Dubai General Rules

Thinking about a holiday in the UAE, or maybe you are considering the possibilities of employment there? There are a few things you need to know before you go and while you are there. 
Dubai is a fabulous country who's people are some of the most genuine, hospitable and courteous you will every be likely to encounter anywhere in the world.  But this is not the US nor Europe, this is the UAE steeped in centuries of tradition and devout religious following. One of the reasons I’m sure you are looking to travel to the UAE is to experience the deep and rich history and traditions on offer.

But as in many other countries they have their own ways of doing things which need to be respected.  You may have considered putting off or cancelling a visit to Dubai or other countries in the UAE because of horror stories you may have heard about in the press.   So let us as an organization that is based outside the UAE but travels there repeatedly for interviews and research give you THE FACTS.
Most of the stories you hear are just that, stories, other are based in fact but written with a twisted perspective.   Let us ask you this.... What would happen in your country is someone was bringing in controlled drugs into the country or driving whilst heavily under the influence of alcohol???   Well its not much different in the UAE you will be arrested and possibly face imprisonment.  If you openly flaunt the laws of ANY country you have to expect to face the consequences. 
Always remember that you are in a different country with a different cultural and belief system to the majority of westerners, we can seem as strange to them as they might sometimes appear to us.  Its like the old saying “When in Rome” - it is just common courtesy to respect your hosts as we expect visitors to our country to respect our laws and traditions.

To ensure that your stay is memorable, for all the right reasons, keep in mind that you are no longer in your own country. Respect the laws and values of the country and your stay should be an extremely enjoyable one!
The UAE is built on generations of Islamic traditions which are rooted firmly in its culture and tribal heritage.  These traditions have been passed down from generation to generation and form the very cornerstone of every day life for an Emirati family.  The Emirati are friendly people who show tolerance and an open minded approach to visitors in their country; but their culture and values should always be respected.

Expat Community:
In the last 30 years, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and the other Emirates have gone through a total transformation from small Arab trading ports into modern cities.
Over 150 nationalities (including an estimated 100,000 British expats) contribute to the UAE’s modern society. The streets, shopping malls and business areas are alive with numerous languages and cultures.  Do keep in mind that you will probably meet many people with different values and opinions.

Social Ethics:
The culture and laws in the UAE are designed to ensure that everyone is respectful of each other regardless of their faith and nationality.  Visitors and residents alike should avoid types of improper conduct and behaviour which can otherwise lead to fines, imprisonment and deportation.  

Dress code: 
Emirati dress conservatively in traditional dress and can be offended when people dress inappropriately or not in accordance with Islamic values.
In public places such as shopping malls, restaurants and parks, you are encouraged to dress appropriately. Clothing should not be transparent, indecently expose parts of the body or display offensive pictures or slogans. Be careful as well if you are tattooed with what could be deemed offensive images or slogans, if in doubt cover up.  Be aware that if you enter one of these areas dressed inappropriately you may be asked to leave (most of the larger shopping malls display signs warning respectable clothing should be worn). Any form of nudity is strictly forbidden, including topless sunbathing. Swimwear should not be worn in any other area outside the beach, water parks, or swimming pools.
It is preferable for both men and women to have their shoulders and knees covered and for women not to reveal too much decolletage when not on the beach or at a hotel.   It is not appropriate for men to walk along the street bare-chested.

Alcohol consumption is allowed only by Non-Muslims in licensed restaurants, bars, clubs, private venues, and at home (for residents who have acquired an alcohol licence).  
It is against the law to drink alcohol whilst walking in the street or to be drunk in a public place.  For those living in the UAE a special licence must be obtained before purchasing alcohol from the exclusive, specialised, licensed stores. This licence is only a permit for buying alcohol.  It does not give any immunity for alcohol related criminal offences. It is an offence to carry alcohol in your car if you do not hold the special alcohol licence. If you come to the attention of the police you may be arrested, even though you may have purchased the alcohol legally. You need to be 21 or over in order to drink alcohol legally in the UAE (18 in Abu Dhabi).  Alcohol is not available in Sharjah .

Drugs are strictly forbidden, even a residual amount. Consuming or carrying drugs, even if you are transiting through the airport from one country to another, can result in a standard 4 year imprisonment and deportation. Buying or selling narcotics is considered a serious crime which can result in life-imprisonment. Some medicines (accepted in other countries) containing psychotropic substances are also forbidden, so check out the UAE relevant embassy website for further information.  

Over the counter or doctor prescribed medecations:
If you are using doctor prescribed drugs it is advisable to carry a doctor’s note. If you are bringing prescription drugs into the UAE you may need to seek prior agreement from the authorities. You should check with the nearest UAE Embassy or Consulate before you travel. 

Dancing is allowed in the privacy of your home or at licensed clubs.  But dancing in public is classed as indecent and provocative.

A word of warning: 
The UAE is a relatively safe country from a crime perspective. Nevertheless, when you are out and about, take the necessary precautions to stay safe just as you would do if you were in your own country. If you are going to visit bars and clubs, do not accept drinks from strangers, and never leave your drink unattended. While rare, having your drink spiked in the UAE can happen.

