How to adjust to the local culture in Abu Dhabi

Adjusting to the local culture in Abu Dhabi
Updated 2021-11-10 10:58

Abu Dhabi is generally a city that tolerates a modern lifestyle — but minor adjustments are still necessary for new expats. While it is known for being a city of tolerance, it has strict rules in place that everyone must abide by or else they will be punished by law. Here are some important things you need to know about these rules to adjust smoothly to the local culture.


Abu Dhabi is a melting pot of different nationalities, thus making the population diverse. English is widely spoken among many expats and locals; that is why speaking in Arabic is not required although it may come in handy.


Residents and tourists alike are expected to dress modestly. The United Arab Emirates is a Muslim country and modesty is required of women. Abayas are not required, but certain dress codes are enforced throughout the UAE, especially in public places and during the Ramadan period.


Many shops and offices in the capital close for a midday break and resume offices in the afternoon until 9 pm. On weekends, most offices and business establishments are off on Fridays because it is Muslim's day of worship. The day of the week begins on Sunday and ends on Thursday. The city gets very quiet on Fridays, especially from morning until noon. Its pace picks up around late afternoon again until nighttime.

Alcohol and drinking

A government-issued permit is required for anyone who wants to buy alcohol in liquor stores. However, it can be served in hotels without the need for a permit. Drinking in public places is prohibited, one must be careful because when caught by authorities drinking without a license or caught drunk in public, a hefty fine may be imposed or even jail time.

Picture-taking in public

When taking photos, take extra caution when photographing local women in abayas because some of them find it offensive, permission is required. Government buildings, embassies and airports also impose a strict "No Picture Taking Allowed" rule, which can be punishable by law.

Driving in the city

Abu Dhabi, especially the city centre, has fewer lanes than that of Dubai but the entire UAE is known for one of the highest road fatalities in the world. This is why strict traffic and driving rules are imposed. Roads are donned with high tech cameras that catch over speeding drivers, especially along highways where a lot of accidents take place. Exercise extra caution by observing the speed limit, stay on the appropriate lane and never drive intoxicated because of the zero-tolerance policy on such.


During the Holy Month of Ramadan, no eating and drinking is allowed in public during the hours of fasting, even though these days many restaurants and food courts have a covered area to allow non-Muslims to still eat for the whole month. Muslims with illnesses, children, and breastfeeding women and with certain conditions are also exempt to fasting. Law will punish those who will not abide by the rules. During this time, working hours are also shortened to 2 p, and businesses establishments have also reduced operating hours.

Useful links:

Visit Abu Dhabi

Timeout Abu Dhabi

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