Looking for some interesting facts about Dubai? It’s indeed a fascinating place with so many unique aspects and quite a lot of different habits and traditions…
One of the most rewarding aspects of traveling is that you get to learn about new cultures and habits. It never ceases to amaze me that in this age when the world has become a global village with the same shops and restaurants everywhere you go, similarity also stops at this visible surface. Deep inside, we are not all the same, we each have our own manners, traditions, views, and perception of the world.
It’s not because Arabs drink Starbucks coffee in Dubai and share their experience on Facebook or Instagram using the newest iPhones, that they lose their Middle Eastern identity. Nor does it mean that they identify themselves with the way we think and live in the West… Not at all!
Even such a global city like Dubai is not that open-minded and modern when you look beneath the surface. I’m not saying it’s good or bad, it’s simply different. There are quite some things you should know about Dubai, even if you are only visiting as a tourist.
From serious Dubai facts, local laws and habits, to unbelievable statistics – we selected the most fascinating ones in this article. Find out!
Good to know: Dubai is modernizing and has recently changed quite some of its laws that were somewhat unusual in the eyes of a westerner. So this article with Dubai facts has now been updated in order to reflect these recent changes. We also kept the original info, so that you can see what’s changed.
So here are some interesting facts about Dubai and The United Arab Emirates:
1. Dubai weekend is 2.5 days
Dubai has recently changed its working/ weekend schedule, in order to align more to that of the rest of the world and international markets.
The weekend in Dubai is now 2.5 days: half a day from noon on Friday, plus Saturday and Sunday. The official working hours are from 7.30 AM to 3.30 PM from Monday to Thursday and 7.30 AM to 12 PM on Friday.
In the past, a weekend in Dubai was not on Saturday and Sunday as in the west. But it was also no longer on Thursday and Friday as it used to be in most Muslim countries in the past (and still is in some countries). Instead, a weekend in Dubai was on Friday and Saturday.
Many Persian Gulf countries changed this recently in order to adapt better to international financial markets, and in January 2022, Dubai did the same.
2. Dubai was mostly a desert 20 years ago
If you see how far the city has gone, you cannot help admiring the vision of the Dubai rulers. It started with Sheikh Rashid who was concerned about the future of Dubai when the oil runs out. Sheikh Mohammed is the man who turned Dubai into the global city it is today.
Every time you visit Dubai, you’ll find that the city has changed once again. There is so much going on, so many new buildings, tourist attractions, etc. It’s truly an ever-changing destination that has something new to offer every time you come.
3. Dubai has the world’s tallest building
In the United Arab Emirates, they like to be the best in everything, the biggest, the tallest, the richest… World’s tallest buildings, biggest shopping malls, most expensive hotel rooms, man-made islands… You name it – they have it.
Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building (828 m (2,717 ft) – 163 floors) stands in Dubai. For comparison, the height of the Eiffel Tower in Paris is 300m.
In 2016, Dubai started building Dubai Creek Tower. At 1.300 meters (4,265 ft) high, it would become the tallest manmade structure ever built. It was meant to compete with another project in Saudi Arabia (that was supposed to dwarf Burj Khalifa) and to keep the title of the world’s tallest building in Dubai.
However, as the project in Saudi Arabia was interrupted, so was the one in Dubai. And then the pandemics hit and the future of Dubai Creek Tower remains uncertain. For now, Burj Khalifa remains the tallest building in the world.
4. There are 7 times more foreigners than locals in the United Arab Emirates
Most recent statistics show that the percentage of foreigners in the UAE is over 88%. This number is probably even higher in Dubai city.
Only after 20 years do expatriates qualify for an application for citizenship. Most foreigners in Dubai are construction workers from India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.
5. UAE population growth is one of the highest in the world
In 1965 the total population of the Emirates was 150.000, in 2015 – 9.26 million people. The biggest increase happened between 2003 and 2011 and has stabilized in recent years.
In 2022, the UAE population is 9.99 million. Over one-third of the total UAE population – 3.4 million people – live in Dubai.
6. There are 2 times more men in UAE than women
Dubai male-female ratio is 7 to 3. This is mostly because of foreign workers who do not relocate with their families. Most of them come to the Emirates to work and make money, leaving their families in their home countries.
