10 Things I Wish I Knew About Dubai Before Moving There

Dubai Marina | Packs Light



What is wrong with the internet. Why did no one tell me? How could I not know?

When I left the US, I knew Dubai was crazy hot, but you kind of assume it’s a dry-heat, you know, because all the desert.

When I landed here on September 1, I was shook how freakin’ humid it was outside. It literally felt as though I was walking into a hot shower. I had the taxi driver who drove me stop by a gas stations so that I could take out dirhams (UAE currency), and the window panes of the gas station were literally dripping sweat from all the condensation.

2. Transport is so cheap, and effortless.

The Dubai Metro System is impeccable. There are stops almost every mile or so, and they’re very easy to get to—even my school has a metro stop right in front of it, not even 1 minute walk away.

The best thing about the metro is that it costs only 3.5AED (1USD/.88EU) for each ride.

Taxis are also very cheap, and have a minimum of 12AED (3.2USD/3EU) for every ride—most 5-10minute rides don’t even end up exceeding the 12AED if you don’t end up in traffic.

Taxi drivers are also some of the most friendly people I’ve met in Dubai. I always seem to end up in a  conversation with them of where they’re from

Essentially, it’s insanely cheap to go around, so doing all of your excursion in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are a breeze and you should never be bored!

3. Everyone smokes indoors (cough).

I really shouldn’t just say indoors. They smoke outside, inside, and on top of every building, park, and restaurant in the entire city.

Smoking tobacco is definitely more a part of the culture here as shisha (hookah, for you hipster Americans) has been a cultural norm of the Middle East since forever.

However I just couldn’t prepare myself for the amount of smoke indoors. Especially in clubs and bars, people smoking shisha at every couch and countertop, and cigarettes at every hand in the bar.

Even now 3 months later, I wave my hand in front of my face to try to breath at clubs (rude, I know, sorry, but oh well), and come home smelling like a pack of Marlboros. Yuck.

4. Yes, people really are that rich.

Yeah, I’m not sure why this was so unexpected to me. Dubai is literally famous for having the most luxurious, extravagant, gaudy, people in the world.

The casual yacht party invites, the luxury cars, and apartment parties in the Burj Khalifa... Click To Tweet

But its truly another thing to see it in real life. Like, the Lamborghinis and Audi’s filling my schools parking lot. The casual yacht party invites, and apartment parties in the Burj Khalifa.

When I walked into the Mall of Emirates I looked at the stores immediately around me, and when I only saw Balenciaga, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Audemars Piguet, etc. I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

Of course, they do have affordable stores here. I wish I’d known that Carrefour is a popular store here, and is basically the Walmart of the Middle East. I wouldn’t have packed my pillow and sheets with me coming here!

I usually shop at the Ibn Battuta mall (also metro accessible) because the prices are better than the Dubai Mall or the Mall of the Emirates, and they still have all my favorite stores like Sephora, Forever 21, H&M, New Look, and New Yorker.

Dubai Yacht | Packs Light

Tis I, the Grand Duchess Gabrielle. LOL. Let me dream. I was actually lucky enough to get invited to a yacht party by one of the awesome friends, you know, I had to stunt while I had the resources!

5. Yes, people Tinder here.

Before I came here I always heard how restrictive the UAE government was in terms of personal usage of apps, software, etc. But since being here I’ve really not noticed a difference in my daily life.

I cannot confirm personal usage of said meet-up app, but let’s just say it works. As do other dating apps like Plenty of Fish, OKCupid, Match, etc. (I promise I’m not using all of these Mom, LOL).

Even though it’s a Muslim country, because there are so many expats living here at least some of Dubai does casually date.

5.) Yes, you can use @Tinder here. Click To Tweet

Other apps that I was worried about not working, but do, include:

  • Snapchat (but you can’t Snapchat live video)
  • Netlfix (but like 3/4 of the shows aren’t viewable)
  • Whatsapp (but you can’t Whatsapp call)
  • iMessage

6. It really is insanely safe here.

This was really a surprise! I’d actually heard before I cam here that Dubai was a very safe city because the punishment for breaking laws is so severe. And no, I never fear a terrorist attack, bombing, or whatever else the media sensationalizes against the Middle East.

No, I’ve never been attacked or profiled here for being black/American/a 5’3″ woman.

No, I’ve never had ANYTHING stolen from me. I’ve left my Mac book, iPhone, and wallet out in the open and it was always there when I came back, or turned into security.

Seriously, every. single. time.

No, I’ve never felt unsafe getting into a taxi while intoxicated in the middle of the night. Like I said, the taxi drivers here are closely monitored and are so, so kind.

Of course, don’t be dumb. This is still the UAE, and no matter how Westernized it may feel, it’s in your best interest to always follow the laws and customs here.

That means try not to belligerently drunk, don’t disrupt the peace with fighting or cursing, don’t dress scandalously when in public areas like the mall.

Check out my article My Stereotypical, Excessive, Awesome Dubai Bucket List to see what crazy things I’ve done and what I still have on my list to do before I leave in April!

