The fact of the matter is, if you know the laws and rules in Dubai and understand the local culture, you can tap into an exceptional lifestyle in Dubai and keep out of trouble.
The way of life for expats is one of hard work counterbalanced with plenty of sunshine, exceptional facilities and amenities and enough freedom and money to enjoy a very high standard of living.
Dubai has become more famous for all the wrong reasons lately. We have heard about Britons being jailed for kissing in public, having sex on the beach and even bouncing a cheque.
In other words, we have learned that in the UAE what might only be considered ‘inappropriate’ behaviour in our society at worst is punishable with jail time in Dubai.
This has served to show us that Dubai is a Muslim state, it is strict in its moral and ethical code, it has very different laws to those we have in the UK or in Europe or America for example, and that if you want to live and work in the UAE you need to tread particularly carefully when it comes to your behaviour.
So, when it comes to laws and rules in Dubai, what is it important for you to understand?
We have produced a report that compiles the information you need to know and understand if you’re going to have a safe and enjoyable time in the UAE – from dress code to alcohol consumption, drug abuse to holding hands in public, we cover it all.
Now you can have no excuses that you didn’t know your behaviour was not acceptable in Dubai – and you can have no worries about being arrested because you will be well aware of what is and is not appropriate behaviour.
What are the Emiratis like?
It’s never easy to sum up a nation in one paragraph. But for the purposes of introducing you to the local people you will be living amongst if you move to Dubai, it’s fair to say that despite the massive modern advancements that Dubai embodies, Emiratis are very traditional people.
They take their culture and heritage seriously and they expect visitors and expatriates to respect their values. If you respect Emiratis they will respect you, and you will find them warm and welcoming. Finally, it’s worth noting that they are in general tolerant and open-minded, but there are limits to the behaviour that they will accept.
An A to Z of rules in Dubai
A is for Alcohol – non-Muslims are allowed to drink alcohol in Dubai if they are on licensed premises. Some restaurants and most hotels hold a license to serve you alcohol.
In 2020 the UAE introduced new legislation stating that drinking alcohol without a licence is no longer illegal in the United Arab Emirates.
Bouncing a cheque
in Dubai, it’s standard practice to pay for large ticket items such as a car, or even your rent, with forward-dated cheques.
This is because it is very hard for expatriates and even some local people to get credit or loans, and it’s the accepted method of staggering payments to offer up post-dated cheques.
However, unlike in other countries where bouncing a cheque is just an annoyance, in Dubai, it is a very serious criminal offence.
You will be arrested, jailed and then forced to remain in Dubai to pay your debt before being forced to leave the country. So, don’t write a cheque unless you have the funds to cover it. Remember that in writing a cheque you’re entering into a very strict financial agreement. It is no joke to miss a payment in Dubai.
Dancing in Public
Whilst we might think nothing about shimmying down the street arm in arm with a few friends after a night out, dancing in public in Dubai is considered to be indecent. It is also thought of as provocative, which can be very dangerous for women.
You can dance in your own home behind your curtains, and you can dance at official clubs – anything else is not acceptable and dangerous.
Emiratis dress conservatively and expect visitors and expatriates to also dress conservatively when in public.
So, if you’re going shopping, you’re out for a walk or you’re going to work you need to make sure your clothes are of a decent length, that you do not wear anything see-through, that you’re not revealing too much flesh that could be considered indecent and that you also don’t have anything offensive on your clothes in the form of slogans or images.
In shopping malls, you’ll see signs warning you that if you’re inappropriately dressed you will be removed.
When it comes to sunbathing you can wear beach attire but again it needs to cover up the most ‘offensive’ parts. And you cannot sunbathe topless, nor is any form of nudity acceptable – even for children. Once you leave a beach, pool or water park area you have to be properly attired for public places. I.e., you can’t walk home in your bikini.
It is not making some sort of statement about how fashionable you are or what a rebel you feel – it is mortally offending public decency and punishable officially with imprisonment and unofficially with abuse and potential assault. Again, don’t take stupid risks – respect the local culture.
You cannot even consume a thimbleful of alcohol and get behind the wheel in Dubai. There is a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to drink-driving and you will be imprisoned if you break this very firmly upheld law.
When you see the way Emiratis and expatriates drive in Dubai you might be forgiven for thinking that there are no laws and no rules on the road. However, that is absolutely not true.
It is illegal in Dubai to tailgate, break the speed limit, street race, lane hop or using a mobile phone while driving – despite the fact you will see all of these going on every single day. Bear in mind that Dubai is cracking down and losing its tolerance for lawbreakers so do not get into the habit of driving as the locals drive.
You can bet your bottom dollar that the police will begin cracking down on driving-related offences hard in due course, so do not get into bad habits that you will have to break. If you do break a road law you can be fined, imprisoned and have your car impounded.
As with drink driving, drugs are a zero-tolerance issue and whilst you may think that only extends to narcotics that are illegal in our own countries, it actually extends to some prescription and over the counter medicines too. So, this is a very serious point to understand.