Sexual relationships outside of marriage are illegal, irrespective of any relationship you may have with your partner in your own country. Cohabiting, including in hotels, is also illegal. 
If you become pregnant outside of marriage, both you and your partner face the possibility of imprisonment. There are also legal ramifications when registering the birth with the local authorities.
Gay and lesbian travellers should be particularly careful, as homosexuality is a criminal offence with the possibility of deportation, you should also avoid any public displays of affection or cross-dressing.  
Pornography and pornographic images, media and websites are banned in the UAE.

Sexual harassment or randomly addressing women in public, or taking their photos without permission, is strictly frowned upon.

Holding hands for married couples is tolerated but kissing and hugging are considered offences against public decency. Open displays of affection are generally not tolerated.

The UAE has a zero-tolerance policy towards drinking and driving. You can be charged and imprisoned if you are caught with even the smallest amount of alcohol in your system; If your going to drink walk, get a cab our use the metro.  Tailgating, speeding, racing, lane jumping and using a mobile phone while driving are all against the law.  There are numerous speed cameras on the roads and motorways.  Fines in the UAE are heavy.  If you are caught  you may also face the possibility of having your car impounded.  Wearing a seatbelt is mandatory.  Jay walking is also illegal and the police, particularly in Abu Dhabi, have launched a campaign against jay walking.  If you are caught committing this offence you could be subject to a fine.

Bouncing a cheque is illegal in the UAE. If a cheque is presented without adequate funds to cover the amount, you will face criminal and civil charges. After you have served your jail sentence you will not be able to leave the country until the funds have been paid in full.

Offensive language, spitting and aggressive behaviour (including hand gestures) are viewed very seriously and can result in imprisonment and deportation. This includes “road rage”.

Smoking is forbidden in government areas, offices and shopping malls. There are however many designated areas where smoking is allowed.

Working without the proper visa is illegal. You cannot partake in any kind of paid employment without first obtaining a work visa.  If caught, you will face imprisonment.

Respect for religion:  Islamic religious values are greatly respected in the UAE. Showing any disrespect towards religious beliefs or practices is considered deeply offensive and very likely to result in a heavy fine and/or imprisonment. Other religions are respected and can be followed by the expatriate community. 
Follow a few simple rules of respect:
Muslims pray five times a day. You will notice that the Mosques call people to pray through a speaker system.  At this time you will also notice public music is turned off as Muslims perform their daily prayers.
Be aware that drivers who are not close to a Mosque, may stop at a convenient lay-by to pray privately.
During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset. Throughout this month eating, drinking, smoking, playing loud music and dancing in public places during daylight hours are strictly forbidden and punishable by law, including for non-Muslims.
This consumption ban will include general public indoor areas as well, although many of the larger hotels will have special screened off areas for non-Muslims to eat and drink during these hours freely with the exception of alcohol which will only be served after sundown. pregnant women and the infirm are excluded from the fast.   
Every evening during Ramadan, Muslims celebrate the breaking of their fast with an evening meal called Iftar. You will find many hotels and restaurants throughout the UAE who provide Iftar buffets. The golden rule is always be mindful and respectful of locals traditions and beliefs.
Visiting Dubai during Ramadan gives tourists a unique and authentic holiday experience. Based on the lunar calendar, it is the Holy Month of Islam and this year it runs from 1 – 30 August (approx.).

Ramadan commemorates the time when the Koran was first revealed to the Prophet Mohammed. While international Muslims abstain from all food, drinks, smoking and live music from dawn to dusk throughout the month, international hotels and resorts in Dubai continue to serve meals to international visitors in screened of areas as its not permissible even for international visitors to eat & drink in public areas; this is also a common courtesy and mark of respect for the country you are a guest of. Alcohol can be purchased at licensed bars and restaurants from sunset onwards and most activities such as golf clubs, shopping malls, attractions and spas are open as usual but with altered opening times. (Most venues that would normally have live music will not during Ramadan)

The city really comes alive at night when visitors can join the Muslim population to break their fast (Iftar) and flock with friends and family to large tents to feast on a mouth-watering array of local dishes, smoke traditional shisha pipes and listen to traditional music such as the famous oud players. One point to note is that visitors should wear respectful clothing during this time - take a look at the 'Know Before You Go' guide for more information on this.

And don't forget Eid Al-Fitr, which is a three day festival for all that marks the end of Ramadan. Families exchange gifts, there are special public events arranged and yet more eating of delicious Arabic cuisine.

PLEASE NOTE: Information is correct at time of publishing and advice contained within this document should be taken as an example of the types of issues you should consider when in the UAE.  It is not an exhaustive list of everything you should be aware of when travelling in the UAE and more widely in the region.  The contents of this page is for information purposes only and should not be deemed as Legal Advice in anyway.  Legal advice is neither supplied nor inferred.  Please click on any relevant UAE governmental links to obtain detailed advice and support.