Every so often you hear a scary story about a tourist getting into trouble in Dubai or a newspaper publishing about a tourist getting arrested. It may make you a little scared to visit Dubai and worry about getting into trouble.
As a resident of nearly 10 years, I can tell you the truth about what goes down in Dubai so you can avoid the things that can potentially land you in trouble and have a worry-free holiday or vacation. Spoiler alert, it’s a lot more rare to get into trouble than you think!
After being here for such a long time, I’ve heard almost every story you can think of! I’ve heard many different myths and seen for myself the way in which the truth gets twisted.
From a tourist getting arrested for kissing a male friend (a very very long time ago), to another tourist claiming she got arrested for drinking a glass of wine, to a man claiming he got arrested for touching a man’s thigh. Often there is way more than meets the eye to these stories and newspapers love to make it sound like it’s very easy to get accidentally into trouble here but that really isn’t the truth.
Yes you can end up in trouble and yes some people do end up accidentally in trouble but it’s so rare that is why it ends up in the newspapers. Imagine Dubai has over 19 million tourists visiting each year and these are the stories you hear!
For example, the woman who claimed to get into trouble for drinking one glass of wine was trying to travel on an expired passport. Personally, I’ve once seen a couple so drunk on my flight that I really thought they might get into trouble at immigration but faced no issues at all. Plus there are many tourists flying into Dubai every day after having a few drinks on their flight!
I will be mostly focused on visiting as a tourist and the rules to be aware of. As a Dubai resident, you are typically more aware of the rules or at least I hope you are! For more information about the lifestyle in Dubai and how much it costs to live in Dubai. Check out my other website sections.
The Do’s & Dont’s of Dubai
Here’s a quick breakdown of tourist rules for Dubai and scroll down to read each one:
- Don’t do drugs, penalties are very harsh for even small amounts of drugs if caught
- Do be polite to police and other Emirates officials such as passport control
- Do check your drug prescription before you leave in case you need to take a Doctors letter
- Do check your travel documents and make sure all your paperwork is in order
- Do make sure you get travel insurance before you head to Dubai
- Don’t swear, act lewd or inappropriately in public, this includes vulgar hand gestures
- Don’t be drunk and disorderly in public, be especially aware once you leave a drinking venue
- Don’t try to drink in parks or other public areas that aren’t licensed
- Don’t drink and drive, Dubai and the UAE has a zero alcohol policy for driving
- Do enjoy yourself in the many licensed venues across Dubai
- Don’t do public displays of affection with your partner (no one wants to see it anyways!)
- Don’t try any frisky behaviour anywhere public, this includes a private vehicle or hotel beach
- Do hold hands outside and enjoy yourself romantically in your hotel room
- Don’t take photos of people without their permission, especially women
- Do respect the local culture and try to learn before you go
- Don’t do anything disrespectful about the UAE or Islam
- Don’t offer to shake the hand of the opposite sex unless they offer their hand first, especially Muslim women
- Don’t eat or chew gum on the metro or public transport including taxis, this can catch people out!
- Do wear your summer clothes or outfit in Dubai you feel comfortable in, just not a see-through dress
- Do dress modestly when you visit a government building, police station or mosque
- Don’t eat or drink in public during Ramadan, it’s not a law anymore but it’s good to be respectful
- Don’t commit any other crimes such as begging and don’t give money to beggars
Don’t do or bring drugs
It seems a fairly obvious rule for how to not get arrested in Dubai but the UAE is very strict when it comes to any form of drugs and even small amounts can land you in jail and then deported. You will also likely face a lifetime ban from the country.
In these types of cases, usually, someone gets randomly searched or into trouble for another reason. Then when they do a search or a blood test, they find evidence of drug use. There has been the odd case many years ago where someone either forgot they had something in their bag (guess we’ll just have to take their word for that) or the extreme end that someone had a poppy seed bagel and didn’t realise a seed fell in their bag but most of these stories are very old.
Drugs are certainly one reason why you do not want to get arrested in Dubai. So just don’t risk it!
Do be respectful towards Dubai police and other officials
Be polite. Apologise and don’t argue. From experience, police and officials are very helpful in Dubai even when you’re in trouble. They are usually very respectful and will explain what is going on. Immigration is usually pretty chatty, many times saying “welcome back” to me as I pass through the airport.
In the cases where a friend has been drunk in public, everyone I’ve heard from the police have always dealt with the person in a respectful way. Especially in recent times, last 5 years.
Even I knew someone, an Indian national, who had been drinking when someone started a fight with them. He was respectful to the police and apologised. Despite having a few drinks himself and being involved in a fight, the Dubai police gave him a lift home!
