Staying Out of Trouble in UAE
Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and the UAE are now well established as major travel destinations and each year, the region attracts over xx visitors from across the globe.
Of course, one major reason for the influx is that the Emirates are now mega transit hubs for flights to South East Asia and Australia and an ever-increasing number of flyers choose to make the most of their layover and spend a few days hanging round. This is very understandable as there is loads of stuff to see and do in the Emirates and Dubai and Abu Dhabi, in particular, are kick-ass travel destinations in their own right.
Check out this post for the best things to do in Dubai.
Rules and Customs in UAE (Dubai)
Whilst the Emirates are very welcoming for tourists, visitors do need to bear in mind that there are some very important rules, customs, and traditions to respect. Whilst the vast majority of visits end without incident, there have some high profile cases of tourists falling foul of the local authorities and facing prosecution.
Be sure to heed these important rules and customs to stay out of trouble on your UAE trip!
Firstly, UAE is not a hardcore, Islamic theocracy like Saudi Arabia or even Iran. Women are not expected to wear a burkha or even to cover their hair with a hijab (though many locals choose to do so). However, there are nevertheless some rules to follow.
Revealing clothing is a definite no – women should avoid mini skirts, shorts, and vest tops. Make sure that clothing covers knees and shoulders (like in a Catholic Church). Tight, suggestive clothing is also not recommended and furthermore is pretty impractical considering the intense heat!
Men will get a slightly easier ride and are OK to wear shorts but I would still advise against vests.
It is very hot out there in the UAE and the idea of not been allowed to wear shorts to keep help you cool may seem strange. We recommend getting some loose plants made from light material such as linen. I personally wear breathable Khaki safari or trekking pants but Yoga style pants are also a good shout.
Public nudity, including partial nudity, is not advisable even on the beaches or at poolside. The penalties for this can be harsh so please, save your topless sunbathing for Magaluf.
Under Islamic tradition alcohol is a definite no-no and many Muslim countries are completely dry. However, the Emirates, especially Dubai, are very mindful of catering to western tastes so alcohol is available throughout the city in its hotels, restaurants and high-end bars.
However, there are still some rules to heed here. Firstly, try to go easy on the source as lewd or boisterous drunken behavior is not acceptable. Discretion is also recommended so do not drink in the street, on public transport and if you are transporting alcohol, keep it covered up inside a bag (like in the US).
Avoid drugs in any shape or form whilst in the UAE. The penalties for being caught with any controlled substances do not bear even thinking about. Under no circumstances should you attempt to bring any controlled substance into the country with you.
To respect Emiratie conservative values, try to keep public displays of affection to a minimum. Holding hands and the odd kiss is OK (but even that may raise the odd eyebrow) but be sure to avoid any kind of passionate kissing, heavy petting or even suggestive dancing with your significant other.
Remember, in 2008 A British tourist was imprisoned for having sex on a beach in Dubai – do not let this happen to you!
Whilst there are now a lot of tolerant, liberal and accepting people in the Emirates, the official position on same-sex relationships is pretty archaic. Any travelers in a same-sex relationship are strongly advised to play down the nature of their relationships. This means no public displays of affection and if anybody asks, you are just friends.
Freedom of Speech
None of the Emirates are even remotely democratic and are governed by Sultans, Kings and Ruling Families. This means that the democratic value of free speech has not really permeated Emriatei society.
It is very unlikely that anybody will want to talk politics with you but do remember to maybe keep some of your opinions to yourself – do not criticize the ruling regime and certainly do not criticize Islam.
Locals do not expect you to convert to Islam and are unlikely to try to impose Islamic values on you. However, please remember that religion is very serious business throughout the Middle East and needs to be respected.
This means that as above, your holiday to Dubai or Abu Dhabi may not be the best time to get into any kind of theological debate so keep any ideas you have about religion to yourself.
If you are visiting during Ramadan, there may be further implications here so seek local, on the ground, guidance. It may include not smoking during daylight and not be able to procure alcohol.
The UAE has the internet but it is subject to some censorship. Whilst it is not as bad as the censorship in China or even Russia, we highly recommend installing the best VPN for Dubai before your trip to circumvent any censorship issues.
Oh, and in case I need to point this out – try to stay away from adult sites during your stay. You don’t want to get into any trouble for online indecency.
Freeborn Aiden. Senior Editor, resident travel insurance expert and 2nd longest-serving member of team Broke Backpacker. Can’t resist a colourful shirt, ideally one with no buttons. Rampant Psytrance addict and seriel cat fancier. Aiden recently realised that his entire reality is little more than a badly written 90’s sitcom.