You need to know that even if you’re travelling through an airport in the UAE on your way to another country if you’re caught with what’s deemed to be an illegal substance you could face an automatic 4-year prison term before deportation. If you’re thought to be supplying drugs you could face automatic life imprisonment.
So, again, know the laws and rules in Dubai and what you can and cannot bring in. The simplest rule is to bring absolutely nothing.
If you are on prescription medicine you need to know whether what you intend importing is on the banned substances list. The British Embassy in Dubai has an exceptional ‘controlled medicine’ resource list that you need to check out.
This list also includes the Drug Control Department’s details in the UAE Ministry of Health so that if you are ultimately left in any doubt you can contact them before entering Dubai. The details are:
Telephone: +971 2 611 7342 / +971 2 633 4958
Fax: +971 2 631 3742
Or write to:
Ministry of Health
Drug Control Department
Abu Dhabi – UAE
Do NOT take a risk.
No matter how many times a driver cuts you up, do not gesticulate in their general direction in an offensive manner. They can call the police and as an expatriate, you will be in the wrong and fined or even imprisoned.
Road rage is not tolerated, and neither is swearing nor making any rude gestures, so rein it all in.
Public displays of affection
Holding hands in public if you’re a married couple is about as far as you can go in terms of public displays of affection. Hugging and kissing are not tolerated – i.e., any open display of physical affection should be limited to within your own four walls.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar during which Muslims are expected to fast to purify the soul and refocus their attention on God. The fasting extends beyond eating and drinking, it’s all about exercising restraint.
For expats living in Dubai it is illegal to eat, drink or smoke in public during Ramadan – note, this includes in your car! Some restaurants (usually within hotels) remain open, but you will eat out of sight.
Of course, you can eat and drink within the confines of your own home. It’s respectful to keep noise levels down during Ramadan and you’ll notice that during daylight hours Dubai seems a much quieter place.
The main religion in Dubai is, of course, Islam – expatriates follow their own religions and that is tolerated.
However, anything that is an offence against Islam will not be tolerated on any level and will result in fines and/or imprisonment. There is no gray area.
Muslims are called to pray five times a day and if you’re on the open road or in a public area away from a Mosque, Muslims will pray wherever they are. Do not disturb them and do not openly stare.
In the west we have a view that respect is something to be earned – it’s not something we’re necessarily keen to just proffer to a stranger.
In Dubai however, you need to be respectful of everyone around you – no matter what perceived cultural, religious or even class differences there appear to be between you. If you display improper, disrespectful conduct in public you could fall foul of the law and face a fine, imprisonment or even deportation.
Reading the above you may be confused because as you will openly see in Dubai certain nationalities of workers are treated less well than others.
However, if you believe that this is acceptable and in turn, you’re rude to others, you make offensive hand gestures if someone cuts you up in traffic or you issue an expletive if someone pushes in front of you in a queue, be prepared for the fallout.
Yes, respect is not universally observed in the UAE. However, if you want to live your life without conflict you will observe respect unilaterally whilst living in Dubai because you never know who you’re disrespecting or who’s watching you or listening when you call someone a choice four-letter word for letting a door slam in your face. Learn to bite your tongue.
Despite the fact many western women hate the way they are so openly stared at, they have to put up with it. On the other hand, if any expatriate man addresses a local woman in public, takes her picture without permission, follows her or in some way ‘bothers’ her, that is not acceptable behaviour.
In 2020 the goverment announced that men who subject women to harassment of any kind would face tougher punishment.
Relationship laws and rules in Dubai are strict. Unless you are married you cannot have sex. Even if you have been cohabiting with your partner for decades before you move to Dubai, once you are in Dubai you cannot even legally live together.
However, in 2020 as a part of a significant overhaul of its Islamic personal laws, the Gulf state announced among other changes that living together outside marriage is no longer illegal in the United Arab Emirates.
Smoking is banned in many public offices and places such as shopping malls, so do observe the rules. There are also designated smoking areas all over the city so the ban is not difficult to observe even for the most addicted smoker!
Working in Dubai
Finally, it must be noted that you should not attempt to illegally work without a permit in the UAE. You must first obtain your paperwork before you take up your job – doing it any other way can land you in prison first and then on an enforced flight home.
Dubai rules & laws – summary
Many of the laws and rules in Dubai are commonsense, some of the laws are just an extension of our own. However, in some certain cases – such as in the case of non-married couples not being allowed to live together or have a sexual relationship – the laws and rules in Dubai are perhaps strange to us.
The fact of the matter is, despite how you may feel, you will not be able to change the rules, and in breaking them you risk fines, imprisonment and deportation. So, you need to follow the laws and rules in Dubai to make your life abroad comfortable and easy.
You might find useful:
- Living In Dubai – a detailed guide on moving to Dubai;
- Dubai Income Tax & Taxation Advantages For Expats;
- Working In Dubai – How to Find A Good Job In The UAE.