21 things i learned in the 9 days i spent in the united arab emirates

  1. The flight from NYC to Dubai is 12.5 hours, nonstop. But on the way back, it’s much longer – 15 hours nonstop!

2. Terminals in Dubai Airport are far apart. It can be a 20 to 30 minute walk to get from one terminal to another so be sure you leave enough time after security to actually make it to your gate.

3. Weather is HOT. Which is expected since it is a desert. But the good thing is that it’s dry heat and it doesn’t really get humid. It also never rained the entire time we were there. Make sure to drink plenty of water and stay hydrated!

4. No quarantine is required as of August 2020. At the time we visited (November 2021), we did not need to quarantine. You just needed to provide a negative Covid test within 48 hours of departure. But of course, as with any travel, it’s best to check the country’s requirements since it’s ever-changing. 

5. Covid testing centers are pretty available. It will cost you about $35 per test. Results can be expected in 24-48 hours. I think Ben got his result back within the same day but I still didn’t get mine the next day yet, so of course I was flipping out since we were headed to the Maldives right after. We ended up just going back to the lab and they had my results available as well.

6. Abu Dhabi is more strict with Covid regulations than Dubai. While you don’t need a negative Covid test to go from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, they do take more precautions in Abu Dhabi. When entering any public place, you need to show a green status on the Al Hosn health app. It was impossible at tourists for us to fill out the application because we couldn’t make certain selections. Luckily, the other option is to show a negative PCR test taken within 14 days and thankfully, the one we took back at home was still within the date range, so it was still valid.

7. There isn’t an official dress code but everyone is dressed modestly. Ladies, if you wear a tank top and shorts, you’ll probably get a few stares but no one will say anything. But of course, you should always respect each country’s culture/customs. All of the clothes I brought covered my shoulders and knees. You’ll want to wear loose clothing because like I said, it gets HOT! You’re also not required to cover your hair if you’re just walking around – only if you plan to enter a mosque.

Certain mosques (like the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, pictured here) are more strict with dress code. Your arms and ankles must be covered, in addition to your hair. Outside of mosques, I mostly wore t-shirts and loose pants/skirts that went past my knee

8. Islam is the official religion of the UAE and 76% of the population practice the religion. Followers of Islam are called Muslims. They pray five times a day at set times, called Salah times. These times are Fajr (dawn), Dhuhr (after midday), Asr (afternoon), Maghrib (after sunset), Isha (nighttime), and the prayers are to be done facing towards Mecca. Mecca is known as the birthplace of the Islamic Prophet Muhammed, and each Muslim is supposed to make a pilgrimage there once in their lifetime. There are certain mosques where you are not allowed to visit if you are not Muslim. But for the ones you are allowed to visit, just be sure to follow their dress code and be respectful (i.e. no touching of the opposite sex)

9. The currency is the dirham, but credit card is widely accepted everywhere, even at the souks. However, many places still do not accept Amex.

10. You should be tipping 10-15% on top of your bill at restaurants.

11. Alcohol is not banned, contrary to popular belief. Muslims are not allowed to drink alcohol but not everyone in the UAE is Muslim. There are bars, and some restaurants do serve alcohol, but drinks are expensive. There is a liquor chain called African + Eastern you can purchase alcohol at. It used to be a lot stricter, where you had to be a UAE resident to buy it. Then it was you can be a tourist but you need your passport and need to fill out an application or something. But that is all done with. We went to an A+E, and no one even looked at our passports.

12. Arabic is the official language of the UAE, but English is widely spoken, but more so in Dubai than Abu Dhabi.

13. They have Uber here and it is super convenient. You could even hire one for an hourly rate if you wanted to. In Dubai, we rarely had to wait for an Uber. You have the option to look for a closer driver without paying an additional/change fee, but we never had to use this. Ubers always came within a minute or two. It’s also relatively inexpensive. Also, 80% of the rides we took were nice Lexuses. There’s also a similar service called Careem. The exception is at Dubai Airport and in Abu Dhabi. We couldn’t get an Uber coming from the airport so we ended up taking a cab, which is about $40 USD to get to Downtown Dubai. As for Abu Dhabi, these ride-sharing apps aren’t popular here – something about the cost of operating, thus making it much less readily available and more expensive for the consumer. However, they have lots of regular metered cabs in Abu Dhabi, and those were pretty reasonably priced.

14. There are buses and trains but they’re not very convenient. Something can take an hour and a half by train but by car, it’s only a 20 minute drive – hence all of the Ubers and cabs we took. There is a separate car for women/children, so that was a nice feature. Each city has its own bus card, so you’ll need to buy a different one for each. Dubai uses the Nol card, and Abu Dhabi uses Halifat, but you can only use it within city limits (i.e. you cannot use it to go to Yas Island). For both cities, you can either buy an unlimited set day pass, or you add money to it and the rides are calculated based on distance. However, you can only buy the card at bus/train stations – they don’t accept cash on board.

15. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are not walkable cities. In fact, they’re not even really train-able cities. Everything is situated very far apart. Everyone here drives, and they drive so fast that the highways can be a bit daunting. We didn’t drive and took Ubers a lot of the time, but noticed that everyone drives really aggressively here.

16. The drive from Dubai to Abu Dhabi is 1 hr 20 min and a cab will cost 250 Dhs (68 USD). The original plan was to take a cab from our hotel in Dubai to the bus station so that it’s less time spent dragging our luggages. But the cab driver convinced us to let him drive us for that set price. The bus ticket would have cost $10 USD per person, which is significantly cheaper, but it would have also taken double the time. We decided it was worth it to splurge – we were on our honeymoon after all! 

17. There are lots of food delivery services here. There were a few nights we ordered delivery for dinner just because we were too tired to go out, and we figured it would be a good way to avoid crowds too. UberEats is available, and the three other popular food delivery apps we saw were Talabat, Deliveroo, and Careem

18. Everything in Dubai is very extravagant and opulent. There are so many attractions that boast itself as the world’s largest whatever (i.e. Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest building, Dubai Miracle Garden is the world largest natural flower garden). Dubai is definitely a city that does not like to be outdone. 

The world’s tallest building (Burj Khalifa) is lit up in a different color scheme every night
Dresses made of gold

19. There are a lot of discounts for attractions if you bundle your tickets (especially in Dubai since there are so many things to see) – list out all the things you want to do and see if there is a discount for that combo – there probably is

20. People address you as ma’am/madame or sir/boss, I guess just as a sign of respect.

21. I rely heavily on Yelp when deciding where to eat so it’s always tough traveling to an international city that doesn’t have Yelp. It seems that Zomato is their Yelp equivalent, so I did use that a few times to check ratings, but it wasn’t as helpful as Google reviews, so we mainly relied on that to see what was good.

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