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Dubai from up high | © Maher Najm / Flicker
Dubai from up high | © Maher Najm / Flicker
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Local Laws & Customs to Know Before Visiting Dubai

Picture of Jessica Milek
Updated: 21 March 2017

Dubai is a lively, westernized city and arguably the most multicultural city in the world when taking the expatriates into account. More than 90 per cent of the population are expats, hailing from more than 200 countries. The Emiratis are known for being wonderful hosts who are very tolerant of different religions and cultures, but it is highly appreciated when visitors understand the traditional customs. Here are the laws and customs that you need to know before visiting this desert gem.


What to wear if you’re a woman

If you are a woman visiting a mosque, you will need to be completely covered. Otherwise, feel free to wear western clothing, but keep it somewhat conservative.

If you are in the northern Emirates (Ajman, Sharjah, Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah), it is best not to show your knees or shoulders unless you are on the beach or going on an adventure in the mountains. If you are in Abu Dhabi or Dubai, it is okay to wear shorts, skirts, sleeveless and midriff tops within reason. Bring a pashmina or cardigan with you when you go outside or to the malls – not least because the air-conditioning can be very strong.

Public displays of affection

There are 11 different words for love in the Arabic language. Emiratis are romantically expressive through their words and gestures, but public displays of affection are rude. Kissing and cuddling in public is not allowed, but married couples are allowed to hold hands.

Couple holding hands © Unsplash/Pixabay

Couple holding hands | © Unsplash / Pixabay

Swearing and slander

Express yourself as much as you would like, but remember not swear in public. Furthermore, talking badly about an organisation can result in a fine for slander, so be kind and mind what you say, especially on the internet.

Photography

While taking snaps of your holiday, please ask Middle Eastern people if you can take photos of them first, especially women. There are some old superstitions in this region, including the belief that a camera can suck out your soul.

Drinking alcohol

Dubai’s nightlife is quickly rising in fame but it is still an Islamic city. If you are having a night on the town and changing venues, always get in a taxi and don’t walk. It is illegal to be drunk in public, and to drink in non licensed areas. If you would like to buy bottles, do so at duty free on the way into the city, as buying alcohol in stores is only available to residents who have a license.

Cocktail on the beach | ©Public Domain Pictures / Pixabay

Cocktail on the beach | © Public Domain Pictures / Pixabay

Pork products

Muslims do not eat pork, and it is not widely available in the UAE. If a restaurant has pork on their menu, there will be a label beside the item. If you would like to purchase pork, there are non-Muslim sections in certain grocery stores.

Middle Eastern customs

While dining, it is polite to offer your food to friends or guests who have empty plates. If you are eating traditional food, eat with your right hand. And if you have been invited to a dinner with a Middle Eastern family, leave a little bit of food on your plate when you finish.

In the Middle East it is rude to show the bottom of your feet.

If you are in a meeting or at an event, it is polite to stand for authoritative figures like officials and the elderly, as well as for women when they enter a room.

When greeting Arabs, males extend their hands for shaking first. Arab women on the other hand may not take your hand at all, as traditionally they only touch males who are in their family.

Ramadan

Many expats, tourists and local Emiratis are fasting during Ramadan, the holy month. If you are visiting the Emirates during this time, there are rules you will need to keep in mind. During Ramadan, it is forbidden to drink, eat, smoke or chew gum in public during daylight hours for people over the age of puberty, approximately 12 year old. However, hotels offer room service during this time and some restaurants will be open for delivery.

Man praying in Mosque | ©terimakasih0 / pixabay

Man praying in Mosque | © terimakasih0 / pixabay

Music and dancing

Traditionally, music and dance are temptations in Islam and are meant to be used for special occasions only, and not amusement as it can lead to seduction. Music is everywhere, but do not put speakers on too loud, and don’t dance in public unless it is at an event or an enclosed area.