7. Yes, you can drink here.

Yessss. One of my greatest fears moving here is that I wouldn’t be able to drink (I just turned 21 in August, sue me).
But unluckily for my liver luckily for me, there is practically a bar or club in every hotel in Dubai. And there are a lot of hotels in Dubai.

The best thing about partying here is a little weekly holiday called “Ladies Night” (cue choir).

And the best thing about Ladies Night is that it’s literally every night.

That’s right ladies, you can no joke get ~3 free drinks a night from different venues.

I use Ladies Night, Dubai to see what Ladies Night deals are happening that night, and we go from there. It’s amazing.

Dubai is also famous for it’s brunch specials, which usually happen on Friday’s. Brunch is actually code for “Drunch” which is code for “get drunk and eat as much as you can from like 10AM-4PM for like 300AED”.

It’s always a good time.

Dubai Brunch | Packs Light

Our brunch table at Cove Beach! Don’t mind the excess alcohol, just had to get our fill before the deal ended at 5PM! 🙂

8. Yes, people still speak Arabic here.

As a student who actually came here to learn Arabic, you won’t believe how much negativity I got for choosing Dubai.

“No one even speaks Arabic there”, “It’s so Westernized everyone just speaks English”, “WHY would you go to Dubai to learn Arabic?”

Yes, I digress, living in a country like Oman, Jordan, or even Morocco may have been better to be fully immersed in the language may have been better to become fluent.

But don’t knock Dubai!

First off, I’m learning in a school. I could come to Dubai to learn French, Spanish, or Portugese if I really wanted to. And I have an A in my Arabic class, thank you.

Secondly, Arabic is still the national language here and it is definitely widely spoken.

As a matter of fact, so it Tagalog, Tigrinya, Urdu, Punjabi, Mandrin, etc.

So no, people of Dubai don’t “just” speak English (snap!).

9. Wow! It gets cold here!

Guh. What the heck.

I came here because people told me it was summer time vibes all year round, and now it’s early December and it’s 60°F/15°C at night here??

Refund much?

Okay, I’m being dramatic. It doesn’t get that cold. But I literally assumed it would be bikini weather every day here, and now I’m telling my mom to ship me my favorite leather jack from back home.

Go figure.

10. Seeing people in hijab, kandura, abaya, and niqab becomes daily life very quickly.

Back in Virginia, I would be hard-pressed to see a woman in hijab honestly. And if I did, I would only be able to wonder where she was born or when she moved to the United States.

So initially seeing so many women covered and men wearing the same white robes was an adjustment.

I really thought every guy wearing the kandura (white robe with long scarf on their head) was the Sheikh. HA!

But sooner than I realized, seeing this style of dress became the norm. I’ve learned so much about Muslim dress here it’s really been incredible. Not just Emerati dress either, but Pakistani, South Indian, Omani, and other countries too.

Al Ain, Dubai | Packs Light

I’ve even worn hijab myself! Eat your heart out 😉

For example, before I came here, I would have though it was disrespectful or cultural appropriation to wear hijab if you weren’t Muslim. But I’ve learned anyone can wear hijab—it’s just a scarf. And you don’t buy it at a special hijab store either, people wear hijab with scarves bought from Forever 21!

(Do you get that, West? It’s just a scarf.)

Dubai always seems to get a bad rap in the media.

I’m not saying that all of it is without cause. There have been horrible things that have happened in Dubai from people getting detained and imprisoned for things they might not have been for in other places in the world.

But every country has it’s pros and cons. Just because one country lives operates a certain way doesn’t mean it’s wrong—it means you need to open your mind and try to understand their perspective, even if you don’t 100% agree with it.

If you don’t want to come here, don’t! You need a lot of paperwork and a visa to live here anyway.

But if you’re interested in one of the most multicultural, excessive, adventurous, spontaneous, and gorgeous cities on the planet, Dubai will be waiting for you!

Have you ever been to Dubai? Have any more questions about it?

Let me know in the comments below.

10 Things About Dubai | Packs Light

Pin me baby, one more time!

Related Posts

36 Discussion to this post

  1. […] many different cultures, from languages to foods to cultural practices. Despite what I wish I would have known before I moved here, I truly have found Dubai to be such a learning […]

  2. Yes I just came back from Dubai last week! Everything is just oversized there, seriously, but I do appreciate Dubai for being different. Anyway, great summary, I can see you’re having a fab time =) The weather is awesome now!

  3. I really enjoyed this! You are rocking that hijab girl! So happy to hear you can drink. LOL!

  4. Sarah says:

    Down the road in Abu Dhabi, I’d agree with all of this! I love hearing the call to prayer and having access to so many international stores. It’s been such a blast living in the UAE.

  5. Alex Cote says:

    It’s really interesting to see your perspective as someone actually living in Dubai, not just visiting! I’ve never been, but it truly seems like there’s no other place in the world with culture and architecture quite like it! Really awesome to hear you talk about that it’s super safe, since obviously the media puts out another image. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Maja says:

    Interesting post 🙂 I wonder how about animals in Dubai. I mean spiders, snakes, insects etc. Are there onerous and dangerous?

