If you’re planning to take a trip to Dubai, one of the world’s most multinational cities and the Middle East’s tourism and business hub, there are a number of things to keep in mind. Visitors from the United States and Europe will find a culture much different than their own. We’ve compiled a must-read list of activities one must steer clear of to stay out of trouble and to avoid offending anyone.
Photo credit: Roi Alonso
1. Don’t carry, consume or sell drugs
While this is good advice in general, it can be even more important due to culture and laws. Drugs are absolutely prohibited in the UAE. Even a very small amount might land in jail. It doesn’t matter if you’re staying or transiting on your way to another airport. Possession could land you in prison for four years, followed by expulsion from the country. Any involvement in the purchase or sale of narcotics is a serious offense punishable by life in prison. Moreover, not all prescription drugs are permissible in the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is part, and you might have to conduct some research or seek prior approval from authorities before your trip.
2. Avoid public displays of affection
By law, it is illegal to have sex out of wedlock in the UAE. This doesn’t mean that every couple visiting the emirate is married, however, caution must be exercised. Authorities will only take notice if you engage in activities that are deemed offensive to their culture, such as kissing or extreme displays in public.
3. Don’t drink alcohol in non-designated areas
While alcohol is not part of the Muslim culture, it is widely available in Dubai, given there’s a large number of expatriates and tourists in the emirate. However, consuming alcoholic beverages is only permitted in private locations such as your home, or in public at licensed restaurants, bars and clubs, which are often located within a hotel. Don’t drink and drive under any circumstances. The emirate exercises a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to alcohol.
4. Don’t dress inappropriately
Dubai is part of a Muslim country and cultural norms mean that nationals dress conservatively, with women covering their hair and wearing long dresses that reveal very little. When in public areas, including shopping malls, food outlets and streets, visitors should act respectfully and dress with these traditions in mind, avoiding revealing, short or transparent attire. T-shirts that carry offensive slogans or pictures should also be avoided. Similarly, swimwear should only be worn at the beach or swimming pool, keeping in mind that nudity is utterly banned across the emirate and could lead to imprisonment or deportation.
5. Don’t insult religion
The Islamic religion is an important part of the UAE culture and any act that insults or undermines it is highly offensive to nationals and can lead to a hefty fine and/or serving jail time. Expatriates of other religions can practice worship at the few designated places for that purpose.
6. Don’t eat or drink during Ramadan
Every year, Muslims observe Ramadan, a month of fasting everyday from early hours of the morning until the sun sets. During this holy month, consuming food, drink, cigarettes or playing music at high volumes in public during the day is an offense reprehensible by law. Non-observers need to conduct those activities in the privacy of their homes or in restaurants where eating and drinking is permitted during the day. The evenings, however, are quite festive with many venues offering Iftar, the evening meal which marks breaking the fast.
7. Don’t disrespect women
The local culture in the emirate is generally very private. Addressing women randomly in public and taking their photos are frowned upon. In addition, sexual harassment is not taken lightly so avoid any form of behavior that might be viewed as offensive to women.
8. Don’t swear or use aggressive hand gestures
Swearing obscenities at someone in Dubai is illegal and could lead to serious trouble. This also applies to offensive hand gestures for which you could be fined, jailed or deported, depending who you offend.
9. Don’t insult the rulers
The UAE is a country based on a tribal system and its leaders are seen as highly-respected figures in society. Any criticism or insulting remarks about the country or its leaders is against the law.
10. Don’t allow your check to bounce
Bouncing checks is illegal in the country and could result in facing criminal and civil charges. Never present a check to another party unless you have adequate funds in your bank account to cover it. If you’re just visiting, this shouldn’t be an issue as you would be unlikely to use a bank check.