2021 has been a fantastic year so far, just as expected! This is in large part thanks to old me in January who made the major life decision of moving to Dubai. She thought that it would be an adventure so she took the ballsy leap and here we are today!
I’ve lived in many cities…Paris, Lille, London, Johannesburg, Sao Paulo and Taipei which will forever be my first home and a city with a special place in my heart but Dubai was the first time I felt like I had found ‘my place’. At the same time, it is also a place that I feel is rather misunderstood and after six months in this gorgeous city, I now feel more equipped to give some insight on Dubai and to share what I’ve learnt with you!
1. It’s not THAT conservative. But it isn’t THAT liberal either.
Dubai has come a long way and each year, the rules and regulations loosen just a tad, and then a bit more, and then a lot more…to the point where newcomers tend to get rather confused. The media portrays Dubai as extremely strict and rigid, but that isn’t always the case. Here’s a fresh, updated look on what is and isn’t allowed in Dubai:
– Public Displays of Affection
It used to be that you could go to jail for a hug or for handholding. Other emirates may still uphold this law but you will find that Dubai is a lot more lax in comparison. Handholding is now widely tolerated. Still, to avoid sideways glances and strange looks, do refrain from over-petting your partner and God forbid you start making out. A peck on the lip is considered acceptable but nothing more. Find out everything you need to know about PDA in Dubai in this article. Enjoy!
– There IS alcohol but…
When I first arrived in February, there was excited chatter surrounding alcohol licenses no longer being necessary. This is because last year in November 2020, the UAE made some huge changes to its laws: unmarried couples of the opposite sex* can live together, honour killings have been criminalised and … drum roll please! Drinking has been decriminalised meaning it is no longer punishable by law. Now UAE residents can enjoy some bubbly in authorised places without a license but will still need to purchase one (270 AED/73.51 USD) to buy alcohol at liquor stores. Tourists in Dubai are in luck as they are exempt from all this and can purchase alcohol with just their passports. Do remember that the legal drinking age is 21!
*homosexuality is still not accepted in this part of the world and sadly, is even looked down upon.
– Dress appropriately
Notice that I didn’t say dress modestly or conservatively because it just isn’t true. Nowadays, pretty much anything is acceptable as long as you’re not sporting micro daisy dukes and a nano crop top. On the beach, you can wear a bikini but bring a cover up. Clubbing in Dubai pretty much allows you to go all out – there’s none of that ‘too cool for school, couldn’t be bothered to try cos i’m just so effortlessly chic’ nonsense, unless you’re going to a bar. People here dress up to the nines for fancy dinners or a night out in town! It’s a real-life runway show of Instagram outfits. The only time I’d say to dress conservatively is for work and when visiting mosques or less touristy areas such as Bur Dubai or Deira.
– Ramadan is a different story
Forget everything I mentioned above – just behave extra piously during Ramadan. That means no smoking, drinking, eating in public, in front of your colleagues…the list goes on so here’s a more comprehensive one if you’d like to learn more.
2. Dubai is one of the safest countries in the world.
Before moving to Dubai, I did a tremendous amount of research. Though some of the information was questionable, a running theme was the safety of Dubai. Many youtubers praised the city for being safe, especially for women and after six months of living here, I would have to agree!
According to Global Finance and their list of safest countries in the world 2021, the UAE has been ranked the second. Of course, the article makes no mention of Taiwan.
3. Weekends are Friday and Saturday.
Well, I suppose the above sentence says it all. It takes some getting used to as hump day is no longer Wednesday but Tuesday and there isn’t really TGIF feels on a Friday since you’re already halfway through your weekend. Still, it depends on the company you’re working for. For example, my company still follows the standard Monday to Friday work week as we have international clients but forget about a normal work week if you’re in F&B or retail, of course.
4. “Dubai has no culture, it’s so fake.” (???)
I’ve heard this so many times, my eyes have rolled all the way to the back of my head and are in danger of never reverting to their original position. Is it the dozens of instagrammers crawling about this metropolis? Or is it the fancy supercars? Or do some people just look down on wealth because they’re secretly jealous and don’t believe that they are deserving of abundance? Maybe I’m reading too much between the lines but attempt to look past the grandiosity and extravagance of the imposing skyscrapers because maybe there you will find culture. Make friends with a local and learn about their culture! Listen to their experiences with an open heart and an open mind instead of judging them through the lens of your upbringing or your perspective. It can be hard to get out of the expat bubble but the rewards are endless.
5. “Dubai is so expensive!” Or is it?
Make no mistake, I’m in no way saying it can’t be expensive but it’s not as burdensome on your budget as one might assume. You can easily get delicious inexpensive meals for 20-30 AED (that’s 5-8 USD) and the UAE boasts some of the cheapest petrol in the world. With that being said, I do have to say that rent can definitely get rather expensive if you’re living alone and want to be in a lively part of Dubai (ie. Downtown Dubai, DIFC, Business Bay or the Marina/Palm Jumeirah areas). Renting a studio apartment could easily set you back at least 4500 AED (1225 USD) a month unless you’re renting a bed space which is uncomfortably intimate as you’re sharing with strangers and most of all, illegal. However, if you decide to live further away, then you spend more on your commute which leads me to my next point…
6. You need a car in Dubai.
This city was built for cars. You have public transportation in the form of the Dubai Metro which is clean but really not that convenient as it’s pretty much a straight line. You have some buses but the stop is half a kilometre away. Taxis are a convenient option and an easy way of getting around but if you can, get yourself a car because that equals FREEDOM. And parking isn’t expensive anyway.