Tourist rules in Dubai you MUST know; 22 Do’s & Don’ts

by Danni B

Every so often, you hear scary stories about tourists getting into trouble in Dubai. These stories may even make you scared to visit Dubai and worry about getting into trouble.

As a resident of over 10 years, I’ll give you what you need to watch out for as a tourist and how not to spoil your vacation!

I’ve heard almost every story you can think of, along with many different myths which this article will bust.

Tourist rules in Dubai

Gaining entry into Dubai

This is the first and most important step of starting your Dubai vacation as a tourist, this is what you must have if you wish to visit Dubai before you’ve left your home country.

  • UAE visa or from a country where visa on arrival is applicable
  • A return plane ticket
  • A passport with a minimum of 6 months validity
  • Travel insurance with COVID cover
  • Proof of funds to cover your stay in Dubai
  • Proof of hotel accommodation booked
  • If staying with a relative or friend, their Emirates ID and rental contract

In recent news, especially those travelling from India and Pakistan, UAE immigration officials are getting stricter on making sure the above is met. Without the above, you risk being denied into the UAE.

You can check which visa you need here.

Illegal activities in Dubai

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

  • Gambling
  • All forms of drugs, even small amounts
  • Drinking alcohol in public spaces
  • Public displays of affection
  • Swearing
  • Protests
  • Homosexuality
  • Prescription drugs without a prescription and permit
  • Dressing indecently
  • Driving with any amount of alcohol in your bloodstream
  • Pornography
  • Sex toys
  • Taking photos without permission
  • Eating or drinking on public transport
  • Chewing gum on the metro
  • Spreading rumours
  • Insulting the Royal Family or UAE
  • Insulting religion
  • Begging

Driving in Dubai

Black malibu Chevrolet rented in Dubai as a car rental, parked at the side of the road

If you plan to rent a car in Dubai, then you’ll need to be aware of a few things.

The UAE accepts the following driving licences of the below countries to drive as a tourist:

All GGC Countries
All European Countries
United States
Hong Kong
South Korea
New Zealand
South Africa

If you’re from a country where the driving license isn’t in English such as China, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea, then you’ll need to translate your license to rent a car.

Also, please note that different car rentals may have different policies, so make sure to check the individual terms and conditions when you hire a car.

🚗 Check Dubai car rental prices 🚗

Important driving rules of Dubai

  • You can legally drive 20km over the speed limit
  • You must leave a safe distance between you and the car in front
  • You must not change lanes through solid lines
  • You must stop at pedestrian crossings to let people cross
  • You must drive a minimum speed of 60km on motorways
  • The legal blood alcohol level for driving in Dubai is zero

Be aware that if you plan to drive to Abu Dhabi, the speed buffer was removed in 2018 so you must drive at or below the speed limit on signs as soon as you cross the border.

The Do’s & Dont’s of Dubai

Now you’ve learn about the tourist rules in Dubai, here are some important Do’s and Dont’s of Dubai that are advisable to follow. Along with a breakdown of each underneath.

  1. Don’t do drugs, penalties are very harsh for even small amounts of drugs if you get caught
  2. Do be polite to police and other Emirates officials such as passport control
  3. Do check your drug prescription before you leave in case you need to take a Doctors letter
  4. Do check your travel documents and make sure all your paperwork is in order
  5. Do make sure you get travel insurance before you head to Dubai
  6. Don’t swear, act lewd or inappropriately in public, this includes vulgar hand gestures
  7. Don’t be drunk and disorderly in public, be especially aware once you leave a drinking venue
  8. Don’t try to drink in parks or other public areas that aren’t licensed
  9. Don’t drink and drive, Dubai and the UAE has a zero alcohol policy for driving
  10. Do enjoy yourself in the many licensed venues across Dubai
  11. Don’t do public displays of affection with your partner (no one wants to see it anyways!)
  12. Don’t try any frisky behaviour anywhere public, this includes a private vehicle or hotel beach
  13. Do hold hands outside and enjoy yourself romantically in your hotel room
  14. Don’t take photos of people without their permission, especially women
  15. Do respect the local culture and try to learn before you go
  16. Don’t do anything disrespectful about the UAE or Islam
  17. Don’t offer to shake the hand of the opposite sex unless they offer their hand first, especially Muslim women
  18. Don’t eat or chew gum on the metro or public transport including taxis, this can catch people out!
  19. Do wear your summer clothes or outfit in Dubai you feel comfortable in, just not a see-through dress
  20. Do dress modestly when you visit a government building, police station or mosque
  21. Don’t eat or drink in public during Ramadan, it’s not a law anymore but it’s good to be respectful
  22. Don’t commit any other crimes such as begging and don’t give money to beggars