So in any situation like this, the best thing to do is be polite and respectful. When I’ve had to go to police stations myself, the police have always been kind. I’ve even had a female police officer apologise that she had to search me.
If an official or police officer tells you what you’re doing isn’t appropriate. Just listen and apologise. This will 99.9% of the time, keep you out of trouble. Manners. That’s it.
Do check your prescription drugs before you travel
Some medications are illegal in the UAE and these can get you arrested when in your possession. If you do need to take a prescription with you, you may need a doctor’s letter. So it is best to check with your doctor, pharmacist or even your airline customer services.
Some prescription drugs are banned or need a Doctors note in order to bring them to the UAE. So definitely make sure to check before you pack anything. As mentioned above, drugs are definitely not something you want to get in trouble for in Dubai and that includes prescription drugs too.
Certain items and foods are not permitted in the UAE. For example, poppy seeds are illegal due to their links to opiates. So make sure you check before you travel. You can check the Dubai customs website here.
Do check your travel documents and visa entry requirements before you travel
Many countries are able to get a visa on arrival but your passport must have a minimum of six months validity. As is common for most countries. They may also ask for return flight details and to see your medical insurance. This medical insurance must also cover you for Covid 19.
Use the official UAE government website here to find out more, such as what visa you can get based on your passport and the requirements.
Do get travel insurance
Dubai is mostly private hospitals but even in government hospitals, as a tourist or resident. You will have to pay for any medical expenses. This means any type of accident or unforeseen medical expenses can cause a very expensive bill. So don’t visit Dubai without valid medical insurance.
Also check for certain activities such as horse riding or jet skiing, as you will need to make sure your policy covers such activities in the event of an accident.
Don’t swear, act lewd or act inappropriately in public
Vulgar gestures, swearing at people or any other gestures that could cause offence can land you in trouble in Dubai. Even when it comes to someone’s reputation, doing something that causes disrespect or offence to someone else is a crime. The maximum fines are pretty hefty too! So just don’t do it!
The area where you most likely need to be aware of this is when driving, it can be easy to lose your temper and do a signal back home but if the person involved presses charges, you’ll be in hot water! Dubai has CCTV everywhere so police will be able to easily verify your gesture. So just remember to breathe.
Don’t be drunk and disorderly in public
Remember to be sensible when drinking. This is the same as any country. If you’ve drank too much; get yourself home in a taxi and sleep it off. It is illegal to be drunk in public in Dubai.
Though in reality, you will see a lot of people drunk at drinking venues across Dubai, *cough* Saturday brunch *cough*, and of course these people get taxis home or continue drinking all day. Just remember to be kind to others.
If you don’t think you can act respectfully when you’ve had a drink, don’t drink. It’s that simple. Millions of people come to Dubai each year and enjoy a drink without getting into trouble.
Don’t drink in parks or on the beach or in other public areas
Drinking in Dubai is only permitted in licensed venues, there are outdoor locations and even pop up concerts or events where alcohol is allowed to be drunk outside. However they will have a hotel that is operating the bar. So don’t try having a drink in a none licensed outdoor area.
If you want to have a drink on the beach, there are plenty of hotel beach resorts or the notorious Barasti Bar. Pick a beach club, enjoy a hotel resort. Wherever you like. There is zero need to try and re-live your teenage years by drinking in a park,
Don’t drink and drive
So maybe stating the obvious here but many countries have an alcohol limit for drinking and driving. That usually means you’re safe to have one drink and still drive yourself home. However the UAE has a zero blood alcohol level for driving, so not even a single drink is permitted if you plan to drive. ZERO.
Do enjoy yourself in the many licensed venues across Dubai
Whether you enjoy a beer or a cocktail, Dubai certainly isn’t short of any places to drink. You can find entire complexes with rows of bars where you can drink. Most hotels have multiple restaurants, bars and nightclubs inside them. All serving those alcoholic beverages you just can’t live without.
You’ll find everything from gold covered bars in the Burj Al Arab serving 90 AED cocktails to your Irish pub with a band in the background serving onion rings with a beer. The world’s your oyster in Dubai.
Don’t do public displays of affection
Yes it’s okay to hold hands and in many places, you can probably get away with kissing your partner on the cheek but it is illegal for all displays of affection. So best not to take the risk and no one really wants to see it anyway.
In the event you do kiss your partner in public, usually security of the venue will come over and tell you to calm it down. Again it has become more relaxed like the dress code and certain places are more relaxed than others. For example pool parties but you may still get told off by security.
Don’t be tempted to try anything more/frisky in public in Dubai
Many years ago a couple landed themselves in serious trouble in Dubai by getting too hot and heavy with each other on a public beach in Dubai. This is a complete no go in Dubai. You will get into trouble and no one wants to see it. I can say with 100% certainty I’m glad I don’t see any of the things I used to see in London.
