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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
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!