What can get you arrested in Dubai? 19 surprising things

by Danni B
The inside of a jail cell with a light brown colour painted lock

Every so often, you hear a scary story about a tourist getting into trouble in Dubai. It may make you a little scared to visit Dubai and worry about getting into trouble!

As a resident of over 10 years, I can tell you the truth about what goes on 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 rarer to get into trouble than you think!

I’ve heard almost every story you can think of! Heard many different myths and seen for myself how the truth gets twisted. So you can know what’s the real deal to worry about.

Illegal activities in Dubai

There are several activities legal elsewhere that are illegal in Dubai, these are:

  1. Gambling
  2. All forms of drugs, even small amounts
  3. Drinking alcohol in public spaces
  4. Public displays of affection
  5. Swearing
  6. Protests
  7. Homosexuality
  8. Prescription drugs without a prescription or permit
  9. Dressing indecently
  10. Driving with any amount of alcohol in your bloodstream
  11. Pornography
  12. Sex toys
  13. Taking photos without permission
  14. Eating or drinking on public transport
  15. Chewing gum on the metro
  16. Spreading rumours
  17. Insulting the Royal Family or UAE
  18. Insulting religion
  19. Begging

You may see people on other lists saying it’s illegal to eat in public during Ramadan, but it is no longer illegal to eat or drink water publicly during Ramadan. However, you will still see screens set up for dining areas and restaurants.

Some restaurants are still closed during the daytime, especially Arabic restaurants. Many non-Muslims choose to eat in private spaces to respect the culture of the region.


All forms of gambling are banned in Dubai, so you won’t find any betting shops or casinos in Dubai.

It used to be illegal across the whole of the UAE; however, there is now a plan to build a casino in Ras Al Khaimah on an island off the mainland.


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. Deportation also means you are banned from travelling back to Dubai and UAE.

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’s also the odd case where someone claims they forgot they had something in their bag (guess we’ll just have to take their word for that) or at the very extreme end, there was a Swiss national had a poppy seed bagel and didn’t realise seeds fell in their bag. This is a very old case.

An India national also got arrested for bringing a spice mix that they didn’t realise had poppy seeds in it. So it’s best not to take the risk!

The issue with a lot of reported stories is that they’re based on claims made by the individual who was arrested and it’s hard to verify. In my own experience, there is usually more to the story than International newspapers claim, and people hoping for their release will likely downplay events.

Drinking alcohol in public spaces

Drinking alcohol in Dubai must be in a licensed venue. The variety of venues and alcohol available at licensed events is incredibly wide in Dubai.

The main places where you can’t drink are in public, on public transport, in public parks and on public beaches. You can’t drink on the street. You’ll find many licensed beach clubs and restaurants on the beach with licenses and it’s also okay to drink on yachts.

Public Displays of Affection

Yes, it’s okay to hold hands and hug. You may be able to get away with kissing your partner on the cheek, but it is illegal to display public affection except to your children.

In licensed private venues, rules are more relaxed but you may have a security personnel come over to tell you off if you’re kissing a partner.

Anything heavier than that, and you’re likely to get into serious trouble. Especially anywhere public.

In 2009, a British couple landed themselves in serious trouble in Dubai by getting too hot and heavy with each other on a public beach in Dubai.


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 hefty too!

The Scottish Brit who “caressed a man’s thigh” was arrested for public indecency, which swearing is part of acting indecently in public. As a fellow Brit, I heard from others at the venue that he was very drunk and had been swearing, which caused the Arab national he offended to report him to the police.

He ultimately got his sentence overturned, but it’s just a reminder to be respectful, and while we don’t know the full story of what happened, an accident like this can easily turn into a heated argument when drinking.

Driving is another area where people can lose their cool and forget swearing is illegal. If you get reported, there’s CCTV to check. So best to learn the patience (sabr) hand gesture instead!


Burning a UAE flag, creating protests, defacing property or any disrespectful behaviour towards the government or UAE will not be tolerated. All forms of protest are illegal in the UAE.


In Dubai, homosexuality as a sexual act is illegal, and you cannot be openly homosexual in the UAE or display any form of public affection. There are no pride parades or rainbow flags as you may see in Western countries.

The country’s laws are rooted in Islamic Sharia law, which prohibits same-sex relationships and imposes severe penalties for those found guilty, which can result in a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

However, it’s very rare for anyone to be arrested on suspicion of homosexuality, especially in the last 10 years. The general attitude in the UAE is “what you do behind closed doors is your own business.”

Prescription drugs without a permit

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.

Check your medications from the official UAE site here.

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.

Dressing indecently

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.

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.

Driving with alcohol in your system

luxury car in dubai, don't drink and drive in Dubai

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.


The possession, distribution, and creation of pornographic material are all prohibited, with severe penalties that can include fines, imprisonment, and deportation for expats.

Sex Toys

In addition to pornograghy, sex toys are also illegal in Dubai even if you’re married.

Taking photos without their permission

photography in dubai, don't take photos of people without permission in dubai

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.

Eating or drinking on Public Transport

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.

Chewing gum on the metro

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.

Spreading rumours

Spreading false rumours on social media or via whatsapp is also an offense in the UAE. So it’s best to verify any information you get and to not forward it if you aren’t sure.

This often involves recent events or those weird WhatsApp you get claiming something. While it’s rare for people to get punished and usually it’s those who started the rumour, you can get into trouble for forwarding false information.

Insulting the Royal Family or UAE

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

Insulting religion

People often think it’s only insulting Islam that will get you into trouble in the UAE but this isn’t the case. Yes insulting Islam will get you into trouble but insulting any religion can get you into trouble.


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.

Past stories of how tourists got arrested in Dubai

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.


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.

Read more Visit Dubai Guides

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