Oliver Lynch

Oliver Lynch

Content writer, language nerd and aspiring screenwriter. Usually found wandering old European towns or trying to snowboard.

How To Avoid Getting In Trouble In Dubai

There have been several news stories lately about people falling foul of the law in Dubai. If you’re wondering ‘is Dubai safe’ the answer is yes, so long as you obey their laws.

Visiting and staying safe in any country does mean you have to be mindful of local laws and customs and Dubai is no exception. In fact Dubai and the UAE have given out the image of a holidaymakers paradise over recent years, but this does put them at odds with their very conservative ground rules. In fact, some laws are very similar to super conservative Saudi Arabia!

Recent news from UAE and Dubai includes a woman who was locked up for drinking wine on an Emirates flight into the country (there’s more to it than that though); and a motorist who was locked up for making a rude gesture in traffic. Although there are no specific laws for tourists in Dubai, a knowledge of the strict laws and culture will give you an idea of what is and isn’t acceptable.

To avoid your trip to Dubai and the UAE ending in jail time (or just getting in trouble with the locals), there are several simple things to bear in mind.

Pic: Wedn

1. Drinking alcohol

Yes, drinking alcohol is technically illegal in the UAE except in designated places. These designated places tend to be bars and nightclubs that are usually situated in hotels. Being drunk on the streets of Dubai will likely mean arrest and jail time so if you’re going to have a drink make sure you do it at a licensed place or private premises.

If you’re bar hopping Dubai or getting a taxi home after a night out you’ll need to be a little careful. The taxi driver will need to come into the venue and escort you to his vehicle and then do the same at the other end.

The UAE states have their own laws on drinking, so whats OK in Dubai won’t be OK in neighbouring Sharjah or Abu Dhabi. If you’re under 21 or a Muslim then you won’t be able to drink at all in any of the Emirates.

Being drunk or intoxicated in any way on the streets of Dubai is an arrestable offence. So if you had a few on the flight and you’re a bit worse for wear, don’t go wandering the streets looking for a kebab. Get room service instead!

2. Sex

In theory having sex outside of marriage in Dubai and the UAE is also illegal.  Of course this is one of those laws which is likely to go unpunished if you keep all bedroom activity to exactly that, the bedroom. It’s quite rare that a hotel in Dubai will enforce the rule so usually you’ll be able to book a double room and rock up with your missus or fella and carry on as normal.

If you’re feeling frisky and thinking about going for it in public, just don’t. People have been locked up for public sex in the Emirates, so control that libido and save it for the hotel room.

Safe sex in Dubai generally means discreet and with consenting adults of the opposite sex.

For single travellers, prostitution is everywhere and men on their own in a bar are very likely to be approached by a friendly female who is probably going to ask for sex and money pretty quickly. In fact Dubai is a popular sex tourism destination for many from the stricter nations in the Middle East.

Solo females are usually OK on their own, but lewd suggestions from men on the street or taxi drivers isn’t unheard of. Try to avoid displaying too much in the way of flesh in public places and remember that this is a very sexually conservative country.

Not in Dubai… – Pic: Free-Photos

3. Public Displays Of Affection

In general public displays of affection should be avoided to ensure you don’t offend anyone or fall foul of the decency laws. This includes holding hands or heavy petting.  Saying that, you do see people in the streets holding hands and couples who do exchange a kiss, but think of it more as momentary thing rather than a full moment of passion.

Married couples might get more leeway than casual partners, but don’t start making out like horny teenagers.

As a general rule, keep PDA’s to a minimum. Unless (see below)…


Although the Western world has Pride events and gay/queer isn’t a dirty word any more. In Islamic law pretty much all of these alternative sexualities are outright illegal. If you’re gay and travelling with a partner you’ll either have to get twin beds or separate rooms, and it should be taken as read that public displays of affection between same sex couples is an absolute no-no.

