6 Cultural Things To Know When Moving To The UAE | ExpatWoman.com

6 Cultural Things To Know When Moving To The UAE

From greetings to clothing, these are 6 must know things when moving to and living in the UAE

Posted on

5 November 2018

Last updated on 15 November 2018
Photo by Valeria andersson on Unsplash

The UAE is a melting hub of cultures, but the Emirati culture is the country’s origins

Abu Dhabi may be the UAE’s capital but it is only one of seven other diversified cities in the country.

It acts as a melting hub of cultures, businesses and nationalities and all of which live harmoniously with one another in this tiny city that many of us call home.

SEE ALSO: Dubai Has The Highest Expat Population In The World

And while lots of different cultures and nationalities live in the UAE, from over 200 different countries, the UAE is still an Arab country that adheres to the Arabic culture of the region.

Some expats that move to the UAE can often get caught up with the glitz and glam and forget that the country does have specific cultural norms that are extremely important to the country – ones that are fundamental to the UAE’s history and future.

So without further ado, if you’ve just moved to Dubai or are planning to, it is vital that you remember these significant cultural norms of the country.


While Arabic is the official language of the UAE, English remains to be the most widely used language across the country.

From deliveries, business transactions, shopping and entertainment, all of the transactions done are done so in English – so don’t worry, you won’t be lost to find someone to chat with.

Work Hours

The official weekend in the UAE is on Friday and Saturday, however, some smaller private companies only close on Friday.

Hospitals, malls, pharmacies, restaurants and more are fully functioning during the weekends so you can still go ahead with your business or plans just as scheduled without having to wait till the start of the week.

It is only government offices that may be closed during the weekend but are sometimes opened for a few hours in the morning for any transactions, inquiries or paperwork.

However, the timings of private and public companies do change during Ramadan, a holy event for Muslims around the world that fast during the day and break the fast upon sunset.


The Emirati culture has built and sustained itself on several aspects, but one of those is their efforts in hospitality.

Emiratis, those who are local to the UAE, are extremely friendly and welcoming.

However, one should refrain from greeting Emirati women unless they initiate the greeting themselves by extending her hand first – embraces and cheek kisses are advised against as it is regarded to be inappropriate to the Emirati women.


Emirati men are usually dressed in an white robes called a Kandora, while Emirati women are dressed in black robes called an Abaya – these are the traditional clothing that Emiratis identify with and are not usually worn by tourists.

It is regarded as disrespectful for expats to wear the Emirati national dress around, unless they are invited to do so or are in a touristic location such as a desert safari or traditional setting.

Moreover, the UAE advises the public and tourists to always dress appropriately due to the cultural and religious norms – which means refrain from wearing inappropriate clothing that may show too much skin in public.

Especially during religious holy months, such as Ramadan.

Public behaviour

The biggest cultural difference between abroad and the UAE might be the rules towards public behaviour.

Considering that the UAE locals don’t consume alcohol, it is inappropriate to act disorderly and intoxicated in public and this can land you hefty fines and jail time.

Also, public displays of affection are advised against because of the cultural and religious differences of the country – couples who overtly show public displays of affection can be regarded as being disrespectful to the Emirati culture and customs.

Tourists are also advised against taking pictures of people in public, unless in a touristic location, especially of women, military or government facilities.


At the end of the day, the UAE is an Arab country that follows Arab norms and cultures and abides by the Islamic law.

Religion is a huge part of the Emirati culture and tourists and expats have to be very respectful of religion in the UAE - several cultural norms and customs stem from customs in Islam.

It is extremely disrespectful to be inappropriate in religious settings such as mosques in the UAE and residents must be respectful to prayer times during the day.

Tourists and expats are, however, welcomed to visit and learn about Islam at various mosques around the UAE – the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi is a popular location for tourists to visit and learn about the Islamic religion.



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