This can come under displays of affection but I wanted to make clear the difference and the severity for which you would be dealt with. The 1st one if broken will likely be an angry security guard, the second is likely to end up being in jail. Just no.
Do hold hands and enjoy yourselves in private
Holding hands is fine in public and of course behind closed doors you can pretty much do whatever you like. Go enjoy your beautiful hotel room, no one is stopping you there.
Don’t take photos of people without their permission
It is not allowed to photograph anyone without their permission but especially so be careful around women. There’s even been cases where someone was in the background and reported it. It is rare and unlikely to happen but you should be aware and you definitely don’t want to end up paying a large fine.
Also government buildings are not permitted to be photographed. You will see no photograph signs at many of these places including immigration. Which can land you in trouble if you don’t obey the rules. So use your common sense.
Also publically posting car accidents, bad parking with the car numberplate or anything else which could cause the person involved to be identified. This is deemed to cause upset and embarrassment for those involved and also lead you to be fined in Dubai.
If you have a complaint about a company, use the official channels and the police if you need rather than trying to publically shame someone. Reviews are somewhat of a grey area but it’s generally seen as long as you are truthful and putting it in an appropriate place. Eg Google, Zomato etc. Then there shouldn’t be an issue.
Do be respectful to UAE traditions and local customs
Remember you’re a guest in someone else’s country and travelling is a huge opportunity to learn about a different culture than your own. You shouldn’t; expect everywhere to be the same as your home country or have the exact same values.
Don’t be disrespectful about the UAE or Islam
Emiratis are proud of their culture and heritage. They are also proud of Islam. Trying to do anything to insult either of these or generally dishonouring the country is not allowed. If you’re a resident especially, it is seen that you should be a good representation of the UAE and not act in an immoral way that would cause the UAE to look bad. Especially on social media.
Overall, just be aware of where you are and how to treat people in public. Loudly criticising Islam or the UAE could also land you in trouble.
Burning a UAE flag, creating protests, defacing property or any of this type of behaviour will not be tolerated in the UAE. Any form of protest is illegal in the UAE.
Don’t offer to shake the hand of the opposite sex
This won’t get you into trouble but it’s something to be aware of culturally. If you’re a man and you offer to shake the hand of a woman, they may refuse to do so by putting their hand on their chest and smiling or nodding their head. A man may also do the same to a woman as well if she extends her hand. So it’s best to wait and see if they offer their hand to shake. If they do, there isn’t any issue shaking their hand.
Don’t eat, drink or chew gum on public transport including taxis
Dubai is a very clean place and to keep it clean involves strict rules. All public transport, including taxis, has a no drinking or eating policy. I have heard water is allowed or they look the other way if it’s water but officially RTA says no drinking or eating.
The metro even chewing gum is not allowed and can get you a 200 AED fine. Smoking is also not allowed on any public transport.
So as tasty as that take away food might look, save it till you get home!
Do wear your summer clothes in Dubai
Dubai these days is very liberal when it comes to its dress policy. Yes, you will still see all the stickers on the mall doors that say, “dress modest” but in reality, many people wear whatever they want in Dubai. You’ll see women jogging in a sports bra-style top, you’ll see women in bikinis on the beach and you’ll see people wearing shorts in Dubai Mall.
For more details on what to wear in Dubai, make sure to read my guide.
Do dress modest when you need to go to a government building, police station or mosque
These are the places where the modest dress code is enforced in Dubai and you will be denied entry if your skirt or shorts aren’t below the knee and if the top of your arms aren’t covered. Nothing will really happen if you do break the rules other than the security will tell you, you can’t enter.
Don’t eat or drink in public during Ramadan
So it’s no longer illegal to eat in public in Dubai during Ramadan but most people decide to still be respectful to others who are fasting. So while you won’t get fined anymore, it’s still seen at the nice thing to do.
Don’t commit any other crimes and don’t give to beggars
Dubai is an extremely safe city and enjoyed by many people across the world, so finally don’t be the one to ruin it! Though one rule that may surprise people is that begging is a crime and illegal in Dubai. It’s also advised that if anyone does come to you begging, not to give them any money.
Dubai has official registered charities and donations should be given to official charities only. Charities will do the necessary verification and make sure your donation goes to those who need it more.
So there you go, these are the 22 most important do’s and don’t of visiting Dubai and tourist rules for Dubai to make sure you don’t get into trouble! It’s very rare for tourists to get arrested in Dubai but it’s best to educate yourself and not to take unnecessary risks. Follow my advice above and you should be like the majority of over 19 million tourists who visit each year without getting into trouble.
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