Being gender fluid/trans is also something that could cause some problems on the streets of Dubai and the UAE. If in doubt, try and play it down and be as ‘conventional’ as possible (sorry, but it’ll save you a lot of hassle – by which I mean jail time and possibly worse). Men/boys should try and stick to men’s clothing and avoid make up, women are usually OK so long as they don’t try and overtly masculinize themselves.

5. Drugs

Just say no. Seriously. Drugs in Dubai and UAE are totally illegal with serious consequences. Can’t live without your daily weed joint? You might want to skip the UAE.

A famous case is that of drum n bass DJ Grooverider who was jailed for 4 years for possession of weed in Dubai. Even if you’re in transit and you have some drugs on you, ditch it ASAP.

It might also be worth making sure you don’t use a bag that has had drugs in it before. Even residue is enough to get you in trouble in Dubai. Play it safe and empty that bag out before you travel to UAE…

6. Vulgarity & Rude Gestures

Pic: ATIMedia

Traffic is pretty horrible in Dubai, but even if some idiot cuts you up (which they will), resist the urge to beep your horn and call them names. There are several cases of people who have been arrested for making rude gestures at other drivers in traffic, so keep your road rage under control.

Equally, being aggressive or vulgar to anyone in the streets can also cause problems with the law. In particular, avoid any confrontation with police or government officials (including airport staff).

If you feel like you’re being unfairly treated or misunderstood then take a deep breath and do your best diplomatic approach. Flipping the bird, pointing in peoples faces or calling people names is enough to wind up in a jail cell.

7. Porn

If you have a laptop or electronic device that has porn on it, you might want to delete that folder. Carrying printed pornographic material is illegal in the country so do not take porn into the UAE or Dubai.

Most porn sites including the mega popular Pornhub are blocked in the Emirates (although there are lots of workarounds), due to local and Islamic laws.

8. Eating or drinking during Ramadan

As a majority Muslim country, the whole of the UAE, multi-cultural Dubai includes, observes Ramadan. The holy month follows the lunar cycle so the date changes every year.

During Ramadan, followers of Islam abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual practices during daylight hours. If you’re in town during this period then it’s strongly advised that you follow this procedure too, or, at the very least, be discreet if you’re going to eat or drink. If you do so in public, you can expect possibly arrest or at the very least, a fine. And a lot of disapproving looks!

9. Vaping

Image by Lindsay Fox from Pixabay

Since Feb 2019, Dubai have made it legal to smoke e-cigarettes aka vapes in Dubai. However, be aware that you can’t smoke them anywhere, with vaping falling under the same laws as smoking. Avoid smoking in the street and try to stick to designated smoking areas and you should be fine.

There have been reports of vapes being confiscated at the airport. If in doubt, take your e-cigarette apart and stow it in your hold luggage. Check with your airline about their policy on e-cigarettes.

10. Loud Music & Dancing

You’ll often find people elsewhere in the world listening to music on bluetooth speakers in the park and maybe even dancing. Not in Dubai. Loud music away from private or licences premises (and in your car) is ‘indecent’ and even ‘provocative’. It’s not illegal but you’ll likely be asked to turn it off by an official and you could be fined.

11. Debts

Going into debt is haram (forbidden) in Islam and as a result any negative equity that you rack up in the country could result in jail. Most people (except Americans) don’t use cheques any more (or checks) but if you do write a cheque make sure the funds are covered as a bounced cheque can cause all sorts of legal hassles.

Not paying bills is also illegal, so if you rack up a bill. Pay it ASAP.

12. Rape

There have been reports in the past of women being arrested for reporting rape, usually under the premise of having extra-marital sex. Although this might seem alarming, women will find that Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the UAE generally very safe.

If you are unlucky enough to be the victim of a rape, or other sexual assault in Dubai or the UAE, it’s highly recommended to contact your consulate for advice.

Besides this, solo women travellers in the region will likely find that men are courteous and respectful, but of course, sensible precautions should be taken.

