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Traditional dhow boatman at work in Dubai | © Nico Crisafulli / Flickr
Traditional dhow boatman at work in Dubai | © Nico Crisafulli / Flickr

The Do’s and Don’ts for Tourists in the UAE

Picture of Jessica Harn
Updated: 19 December 2017

With millions of tourists that visit each year, the UAE has learned to adapt to the many different people, cultures and religions that come to this dynamic country. But of all of the tourists who visit, there are more than a few who make quite a number of cultural or religious blunders. While mistakes are normal and are not to be taken too seriously when travelling, here are the basic do’s and don’ts when visiting the UAE to keep you on your feet:

Do travel solo – it’s perfectly safe and normal

Many people have the conception that the UAE is in the Middle East and is, therefore, a dangerous place to visit. However, this is completely false and is quite the opposite! One of the safest countries in the world, the UAE is the perfect place to go for solo travellers who want to feel completely safe and welcome.

Don’t show too much PDA when outside in public with your partner or spouse

In respect to the local culture, try not to show too much public display of affection with your partner or spouse as it is extremely uncommon to do so in the UAE. In some extreme cases, couples who have gone a little too far in public have even been arrested for indecency!

Do eat the street food

While in some countries, eating street food can land you in the hospital (or the toilet), the street food in the UAE is almost always perfectly clean and absolutely delicious. Local favourites include the shawarma wrap, Emirati-style savoury crepes and piping hot fried donuts.

Don’t get drunk or drink too much alcohol in public

Alcohol is not completely banned, as places with a license can sell drinks, however, both socially and legally, it is against the rules to get drunk in public. When visiting the UAE, try not to drink in public and if you do, make sure it is discrete and that you do not get drunk.

Do visit mosques – it’s a great way to learn about the local religion and culture

Many tourists feel a bit intimidated and do not end up visiting the many mosques that dot the UAE’s landscape. It is perfectly normal and even encouraged to visit the mosques in the country to learn about the local religion and culture – especially with famous mosques like the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which will leave you wanting to visit more!

Don’t dress immodestly when trying to visit a mosque, however

However, it is important that when you do visit a mosque, that you dress modestly in order to show respect to those who visit the mosque to pray and worship. For women, this usually means longer pants or skirts with a large shawl, and for men, this usually means long and baggy pants and long sleeves.

Do greet everyone you meet, either in English or in Arabic by saying salamu alaykum

Everyone loves greetings in the UAE, as it is a strong tradition among local Emiratis to engage in long and colourful greetings. Do feel welcome to say hi to both locals and residents, and if you’re feeling brave, try saying hello in Arabic, which is salamu alaykum.

Don’t initiate a handshake when meeting with the opposite gender unless they initiate it first

One thing to always remember is that the divisions between genders can be quite severe to those who have never travelled to the UAE before, so it’s important to remember not to initiate touching of the opposite gender unless initiated by the local first. Even when greeting, try to remember to not shake hands with the opposite gender unless initiated by them first!