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How to Enjoy Dubai While Respecting the Local Culture & Laws

Dubai is a holiday destination with much to offer travellers, and expats alike (just make sure you sort out Dubai work visa before getting a job). The sights, sounds and tastes of Dubai annually attract millions of visitors, the majority of whom complete their trip without incident.

Some holidaymakers do however have a less pleasant experience, often due to a lack of knowledge about the country and its laws and culture.

The reality is that Dubai is a great place to visit, as long as you show respect and observe the dos and don’ts associated with local life. These tips fall into four key areas:

Dress

As part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Dubai is bound by Islamic rules and traditions. In practice this means that modesty must be observed when it comes to physical appearance and indeed behaviour when at any of the local Dubai attractions.

Remember that when out in a public place, such as one of Dubai’s many restaurants or shopping centres, you should dress appropriately. Avoid see-through clothing or styles which expose parts of your body. Ideally keep shoulders and knees covered – this applies to men and women.

If you have tattoos, consider whether the imagery used in them could be considered offensive. If you aren’t sure, then the best approach is to keep them covered.

Swimwear can be worn, but only at beaches, water parks and swimming pools. Nudity, including topless sunbathing, is strictly forbidden.

Alcohol and drugs

Alcoholic drinks are available in Dubai, but there are significant restrictions. To drink alcohol legally, you must be over the age of 21, not a Muslim and be in a licensed venue such as a bar, club or restaurant.

Drinking alcohol in the street is illegal, as is being drunk in public.

A special permit is available to those living in Dubai to buy alcohol in special licensed stores. Visitors can buy alcohol on arrival at the airport for consumption at their hotel.

Do not use or carry drugs in Dubai. Drug possession can carry a four year prison sentence and buying or selling drugs can often result in lifetime imprisonment.

If you take prescription drugs, check on the UAE embassy website to see if you are allowed to bring them with you to Dubai. Sometimes special permission is needed or at least a doctor’s note carried with the medicine.

Work Life

Dubai is home to many expats, with great salaries and enviable on offer for the right positions. Corporate tax in UAE is favourable, as is Dubai VAT. And the foreigners are flocking there. This also creates 3rd party opportunities to YouTubers, bloggers, and Social media influencers in Dubai, a hugely lucrative industry if you can find your way in. The work life balance in Dubai is truly like no other. 

Sexual attitudes

Dubai is extremely conservative when it comes to sexual behaviour. Regardless of your relationship status in your own country, sex outside marriage is illegal in Dubai.

Homosexuality is also considered a criminal offence. If you are gay and visit Dubai, avoiding public displays of affection is sensible.

Even married couples can be guilty of offences against decency through loving gestures in public. Holding hands is considered acceptable, but kissing and hugging can get you into real trouble.

Indecency even extends to dancing, which unless you are in a licensed club can be viewed as provocative and therefore should be avoided.

Religious beliefs

Most Dubai residents are Muslim and actively practice their faith. The call to prayer, which is five times daily, is announced in public places and people will immediately stop what they have been doing in order to pray.

Do not criticise or disrespect these religious beliefs and practices. If you do you could find yourself subject to a heavy fine or even prison.

More generally, swearing or behaving aggressively is also frowned upon and can lead to deportation.

Being aware of these issues enables many people to holiday in Dubai successfully again and again. They know that taking simple steps to respect the differences in terms of Dubai’s laws, culture and beliefs pays dividends and ensures an enriching and enjoyable stay.

An early life spent traveling with a mining executive father meant that Sanusi had traveled more in his first 20 years than most people travel in their entire lives, covering Russia, China and South America. A degree in journalism and experience as a travel writer for a Lagos-based magazine has allowed Sanusi to translate that into a career as a writer and is currently writing his first travel book on the rivers of Nigeria.

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