Are you wondering what to wear in the UAE? In this guide we tell you the UAE dress cover for women and men, as well looking into specific tourist attraction dress codes and how the dress code varies city by city.
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Does the UAE have a dress code?
Yes the UAE does indeed have a dress code. This should come as no surprise given that the UAE is a conservative Islamic country. So what is the UAE dress code?
The UAE Dress code states that
- Shoulders must be kept covered at all times
- Knees must be covered
- No Cleavage
- Clothing should not be too revealing or too tight
Now while the UAE dress code is applied in all of the seven Emirates, I would say the enforcement of the dress code and clothes you will see in the Emirates will vary depending on which Emirate you are in.
There are seven Emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates which are:
I would generalise that Dubai is the least conservative of all of the emirates followed by Abu Dhabi. Dubai is the tourist capital of the UAE, while Abu Dhabi, the actual capital is the business centre of the country.
As such you are more likely to see people not adhering to the dress in Dubai and Abu Dhabi more than in Ras Al Khamaih for instance. However I would advise you stick to the dress code to the letter which ever Emirate you are in.
Check out these related posts on what not to wear in Dubai and what not to wear in Abu Dhabi to make sure you don’t make any errors in relation to the UAE Dress Code.
Things to considering for What to Wear in the UAE
When you are putting together your what to wear in the UAE wardrobe there are a few things you want to consider.
Dress code requirements
We outlined the UAE dress code above. This should really heavily influence what you pack to wear in the UAE. Everything you pack should adhere to the dress code rules except for clothing that you are planning to wear in the 5* hotels and resorts where the dress code is not as strict.
After the modesty required by Islamic law, the next thing that will influence your UAE packing list is the heat. No matter what time of year your are visiting the UAE it will be hot. But there is a difference between winter hot and summer HOT HOT HOT in the UAE.
Unlike other parts of the world I would categorise the UAE as having only two seasons – summer and winter. The cooler winter season tends to run from November to April while the temperatures start to heat up for summer from May to October.
If you visit the UAE in the winter you can expect the temperatures to range from c. 20C/68F to 35C/95F. The summer on the other hand will see the temperatures soar from around 35C/95F and can reach a whooping 55C/131F depending on the year and where you are in the UAE.
Therefore whenever you are traveling to the UAE you need to make sure you pack lightweight and breathable clothing whatever time of year you are there.
However having said that I would also advise anyone traveling to the UAE to always pack a pashmina or top layer. A pashmina is the perfect pick as it can be used to add some extra modesty to the outfit, but also provide an added layer when you are indoors where the air conditioning can be very very strong.
What activities you are doing?
One of the things that we love about visiting the UAE is the sheer range of activities and attractions that are available. From desert safaris, to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, amazing museums such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the famed Burj Khalifa and even indoor skiing.
If you are visiting the Mosque for instance you will need to be sure to pack an outfit that covers you from wrist to ankle swell as having a scarf for head covering.
While if you are planning on going on a desert safari in Dubai you would need to have long loose clothing. However if you are staying out overnight you will need some layers as the temperatures will drop at night.
We recommend trying to plan out at least some of your UAE itinerary to be sure you pack correctly for your whole trip.
How do locals dress in the UAE
Before we get into how to dress as a tourist in the UAE it is first worth looking at how local people dress in the UAE.
You will find that the Emirati National Dress is commonly worn by Emirati Nationals, both men and women in the UAE.
For local women in the UAE you will find that the national dress is the abaya. The Abaya is a black robe worn over clothes alongside the black headscarf known as the shayla.
Because of this a lot of people worry that as a tourist you will have to wear a hijab in the UAE. We will cover this in more detail below – so keep reading but spoiler alert – no one is forced to wear the abaya, Shayla or hijab in the UAE (though at religious sites you will be expected to dress very modestly). In other parts of the Middle East you may be required too but this is definitely not expected in the UAE.
Also unlike in its neighbouring country of Saudi Arabia you are unlikely to see local women wearing the Niqab – a face covering which covers everywhere except for the eyes or even a burka which is a full covering without the opening over the eyes, instead it uses a mesh.
The Emirati National Dress for men is also worn frequently and will be seen everywhere around the city. The male national dressing the UAE is a white long thobe (or alternatively called a dish dash or Pandora) with a ghutrah (A traditional head covering) which is secured with a thick black rope.
What to Wear in the UAE as a Woman
So now you know what things will influence your UAE wardrobe we will list some of the things that we never go to the UAE without.
A Maxi skirt is always on my UAE packing list as they are both modest and cool. Again as piece of clothing providing that there isn’t an overly high slit that reveal your knee if you are going to religious sites.
A Maxi dress is another staple of my UAE packing lists. I try and pick one made of a natural fabric such as cotton so it is more breathable.
I would advise picking a dress that has at least some cap sleeves to make it more appropriate for the UAE dress code.
Click here to shop Maxi Dresses
A T Shirt that covers the shoulder is great wherever you are heading in the UAE.
It might sound strange to be heading to a country that has daytimes temperatures in the 30s even in the winter but listen.
