Dubai remains a melting pot of different cultures and religions, and for the most part, there is space for everyone.
However, despite this notion that “anything goes”, it is important to remember that Dubai is located in the Middle East in a Muslim country, and the cultural and legal framework can differ quite a lot from what you might be used to.
As a visitor to this country, try to be respectful of cultural sensitivities, and please understand when it is no longer about etiquette, but the law. Every year, a small number of visitors will land themselves in hot water by ignoring or misunderstanding the rules.
When visiting Dubai, recognising that the culture and regulations may be different to your home country will go a long way in avoiding unpleasant situations.
It is also worth noting that Dubai is significantly more relaxed, in many instances, compared to other emirates, so do bear this in mind if venturing beyond Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
This guide will let you know what to expect when visiting Dubai and how to ensure your time in the city remains problem-free.
Dress Code in Dubai
Do women have to cover themselves in Dubai? NO
Men and women are encouraged to follow the guidelines of dressing modestly. That being said, women are not legally required to cover arms and legs, and you are likely to see women in varying degrees of skimpy outfits.
However, as a visitor, please try to dress respectfully to avoid offending. Also, remember that there is a difference between being at your hotel resort or by the pool as opposed to a public space like the mall or a tourist attraction.
- Endeavour to cover your shoulders, cleavage, midriff and thighs in public.
- Wear appropriate clothes for the situation, ie. bikinis and bathing suits are worn by the pool and at the beach.
- Keep your arms and legs covered when going to Government buildings and places of worship – this goes for both men and women.
- For women, bring a shawl to cover your hair, if visiting a mosque or temple.
- Do carry a shawl or cover-up, as air-conditioning can feel practically arctic in many malls and restaurants.
- Venture to the mall or a restaurant in your swimming costume (men and women); please change into something more appropriate.
- Wear t-shirts with profane language or offensive messages.
- Get upset or aggressive if you are asked to cover up.
- Cross-dress. This is forbidden, and you can get arrested.
- Bathe topless or in the nude. This is strictly not allowed.
Alcohol in Dubai
Are you allowed to drink alcohol? – YES
The legal drinking age is 21 years old in Dubai, and non-Muslims can drink responsibly in designated venues. Legal drinking age differs in other Emirates, and alcohol is completely banned in the Emirate of Sharjah.
- Enjoy alcohol at licenced venues (usually hotels and restaurants) or in private.
- Feel free to bring a maximum of four litres of alcohol from Duty Free.
- Bring your passport with you, if you would like to purchase alcohol from any of the licenced liquor stores like African + Eastern or MMI.
- Drink alcohol in public places or engage in drunk and disorderly behaviour in public, it can land you in jail.
- Drink and drive! There is no tolerance for driving under the influence in Dubai. Blood alcohol limit is zero. Instead, DO book Safe Driver or Zofeur – essentially a designated driver that will come to your location and drive you and your vehicle home safely.
Public Displays of Affection in Dubai
Can you show affection in public? YES, but keep it PG.
Generally, be mindful of your interactions with people of the opposite sex. Everyone has different comfort levels, so it is often safer to err on the side of caution.
- Greet a friend with a hug or a quick peck on the cheek.
- Hold hands in public. This is generally not seen as an issue. You will see people holding hands; this is especially common among the South Asian diaspora, and is a sign of friendship.
- Feel free to stay in a hotel room as an unmarried couple. Since October 2021, many rules have been relaxed, and while it used to be a criminal offence, you can now stay in the same room or co-habitat without facing legal issues.
- Offer to shake hands with a member of the opposite sex if you don’t know them. In order not to cause offence, wait for them to take the initiative.
- Show further physical affection towards a partner, like kissing or hugging, anything with sexual undertones. This could be seen as indecent behaviour and is against the law.
Ramadan in Dubai
Can I eat during the day during Ramadan – YES
Ramadan is a lovely month in Dubai – a month of respect, reflection, tolerance, and charity. Tourists are sometimes told to avoid Dubai during this time, but it can be a great opportunity to get a little closer under its skin.
Food consumption used to be allowed only in screened-off areas, but recently, screens were removed, and you are now allowed to eat and drink in restaurants.
You should still be extra mindful of the host culture during Ramadan. Please note that fasting does not apply to the sick, elderly, pregnant women, menstruating women or children. They should feel free to eat and drink as needed but should show consideration.
- Be respectful, and if you need a sip of water in public, please be discreet.
- Try an Iftar meal (when fast is broken at sundown) or for the night owls, try Suhoor (meal before sunrise).
