If you are considering travelling to the UAE, or moving there for work, it is best to keep some dos and don’ts in mind. Dubai is predominantly a Muslim country, and with this comes traditions and laws unlike other countries. To ensure a memorable stay in Dubai (for all the right reasons) the 10 rules below will help keep both Emirati nationals and travellers happy.
What to wear in Dubai
Like all countries within the UAE, Emiratis in Dubai dress conservatively or in traditional wear. Expats and tourists visiting the country are expected to adhere to these same rules. It is imperative to dress appropriately in public areas such as shopping malls and restaurants.
Generally, nothing should be too short and material should not be see-through. Furthermore, clothes emblazoned with logos or slogans that could be offensive should be avoided.
Swim shorts, bikinis and swim suits are suitable for the beach, poolside or at water parks. Swimming attire must be tasteful and once visitors have left these areas, they must cover their bodies. Furthermore, topless sunbathing will be viewed as public indecency and you could end up in prison.
Despite Dubai being a Muslim nation, expatriates and visitors are allowed to follow their own religion without repercussions.
Muslims are called to pray five times a day and expats and visitors should not disturb roads and areas around Mosques.
During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset. Throughout this period eating, drinking, smoking, playing loud music and dancing in public places during daylight hours is strictly forbidden. Muslims and Non-Muslims will face punishment by law for breaking these rules.
Unmarried couples in Dubai
Sexual relationships or unmarried couples cohabiting is illegal in Dubai. Cohabiting, including in hotels, is also illegal, however most hotels in Dubai do not enforce an ‘only married couples’ rule. The luxury hotels which mostly cater to foreigners are especially relaxed. At check-in to these hotels, guests will be required to show their passports. But, having different surnames will not raise any eyebrows. Some visitors refer to their partners as ‘Husband’ and ‘Wife’ during their time in Dubai, opposed to ‘my girlfriend’ or ‘my fiancé’. This can help prevent potential problems and give visitors peace of mind.
This same rule applies to same sex friends or couples sharing a room. Homosexuality is a criminal offence in Dubai and travellers can be deported. In these situations, it is often best to book a twin bedroom to save any problems.
If you are a married couple, the extent of your public displays of affection is limited to hand holding. Couples who are not married cannot engage in any form of public affection. Kissing and hugging in public is not tolerated and couples who are caught could be fined or imprisoned.
In Dubai no man should address an Emirati lady in public if he does not know her. Furthermore, following a lady or taking photos of her without permission is viewed as disrespectful and unacceptable behaviour.
Alcohol in Dubai
Alcohol is not illegal in Dubai but there are several rules pertaining to consumption. Non-Muslims are allowed to drink alcohol in licensed areas, usually these are hotel restaurants, bars and clubs. These facilities must hold a license to serve alcohol.
In Dubai, it is illegal to purchase alcohol and consume it in your own home. However, nationals can apply for a liquor license so that alcohol can be bought and enjoyed at home.
In the UK, you are deemed safe to drive if less than 35 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath. Dubai has a zero tolerance stance. If you are caught driving in Dubai with any trace of alcohol in your system you will be imprisoned and, if not an Emirati, face deportation.
Being drunk in public is also not tolerated and you can be arrested. Particularly if caught making a scene or acting inappropriately.
Narcotics and Prescription Drugs
Drugs are strictly forbidden in Dubai, even some prescription medications. Consuming, carrying, buying or selling narcotics is a serious crime which can face life imprisonment.
In terms of prescription drugs, anything containing codeine is forbidden for personal use. However, it can be used with a specific doctor’s prescription detailing the period of use. It is best to check the banned substances list from your embassy.
For those who will be using prescription drugs whilst visiting Dubai, it is best to carry a doctor’s note. The letter should mention the period of travel, the illness, and the specific dosage.
Hand and Feet Etiquette
In Dubai, you should accept refreshments and food whenever it is offered. However, it is best to use your right hand for drinking and eating as the left hand is regarded unclean by Muslims as it is used for hygiene purposes.
Visitors should also refrain from showing the soles of shoes or their feet, this would indicate to an Emirati that you think they are ‘dirt’. Keeping feet flat on the ground and not crossing legs is a great way to avoid offending anybody.
However, Emiratis are fully aware that expats and visitors may slip up from time to time and will not take any offence. Mostly it is the traditional areas where etiquette should be followed more closely.
Writing Cheques in Dubai
Compared to other countries, cheques are widely used in Dubai. Expats often use them as they can struggle to get credit. However, bouncing a cheque is illegal in the UAE. If a cheque is presented without adequate funds to cover the amount, individuals could face criminal charges. In Dubai, a cheque is classed as a financial agreement in the eyes of the law. If the person ends up serving a jail sentence, they will not be able to leave the country until the funds have been paid in full.
Public profanities can earn travellers 30 days in prison in Dubai. Although attitudes towards vulgar language can be somewhere blasé in the UK, bite your tongue and keep the insults to yourself. Furthermore, any individual who spouts blasphemous remarks about Islam should be prepared to face serious repercussions; many foreigners have been jailed for making off-the-cuff comments. It is best to adopt a little cultural sensitivity and use your common sense.