Adjusting to life in Dubai

You are about to embark on a new and exciting experience in the multicultural city of Dubai. It may take time to get adjusted to moving to a new country and to be away from familiar surroundings. Information in this section can help you settle in and understand your new environment.

Culture
Dubai is a melting pot of nationalities, cultures and personalities and offers a piece of home for everyone no matter where they come from.

It is completely normal to experience an adjustment period when coming to Dubai as you get involved in new activities, meet new people, adapt to the weather and enjoy the local cuisine. You can read more about the city's lifestyle through VisitDubai.

Dubai Culture also offers insight into what the city has to offer, including relevant cultural tourist sights and events.

Here are some helpful tips to get you started:
 
  • Prepare – Read through our guide in this section on what you can do to prepare before you arrive to Dubai.
  • Get involved – after you have arrived find out about which clubs and activities are available to you on campus. Spending time with other students can help you feel less isolated. Keeping busy will also help ward off any feelings of homesickness. You can find lots of useful information in our A-Z Student Guide which may help with the settling-in process.
  • Food from home – cook food that you are used to eating at home with your family. Most supermarkets have sections for international foods. Introducing your new flatmates to a different cuisine can be fun and a great way to share your own culture with others.
  • Stay in touch – schedule specific times for calls with your family. University life can be hectic so make time to keep up connections. Visit our Practical Information pages for guidance on phone and internet access.
Attire
Dubai is a cosmopolitan city that is a melting pot of diverse cultures and religious faiths. All attires and cultural preferences are generally acceptable. Swimwear is permissible at beaches, pool and spa areas and for water-based entertainment but is not considered appropriate in areas such as business districts and shopping malls. It is pertinent to note that in the more historical quarters of the city, government buildings and in places of religious worship, dressing conservatively is required. Clothing should cover shoulders, arms and legs. In mosques, women must wear headscarves.
Public displays of affection
Local tradition provides that handshakes should be initiated by women as a sign of respect and that public displays of affection are kept to a minimum. Holding hands is acceptable, but hugging or other displays of affection in public areas is not permitted.
Drinking alcohol
Alcohol is served in licensed establishments such as hotels, bars and specialised shops to those over 21 years of age. However, drunk and disorderly conduct and drink driving are not acceptable. Use or possession of illegal drugs is also strictly prohibited.
Language
Dubai is effectively bilingual – road signs, maps and daily newspapers are in English, and most Emiratis speak the language well. Not everyone is fluent in English and you might encounter abrupt interactions as a result of how different languages translate to English.

Be patient when communicating with others. Meeting your hosts halfway is the least that you can do; the look of genuine delight on a local’s face when they hear you speaking their language makes it worth it.
Religion
Islam is ever present and you will soon become accustomed to the sound of the call to prayer from a neighbouring mosque’s loudspeakers. Muslims pray five times each day facing Mecca. It’s not uncommon to see people praying in office corridors or by the side of the road, while there are prayer rooms for Muslims at most shopping centres and at the airport (usually located near the bathrooms). Avoid walking in front of anyone praying, and don’t stare.

As for other faiths, the UAE is tolerant and there are temples and churches, however, active promotion is not allowed. There are days throughout the year commemorating aspects of Islam, and some will be marked with a public holiday.
The weekend
The official weekend is Friday and Saturday. Friday is the Islamic holy day, with many shops and souks staying shut until late afternoon.