Dubai Local Laws, Customs & Culture

Published on: Feb 18, 2021
Alyce Gibson
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Dubai is an energetic and exciting city packed with incredible sights like the soaring Burj Khalifa skyscraper and the glamourous Dubai Mall. Learning the local laws and customs ahead of your adventure will leave you best placed to enjoy all this UAE city has to offer.

If you are planning a trip to Dubai and intend on exploring further than your chosen resort, it’s important you are aware of the key dos and don'ts before you go.

Here, we've rounded up some important information about local laws, customs and culture in Dubai that you should be aware of before you travel.

Rules you should follow in Dubai

The UAE is an Islamic nation and as such, some local laws and customs are tied to the national religion. Considering customs before you travel is best for ensuring you make the most of your holiday in the UAE.

Alcohol in Dubai 

Some need to know facts:

  • Firstly, you must be at least 21 years old to drink alcohol in Dubai.
  • It is illegal to drink – or even be under the influence of alcohol – when out in public. This includes the beach.
  • The sale and consumption of alcohol is restricted to hotels, resorts, bars, restaurants and clubs. There is a large number of approved venues with the correct license, so the alcohol laws rarely pose a problem for visitors, provided you consume it within the dedicated areas.

Visitors to Dubai can also get a temporary liquor license that lasts up to one month. Tourists must read the code of conduct document that will be provided to them and confirm they understand all the rules and regulations around alcohol – including purchasing and transporting it, as well as drinking it. This license is free and will mean you can buy alcohol from designated shops outside of any licensed premises.

Dubai is packed with great places to enjoy a drink, whether you’re after a lively evening with music or a quiet drink with friends in a cosy bar. Be considerate of local customs to ensure you can enjoy your drinks without any hassle.

Drug laws in Dubai

Drugs are illegal in Dubai, just as they are in many nations around the world. Possession of illegal substances, or even a residual amount in the bloodstream, can result in a prison sentence.

CBD oil is also illegal. Although a readily available ingredient in UK e-cigarettes and skincare products, it is not legal in the UAE.  Not only will these products be taken off you, you could also receive criminal charges based on the amount in your possession.

What is considered to be 'offensive' behaviour in Dubai? 

  • Swearing or making rude gestures – As with anywhere, swearing in public is deemed offensive and rude.
  • Showing the soles of your feet – In Dubai, it is deemed rude to show people the soles of your feet. This is because the foot is deemed the dirtiest part of the body. Wear sandals or other shoes when you are out in public.  
  • Public displays of affection – Although not illegal, you should tone down the public displays of affection or avoid them altogether if you can as it is deemed rude in the UAE. This is particularly in relation to kissing – several people have been arrested for doing this in public.
  • Sharing a hotel room – it is illegal to share a hotel room with the opposite sex unless you are married (extra-marital sex is illegal in the UAE and punishable by law). However, luxury hotels are more relaxed with foreigners who are engaged or in a relationship and tourists are rarely persecuted.

The LGBT community and Dubai 

Same-sex marriages are not recognised in Dubai and therefore sex between partners of the same gender are illegal in this country regardless of whether you are married or not.

There is a chance of being arrested for this, especially if your behaviour together is deemed to cause offence, and particularly if this is in public.

How to dress in Dubai 

It is a common misconception that visitors to Dubai must adhere to strict dress codes. Expats make up the majority of Dubai’s population, bringing influences, inspirations and styles from across the globe. Visitors face few restrictions when it comes to attire in the city.

Wearing a bikini or swimsuit on the beach or by the poolside is perfectly acceptable. Should you decide to venture beyond the hotel or seafront, however, then make sure you cover up out of courtesy to local customs. Your swimwear should not be worn anywhere other than the pool or the beach.

You should dress modestly when out in public. Women should avoid strappy tops and miniskirts, covering their arms and legs when exploring the city. Men should cover their knees and shoulders, with long shorts and t-shirts considered acceptable.

It’s also important to note that cross-dressing is illegal in Dubai.

Photography rules in Dubai  

You’ll want to take photos while on holiday, especially in this captivating city. In fact, smartphones have made it easier than ever before to snap away as you explore a new city. However, there are certain buildings and military installations that you are not allowed to photograph so look out for signs and warnings before snapping away.

You must also not take a photo of anyone without their permission and you can’t take photos of Emirati women – although this goes without saying when it comes to taking photos of anyone in public, really.

You should also be careful what you post online – if it is believed to be critical of the government or mocks the country, you could find yourself prosecuted for this.

Rules around Ramadan in Dubai 

During the month of Ramadan, in which Muslims fast during daylight hours, it is illegal for adults to eat, drink or even smoke in public during the day. Most hotels, however, set up designated areas where visitors and non-fasters can eat and drink, but it is important to respect the holy month when in public.

In 2021, Ramadan will take place from around 12th April to 11th May – however, due to the lunar cycle determining the Islamic calendar, this rotates by around 10 days each year. 

Now you know about some of the most important local laws, customs and cultures in Dubai, not only can you be respectful of those who live there, you won’t find yourself in hot water for an innocent mistake. Check out our holidays to Dubai and start planning your trip.

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