Of the UAE’s seven emirates, Dubai is arguably its most beguiling. Combining old-world Arabia with cutting-edge design and amenities, it’s home to seven-star hotels, award-winning restaurants, top retail haunts and some of the world’s tallest buildings. No wonder over 15.9 million people visit every year. But while it might be a top holiday spot, mistakes can easily be made. For all its state-of-the-art offerings, Dubai is a conservative place at heart. It’s worth brushing up on its specific laws and restrictions before heading off, as well taking note of a few common faux pas that might easily offend. We’ve pulled together this handy introductory guide on what not to do in Dubai to lend a helping hand.
What not to do when visiting Dubai
1. Drink alcohol in public
You’ll find dozens of clubs, bars and restaurants serving alcohol in Dubai, but don’t let that fool you into thinking you can have a cheeky tinnie on the beach. Drinking and being under the influence of alcohol in public is illegal. That applies to anytime you’re out and about whether you’re soaking up the sun on the beach or walking down the street. With this in mind, it’s worth holding off posting a picture of your highly Instagrammable cocktails. Stick to the sights instead.
It’s also an offence for tourists to purchase alcohol from an off-licence. To do so, you’ll need to apply for a temporary liquor licence for up to a month from two official liquor distributors in Dubai. With this, you can drink legally in your apartment too.
3. Bring all the medication with you
The UAE has a zero-tolerance approach to drugs. This strict policy includes consuming or carrying any kind of drugs and is applicable to prescription drugs too. There are strict penalties for doing so, with countless stories of unsuspecting tourists being imprisoned for carrying drugs as innocuous as anti-anxiety medication. Make sure you check the UAE’s government guidelines on permitted medicines and don’t forget to bring the accompanying prescription too.
Apparently, even eating a poppy seed bagel can land you in trouble. The UAE banned poppy seeds as they produce heroin and opium.
4. Eating in public during Ramadan
Dubai is Muslim and practices Ramadam. If you’re visiting during this month, it’s important to remember that eating, drinking and smoking in public is forbidden between dawn and dusk, when the country is fasting. Even chewing gum is a no-go. Stick to eating in your hotel room or restaurants with a screened-off area. These rules don’t apply to children and pregnant women but you should still avoid eating publicly where possible to save causing offence.
5. Take photos without permission
It’s become standard practice to take candid snapshots of people while you’re on holiday in the name of a good ‘gram, but this is prohibited in Dubai. Privacy is a big deal here. Under Article 378, taking a person’s photo without their consent is an invasion of privacy, thus punishable by law. It’s punishable by up to six months in prison and a fine of up to AED 500,000 ($130).
Pulling out your smartphone to take some pictures of the local sights is generally acceptable, though anything larger – standard DSLRs included – may cause unwanted attention. YOu should also avoid taking photos of government buildings, military sites and aircraft.
6. Buy fake goods
Take a stroll in any souk or market, and you’ll be followed by offers to buy Gucci handbags, Rolex watches and Louis Vuitton for a ‘good price’. While it might seem tempting, it’s not worth the aggravation. According to consumer protection laws, selling counterfeit or fake goods in the UAE is a punishable crime. Any person or business caught retailing fakes faces a maximum of two years in prison with fines. You can report them on Dubai’s consumer rights complaint portal instead.
7. Wear revealing or disrespectful clothing
Dubai followed the Sha’aria law. According to guidelines, all tourists and residents should dress modestly – even if the temperatures are sweltering. You won’t get thrown into prison for wearing tiny shorts, but you will face a few unfriendly looks. As with any country, it’s important to respect local cultures and customs so to save causing offence, keep the crop tops for the sea. That means avoiding any offensive, transparent or cut-out clothing too. Women should also avoid plunging necklines. Swimwear is strictly for pools, beaches and waterparks.