I recently embarked on a holiday to Dubai, and like many others, I found myself endlessly scouring the internet for information on what to wear and how to navigate cultural norms. The plethora of conflicting advice left me anxious and unsure, especially after hearing stories of people being arrested for small displays of affection in public. But now that I’ve experienced Dubai firsthand, I can confidently say that my worries were unfounded. And if you’re currently researching for an upcoming trip, let me put your mind at ease too.
I happened to visit Dubai in April 2022, during the holy month of Ramadan. As a non-Muslim, I wanted to ensure I respected the religion and understood what was expected of me. Online information, though outdated, mentioned a complete ban on food and drink between sunset and sunrise (5 am-8 pm). This was supposedly applicable even to tourists, meaning that consumption was limited to hotel rooms, with no beverages, not even water, allowed outdoors. However, I can confirm that this is no longer the case, at least not in most hotels. I reached out to my hotel before my trip to inquire about any changes due to Ramadan, and they assured me that everything would remain the same. And indeed, it did. Major hotels have adapted to cater to Western visitors who don’t observe Ramadan, so you should feel comfortable in these establishments. Food and drinks can be enjoyed throughout the day and night. However, it’s always best to double-check with your hotel. While some independent cafes and restaurants may open only in the evening and use window coverings to preserve privacy, most places operate as usual. The Dubai Mall, for example, was fully open with no changes whatsoever.
The only thing to be mindful of during Ramadan is that, if you’re outside your hotel, it’s not common to walk around eating. Though the occasional sip of water or drink while strolling within the Mall seemed acceptable, I didn’t observe people snacking as they wandered. But even in such cases, as long as you’re respectful and discreet, it’s unlikely to be a problem.
What To Wear In Dubai
One of my primary concerns before visiting Dubai was understanding the dress code. Despite Instagram showing celebrities in revealing outfits at fancy restaurants, online information still indicated certain clothing restrictions. So here’s the definitive answer you’ve been searching for. Within your hotel, you can wear whatever you would on any other trip. Bikinis are perfectly acceptable, assuming you’re staying in a larger or chain hotel (always confirm if unsure). Outside the hotel, you have a fair amount of freedom when it comes to clothing, within reason. Although outdated online information suggests that women should cover their shoulders and knees when outdoors or in the mall, these rules seem to have relaxed in recent years. During my visits, I saw plenty of women wearing shorts and sleeveless tops without issue. Most women, like myself, erred on the side of caution and opted for modest attire such as midi skirts or dresses. I ventured to the Dubai Mall in a midi dress with straps, covering my knees but exposing my shoulders. Another time, I wore an evening dress with a midi section and cut-out shoulders, and again, it was completely fine. No one paid any attention. As long as you avoid walking around publicly in a bikini, you should be fine. I did witness one woman who pushed the boundaries and wore hot pants that showcased her entire bum cheeks. While she had the confidence to pull it off, everyone stared – and not in a positive way. So, that level of dress is probably where the line is drawn. I recommend carrying a shawl or scarf with you at all times. This way, if you’re ever asked to cover up, you’ll be prepared. The general rule is that you need not be covered from head to toe, but it’s best to be modest and respectful in your choices.
(What to wear in Dubai as a woman – this is what I wore to the Burj Khalifa. A midi dress that covered my knees but not my shoulders. I took a shawl in my bag just in case.)
Showing Affection In Dubai
As this was my first holiday with my boyfriend, I was concerned that even simple acts of affection, like holding hands, could lead to trouble. However, my worries turned out to be unfounded. Within the hotel, as with most things, we were free to express our affection. Holding hands and occasional light kisses were perfectly acceptable, and other couples displayed similar behavior. I wouldn’t recommend engaging in passionate make-out sessions or groping each other, but everyday displays of affection are generally fine. In public spaces, holding hands is also acceptable, but I would advise against going beyond that. Avoid pecks on the cheek or cuddling, as anything that draws attention may land you in trouble. The consequences for crossing the line can include arrest, so it’s important to take this matter seriously. As a couple who enjoys physical contact, we were initially concerned, but we found that as long as we stuck to holding hands outside the hotel, we didn’t encounter any major restrictions.
Sharing A Bedroom If You’re Unmarried
According to the law in Dubai, unmarried couples are not allowed to share a hotel room. However, in practice, hotels have adapted to accommodate Western tourists, and this rule is rarely, if ever, enforced anymore (as of 2022). My boyfriend and I are unmarried, and we had no issues during our stay. Countless friends who have visited Dubai as a couple have also reported no problems.
Washing Your Hair
This topic may seem trivial, but it’s worth considering if you have colored hair, particularly blonde or highlighted hair. The desalinated water in Dubai can quickly dull hair color and contribute to frizz. To combat this, I suggest washing your hair with bottled water. This is especially important for those with hair extensions, as the colored strands can fade or discolor with a single wash using tap water. Stock up on bottled water and wash your hair in the sink to maintain its vibrancy. Additionally, wearing a hat whenever you’re out in the sun can help protect your hair color, as UV light is known to dull it.
Safety As A Woman In Dubai
During my time in Dubai, I never felt unsafe, but it’s important to note that I was accompanied by my boyfriend. While I can’t speak for solo female travelers, it’s worth mentioning that it’s rare to see women out and about alone, especially in outer Emirates like Ajman, where male dominance is more pronounced. If you’re traveling in a group, you’ll likely feel perfectly comfortable, but if you’re considering a solo trip, it may not be the first destination that comes to mind.
These were the main areas I had concerns about before my trip, and I hope my experience as a Western woman visiting Dubai has provided you with valuable insights. If there’s anything I haven’t covered or if you have any additional questions, please feel free to reach out to me on Instagram (DHPL Travels). Otherwise, enjoy your time in Dubai—it truly lives up to all your expectations, I promise!
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