The reason is because the indoor venues such as the Dubai mall, Burj Khalifa or in hotels the air conditioning is very strong so you will want an extra layer.
There are lots of opportunities to wear swimwear in the UAE from public beaches, private beaches and even in water parks.
The type of swimwear that is appropriate will largely depend on whether you are on a public or a private beach. On private beaches and at waterparks you will see a great range of swimwear from burkinis to bikinis.
It is worth noting that private beaches have a slightly less strict dress code than other locations.
However I always prefer to stick to one piece swimwear in the UAE as this works at the greatest variety of beaches and pools.
Now although you can wear swimwear in the UAE on beaches and in the waterparks, swimwear is definitely only appropriate at these places.
Unlike in other beach locations around the world as soon as you leave the beaches and water parks and head onto the boardwalks, shops, restaurants and bars you will need to cover up.
We advise choosing a beach cover that covers both your knees and shoulders again to adhere to the UAE dress code.
For this reason I usually opt for beach kaftans such as the one below. And depending on how long you have in your UAE itinerary and how often you are planning to hit the beach and pool will affect how many covers you want to take. Personally I usually travel for one week in the UAE with two kaftans.
Click here to shop kaftans for Dubai.
For more information on the Dubai Beach Dress Code and the Abu Dhabi Beach dress code check out these posts.
Shorts (Longer Length)
We often get asked “Can a girl wear shorts in the UAE?”. And the answer is surprisingly yes but they have to be the right type.
If you want to wear shorts in public they have to be longer length and cover the knee. The more conservative an Emirate you are visiting will affect how long and how comfortable you feel in your shorts out in public.
If you just want to use shorts in your hotel and around a private pool then you can pick whatever variety you wish.
When I am thinking about the best shoes for visiting the UAE sandals have to be top of the list.The sun is hot in the UAE no matter the time of year you travel and these can be used in a variety of places such as the mall and the beaches.
While my go to shoe for the UAE has to be a sandal, I would also advise taking a sneakeri. Although there are lots of indoor things to do in Dubai this doesn’t mean that there isn’t any walking to be done.
A day at Dubai mall for instance can rack up the step count as well as the Dubai theme parks and boardwalks.
Also if you head out to the desert and want to do some desert sports you will want to have a closed toe shoe.
Our go to brands are:
- Sketchers Go Walks or
- All Birds
Click here to shop good sneakers
Although the most important shoes for UAE are definitely sandals and sneakers, you may also want to pack a pair of flip flops with you for wondering around the pool and beach.
What is the acceptable dress code in the UAE?
For any trip to the UAE no matter the time of year you are traveling we recommend taking a pashmina. This is for several reasons:
- The air conditioning can be very strong so you may want to have a pashmina as an extra layer for some indoor locations such as the Burj Khalifa, Malls and aquariums to name but a few
- It can be used to make an outfit more modest when required.
- Can be used as a head scarf if you are visiting Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque where this is a requirement.
This goes without saying.
A light weight pair will suffice.
The sun is very strong in the UAE so you need to protect your face from the sun while walking around the city and for hanging out on the beach. Having a sun hat that can work on the beach and in the towns is best as this will reduce the amount you need to pack.
As I said sun safety should be your top priority when traveling around the UAE no matter the Emirate. One of the best ways of protecting yourself is to pack a good pair of sunglasses that have good UV Protection.
What to wear in the UAE for men
Although many people think that the dress code rules in the UAE only apply to women this is in fact not true. The UAE dress code applies to both men and women.
Therefore be sure that men keep shoulders and knees covered when out in public in UAE.
To keep your knees covered for certain public places but keep cool we recommend wearing lightweight cotton pants.
Linen trousers are another great option. We recommend avoiding jeans. This isn’t because they are against the UAE dress code but simply because you will find in outdoor locations, you will feel too hot
T Shirts are appropriate throughout the UAE for men.
Longer Length Shorts
While at hotels and on the beach shorter length shorts are fine, we recommend packing a long length pair for certain public places.
While T shirts are appropriate in most public places, button down shirts should be added to your packing list if you plan on eating at some of UAE’s` fine dining establishments.
Hat / Cap
This is important to protect your head from the sun.
Sandals are appropriate for men as well as women.
Sneakers are great for the days you plan on doing lots of walking in the UAE.
Again if you are at the beach and hotel, you may if you have room want to add some flip flops to your packing list too.
Other Things for your UAE Packing List
Hiking Gear / Active Wear
It may surprise you but there are plenty of chances for outdoor actives especially if you decide to do a desert safari, or head into the Hatta Mountains or even the beautiful town of Al Ain.
If you plan to do outdoor activities be sure to have the correct hiking gear and active wear with you that while keeping your comfortable and safe will also meet the UAE dress code requirements
Also, you will find most gyms and residential complexes have access to gyms and pools. If you plan to use the gym or even just go for a run you will want to make sure you have your active wear with you.
Non Clothing Items for your UAE Packing List
- Aloe Vera
- Lip Balm with SPF
- Medication and their related prescriptions
- First Aid Kit
- Water bottle – it is important to stay hydrated in the UAE
- Cooling Towel
- Quick Dry Towel
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