Know before you go

As the single most popular travel destination in the Middle East, you might think that a trip to Dubai is akin to visiting Spain, Mexico or Thailand. In many ways, that is the case – you will be surrounded by friendly people, delicious food and brilliant sunshine but there is a key difference that you must bear in mind when planning your trip. The UAE (United Arab Emirates) is a Muslim country that follows Islamic law and while the rules are slightly more relaxed in Dubai, it is important to understand what is and is not appropriate whilst there in order to avoid offending anyone or inadvertently breaking the law and ending up in jail. So, without any further ado, here are our recommendations for keeping within the realms of legality and making the most of your holiday.

Aerial view of the Palm - Essential Dos and Don'ts in Dubai - On The Go Tours

Things you should do in Dubai

Check your prescriptions. Drugs are absolutely illegal in Dubai and the government has a zero tolerance policy towards those found in possession. However, this extends to a number of prescription medications, such as medicines containing codeine. Do you homework before you go and make sure you’re not accidentally smuggling in illegal pharmaceuticals.

Avoid PDAs. Public displays of affection are a big no-no in Dubai and there have been cases of people being arrested for merely smooching in public. Holding hands is just about tolerated for married couples but to be on the safe side it’s best to avoid any form of physical contact until you’re back in your hotel room.

Dress conservatively. You aren’t expected to wear a full burqa during your trip but women should dress modestly outside of their resort. Shopping malls will often have dress codes that you are expected to adhere to. Men shouldn’t walk around topless away from the beach and women should wear a headscarf when visiting religious monuments.

Abide by the rules of Ramadan. If you happen to be travelling during Ramadan be sure to read up on how you should behave during this religious festival. In brief, eating, drinking and smoking in public during the day is strictly forbidden.

Be respectful. Islam is a religion founded on respect and if you act in a respectful and humble way, you will find that people will greet you with a smile and offer you their warmest hospitality.

Emirati men in front of mosque - Essential Dos and Don'ts in Dubai - On The Go Tours

Things you shouldn't do in Dubai

Be drunk in public. For Muslims, alcohol consumption is against the law but non-Muslims will be able to purchase alcoholic drinks in licensed bars, restaurants and hotels. However, just because you can drink doesn’t mean you should and certainly not to excess as public disorderliness is illegal for everyone regardless of faith.

Take photos of people without their explicit permission. It is considered rude to snap a photo of anyone without asking them first – this particularly applies to taking photos of local women.

Swear. Cussing and foul language are considered an offence and a number of foreigners have got themselves in trouble by making vulgar comments in the presence of an undercover police office. Keep it clean folks.

Insult Islam. This is probably the worst thing you can do in an Islamic country. Regardless of your personal opinion on Islam, do not say anything out loud that might be deemed as disrespectful. Blasphemy carries serious punishments so if you have any strong opinions on Islam, keep them to yourself.

Flaunt your homosexuality. Unfortunately, being gay in the UAE is still a crime and any public displays of affection can result in serious consequences. Cross-dressing is also illegal.

Use your left hand. This might seem like an odd rule but in Muslim culture the left hand is used for body hygiene and is therefore considered unclean. You should never shake hands or greet anyone with your left hand and you definitely shouldn’t be caught eating with it.

See Also

To help you plan your trip to Dubai, take a look at our handy travel resources:

Best Places to Visit - the top sites in Dubai you need to visit
Best Time to Visit - seasons and weather in Dubai
Tourist Visas - the information you need for entering Dubai
Top Travel Tips - useful info on money, health and solo travel in Dubai