10 Things I Wish I Knew About Dubai Before I Moved Here

by Gabby Beckford
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Here are 10 major facts about Dubai, UAE that I wish I had known before I moved across the globe.

1. It is humid.

Seriously, 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 of the desert.

When I landed here on September 1, I was shook at how humid it was outside. It felt as though I was walking into a hot shower. I had my taxi driver stop by a gas station so that I could take out some dirhams (UAE currency) from the ATM, and the window panes of the gas station were dripping water from all of the condensation outside.

2. Transport is affordable 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 to 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 and what brought them here. There are many stories of rich visitors forgetting millions of dollars worth of jewelry and cash in taxis, and the drivers going to huge lengths to return their belongings.

3. Yes, Tinder is a thing.

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 Hinge, Bumble, Plenty of Fish, OkCupid, Match, etc. (I promise I'm not using all of these Mom, LOL).

Yes, it is a Muslim country, but because there are so many expats living here at dating apps like Tinder are somewhat widely used.

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)
  • Netflix (but like 3/4 of the shows aren't viewable)
  • Whatsapp (but you can't Whatsapp call)
  • iMessage

4. 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 breathe at clubs (rude, I know, sorry, but oh well), and come home smelling like a pack of Marlboros. Yuck.

5. 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 it's truly another thing to see it in real life. Like, the Lamborghinis and Audi's filling my school's 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

Invited to a yacht party one of my classmates was throwing. It's casual.

6. Ladies, it is ridiculously safe. I promise.

This was really a surprise. I'd heard before I came here that Dubai was a very safe city because the punishment for breaking laws is so severe. Turns out that is completely true. So let me eliminate some of your biggest fears right now:

No, I never fear a terrorist attack, bombing, or kidnapping in Dubai.

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 MacBook, iPhone, GoPro, and wallet out in the open in restaurants and beaches 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. As I said, the taxi drivers here are closely monitored and are more importantly very kind, hardworking people.

Of course, don't go out of your way to be irresponsible. 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 in public, don't disturb 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.

I had just turned 21 a few days before I moved here, and one of my greatest fears was that I wouldn't be able to drink here. But unluckily 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 “Ladies Night”, and the best thing about Ladies Night is that it's literally every night.

That's right ladies, you can get around 3 free drinks a night from different venues. I use Ladies Night, Dubai to see what Ladies Night deals are happening that night.

Dubai is also famous for its 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.


8. Yes, people speak English. And yes, people speak Arabic.

As a student who 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 Portuguese 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 is Tagalog, Tigrinya, Urdu, Punjabi, Mandarin, etc.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I often heard fears that no one would speak English and navigating the city would be almost impossible. Wrong on that account too. I would say 80% of the people I encounter speak English, or at least understands it.

9. It actually gets cold (in my opinion).

Ugh. What the heck. I came here because people told me it was summertime vibes all year round, and now it's early December and it's 60°F/15°C at night. I want a refund.

OK, so I'm dramatic. But I honestly assumed it was 90° weather year round, and now I'm asking my mom to ship me my leather jacket from home.

Go figure.

10. NO, not all women have to wear hijab. But seeing people wear hijab, kandura, abaya, and niqab becomes daily life very quickly.

Al Ain, Dubai | Packs Light

Eat your heart out Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Let me first say this: NO, foreign/visiting women do not have to wear hijab or cover yourselves completely at all times. You do not have to wear black. You do not have to wear long abayas. You do need to know when to dress appropriately. See my article on what women can wear in Dubai in 2019 for specific fashion advice and dressing scenarios.

Back in Virginia, I'd honestly be hard-pressed to see a woman in hijab. 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 a long scarf on their head) was the Sheikh. Disappointingly, this is not the case.

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 Emirati dress but Pakistani, South Indian, Omani, and other countries too.

For example, before I came here I would have thought 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.

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 its 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 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.

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10 things about living/visiting Dubai, UAE that every traveler will WANT to know before you go! #Dubai #WhattowearinDubai #Dubai2019 #womendressinDubai #dubaiexpat

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10 things about living/visiting Dubai, UAE that every traveler will WANT to know before you go! #Dubai #WhattowearinDubai #Dubai2019 #womendressinDubai #dubaiexpat

Click to pin.

