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.
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. It is important to know that this policy also extends to a number of prescription medicines, such as those containing the painkiller codeine. Make sure you do some research before you travel to ensure you don't accidentally smuggle in something illegal.
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. Even hand holding is only viewed as acceptable for married couples. To be on the safe side, it's best to wait until you're back in your hotel room before engaging in any physical contact with your partner.
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.
Things you shouldn't do in Dubai
Be drunk in public. Alcohol consumption is illegal for the Muslim-majority population of Dubai, just as it is for many other parts of the region, such as Egypt. Non-Muslims are able to purchase alcohol in licensed bars, restaurants, and hotels, as is the case in many other Muslim countries, such as Egypt. But be careful not to have too many, as it is illegal to act disorderly in public, whether you are Muslim or not.
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. It is sad to have to say, but unfortunately homosexuality is still illegal in the UAE. Any public displays of affection between members of the same (or opposite unless married) sex could land you in big trouble. 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.
Our 4-day Dubai Stopover tour is perfect for those with a layover on their way to Europe, Australia, or elsewhere. Or it could easily be bolted on to any of our trips to Egypt, Jordan, Israel, or elsewhere in the Middle East. Enjoy a city tour, head out on a desert safari and spend a night camping under the stars at a Bedouin camp.
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