UAE Culture Guide: What to Expect When Living in Dubai

Dubai is a city that’s determined to retain heritage while racing at breakneck speed to embrace the modern era. It’s true, Dubai encompasses all the good, the great, and the brilliant life opportunities for foreign students like you, but the emirate is also full of Arab customs that are very different from those in the west. To prepare you for a comfortable and cringe-free life in Dubai, here are five things you should expect when studying here.

1. A Cultural Melting Pot

Dubai is rammed full of students and expats from every nation and myriad backgrounds, making it a true cultural melting pot. When in Dubai, you don’t have to travel much further to see and learn about the world, which is a big plus for those of you who want to do so in a non-traditional classroom setting. Since you’ll be sharing the experience of living and studying in this challenging yet rewarding foreign environment, you will make new friends (many of whom will be lifelong) and learn about many different cultures from around the world beyond Dubai.

2. Cultural Adjustments

The Islamic religion impacts every aspect of Muslims’ lives here in Dubai, therefore it’s not uncommon that Muslims would prioritise their religion before even their family and their country. So it’s important – especially for those who are non-Muslims – to always remember that Dubai is an Arab emirate and it therefore comes with a few cultural and religious restrictions of which foreigners must be aware. For example, the call to prayer takes place five times a day, and not all Muslim women will feel comfortable in the presence of a man, which should be respected.

In terms of dress code, female students (regardless of your religion) should only wear swimwear on beaches or at swimming pools, and dress modestly when in public areas to cover the tops of the arms and legs. Lastly, many traditional tourist sights here in Dubai have religious significance so be sure to avoid using expletives, public display of affection, and insulting the ruling family or Islam when visiting, and be respectful at all times.

3. An Arid Subtropical Climate

One of the first things you’ll learn about Dubai is that the climate here is hot, hot, hot almost year-round! Living in a climate like this means you’ll get ample opportunity to enjoy outdoor activities, but if that’s not your cup of tea, you can always retreat to your air-conditioned room – yes, every shop, bar, restaurant, place of work, and home here is equipped with amazing air-conditioning!

4. A Familiar Lingua Franca

English is spoken and understood by most people in Dubai – in fact, it’s the most commonly spoken language here, even more so than Arabic. People are generally friendly and eager to make new friends, and as we’ve mentioned, Dubai is very much an international hub, so you’ll be making friends from all over the world who speak your lingua franca.

However, you shouldn’t get complacent – official paperwork like your student visa and your bank account application have to be translated into Arabic, so learning a few key phrases in the local lingo will make your life in Dubai much easier.

(Uninest residents can always speak to the Dubailand team for any help. Meet them here.)

5. A Vibrant Nightlife

Good news for students: Dubai is an exciting city that caters largely to the young. Nightlife here doesn’t start until after 9pm, but it’s lively and it can go on to the early hours. If you’re a drinker, make sure you have your alcohol licence with you (because the UAE implements Sharia law, which prohibits the purchase and consumption of alcohol), which is available to residents and costs AED 170 (about £35).

It’s also important to keep yourself out of any alcohol-induced trouble, and never drink and drive. Nevermind the fact that it’s dangerous, the UAE also has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to drink-driving. If caught behind the wheel after leaving a bar in Dubai, you will face a hefty fine of up to AED 30,000 (over £6,000) and/or up to three years in jail.

Enjoy Your Life in Dubai to the Fullest

Here at Uninest, we’re keen to help you make the most of your uni life, so don’t hesitate to get in touch if you need any more information on the culture, the heritage, and the general way of life in Dubai. If you’re planning on coming to study in Dubai, make sure you check out Dubailand – our all-inclusive student residence, which will put you at the heart of the emirate and right next door to Dubai International Academic City.

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