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10 things about living/visiting Dubai, UAE that every traveler will WANT to know before you go! #Dubai #WhattowearinDubai #Dubai2019 #womendressinDubai #dubaiexpat

Click to pin.

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Gabby Beckford

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39 comments

Alina June 1, 2019 - 5:47 AM

Couldn’t agree more! I have been to Dubai twice and I have the best memories from here with the friendliest people! It is a melting pot and that is part of the beauty of this place to be immersed in so many different cultural aspects!

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Gabby June 2, 2019 - 8:11 AM

Completely agree Alina 🙂

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Rosie April 21, 2019 - 11:19 AM

This is such a great post!! I have my eye on possibly moving to Dubai in 3-4 years (I’m a vet nurse and there are several veterinary hospitals in Dubai looking for people with my qualifications, luckily) and this is extremely helpful! Do you have any suggestions for where an adult professional could take Arabic? If I’m going to learn the language (and if I move there, I probably should) I’d like to do it properly.

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Don't Let the Media Fuel a Fear of Traveling - Passport & Plates October 17, 2017 - 1:16 AM

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[…] 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 […]

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Julianne October 1, 2017 - 1:41 AM

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?

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Gabby October 2, 2017 - 2:49 PM

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!

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Denisa September 4, 2017 - 5:00 AM

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. 🙂

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lexie September 3, 2017 - 4:31 AM

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.

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Amanda September 2, 2017 - 4:59 PM

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 🙂

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Penelopi September 2, 2017 - 4:00 PM

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

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Stopping Over in Dubai - A Newbie's Guide - Exploring Kiwis July 31, 2017 - 8:00 PM

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[…] Love Dubai enough to stay?  Check out these ten tips that Gabby wish she knew before making the move to Dubai. […]

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Natasha Amar February 16, 2017 - 6:24 AM

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!
xx

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Courtney January 16, 2017 - 4:23 PM

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

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Casey January 16, 2017 - 9:25 AM

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!

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Ola January 9, 2017 - 1:44 PM

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.

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Annika January 9, 2017 - 10:14 AM

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!

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Gabby January 9, 2017 - 12:27 PM

Thanks for your kind comment Annika! <3

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LC January 1, 2017 - 5:44 PM

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).

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Nila December 31, 2016 - 2:51 PM

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

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Prianka December 30, 2016 - 11:15 AM

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!

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Lindsay Nieminen December 30, 2016 - 9:24 AM

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!

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Megan December 14, 2016 - 12:45 PM

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

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Shaina McGregor December 11, 2016 - 10:50 AM

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!

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Gabby December 11, 2016 - 2:20 PM

Thank so much girl 🙂 I’m loving it thus far.
Dubai will be waiting for you!

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Lena December 11, 2016 - 9:29 AM

Lovely and funny post! Sharing it on twitter 🙂

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Gabby December 11, 2016 - 2:19 PM

So sweet! <3 I appreciate it!

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Talia December 11, 2016 - 9:12 AM

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?

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Gabby December 11, 2016 - 2:19 PM

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 😉

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Brooklyn December 10, 2016 - 7:18 PM

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

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Gabby December 11, 2016 - 2:21 PM

Glad this helped give you a first-person perspective!

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Maja December 10, 2016 - 5:31 PM

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

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Gabby December 10, 2016 - 5:54 PM

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!

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Alex Cote December 10, 2016 - 1:30 PM

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!

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Gabby December 10, 2016 - 4:19 PM

Thanks so much Alex! <3

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Sarah December 10, 2016 - 1:04 PM

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.

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Gabby December 10, 2016 - 4:18 PM

Completely agree girl! I do love hearing the call to prayer, I forgot about that 🙂 I first heard it in the Mall of the Emirates, lol!

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Cherene Saradar December 10, 2016 - 1:03 PM

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

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Kristine Li December 10, 2016 - 12:53 PM

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!

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My Stereotypical, Excessive, Awesome Dubai Bucket List December 10, 2016 - 12:12 PM

[…] 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 […]

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