69% of people living in the United Arab Emirates are men, and just 31% are women. That’s more than 2 men for every woman! And this in a region where it’s not uncommon for a man to have a few wives…
7. Premarital sex used to be illegal in the Emirates
This is one of those Dubai facts that has created lots of controversy in the past. Luckily, the laws have been relaxed recently and pre-marital sex is no longer illegal in Dubai.
In the past – in theory – you were not allowed to share the same hotel room in Dubai with a man or a woman that you were not married to. This didn’t count for close family members, so brothers and sisters were ok.
It didn’t matter what your relationship is and whether you live together with your partner at home. If you traveled to Dubai with your partner, you better made sure that everyone thought the two of you are married. As long as nothing happened, nobody made a big deal of it, but some foreigners had gotten into serious trouble for that.
One of the reasons the law has been changed is to attract more expats and to legalize what’s already been happening anyway. All the unmarried foreigners living together with their partner in Dubai can now relax without having to fear someone will find out they aren’t legally married.
However, keep in mind that same-sex relationship is still illegal in Dubai.
8. Kissing in public is not done
Hugs and kisses in public are still a big no-no in the UAE, and it may even be illegal. Holding hands with your husband or your wife is ok, but that’s as far as it goes. Dubai is much more relaxed than the other emirates, but it’s so much simpler to just respect the tradition than test the boundaries.
I have read some troubling messages about an unmarried couple being convicted for public display of affection, or girls getting into trouble because they were raped.
Luckily, some of the new laws have brought change to this too. Still, in case the unthinkable happens in Dubai, it’s better to contact your embassy first, before you contact the local police.
9. There are no personal or income taxes in Dubai
Here is your explanation for all the expats and the growth in Dubai! My husband (who is a fiscalist) is already considering moving to Dubai. Were it not for the extreme temperatures in summer, we would be probably applying for a visa as we speak.
10. In the recent past, Dubai had no standard street address system
Until the recent past, Dubai had no standard post system at all. They used Post Office Boxes a lot and the instructions on the envelope or a package often included an explanation on how to find the place. Something in lines of ‘second street to the right behind the big mosque, the third house with a white door on your left’.
This probably explains why most postcards we sent from Dubai on our trip in 2015 never reached their destination…
I’m not sure how Dubai postal system works exactly now. But it seems to have improved recently when Dubai started assigning unique codes to all streets and buildings to help identify them. Still, it’s far from what we are used to in the west…
TIP: Here is some advice for the travelers (apart from not wasting your money on cards and stamps). If you book a stay at a less-known hotel in Dubai, you better make sure to print a map to show your taxi driver where you want to go. That’s also the case for all the recently built hotels – they are popping up like mushrooms after a rain, and no taxi driver can keep up with that.
11. No alcohol consumption under 21 years of age
Alcohol consumption is strictly controlled in the United Arab Emirates.
In the past, only foreign tourists or resident foreigners with a special alcohol license could buy and consume alcohol in Dubai. This is one of the laws that have been relaxed recently. Alcohol is still only allowed to be consumed privately or in licensed public areas, but residents no longer need a special license.
Now the main restriction is that people under the age of 21 cannot buy or consume alcohol in Dubai. You are also not allowed to drive under influence – they have a 0 tolerance policy.
In Dubai, alcoholic drinks are served in licensed hotels and clubs, but you are not allowed to drink (or be under the influence of alcohol) in public.
Also recently changed: pork meat consumption is now allowed in Dubai, and you can eat during the day during Ramadan.
12. Dancing in public is considered provocative and is a big no-no
Who would do that, dancing on the streets in Dubai? Seriously.
I did without realizing and the eyes of a local who passed us said it all. It’s not that I was dancing, but it was New Year’s Eve and I playfully ‘danced’ with my 5-year old son as we were walking past a restaurant with some live music…
I just had to google it afterwards and it turns out that you are not allowed to dance in public in Dubai. So now you know.
13. Dubai police has the coolest cars
Dubai police drive cars like the Ferrari FF and Lamborghini Aventador. Each of them cost 400-500,000 USD. They even have an Aston Martin One-77 (1.79 million USD).
