Dubai is one of the more open and accommodating states of the United Arab Emirates – to an extent it has to be given the huge number of foreign workers. There are, however, a number of regulations that must be adhered to, particularly because you don’t want to inadvertently end up in a Dubai jail. Some rules may be easier to break than you might expect, so we’ve rounded up the key one to remember.
No drinking in public
Dubai is a Muslim state and, while it’s one of the freer ones, with alcohol available for sale and consumption in certain licensed places including restaurants, bars, clubs and hotels (and at home if you have an alcohol license), it is illegal to consume alcohol in public – which means in the streets. Should you have too much to drink, it’s also wise not to go out in public and show that fact off. The UAE also has a zero tolerance approach to drunk driving.
Follow the rules of the road
The legal driving age in Dubai is 21, and you should never use your mobile phone while operating a motor vehicle. As driver or passenger, always wear your seatbelt. As a pedestrian, jaywalking carries a fine.
Don’t flip the bird
However angry someone might make you – particularly when on the road in Dubai – under no circumstances should you even think about raising that middle finger. Swearing and other aggressive behaviour, as well as spitting, will also not be tolerated.
Public displays of affection are frowned upon, particularly in the public realm. Should you be in a bar or a club then it’s not as much of a problem but getting too cozy out and about could mean trouble. Pretend you’re a young teen again and stick to holding hands, but even then, only if you are married.
Don’t get all David Bowie and Mick Jagger and dance your way down the street. While it may be acceptable in clubs and bars, dancing in public is considered indecent and even provocative, and could be particularly problematic for women.
Don’t kiss and tell
Be careful recounting tales of your escapades in public, particularly sexual ones involving someone who is not your spouse. Fornication outside marriage is haram and even if it is taking place, you should keep it discreet. If holidaying unmarried in Dubai, you cannot share a room, let alone a bed.
The UAE has some of the strictest drug laws in the world and taking any kind of illegal drugs in with you is just not worth it. People have been arrested and imprisoned for less than a sugar grain’s size possession of marijuana, and just passing through the airport carrying a banned substance could mean a four-year prison term.
Be careful with prescription medicine
It’s not just illegal drugs that can cause problems for you in Dubai. There are a number of drugs legal in other parts of the world that will have you put away in Dubai. Be careful with Valium, Prozac and a host more.
Enjoy a shisha at one of Dubai’s many shisha cafes, but when it comes to smoking cigarettes you may only light up in designated areas. Leave the e-cigarettes at home, as they are banned.
Be conservative in the way you dress. If you’re by the beach or pool it’s okay to wear shorts and a tank top or swimwear (though going topless is a no). But, if you are out in public, short skirts and shorts, low-cut tops and T-shirts that show off your shoulders are not recommended. Don’t wear anything too tight or revealing and avoid offensive slogans or images. Men should always wear a shirt. If visiting a mosque or religious site, don’t bare your shoulders, arms or legs whether you are male or female and the latter will need to wear a headscarf.
Watch your hands and feet
It’s considered rude to show the soles of your feet, so if you are sitting with a foot on your knee or legs out in front of you, be aware in which directions the soles of your feet are pointed. Don’t cross your legs if sitting in front of important guests as it is considered rude. Don’t use your finger to point; instead use your whole hand. Always accept food and drink with your right hand, and eat with this hand as well.
Men shake, women don’t
If you are meeting Emiratis as a man, feel free to offer your hand, though it’s wise to take the lead from them. It’s rare a woman will offer her hand to a man and vice versa.
If you choose to visit Dubai during Ramadan – when Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset – nothing must pass your own lips in public during those hours. If you want to even have a sip of water this needs to be done discreetly and ideally in private. At hotels and restaurants those not observing the fast will often be screened off when eating or drinking during daylight hours.