Back in 2016, we gave you the 10 rules for avoiding jail time in Dubai. Given that a couple of years have passed, we thought it time that we clue all our new visitors up on the dos and don’ts of life in Dubai. With a high expat population and countless holiday makers heading to the Middle Eastern country daily it is important to be aware of and sensitive to Dubai’s unique culture.
Why is Dubai so strict?
Dubai can be a culture shock for many. The country is home to a predominantly Muslim population and with this comes traditions and laws that are different to other countries you have visited or lived in.
To you, the rules in Dubai seem strict. But, for locals, it is simply a way of life that is completely normal. To avoid disrespecting the citizens of Dubai and its Muslim residents we have touched upon some of the Kingdom’s most obvious rules, as well as some new and unknown ones.
Below are some of the rules you are probably familiar with when reading and learning about Dubai.
Generally speaking, both men and women in Dubai should refrain from short or revealing clothing, including garments made from thin material. Tourists and expats should pay close attention to covering up as much as possible when out in public. Swimming attire should only be worn poolside or at the beach and must be tasteful.
In Dubai there are strict decency laws which forbid public displays of affection. This includes holding hands, cuddling and kissing – whether married or unmarried – anywhere that is not in the privacy of your home. Such acts are considered an ‘offence to public decency’ and many a tourist and expat have been caught out over the years, receiving lengthy jail sentences and deportation after being seen hugging and kissing in public settings.
Any profanity or insults – verbal, non-verbal or written – are considered obscene acts in Dubai and carry serious penalties including significant fines, jail time and deportation.
Visitors to Dubai must take care to refrain from swearing and making rude or offensive gestures, this includes in writing – for example on Facebook and more recently WhatsApp message. Be mindful of anything which could be deemed offensive to another, even if it is not widely considered as such.
Lesser Known Dubai Rules
Some of the following rules and laws of Dubai have unknowingly landed many a visitor in serious trouble.
Free to Practice Religion
Religion is an important aspect of the culture of Dubai. However, whilst Islam is the official religion, there is also much respect and tolerance for the practice of other religions. As such, laws prohibit blasphemy and any acts (verbal or written) that insult any religion, religious practice or ethnic origin.
Moreover, tourists and expats should be aware of specific laws in force during the holy month of Ramadan. Throughout Ramadan, Muslims fast during daylight hours. Yet, non-Muslims could face serious consequences – fines and jail time – if seen to be disrespecting the culture by eating, drinking or smoking in public.
Islamic and Sharia laws in Dubai forbid the cohabitation of unmarried couples. Therefore, any expat couples considering a move to the country will be breaking the law if planning on living together, staying together in a hotel or other temporary accommodation or even travelling in a car together.
Whilst there are some expats who ignore this legal requirement, if authorities become aware of such illegal acts, you and your partner run the risk of facing prosecution, a prison sentence and eventually being deported.
Likewise, unmarried women who become pregnant in Dubai, face both imprisonment and deportation.
It is unlawful to drink or be under the influenced of alcohol in any public place in Dubai, but visitors over the age of 21 can consume alcohol in licensed restaurants, hotels, bars and night clubs.
However, non-Muslim residents must secure permits in order to purchase alcohol from licensed venues and drink in the home.
Those found to be breaking any such law, risk being arrested and charged.
Hands & Feet
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.
The left hand is regarded unsanitary by Muslims as it is used for hygiene purposes. Therefore, you should always accept drinks and food with your right hand.
Whilst many of us would see nothing wrong with promoting a charity on social media, it could get you jail time in Dubai. Promoting a charity without government permission has seen residents deported or arrested and sentenced to time in prison.
Strict cyber crime laws also prohibit individuals for writing or sharing posts which include offensive language, blasphemy, religious insults, photographs or footage of government buildings, airports or activities which are deemed critical of the UAE government.
Arrests can be made if anyone is caught recording footage or taking photos of public goings – such as accidents or incidents involving members of the public, in a public place. If these are taken and shared via social platforms without permission, it could result in hefty fines and time behind bars.
Moreover, in 2017 UAE authorities announced that it is a publishable offence to show sympathy for Qatar on social media and in other communications. Substantial fines and imprisonment loom for those who offend in this way.