13. Non Islamic Religious Material

If you’re carrying anything that could be deemed suitable for missionary activities then you might be on the wrong side of the law. Attempting to convert a Muslim to another religion is a serious crime and even discussing it can lead to consequences.

Your own Holy Book or a book about religion for you to read won’t cause any issues, but anything deemed as material to incite religious hatred or discord should be avoided.

Play it safe and avoid discussing region with anyone in Dubai (especially if you’re a hard line religious type, or an atheist).

14. Medicines

Some medical items are prohibited in the Emirates so if you need to carry medicine make sure you have your prescription or a doctors note. View a list of banned medical items here.

For up to date travel advice to help you avoid getting in trouble in Dubai, check out the FCO website: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/united-arab-emirates.

So remember! Stay safe when you travel and always read up on local customs and laws… These rules do apply to all tourists visiting the UAE and most other countries in the Middle East including Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Oman.

Despite these laws which might seem odd to outsiders, the Middle Eastern nations tend to be very welcoming and the people genuinely warm. If you respect local customs and laws you’ll be sure of having a great time and probably even want to go back at the earliest opportunity!

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. I love the article and the content on your site all together. Is there any way we can go about a backlink

    Kind regards
    East African Tour consultant

  2. as a resident in Dubai for the last 12 years, I can say up to 80% of the information in this article is WRONG
    01. Drinking alcohol, yes it is prohibited for Muslims, but it is not that strict where i Have to worry about being drunk unless if you are driving or having alcohol in public which is even prohibited in Amsterdam
    Dubai Police is unbelievably friendly and I know a lot of case where capture drunk people and they offered to drop them home instead of arresting them

    02. Sex in public is totally prohibited and I can’t find any reasonable reason will push people to do so, there are variety hotels which can reserve a room or apartment for this purpose without aforementioned complications.

    for solo travelers men or women, I can assure you that you will never find safer place more than UAE not even Dubai.

    03. Porn : yes it is prohibited and all porn websites are blocked in UAE but if you have the intention to break this firewall then you can find a lot of ways.

    04.Public Displays Of Affection prohibited in Islamic culture as it is part of showing respect to other who are accompanied with under age people, and there is nothing wrong with that at least in my opinion.

    05. Drugs are totally prohibited and this the best thing in UAE, if you think it is part of your personal freedom, simply go have it in home country.

    06. Vulgarity & Rude Gestures are also illegal, just be civilized show respect to other as you wish be treated by other.

    07. Porn, Pork and vaping as mentioned in this article is just WRONG, by the way Vaping is legal now and there are lot of stores opened recently

    11. Debts
    Going into debt is NOT haram (forbidden) in Islam and as a result any negative equity that you rack up in the country WILL NOT result in jail, as long as toy are able to settle down and manage your situation, people’s rights must be protected and this is exactly what UAE is doing

    12.Rape, ” if a woman reports a rape in Dubai or the UAE, she is liable to be arrested for having extra marital sex.” this is just LIES

    13. Non Islamic Religious Material
    yes you are free to have any belief as long as you are away from hate,or race speech or practice

    1. Hey Omar, thanks for the information. Yes, we did update some of the details on this post recently, including the details about the vaping. That should be correct now.

      I’ll take a look into the legislation as you suggested, and update it accordingly. You seem to be right about the pork point… However, you also seemed to confirm quite a few of the points in your comment such as PDAs, porn and rude gestures.

      A lot of the information is taken from this article on the UK foreign office website: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/united-arab-emirates/local-laws-and-customs

      And, as regards to rape in the UAE, there is a high profile case where a woman was arrested after reporting being raped.. I’ll point you to these articles:

      However, you’re right, this section may need a little update.

      Another interesting article about getting in trouble in Dubai… https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/indepth/2019/2/6/detained-in-dubai-uae-no-longer-safe-for-tourists

      Thanks for bringing it to our attention anyway Omar, and I’ll see what I can do with an update.

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