Big salaries and ultra-luxurious lifestyles… it’s no surprise that Dubai is an attractive place for many expats.
In fact, 85% of Dubai’s residents are expats or migrant workers. Men also outnumber women by 3 to 1. Based on these numbers alone, it’s easy to see that expat life in Dubai is very different from life in many other popular places.
Dubai and the rest of the United Arab Emirates have a much different political structure compare to most of Europe and North America. The religious (primarily Muslim) and political systems in Dubai means the laws are quite different from other countries around the globe. The rules may seem strict to expats, but the people are generally understanding that you may not be aware of what is acceptable.
If someone finds you to be in violation of any law, it is best to apologize and correct the issue immediately. If you cause a scene, things can get serious rather quickly. So if you want to avoid a prison sentence, be on your best behavior. In general, the culture is very conservative, so take particular care to avoid anything that could be seen as offensive behavior.
For expats thinking about moving to Dubai or other parts of the UAE, check out these 5 laws you need to know before you go.
Alcohol Consumption in Dubai
With the exception of hotel bars and restaurants, drinking alcohol is illegal in Dubai. If you’re an expat who likes to drink alcohol, these are the only establishments you can visit where it is okay to consume alcoholic beverages. The Islamic culture of Dubai views drinking much differently than Western cultures.
Keep in mind that public drunkenness is against the law. So it’s wise to be discrete and not get too inebriated. If you can’t hold your liquor, it might be best to refrain from drinking altogether.
Illegal drugs are another no-no. Don’t even think about getting or using drugs in Dubai—the punishment for any type of drug possession or usage is very severe.
Kissing in Public and PDA
Public displays of affection are frowned upon in Dubai, even in expat bars. Keep the kissing and cuddling in public areas to a minimum, these could be considered obscene acts which are against UAE law.
Homosexuality is also illegal, so be extremely cautious if you’re dating or living with a member of the same sex. For members of the LGBTQ community, Dubai isn’t exactly a friendly place to be. For example, cross-dressing could lead to a serious jail sentence. But even for people interested in the opposite sex, be mindful of your actions.
Dubai Clothing Restrictions
The culture in Dubai is very conservative, especially for women. Women must be moderately dressed and avoid all types of clothing that might be revealing. Generally speaking, keep the “business casual” dress code in mind.
Clothing must cover the stomach, shoulders, and back. Women should wear nothing shorter than a short sleeve shirt and nothing shorter than a skirt that covers the knees. For men, long pants and a collared shirt is the norm.
The rules are a bit more relaxed at swimming pools and beaches, but in general, it’s always best to cover up. A violation of the law can result in one month’s imprisonment plus deportation.
Sex Outside of Marriage in Dubai
While the alcohol and clothing rules are less rigid for expats, extra-marital sex is strictly prohibited in Dubai. It doesn’t matter if you’re an expat or visiting on vacation—it’s a serious offense so you have to be careful where you stay and who you stay with. There are stories of a British couple who were arrested for allegedly having a sexual relationship inside their own hotel room.
In 2017, an unmarried couple on vacation in Abu Dhabi visited a local doctor because the woman was experiencing stomach cramps. According to the news stories, the doctor informed her she was pregnant and then turned them over to police, who arrested the couple for having sex without marriage. If you’re not married, keep that story in mind before visiting or moving to Dubai. If you are married, consider carrying a copy of your marriage certificate to avoid any complications.
Photography in Certain Areas
Keep your camera in your pocket in public places. It is unlawful to take photos of locals without their permission. There are even some government buildings that forbid you to take photos of the exterior. If you do take photos of these buildings, keep them off of social media. That is obvious evidence of a crime if UAE authorities see it.
Unless you know that it is safe, posing for photos on the streets of Dubai is not a good idea.
If you know the laws and are willing to accept them, Dubai can be a wonderful place to live. Many expats enjoy the warm climate and the wealth of the area, but you’ll have to decide for yourself if that outweighs the social constraints.
Sexuality, alcohol, clothing, and even photography are things the government takes very seriously. Just like with any expat destination, make sure you do your research before you move abroad so you know what you will and won’t be able to do once you’re there.