

The time differences are all in all quite small and I never really had massive spells of jetlag when travelling from Europe to the UAE and back. I would warn you about going back to Europe after having stayed in the UAE for an extended period of time. My husband and I found it very hard to adjust to the short days in winter, the lack of sunshine and the cold. We slept a lot, had almost no energy and were overall very lethargic. If you are planning on moving to the UAE for an extended period of time – let’s say 6 months, you might warn your friends and family you might not be the best person to be around in the first 2 weeks after you’re back in Europe or the USA as the difference in sunlight, temperature and hours of daylight can generally be a massive shock to the system. . 

Dubai Electricity - what plug or socket converters do you need?

The voltage used in Dubai is 230V at 50 Hz. This means most European appliances will work in Dubai. Tourists travelling from the US will have to take the same precautions as when they would visit Europe as the US power network carries 120V and 60Hz. Check your appliances before packing: when the label says 100-240 Volt – which most laptops and chargers do, you can use it in Dubai. If not, you will need a special adapter. 

The sockets used in Dubai are the same as they use in the United Kingdom. You will need a plug adapter or a socket converter to use US plugs or European plugs in Dubai. 

I would suggest buying an adapter before travelling to the United Arab Emirates as these adapters can be very expensive in Dubai – especially in hotels, Dubai mall and other places where you will find a lot of tourists.

When you are someone like my husband and I, who travels a lot, I would recommend looking for a World Power Adapter as it converts voltage, can be used in more than 120 countries and also has USB ports so you can charge your phone easily at night. We are currently using a world adapter on our travels.

Telephone, internet and mail in Dubai

To call the United Arab Emirates from abroad, use the country code 971. If you want to call a number in Dubai, the 971-country code must be followed by a 4 if it is a landline or a 5 when it is a mobile number. Calling in Dubai with your mobile phone is possible if your provider allows you to call abroad and your phone is a tri-band device. if you have a modern smartphone, your device is always a tri-band device. This means that old phones will probably not work in Dubai but this does not seem to be a problem for most western tourists.

Most guides tell tourists to go and buy a local sim to make calls and surf on the web. Although this might be a good idea for businessmen, I would not necessarily recommend it for tourists, especially when you don’t really have to make any calls.

Most malls, shops, businesses, cafes and restaurants have free wifi. I have been living here since August 2018 and I have never even had a pre-paid or a contract that includes data.

Do keep in mind that making calls over the internet is forbidden. This means you cannot make Whatsapp calls, you cannot facetime and you cannot call over Google Duo or Line. The UAE government blocked all VOIP as they (hardly anyone else) see it as unfair competition for the 2 current mobile phone carriers.

But like I mentioned: most hotels offer free Wi-Fi in the lobby and depending on your hotel you will most likely also get free wifi in your hotel room (unless you are staying in a very cheap hostel).

Major tourist spots such as the Dubai Mall and the Mall of the Emirates also offer a free Wi-Fi connection. And most restaurants in and around the centre will provide free WIFI. Sometimes you need to ask the staff for the Wi-Fi password but they are very pleased to help.

Also note that in Dubai a “porn” filter is used on the internet, as a result of which certain websites are not accessible. This filter does not always work very well which might result in some ordinary and innocent sites being blocked or having time-out issues. These time-out issues are fairly normal and come in waves. If you are unable to access a website, please wait half an hour and try again.
Sending mail from Dubai to Europe or the US will approximately take 5 days. When you want to receive mail in Dubai you should contact your local postal office as post is received in PO-boxes rather than a mailbox at home.

You can find more information about the Dubai Phone contracts via this article on my blog:

How to choose a phone contract in Dubai

dubai practical information

Drinking tap water in Dubai

Although I have never drunk water from the tap in Dubai (with my knowledge), the tap water in the United Arab Emirates is totally fine and can be drunk without getting ill. Most tourists and expats however, buy bottled water. One of the reasons bottled water is so popular is because bottled water can be bought cold while, due the heat, tap water can be luke-warm.

When you are having lunch or dinner in Dubai and you want to order a bottle of water, it is best to ask for “local water” as they will often give you expensive (£5 or $7 per bottle) water. Local water is the local bottled water like Arwan, Mai Dubai or Masafi.

Dress code in Dubai

Although Dubai is very tolerant and does not have a dress code enforceable by law, it is important to dress respectfully and with the local culture and people in mind. If you want to visit a mosque you need to make sure that your knees and your shoulders are always covered, otherwise there is a chance that you will be refused. This rule applies to both men and women. In addition, for women, wearing short skirts or dresses, hot pants and short or see-through tops is not appreciated. Men may wear shorts, but preferably shorts that cover the knees.

Please try not to wear short clothes to malls (especially Dubai Mall) as even expats think it is gross and disrespectful when tourists don’t, and keep in mind that some shops and supermarkets – like Union Coop, might not let you in when dressed inappropriately.

Restaurants – especially the luxury ones, and clubs will have strict dress codes. Wearing shorts out for dinner is not appreciated, nor is wearing football shirts or sneakers. When you call up a restaurant to make a reservation you might ask them about their dress code for both men and women.

Swimwear is only permitted on the beach, at the swimming pool or in a water park. Topless sunbathing or translucent bikinis are only permitted in private villa’s or pools – so don’t do this on the beach or at the hotel. When you go back to your room or pop out to buy something in the local shop and leave the pool area or the beach you will want to cover up with a shawl of a sun dress.

You can find more information about the Dubai Dress Code via this article on my blog:

What to wear in Dubai – The Dubai dress code

Do I need a visa for Dubai?

Most people from Europe and the USA can visit Dubai without needing to apply for a visa. This means you get your passport stamped when you enter Dubai, Abu Dhabi or another emirate in the UAE.

You will not have to request a visa before you travel and you won’t have to pay a visa on arrival fee. Your visa needs to be valid for at least 6 months on arrival and your kids need their own passport.

With a tourist visa you can stay in the UAE for 30 to 90 days depending on what country you are from. When you are in the UAE on a 30-day visa (like most people from the UK who come to the UAE as tourists), this means you can do visa runs when you want to stay longer in the country. Visa runs imply that you go to the Omani border, get an Omani stamp in your visa, walk back to the UAE and thus renew your 30-day visa.

Visa run services are offered all over the UAE and you can book these online. Busses will take you to the border but you will have to walk over the border yourself. A visa run takes between 2 to 3 hours depending on where in Dubai you live.

When you have a 90 day visa – like I did, you cannot take part in visa runs as you are allowed to be in the country for 90 days ever 180 days. This means you can be in the UAE for 3 months every 6 months. It does not matter if these days are consecutive or not.

practical information when travelling to dubai

Public Holidays in Dubai

Dubai has a number of Muslim holidays which are celebrated on different dates every year because of the position of the moon. You should research the exact dates of the holidays and feasts such as Eid, Ramadan and the Islamic New Year, before you book your trip.

January 1 – New Year’s Day

August 6 – Throne ascension

December 2 – National day (celebration of the seven emirates joining into one country in 1971)

December 25 – Christmas

Variable holidays (national):

Ramadan (different every year)

Eid  (following Ramadan)

Eid al-Adha – pilgrimage to Mecca (variable)

Hejra – Islamic New Year’s Day (variable)

Please note that Islamic holidays and Ramadan might mean that restaurants are closed, public life is disrupted and that there is no alcohol being sold in certain restaurants and pubs where there normally would be.

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