- Note that many food outlets operate with different opening hours and serving timings during Ramadan. Many shops and attractions may also have different opening hours during this month, so best to check timings in advance.
- Try to make even more of an effort to dress modestly during this month.
- Do venture to the mall for late-night shopping. During Ramadan, many shops are open much later to accommodate activities during the non-fasting hours.
- Be mindful of the hour leading up to iftar, the breaking of the fast, as this is when tempers might fray.
- Eat or drink in public spaces outside of restaurants i.e. walking on the street etc, unless you really must, or you are exempt from fasting. Even then, do so with discretion.
- Offer food or drink to people who are fasting.
- Be surprised if some restaurants stop serving alcohol or playing music in order to observe Ramadan.
- Pass public judgement on the rights and wrongs of fasting.
Pork in Dubai
Can you eat pork in Dubai – YES
Do head to one of the larger international supermarkets, where you can purchase pork products from the non-halal section (usually segregated from the main shop). The door may be marked “for Non-Muslims only”.
Don’t expect pork in restaurants or most food outlets. A few eateries will have obtained a license to serve pork, but these are few and far between.
Drugs in Dubai
Are you allowed to use recreational drugs in Dubai? – NO
- Check the list of restricted medications here before travelling to Dubai. You may need permission. Apply here.
- Make sure not to bring products with banned ingredients such as CBD oil or poppy seeds even if it is in skincare products or on top of a bun.
- Import or use any narcotics or recreational drugs – there is zero tolerance and punishments are severe.
Getting from A to Z in Dubai
Are women allowed to drive? Yes
Anyone with a valid driving licence is technically allowed to drive in Dubai. If you don’t fancy driving yourself there is comprehensive public transport available in the form of the Metro, monorail and wide network of taxis.
- Make sure to get an international driving permit in order to rent a car in Dubai. See more here.
- Consider taking the Metro as an alternative mode of transport. Remember that the last carriage is designated for women and children. Men will be asked to move carriage or risk getting a fine.
- Use your mobile phone while driving – this is illegal, and you can get fined.
- Don’t be surprised if you see people going at higher speeds than the signed speed limit. There is a 20km buffer on most major roads in Dubai, before a speeding ticket is issued.
- Make rude hand gestures, as this can land you in real trouble. It isn’t just offensive but also against the law. Explained in more detail here.
Public and Online Code of Conduct
Can I make statements in public or online that are critical of Dubai and its culture, or post on social media without consent? No
- Ask permission before photographing people, especially women and children. It is not just good etiquette but also a requirement.
- Under Cybercrime Laws, photographing someone and posting online without their consent is against the law and could carry a hefty fine or even jail time. Read more here.
- Refrain from filming or photographing government buildings, offices or entities, or people in public roles like the Police. This is strictly prohibited.
- Only use a drone in Dubai if you are a resident and have the correct licenses and permissions.
- Share fake news online, even on WhatsApp. You may get fined.
- Criticise Dubai, its rulers, or Islam in public or online. The laws are strict in this regard, and you could end up in jail.
- Use obscene or insulting language in person or online, as it is taken very seriously. This is rule that may come as a surprise to some visitors, and it can often escalate situations unnecessarily. Please remain calm and polite in any interaction.
The reality is that not following any of the above recommendations is likely to receive a few raised eyebrows at most. This is partly why visitors often find the different guidelines rather opaque, as they see them not being enforced on many occasions.
While you may see people getting away with not following the guidelines, please know that if someone takes offence to your actions and decide to make an official complaint, you may be held accountable in accordance with the law.
If you find that someone challenges your actions, please avoid being argumentative;, instead, respond in a respectful and polite manner. That way, you are much more likely to be let off with a warning, where aggression and rude behaviour could escalate an already delicate situation.
By showing respect and following the above Do’s and Don’ts, you should be able to concentrate on enjoying your time in Dubai.
Before you go… More important things you should know when planning a trip to Dubai
- Pop into our essential planning information page, it includes everything you need to know about getting around Dubai, a handy guide on what to pack, and top tips for first-timers on the do’s and don’ts, laws, and customs to be aware of.
- Check out this incredible list of 150+ places you should visit when you’re in Dubai.
- Pick up a Dubai Pass from iVenture or a Go City Dubai Pass to save up to 50% on top Dubai attractions.
- Don’t forget to pack your travel insurance!!!
- Discover the best areas to stay in Dubai, or bag a bargain on your accommodation here:
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