Don’t do or bring drugs

The UAE is very strict when it comes to any form of drugs and even small amounts can land you in jail befor being deported. Resulting in a lifetime ban from the country.

No medical amount of drugs is allowed, even if you’ve been described by a Doctor unless it is a prescribed drug that is allowed in the UAE. You also need to be aware of poppy seeds as these are classed an opiods and it’s best to check any items you’re not sure about.

Drugs are certainly one reason why you do not want to get arrested in Dubai. So don’t risk it!

Do be respectful towards Dubai police and other officials

three dubai police women sat at a control panel
Photo from Dubai Police

Be polite. Apologise and don’t argue. From experience, police and officials are helpful in Dubai even when you’re in trouble.

In the cases where a friend has been drunk in public, I’ve always heard the police dealt with them in a respectful way, especially in recent years. I’ve even known someone given a lift home by Dubai Police after getting in a fight when drunk but they were respectful to the police.

I’ve had to go to police stations myself and the police have always been kind. I’ve even had a female police officer apologise that she had to search me. If someone tells you what you’re doing isn’t appropriate, just listen and correct it.

This will 99% of the time, keep you out of trouble from my experience.

Do check your prescription drugs before you travel

Some medications are illegal in the UAE. If you need to take a prescription, you’ll need to apply for a permit.

Make sure to check your medications before you pack anything! Just like illegal drugs, sentences are harsh in the UAE for prescription drug offences.

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 requirements before you travel

travel documents for Dubai and Dubai travel insurance on a desk

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, travel insurance, proof of accommodation and proof of funds to cover your trip.

Use the official UAE government website here to find out more.

Do get travel insurance

Dubai is mostly private hospitals but even in government hospitals, you’ll have to pay for medical treatment as a tourist or resident. This means any type of accident or unexpected medical issue can cause a very expensive bill.

So don’t visit Dubai without valid medical insurance!

Also, for certain activities, such as horse riding or jet skiing, you’ll need extreme sports cover which is typically extra on your travel insurance.

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. Anything that could potentially someone’s reputation or classed as disrespect to someone else is a crime.

The fines are pretty hefty too! So make sure not to get caught up in the heat of the moment.

Dubai has CCTV everywhere, so even flicking someone off while driving in a car can be seen by the cameras.

Don’t be drunk and disorderly in public

A man passed out on the grass with a bottle of vodka next to him, clearly drunk 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. If you don’t think you can act respectfully when you’ve had a drink, it’s best not to drink.

It is illegal to be drunk in public in Dubai.

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 but if you remember no 2 you’ll be fine!

Millions of people come to Dubai each year and enjoy a drink without getting into trouble.

Don’t drink in parks, on the beach or 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. Don’t drink alcohol in a non-licensed area.

There are plenty of hotel beach resorts or the notorious Barasti Bar where you can drink on the beach. Plus, beach clubs serve alcohol. There is zero need to try and re-live your teenage years by drinking in a park or free public beach.

Don’t drink and drive

The inside of a Porsche Boxster sport being driven in Dubai

Most countries have an alcohol limit for drinking and driving which usually means you’re safe to have one drink and drive home. However, the UAE has a zero blood alcohol level for driving.

