General Availability of Healthcare
Modern medical care and medicines are widely available in Dubai and the U.A.E.'s other principal cities, but may not be in outlying areas. Your hotel concierge or consulate is also a good place for a list of recommended doctors and specialists.
Dubai's healthcare network includes four government hospitals that provide care at relatively low costs, and a number of expensive private hospitals and medical clinics. Emergency care in the government hospitals is free regardless of nationality.
Dubai Healthcare City (www.dhcc.ae) aims to become the preeminent healthcare services center in the region. It's designed as an integrated center for clinical and wellness services, medical education, and research. It includes a network of hospitals, clinics, doctors, pharmacies, and wellness centers.
Some general tips: Take a sufficient supply of your prescription medicines and we recommend you carry a copy of the prescriptions or a letter from your doctor, and write down the generic names of those prescription drugs. Non-prescription medicines that travelers should consider packing include aspirin or other pain reliever, antihistamine, Imodium or other anti-diarrheal, rehydration mixture, antiseptic, multivitamins, bandages, sunscreen, and lip balm. It's also wise to take a spare pair of glasses and contact lenses with you.
Regional Health Concerns
Bugs, Bites & Other Wildlife Concerns -- There are few mosquitoes in the city of Dubai. Mosquitoes are more common near Dubai Creek and wadis, the desert streams (oases) that fill after the rains, and around date groves. They're most likely to find you in the evening if you're camping in the desert. There's no risk of malaria in the U.A.E.
There have been sightings of the Australian redback spider in Dubai, which is a potentially lethal but non-aggressive insect similar to the black widow. They seldom leave their webs and bites are uncommon. Antivenin is available.
Dietary Red Flags -- Food is generally safe throughout Dubai. Be cautious about eating raw salads and shawarmas (meat cooked on a spit and served in a pita) in older cafes and restaurants in the old quarter (Deira and Bur Dubai). The city's tap water is potable, but many people prefer to drink bottled water.
Respiratory Illnesses -- Respiratory illnesses are common in Dubai and elsewhere in the Gulf. One in three people suffer from allergies here, triggered by pollution, airborne dust, and sand.
Sun/Elements/Extreme Weather Exposure -- Dubai's sun is extremely intense. The UV rays are most dangerous from May to September, which are the hottest months. Avoid excessive sun exposure, especially when visiting the beach. Adequate sunscreens, sunglasses, and some form of head protection (such as a hat or visor) are important. Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are always a risk in high temperatures. It's important to drink plenty of water, and try to stay out of the sun during the middle of the day.
If You Get Sick
The most frequented hospitals among Western expatriates and visitors are the American Hospital and Welcare Hospital. They have extensive inpatient and outpatient services and English-speaking doctors. Check with your insurance company before receiving treatment to ensure coverage. You may need to pay all medical costs upfront and be reimbursed later. Note that emergency services are free regardless of nationality at all U.A.E. government hospitals (such as Al Wasl, Al Bahra, Al Maktoum, Rashid, and Dubai Hospital), but not in private hospitals.
Your hotel concierge or consulate is also a good place for a list of recommended doctors and specialists. English-speaking physicians are easy to find. Generic equivalents of common prescription drugs are generally available in Dubai. For a list of 24-hour pharmacies in Dubai (which rotate on a daily basis), visit the pharmacy section of www.doctor-dubai.com or call Life Pharmacy at tel. 04-344-1122.
Crime & Safety
Crime is generally not a problem for travelers to the U.A.E. That said, you should not leave wallets, purses, or credit cards unattended. Pick-pocketing has been reported in the souk areas. Although vehicle break-ins are uncommon, travelers should ensure that unattended vehicles are locked and valuables are not left so they're easily visible.
Traffic accidents are a leading cause of injury and death in the U.A.E.. Drinking and driving is illegal no matter how little alcohol is consumed, and doing so will result in jail and stiff fines. Drinking in public places not licensed for alcohol will also result in fines. Drug importation, drug use, and even being involved in drugs by association will result in jail. Pornography is also illegal.
Women should face relatively few safety concerns in Dubai. In contrast with some countries in the region, women enjoy the same rights as men and can dress as they please. However, some modesty in dress is preferred out of respect for the local culture and to avoid unwanted attention.
There have been isolated reports of harassment of tourists and cases involving assault of expatriate women in Abu Dhabi in and round the underground pedestrian walkways near the Abu Dhabi Corniche. Taxi passengers should avoid sitting in the front seat of a taxicab and should be sensitive that "small talk" can be misinterpreted as over-friendliness or even a form of propositioning by some taxi drivers.
As a result of broader turmoil in the Middle East, national governments recommend you register if you are staying in the U.A.E. For U.K. visitors, register online at www.ukinuae.fco.gov.uk. For U.S. visitors, register using the following website: travelregistration.state.gov. We recommend citizens from other countries also register with their respective embassies or consulates.
In addition, for U.S. visitors, the State Department offers the following specific guidance: "Americans in the United Arab Emirates should exercise a high level of security awareness. The Department of State remains concerned about the global threat of terrorism, including the possibility of terrorist attacks against U.S. citizens and interests in the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula. Both historical and current information suggest that al-Qa'ida and affiliated organizations continue to plan attacks against Western targets; these attacks may employ a wide variety of tactics including suicide operations, assassination, kidnapping, hijacking, and bombing. Americans should maintain a low profile, vary routes and times for all required travel, and treat mail and packages from unfamiliar sources with caution."
For the latest information on travel to the U.A.E. (and other international destinations), visit www.travel.state.gov (U.S.) or www.fco.gov.uk.
Israeli nationals are not allowed entry to the U.A.E.
Emiratis place great importance on respect for local culture and values, and foreigners are expected to do the same. One should not take photographs of locals, particularly of women, without permission. Overt public displays of affection are considered taboo, and holding hands in public is only just acceptable for married couples.
The U.A.E. is not permissive of open homosexuality, and homosexual practices (as well as all "overt displays of public affection," including for straight couples) are prohibited in the U.A.E.
In the Islamic culture, it's important not to eat or offer food or other items with the left hand, which is considered unclean. It is also considered impolite to show the soles of one's shoes. Practically speaking, that means you should try to avoid sitting in a way that results in the bottom of your shoes pointing at someone else (for example, when sitting with one leg crossed over the other). Swimwear should only be worn at the beach and you are encouraged to dress appropriately in shopping malls, wearing skirts and shorts of a decent length and no transparent garments. Topless sunbathing and nudity is strictly forbidden.
Neither drug use nor drunken behavior are tolerated. Year-round, visitors to Dubai and Abu Dhabi are technically not allowed to drink outside the hotel they are visiting unless they have a liquor permit. In practice, foreign residents and visitors can drink in places that serve alcohol so long as they don't engage in drunken behavior or drink and drive as there is a zero-tolerance policy towards drinking and driving. The legal drinking age is 21 in most of the U.A.E. and 18 in Abu Dhabi.
Eating during the day and drinking at any time in front of Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan is considered offensive although it still takes place in hotels, but discreetly and not in the presence of locals. Live music and dancing are not allowed during this period, so many bars and most clubs shut down temporarily.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.