Dubai the largest city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and is home to more than 100,000 British expats. It’s home to the tallest building in the world and the planet’s 5th largest shopping mall. It’s a mega-city of commerce, business and exciting nightlife.
Despite the UAE’s conservative infrastructure, Dubai is designed to accommodate Western socialising. There remain, however, strict prohibitions on things that would be considered normal in the UK, so if you’re travelling there, make sure you know how to behave to avoid faux pas, and be sure to buy good travel insurance.
The currency in Dubai is the UAE dirham, so make sure you take enough dirham notes or load the currency onto a prepaid travel money card for access to your holiday funds while away.
Healthcare for Brits in Dubai
Dubai’s healthcare is comparable to that of the UK and is considered to be of a high standard. It’s imperative to have good travel insurance, as you may be refused medical care if you cannot provide a valid policy or do not have sufficient funds to cover your treatment personally.
It’s advisable to have a fund of ready cash in case of emergency alongside holiday insurance.
If you are in a medical emergency, call 999 just as you would in the UK and ask for an ambulance. Be certain to contact your travel insurer at the earliest possibility to apprise them of your situation.
According to the FCDO, Brits returning home from Dubai have occasionally been diagnosed with Legionnaire’s disease. Although the cases date to 2017, the sources of the outbreak have not been identified. The disease is caused by bacteria that live in water and can be caught by inhaling the mist from contaminated water, for example in showers or steam baths.
Importantly, a number of prescription and over-the-counter drugs that are common in the UK are prohibited in the UAE, and you need more than a prescription and doctor’s note to take them into the country. You will need to establish whether you can take these drugs in at all, and what permissions from the UAE's Ministry of Health you could need to do so.
The UAE’s Ministry of Health has a list of prohibited drugs that it is important to consult. If you require medication that is prohibited in the UAE, you can contact their Drug Control Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or call them on +971 2 611 7240 and ask for advice.
Travel risks in Dubai
Crime is relatively low in Dubai, however it is always recommended to exercise the same caution you would in any large city. Avoid travelling alone, especially in unfamiliar areas and at night. And be mindful that some individuals – such as lone travellers or women – may be a particular target.
It is recommended to only use licensed taxis or Uber. Safety standards are very high and penalties for law-breaking are very severe.
You may also inadvertently fall foul of the law. There are a number of things that are illegal in the UAE that are legal in the UK.
Firstly, alcohol. As a tourist, it is only legally permissible to drink in licensed venues, and drinking or being visibly drunk in public can lead to arrest. Moreover, if you are visibly drunk whilst travelling through Dubai (for instance at the airport as a stopover) you could be arrested. If you plan on renting a flat or becoming resident in Dubai, you will need to acquire a licence to drink alcohol at home. If you take a daytrip to Sharjah, remember that alcohol is completely forbidden there.
Electronic cigarettes are illegal in the UAE and could be confiscated when you arrive.
While it is not advisable to use illegal drugs anywhere, use in Dubai can come with some of the most severe penalties in the world. It’s also considered possession if you are found to have drugs in your bloodstream from using before visiting Dubai. Distributing drugs can incur the death penalty.
Other travel considerations in Dubai
Previously, people who had Israeli stamps or visas in their passport would have found it difficult to gain entry to the UAE. However, immigration authorities have advised that British nationals in this situation should not have difficulty in gaining entry.
In public, everyone is expected to dress conservatively. This means covering the shoulders, upper-arms and upper-legs. Underwear cannot be visible, and dressing as a person of another gender can incur severe penalties. It is unlikely that gender fluidity and non-binary genders will be recognised by authorities.
Having sex outside marriage is illegal, and if you are travelling with an unmarried partner you may be required to sleep in separate rooms at your hotel. The penalties can be strong if Dubai authorities discover you are cohabiting, even in a hotel, with someone you are not married or closely related to.
Homosexual relationships are illegal in Dubai, however efforts have been made to accommodate knowledge of homosexuality within the confines of a highly conservative society. A person’s private life is respected, however homosexual marriages from any country are not recognised in the UAE and all sex outside marriage is illegal. Any public displays of homosexual affection risk arrest and prosecution.
Ramadan is an extremely holy time in Muslim countries, and it is important to be respectful of local customs if you are not Muslim yourself. In particular, eating and drinking publicly while the local population are fasting is insensitive and can cause upset. It is best, during Ramadan, to eat privately where possible.
Criticism of the UAE or its affiliated business, bodies and industries is not allowed, including on social media. It’s unwise to express negative political opinion of the state to anyone, however conversation about global politics and commerce is fine as long as it remains respectful.
Diplomatic relations with Qatar were suspended by the UAE in 2017. Expressing sympathy with Qatar, whether vocally or on social media, can be dangerous.
It is a legal requirement to have your passport or recognised form of ID on you at all times. This may not include copied documents.
Culture in Dubai
Dubai is a very modern city, famed globally for its ambitious, modern architecture and luxury shopping. Dubai itself is a highly modern and globalised city, lacking in the way of historical cultural influence, however there are a number of interesting sites in the area from antiquity. For something more traditional within the city, take a look at the Souk Madinat Jumeirah.
Dubai’s culture is largely focused on leisure and entertainment, which means that you are never short of things to do. Representative shops and restaurants from a variety of global cultures are present in Dubai, including a North Korean restaurant. The offering of cultural food and drink within Dubai is extensive, and a broad range of cultures are represented in evening entertainment.
Nightlife is also very active, with very high-quality music and entertainment on offer all over the city.
The Islamic culture that underpins the city is represented in retail throughout the city. Traditional home furnishings, fragrances and clothing of the region are widely available, and within the modernity of malls, the architecture and feel of souks have been reconstructed.
Getting around in Dubai
Brits in Dubai can rent a car with a UK driver’s licence. Make sure that you have the correct insurance in place to drive, alongside travel insurance.
Driving is safe and air-conditioned rental cars can be a comfortable way of getting around. It’s a popular pastime for people in Dubai to cruise around showing off luxury cars, and driving is a common mode of transport. You may need a 1968 International Driving Permit in limited situations.
Public transport is very modern and very high-quality. The metro covers a large proportion of the city and offers good views, as most of the line is above ground. Buses are popular among residents and bus stops are air-conditioned for when you need to wait. This is one of the more cost-effective ways of getting around.
There’s a large number of boat trips available, from simple transport to luxury yachts.
Do I need travel insurance for Dubai?
Dubai is part of the United Arab Emirates, where the government has made it mandatory to have travel insurance that includes Covid-19 cover if you’re an international visitor travelling there. Travel insurance with medical cover can help protect you and pay the costs involved if you need emergency treatment or transport home (repatriation) if you fall ill or have an accident while you’re away.
Dubai also offers a growing number of adventure activities both in and out of the city. These are usually safety-conscious and well-organised, however it’s important to make sure that you are covered on your travel insurance to take part in them.
If you want an extra level of cover, discuss it with your insurer. You may also be covered for activities but only under certain circumstances – for instance, you may only be covered to cycle if you are wearing a helmet and do not travel above certain elevations.
If you’ll be doing extreme activities while you’re there, such as quad biking in the sand dunes, it’s likely you’ll need more cover than a standard travel insurance policy provides to account for the potentially higher risk. Compare the add-ons available from different insurers to make sure you can get enough cover in place.
Travel insurance isn’t just for medical problems. If your belongings, such as luggage, are lost, damaged or stolen, or your flight is delayed, travel insurance may help to cover costs incurred. If you buy your travel insurance at the same time as you book your holiday, you could receive a payout if something such as an illness prevent you from going.