Do enjoy yourself in the many licensed venues across Dubai

Whether you enjoy a beer or a cocktail, Dubai certainly isn’t short of places to drink. You can find entire complexes with a range of nightlife venues. Most hotels have multiple restaurants, bars and nightclubs inside them.

All serving both alcoholic and none alcoholic beverages. Why not try the most expensive bar in the world inside the Burj Al Arab?

Don’t do public displays of affection

a couple holding hands in dubai in the desert and showing a public display of affection

It’s okay to hold hands; hugs are also fine, and you may get away with kissing your partner on the cheek, but it is illegal to display affection in public. No one wants to see you passionality kissing anyway!

In the event you have a few too many drinks and kiss your partner in a venue, usually security will come over and tell you to calm it down. It’s rare to get into trouble but it’s best not to risk it.

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.

I can say with 100% certainty I’m glad I don’t see any of the things I used to see in London.

If you break the PDA rule, it’s likely a telling off but anything that looks like it’s leading to sex in public will land you both in serious trouble. This includes balconies or anywhere that would be considered a public, viewable place.

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

Two women in Niqab taking a photo while someone else takes a photo of them by Dubai Creek

It is not allowed to photograph anyone without their permission but be especially careful with women. There’s even been cases where someone was in the background and reported it. It is rare to happen, but you should be aware.

Photographing government buildings, including immigration, is not permitted. You will see no photograph signs at many of these places.

Publicly posting fires, car accidents, bad parking with the numberplate visible, or anything else that could identify the person involved can also result in a fine in Dubai.

If you have a complaint about a company, use the official government channels or the police rather than trying to shame someone publicly. Reviews are somewhat of a grey area, but it’s best not to write anything that could damage the reputation of a business.

Do be respectful of UAE traditions and local customs

An example of Bedouin Emirati culture where a man rides a camel wearing traditonal Emirati clothes

This is a long topic, so I recommend learning about Dubai culture before you visit, but like any country you visit, remember you’re a guest and travelling is a huge privilege where we can learn about different cultures.

I’ve never really understood people who expect it to be like home. Yes, British tourists – as a fellow Brit, I’m looking at you! Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of travelling?

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 strictly forbidden. A social media post can be reported to the police.

The same applies to talking loudly and criticising Islam. 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.

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. Also if you aren’t aware of it, they’ll just politely decline. You don’t need to worry that you’ve upset someone.

Don’t eat, drink or chew gum on public transport including taxis

Take away food in cartons such as burger, friends, wedges and chicken nuggets that people might be tempted to eat on public transport in Dubai

Dubai is a very clean place and keeping it clean involves 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.

For 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 save that tasty take away till you get home!

Do wear your summer clothes in Dubai

dubai rules for female tourists

Dubai is very liberal when it comes to its dress policy these days and rule is to dress “decent” which can have a wide application based on where you are.

You’ll still see signs that say, “Dress modestly” or “decent dress” but in reality, many people wear whatever they’re comfortable in.

For more details on what to wear in Dubai, make sure to read my guide.

Do dress modestly when going to a government building, police station or mosque

These are the places where Dubai enforces the modest dress code. You will be denied entry if your skirt or shorts aren’t below the knee and the tops of your arms are uncovered.

Nothing will really happen if you do break the rules other than the security will tell you, you can’t enter.

Many mosques that offer tours provide abayas and kandoras for both women and men.

Don’t eat or drink in public during Ramadan

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 seen as a nice thing to do.

Don’t give to beggars

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, do not give them any money.

Dubai has officially 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.

Final thoughts on the do’s & don’ts of Dubai

Dubai is an extremely safe city and enjoyed by many people across the world. The above rules are what help it to be the safe, incredibly clean and great city that it is.

It’s very rare for tourists to get arrested in Dubai but it’s best to educate yourself and not take unnecessary risks. Follow my advice above and you should be like the majority of over 19 million tourists who visit the UAE each year without getting into trouble.

If you found this article useful, you can buy me a coffee as a thank you, enjoy your trip!

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