    • Gabby says:

      This is actually another thing I love about Dubai! I am a moquito magnet, and I LOVE that Dubai has no bugs!

      It’s too dry to have any real animals here besides birds and geckos. No dangerous snakes or anything.

      Dubai desert does have ibex, oryx, scorpions, spiders, etc. though but waaaay out in the desert!

  7. Brooklyn says:

    This post was so fun to read. I’ve always wondered what Dubai is really like. Awesome post!

  8. Talia says:

    Oh my aren’t I happy to read this! Thanks for sharing your experiences as they are an eye opener.
    I plan on visiting Dubai soon, what would you say the best time to come?

    • Gabby says:

      The best WEATHER is November-March! It’s pretty much the only time Dubai is bearable!
      And this is when the best concerts, festivals, etc are happening to def come in December if you can 😉

  9. Lena says:

    Lovely and funny post! Sharing it on twitter 🙂

  10. Great post! It is so important to study abroad and experience new cultures and ways of life. I hope you have an amazing time and Dubai is definitely on my bucket list!

  11. Megan says:

    Thanks for all the great info! I had no idea what Dubai was like!

  12. Such a great post! I am taking the kids to Dubai this spring and get nothing but negative comments when I tell them we will be in Dubai, Jordan and Egypt! Hoping there will be more and more posts like this and the mainstream media stops making the Middle East and the surrounding region look so terrible!

  13. Prianka says:

    Okay, so other than the fact that it gets cold – this list could absolutely apply to Singapore! I think there are a LOT of similarities between the two – starting with an amazing skyline!

  14. Nila says:

    Amazing! I’m adding this destination to my list (:

  15. LC says:

    I haven’t been to Dubai, but I lived across the gulf in Doha for a few months. Many of these points are transferrable to that city too (like Tinder and it being pretty damn safe).

  16. Annika says:

    I really love this post! I have been to Dubai a few short times on layovers and one press trip and each time I loved it. Costs is the only reason that keeps me from coming back for more – I even saw a police car once that was a Porsche 😉 But really, I loved that read this lot and I think this is exactly what it comes down to in many places: go beyond your prejudice and actually see for yourself, don’t judge a country by its cover. Especially your notion on the hijab – what no hijab store? Shocking!

  17. Ola says:

    I have to admit you had me worried with point #6. Please be careful out there. No matter where you go- ppl are ppl – as my Dad always tells me.

  18. Casey says:

    Cool post! Thanks for sharing your experience. This was really interesting to me, and now I want to read a lot more about studying in Dubai~ It’s one of my to-visit locations!

  19. Courtney says:

    This is some eye opening info about Dubai! Thanks for sharing it is good to know if I ever end up visiting.

  20. Gabby! I love this post because it’s so different from the usual cliches that most expats take away from their little time in Dubai. And it makes me so happy when others talk of how safe my city is! The fact that as a woman you can take a taxi home from a club at 3am- that you couldn’t in other cities- really counts for something, doesn’t it?

    We need to catch up soon!

  21. [* Shield plugin marked this comment as “spam”. Reason: Failed GASP Bot Filter Test (checkbox) *]
    […] Love Dubai enough to stay?  Check out these ten tips that Gabby wish she knew before making the move to Dubai. […]

  22. Penelopi says:

    I have worked in Qatar for 9 years and all your points apply to Qatar also!! 🙂

  23. Amanda says:

    Love Dubai and lived there for a couple of years, we moved to Europe 4 years ago and I’m still amazed at the ignorance people have about the Middle East, I never felt safer anywhere else in th world… it’s not perfect but it’s fun 🙂

  24. lexie says:

    I appreciate your presentation especially in terms of hijab and culture stuffs, I personally love the luxurious and glamourous vibe of Dubai. I haven’t really explored it that much but I can surely feel that level up kind of ambiance comparing to other rich cities. great post! I love reading it.

  25. Denisa says:

    This is a really good article. I’ve been to Dubai but only for one day. Unfortunately, I must say that the city made me quite depressed – all the skyscrapers, the heat, the confusion when you can’t find any door leading outside (Dubai Mall, what the heck?), and also the example of how much money you can actually waste.
    But you seem to enjoy Dubai. And after all, I spent only one day in there.
    Thank you for letting me know that there are better sides of Dubai. 🙂

  26. Julianne says:

    Fascinating read! I’ve been so curious about Dubai, but never had it on my list because I write about travel and drinks… and stupidly assumed that meant no interesting nightlife. Incredible that you moved there to study Arabic. Is it a master’s program?

    • Gabby says:

      I did a Certificate in Middle Eastern studies, it was for all ages! And YES, Dubai has a raging, world-renowned night life girl, you HAVE to put it on your list!

  27. [* Shield plugin marked this comment as “spam”. Reason: Failed GASP Bot Filter Test (checkbox) *]
    […] express how shocked they are by just how western the United Arab Emirates is, but guess what? It’s home to countless expats. There are more expats in the UAE than there are […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *