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Dubai | © Milos Milosevic/Flickr
Dubai | © Milos Milosevic/Flickr

13 Things Tourists Should Never Do in the UAE, Ever

Picture of Thais Kelly
Updated: 22 May 2017

When visiting any country, it’s highly recommended that everyone looks into the rules, regulations and cultural no-nos before buying plane tickets – this is no different in the UAE. The country has some legal and cultural rules that may be obvious and others that are not so much. What is important is to be well-informed, so follow our guide to the things tourists should never do in the UAE.

Drinking In Public

Although the UAE has various bars and clubs that serve alcohol, it is crucial that visitors know not to drink in public. In any venues where alcohol is not actively being sold, drinking is not allowed. This means no bringing beers to public beaches or having a bit of spirit when walking down the streets. There are several places where people can consume alcohol, those are the ones visitors should look for.

Taking Pictures Of People

Taking pictures of people without consent is seen as a crime in the UAE under the country’s cyber crime laws. This means that taking pictures of strangers without them openly allowing can lead to a fine of 500,000 AED and six months in prison. This especially applies to pictures that are posted on social media, as residents can file a case against the photographer. Taking such unsolicited photographs is aggravated when they are of women.

Eating Outside During Ramadan

During the holy month of Ramadan, the Muslim population of Dubai fasts from sunrise to sunset every day. As a sign of respect, most restaurants close doors or cover their windows during those hours. It’s strictly forbidden for anyone to eat, drink, chew gum and even smoke in public places during those hours as it is seen as extremely disrespectful and can get the eater in trouble. This rule does not apply to small children and pregnant women.

Buying Fake Goods

No, Sex and The City 2 was not lying when they said tourists should not buy fake goods in the UAE. Those visiting the Gold and Spice Souk in Dubai may notice people asking them if they are interested in a Chanel bag or a Cartier watch. It is important to just ignore and keeping walking straight. As tempting as a cheap designer bag may sound, it’s not worth the amount of trouble one can get into if they are caught shopping at illegal outlets.

Spreading Rumors

This is a bit of an unexpected one, but spreading rumors in the UAE is actually illegal, especially when these are shared online. Spreading false gossip on social media is not only a form of cyber-bullying, but it can actually land people in jail for up to three years, as well as fine of up to 1 million dirhams. This applies to people who knowingly spread misleading or false information that can be damaging to the public interest.

Public Displays of Affection

Although the UAE may be an ideal honeymoon destination, it is crucial that people know that public displays of affection are strictly not permitted. Even kissing could land a couple in jail, so it’s best to avoid all PDA. This applies to everywhere in Dubai, even clubs and bars, so it’s important not to let the alcohol go to the head. Even hugs between friends from the opposite sex are frowned upon.

Cursing In Public

Dropping the F-Bomb alongside other swearwords in public is not allowed. Offensive language, profanity and insults are not only frowned upon, but can actually get tourists in a lot more trouble than they would imagine. This includes any sort of road rage and offensive gestures like the middle finger. Flipping out someone can actually get people arrested, so better to keep it cool and try to not be offensive.

Taking Photos Of Car Accidents, Government Buildings, Military Installations and Etc

When taking pictures in the UAE, it’s best to focus the camera on touristic attractions and beautiful sights, as some pictures are actually illegal. This includes photographs of car accidents, government buildings, embassies, military installations and even airplanes. This of course is only aggravated if the photos are posted on social media. With so many stunning things to photograph, there’s no need to get in trouble for photographing sights that are not allowed, so visitors should be mindful of where they point their cameras.

Being Disorderly In Public

Being drunk and disorderly is a crime in several countries, and the UAE is no different. However, one does not need to be drunk to be seen as disorderly. Playing loud music and dancing in public is seen as a no-no in the country. This especially applies to prayer tomes, when music in public places is normally turned off. So tourists should keep their speakers low and leave their dancing for one of the several amazing clubs there are around.

Bringing Prescription Medicines Without Paperwork

Bringing prescription medicine into the country strictly requires the right paperwork, proving such medicine has been prescribed to its holder. It’s important that the prescription is translated to English in order for airport officials to understand it. Tourists can get in a lot of trouble for bringing certain meds into the country, so it’s recommended to check with the UAE embassy in their respective country in order to find out what is allowed and what isn’t. It’s also good to mind quantity, as prescribed medicines are only allowed to be brought in for personal use.

Doing Drugs

This should be an obvious one, but it can’t be stressed enough: do not do drugs in the UAE. The country has a zero tolerance policy in regards to any type of drugs. People have previously been jailed for failing tests for drugs they consumed outside of the country. It’s crucial that tourists do not indulge themselves in any drug use while in the country, as the consequences involve imprisonment and deportation. This also applies to prescription drugs.

Disrespecting Religion and Culture

It should be no surprise that when visiting any country in the world, tourists should be respectful of the destination’s religion and culture. However, people still get themselves in tricky situations for running their mouths off while in the UAE. Any disrespect towards Emirati culture, Islam and the country’s rulers can land tourists in jail. Cultural and religious respect should apply to all others too, seeing that the UAE’s population is made up of over 80% expats, it’s crucial to respect everyone.

Wearing Disrespectful Clothing

The UAE is way more lenient with clothing than most people think and although dressing rules can vary from Emirate to Emirate, most allow visitors to dress in Westernized clothes. However, it’s important to always dress respectfully when visiting the country, this means travelers should be mindful of where they are going before getting dressed. Bikinis and shorts are totally allowed at the beach, even public ones – but when visiting a mosque, tourists should be dressed according to religious rules. It’s also advised to dress more modestly when visiting malls.