14. They keep on building skyscrapers
Every year, at least 10 skyscrapers are built in Dubai. 2007 was a top year with 41 buildings taller than 100 m completed in just one year. Dubai is one of the top-5 world cities with the biggest number of skyscrapers, together with places like Hong Kong or New York.
However, some overly ambitious projects such as Meydan One Complex (with the world’s tallest residential tower – Dubai One Tower at 771m (2,333ft), the longest indoor ski hall, etc.) have recently been canceled too. I guess, there’s a limit to how tall, big, and crazy it makes sense to go…
15. Number plates matter
Cars, especially luxury cars, are a passion for many rich people in Dubai. The number plate of your car shows how important (=rich) you are. The fewer digits on the number plate, the more it’s sought after. In 2008, plate No. 1 was auctioned for 14.5 million USD.
16. They have ATMs for gold
Dubai has some ATMs that dispense gold rather than money. About 40% of the world’s physical gold trade goes through Dubai. One of the best places to buy gold in Dubai is at the Dubai Gold Souk.
17. They keep on building new hotels
In 2019, there were 544 operating hotels in Dubai. There are now over 100,700 hotel rooms in Dubai. To give you an idea, just 3 years before that, there were ‘just’ 64,000 hotel rooms.
18. No food on the metro
In Dubai, you can get a fine for eating or drinking in the metro.
19. They use robot jockeys for camel races
Camel races are very popular in the Middle East.
Because of the size, only children can participate in racing the camels. Unfortunately, thousands of children have been trafficked and abused in the past, forcing some countries to put an end to the sport.
Qatar came up with a solution. Nowadays, remote-controlled child-sized robots are used in camel racing, which remains a multimillion-dollar sport in the region.
20. They consume lots of water
With 550 liters per person per day, UAE’s water consumption is the highest in the world. It’s about 80% higher than the global average.
One of the reasons for this is the cooling they need. Dubai is a city in the middle of a desert with sand storms and temperatures above 50°C (120°F).
The cooling of buildings is a big challenge to engineers. Vertical cooling systems often exceeding 100 stories high use water pumped from very deep in the ground to cool the buildings.
21. Dubai bathrooms have water hoses
Every Dubai toilet is supplied with a water hose and 98% of the foreign expats living in the city have no idea what it is for.
Sometimes you enter a toilet and the water is running down the walls and dripping off the ceiling while the person who just left is completely dry. You stand and wonder what in the world they have been doing in there and decide to look for another toilet instead…
Most Muslim countries use a toilet hose to clean themselves. But you don’t really need to get familiar with the system as a tourist in Dubai since all tourist facilities also provide toilet paper. You’ll quickly learn to appreciate the water hose if you end up in a less modern toilet in the Middle East.
22. They love luxury & crazy prestigious projects
Dubai has many rich people and you’ll see it everywhere you go. Luxury cars and yachts attract a lot of attention and people like to be seen…
The third-largest yacht in the world is owned by Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai. The yacht named MY Dubai is 162m (531 ft) long and costs 400 million USD. It can hold 115 people!
Dubai has some prestigious projects that in the beginning often sound too crazy to be true. At first, many of them seem like an impossible dream. Yet, time and again, they make it happen. Just think of the stunning Palm Jumeirah (picture below), but there are many, many other examples like that. They sure have leaders that dream big and make it happen!
Some useful facts about Dubai
In addition to the fun and crazy Dubai facts mentioned above, here are some other interesting things you may also want to know about Dubai:
- Dubai’s official language is Arabic.
- The official religion is Islam.
- Dubai’s currency is the United Arab Emirates dirham (AED).
- The time zone is GMT+4.
- It hardly ever rains in Dubai. Usually just a few drops and just 15-30 days per year.
- The best time to visit Dubai is in the cooler months, from November to April. Summer temperatures often exceed 40°C (103°F) and even during the night stay at around 30°C (86°F).
READ ALSO: How Expensive is Dubai
Read more about Dubai:
What to wear: Dubai Clothing Advice for Tourists
Getting around: Guide to Dubai Public Transport
Dubai on a budget: Free & Cheap Dubai Experiences
Tours: Best Tours in Dubai
What to see: Things To Do in Dubai for The Whole Family
Short trip: How to Plan Dubai Stopover
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