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Living in the UAE
What You Need to Know about Shopping in the UAE
Shopping is often considered to be the number one hobby in the UAE, at least in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. While this may take things a bit too far, there is no denying that going to a mall or souk is a great way of soaking up the local culture, finding the odd treasure, and practicing your haggling skills.
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- The fine art of bargaining is a valued skill in the UAE, but not appropriate everywhere.
- Low prices are often due to a lack of VAT — however, this may soon change.
- While shops are often open until late at night, the same is not always the case around noon as well as during prayer times. Particularly on Fridays, the day of prayer, shops only open late.
- There are various shopping festivals throughout the year, especially in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
What to Shop For?
When it comes to the question of what you can shop for in the UAE, the sky seems to be the limit — at least in the bigger cities and particularly in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. From gold out of a vending machine to aromatic spices from the local market, you’ll be hard pressed to not find your heart’s desire! Gold, jewelry, perfumes, carpets and other textiles, spices, as well as the odd touristy knickknack (think Aladdin’s lamp) are all favorite wares and often much cheaper than elsewhere.
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When and How to Haggle?
Bargaining for prices comes part and parcel with a Middle Eastern shopping experience, so be prepared to haggle in the souks — if you pay the first quoted price here, you will definitely be handing over a bit too much! Instead, offer no more than half the amount and don’t be dissuaded by a shocked look, derisive laughter, or puppy dog eyes from the salesman. If you don’t give in, they will soon make you a cheaper offer than the original one. Also go up slightly from your initial suggestion and before you know it, the two of you will agree on a suitable price.
While bargaining is common and even expected behavior in souks and markets, this is not the case for malls — with the occasional exception, such as for example the odd carpet store. This does not mean you should automatically go ahead and try to beat down the price when buying a rug at a mall, though! Make sure to observe other customers first to see whether haggling is accepted in a particular store.
The same can be said for smaller shops outside of malls and souks. Here, you may be able to get down the price a bit, but don’t expect it to be nearly as much as when shopping in a souk!
Do I Have to Pay VAT?
Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and their fellow emirates are widely proclaimed to be tax havens, with no personal income taxes nor any VAT being levied. So when you go shopping, you won’t have to fork over any money to the state. However, this is about to change, with talk about introducing a 5% VAT sooner rather than later.
When to Shop?
Malls typically open around nine or ten in the morning and stay open until ten at night or longer, with especially weekends seeing opening times late into the night. On Fridays, the majority of shops only opens in the afternoon — and some smaller shops don’t open at all — in order to give Muslims the chance to practice the Friday prayer in peace. The same opening hours apply for most souks, with animal markets such as the camel souk in Al Ain the noted exception and typically open from early morning to noon.
In general, non-mall shops and souks are often closed during noon and early afternoon (13:00 to 16:00), as few shoppers are keen to brave the midday heat. It’s the evenings when you’ll encounter the most people out and about for shopping.
Also, please note that some stores may close during prayer times, and shops in the Emirate of Ra’s al-Khaimah are even required to do so.
If you haven’t gotten enough of shopping by now, you can also look forward to specific shopping festivals, where discounts, shows, raffles, promotions, and much more abound!
The Dubai Shopping Festival, first introduced in 1996 and ever since a month-long celebration of consumption at the beginning of each year, has proven such a success that a second festival soon followed: The Dubai Summer Surprise is held, as the name suggests, during the summer months and comes with lots of surprises, from special offers to short-notice concert announcements.
However, you don’t need to live in Dubai to enjoy all this shopping spirit: the Abu Dhabi Shopping Festival, the Sharjah Ramadan Festival, and the Fujairah Shopping Festival are just a few more examples of the numerous shopping events and promotions found throughout the year and across all emirates.