Dubai – 14 things you should never do

Respect the tradition and culture

Dubai is one of the most popular countries in the world to live and work. In addition, tourists flock to this bustling city in droves. Great for those seeking a sunshine holiday, and high standards of service. Let’s not forget fabulous shopping, beautiful restaurants, and opulent hotels. However, lurking beneath the surface are rules and regulations to be aware of. Stupidity, ignorance, and plain old pigheadedness can get you into deep trouble. Most importantly, whether you are an expat or on holiday the laws apply to everyone. Dubai is a Muslim country therefore, falls under Sharia law.

Staying on the right side of the law in Dubai

Knowing how to behave while visiting or living in Dubai is recommended. Getting it wrong can land you in the not so pleasant Dubai jail. Believe me, I’ve seen people end up there several times. In other words, respecting the religion, culture, traditions and way of life is paramount. If you doubt whether you can follow these rules, then choose somewhere else.

This blog is not going to be a “let’s put Dubai down” piece of writing. Newspapers and the media do a good job of that already. Instead, I will share tips on how to stay on the right side of the law. My 28 years as an expat in the Gulf was largely a positive experience. Hopefully, these tips will help you stay on the straight and narrow while visiting the country.

1. No putting alcohol into your suitcase

Why would you even contemplate doing this? Duty-free is there for a reason. Buying a special bottle of champagne and hiding it in your case isn’t a good idea.

2. Don’t drink alcohol in public

Drinking alcohol at pavement cafes is normal at home. Not in Dubai. Keep your drinking to the bars and restaurants in the hotel. Expats need a drinks license to buy alcohol in Dubai. Some expats have fallen foul of that law and ended up in prison. Drinking without a drinks license is an offense. So if you enjoy sitting at the Park with a picnic and a chilled bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, Dubai isn’t for you. If you are planning to drive a car in Dubai, remember that it has 0 tolerance for drink driving.

3. Dress appropriately in Dubai

Wearing swimwear or skimpy clothes while strolling around the malls is a big no-no. All that flesh and skin is not appreciated by the Emiratis or fellow expats. It’s easy to spot the difference between expats and tourists by the clothes worn (or not). Dressing appropriately means wearing nothing too revealing in public places. Save it for the Hotel beach. Walking around with a “snog me now” tee shirt is tacky and tasteless. Don’t even think about baring your boobs at the beach either. If going topless is a big thing for you, then head to Europe, not Dubai.

4. Canoodling in public


If you can’t keep your hands off each other, get a room. Hand holding between a married couple is tolerated but don’t get caught “fiddling” with each other in public. Unmarried couples are not supposed to do any of the above. Be discreet if you’re a same-sex couple. Homosexuality is against the law in Dubai. Book a twin room to save any trouble.

5. Couples living together in Dubai

Living together otherwise known as cohabiting is breaking the law in Dubai. Consider this if you are going to work as an unmarried expat and bringing your partner along. It is illegal for a couple to live together if not married. Hotels tend to turn a bit of a blind eye to unmarried tourists staying in the same room.

6. No eating in public at Ramadan

The holy month of Ramadan is sacred to Muslims. During this time they fast from sunrise to sunset. Visiting Dubai in Ramadan will give a “quieter” experience. Loud music, smoking, dancing or eating in public is not allowed during the day. Be willing to face harsh punishment for breaking this law.

7. Be considerate with taking photos

This may be the first time you’ve been exposed to a different culture. Feel free to snap away at the sights and places you visit. Above all, don’t take photos of Emirati women. In addition, if you’re a man it’s not okay to strike up a conversation with an Emirati lady you’ve never met.

8. Enjoy Dubai brunches but don’t be an idiot

Dubai is well known for its boozy brunches. Beautiful food with limitless alcohol on tap. Being drunk in public is guaranteed to give you problems. Similarly, causing trouble, fighting, shouting, or loud behaviour is not tolerated. If you’re the type to get belligerent after one too many, then best avoid Dubai brunches.

9. Drugs

Prescription drugs can only be brought into the country with a letter from your GP. Research and check information on this before you travel. Tourists have found themselves with problems due to this. Codeine being a prime example. Bring your prescription and Doctors letter just in case.

10. Stay on top of your finances while in Dubai

When I bought a car in Dubai, I was asked to write loads of cheques. Each one to cover the monthly payments. Cheques are still popular in Dubai. Most importantly, ensure you have enough funds in your account to cover the payments. Bounced cheques will send you to prison. I know people who are still languishing in prison because of financial mistakes. Legally they will not be released until the outstanding amount is paid.

Years ago a few expats fled the country with unpaid credit cards and loans. Nowadays this doesn’t happen so often because returning expats have found themselves traced and therefore, hit with demands for payment. Pay off all unpaid credit cards and loans before leaving the country for a smooth transition.

12. No “F” bombs in Dubai

Be careful with the language you use in the Middle East. It may be okay to drop the “F” bomb at home, however, not in Dubai. Swearing or using offensive language can leave you spending your hard earned holiday in prison for 30 days. The same applies to expats.

13. Feet, gestures and gesticulating

Rude hand gestures are not tolerated. Forget sticking two fingers up at another driver or giving someone the middle finger. In addition, don’t point or beckon people with your finger. Use your whole hand. Accept drinks and food with your right hand. Avoid showing the soles of your feet or pointing your foot at anyone.

Dubai has changed a lot since the early days. When I arrived many years ago it was considered a “hardship” posting. Things are vastly different now. Opinions vary widely. I will leave it up to you formulate your own, but remember – stick by the rules and have a great time!

With so many countries to travel to and see, why not add the Middle East to your list.

If you have visited or lived in Dubai, what are your thoughts?


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