Exploring the UAE (for Tourists and Expats)

BY - 27th June 2016
Explore the UAE

What a great view

Assembled below are our responses to some of the most common questions our staff receive from visitors to the UAE. The responses represent the collective knowledge of our staff and are intended to provide general, not exhaustive guidance. Since we will not be updating this page on a regular basis, we highly recommend visiting the official pages of the UAE government or one of the more extensive travel websites (Frommers, Lonely Planet, TripAdvisor) in order to confirm our general comments. You can also read some of our ideas for great road trips in the UAE: Road Trip ideas here, hidden beaches here and here.


The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is comprised of seven member states with Abu Dhabi as the capital.

  • Abu Dhabi
  • Dubai
  • Sharjah
  • Ajman
  • Umm Al Quwain
  • Ras Al Khaimah
  • Fujairah

Each of these emirates is both a state government and a municipal government. There are smaller cities within each of the emirates.

The UAE has a sub-tropical, arid climate with infrequent and irregular rainfall, amounting to less than 13 centimetres annually. The UAE enjoys 365 days of warm sunshine, with cooler evenings and occasional showers in the months between November to March. Temperatures range from a low of 10 degrees Celsius in the Winter, to a high of 48 degrees in the Summer. The average daily maximum is 24 degrees in January, rising to 42 degrees in July.

The total area of UAE is approximately 30,000 sq miles.

Abu Dhabi and Dubai are the two biggest cities and  commercial hubs. The seven independent emirates of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah came together to form the United Arab Emirates (UAE) between the years of 1971 and 1972.

The UAE is located on the Eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, in the South West corner of the Arabian Gulf.

The UAE is home to a little less than 5 million residents from over 200 countries.

The UAE is primarily a driver-friendly country in terms of both culture and practicality. A car will oftentimes not only be the most convenient way to get somewhere, it will often be the only way to get there. The UAE’s highway and road infrastructure is left-hand drive (same as the US and Germany) and is very advanced, with most roads being new and flat. While signage is generally quite good, constant construction will pose a challenge to out-of-town and new drivers in certain parts of the UAE, particularly Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Taxis are widely available across all the emirates. We highly advise their use if hirers intend to consume alcohol. Please note that the UAE has a zero tolerance policy with respect to drinking and driving, i.e. all road users are expected to have zero alcohol in their system prior to taking the wheel. Breaking this law will likely result in imprisonment.

The UAE offers limited public transportation with a developing Metro rail network. We recommend visiting the Road and Transportation Authority (RTA) for more information.

The UAE is one of the world’s wealthiest countries. While oil and gas production form its foundation, the UAE is increasingly broadening its economic activity to include: real estate, tourism, trading and manufacturing.

Cultural Mix
More than 80% of the population are expatriates from across the globe and the nation is home to almost 200 nationalities who live together in peace and harmony.

Currency and Credit Cards
The official currency of the UAE is the Arab Emirates Dirham (AED or Dhs). Each Dirham is divided into 100 fils and is held constant against the US Dollar at an average of 3.67. All international credit and debit cards are widely accepted, however, we recommend carrying cash on you at all times, particularly to deal with smaller shops.

Dress Code
Visitors are free to dress according to their personal choice. While there are few explicit restrictions, a sense of context general sensitivity to conservative local norms is expected. For example, bikinis and shorts are acceptable at most beaches and pool-sides in the UAE, but would be considered inappropriate outside of those contexts. Similarly, men are allowed to wear shorts (with the possible exception of Sharjah), but are not allowed to wear shorts or sleeveless t-shirts inside some of Dubai’s more upscale shopping malls. Many nicer restaurants disallow men from wearing sandals. Everyone is generally expected to wear clothes that are not too revealing in public places or places of worship.

Most Emirati men and women still choose to wear the traditional national dress. Lightweight summer clothing can be worn for most of the year, but the temperature can drop quite sharply at night during the winter.

The UAE is well known for its warm hospitality and rich cultural heritage, and the Emirati people are welcoming and generous in their approach to visitors.

Because of its sizeable expatriate population, and its role as a tourist hub, the UAE is generally tolerant to the consumption of alcohol within specific spaces. Alcohol is sold in restaurants, bars, and clubs usually affiliated with hotels. Alcohol is also sold in regulated liquor stores to UAE residents who have permits to buy from them. Alcohol is not sold and cannot be consumed or transported in Sharjah.

Visitors can purchase alcohol upon arrival from the airport duty free shop (duty free shops are open to arrivals) and are generally free to consume alcohol. However, we recommend that they display good judgment while under the influence in public.

Taxis are widely available across all the emirates. We highly advise their use if hirers intend to consume alcohol. Please note that the UAE has a zero tolerance policy with respect to drinking and driving, i.e. all road users are expected to have zero alcohol in their system prior to taking the wheel. Breaking this law will likely result in imprisonment.

The UAE boasts many attractive shopping malls including the largest shopping mall in the world, The Dubai Mall.

The standard electricity supply is 220/240 volts. Visitors with electronics and appliances from North America, Australia, South Asia, East Asia and Africa will need a plug adapter at minimum, and possibly a transformer for larger appliances. Please refer to your manufacturers specifications.

While Arabic is the official language, English is widely spoken, especially in business. Given the large size of the expatriate population, several other languages are also used in everyday life. Chief among them are Hindi, Urdu, Tagalog and Farsi.

Photography of buildings and sights is widely acceptable.

Local people, especially the women, do not take kindly to being photographed without their prior permission. In general, it is best to avoid taking photographs (or video footage) of any individual in a National Dress.

Note that it is illegal to post photos of people onto social media without their explicit permission. This includes police officers.

Safety and security
The UAE is a very safe city for visitors and residents alike, with minimal chance of untoward events. However, locking your car and minding your personal belongings is always recommended. If there is ever an issue, the local police are highly competent, effective and generally trained to manage tourists.

Visa regulations
Different regulations are in place for people from different nationalities arriving in the UAE. Click here for more information regarding visa requirements.

Moving to the UAE
Given the large portion of the population that is comprised of expatriates, a number of online resources are available to guide those moving to the UAE. Chief among them are Connector Magazine, Expat Women, and Expat Forum.


Further Reading

Pit Stops on your UAE Road Trips

Heading for a long drive in the UAE? Add these scenic pit stops to your journey.

The Best Set of Wheels for You

The wheels can impact driving experience, safety and stability. Here is how to pick the best set.

Driving License for a Self-Drive Holiday – How to Guide

Driving around the UAE is a joy for visitors. All it takes is a car, Google Maps, and a driver’s license

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