A guide to the local laws of Dubai

Dubai, the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates, has long been an attractive hotspot for expats keen to work hard and play hard in the sun. According to Mercer’s 2016 Quality of Living Survey, Dubai ranks as the top city for expats in the Middle East and Africa; it’s worth bearing in mind that this is the fourth year in a row Dubai has been awarded this accolade.
However, despite the glittering super-malls, lucrative job prospects and luxury leisure opportunities, it is important to be aware that the culture of Dubai is, at heart, very different to the one we are used to here in the UK.
We have put together a guide to help you navigate the local law in Dubai so that you, just like the many people that base themselves in this deeply fascinating city, can have a safe and enjoyable expat experience.
Alcohol and drugs
Dubai may be a Muslim state but non-Muslims are certainly able to enjoy drinking alcohol as long as they are on licensed premises such as a hotel or restaurant. However, do consider the fact that alcohol consumption in Dubai is more tolerated than truly accepted. In order to buy alcohol and drink it in your own home, you need to apply for a special license or risk facing fines or arrest. Needless to say, there is a zero tolerance policy when it comes to drink driving and, unsurprisingly, there is an even stricter outlook on drugs.
The thing to be aware of in Dubai is that the term ‘drugs’ covers not only the sort of substances that would be illegal back home, but some over-the-counter and prescription medication too. Be sure to check that any prescription medication you might be bringing into the country is not on the banned substances list as you could face an automatic prison sentence of up to 4-years before deportation.
Unmarried couples
Dubai is a conservative city and it is against the law for unmarried couples to live together, let alone share a bed. This applies to expats and it applies even to couples who have cohabited for years. If it was to come to the attention of the authorities that this is happening, you could be sent to prison. Additionally, public displays of affection like hugging and kissing are also not tolerated.
Dress code
The local people dress conservatively and it’s important to respect the culture when you choose your own attire. Avoid causing offence by respecting the local culture and ensuring clothing is loose fitting and not too revealing. However, it is perfectly acceptable to don swimwear when on the beach or at a water-park. Sunbathing topless may be a common practice in Europe but any form of public nudity is deemed highly offensive in Dubai –that includes children too.
The laws of Dubai may seem very different to our own but part of the lure of expat life is the opportunity to experience a brand new culture. Those that respect the local etiquette, law and traditions of the Emiratis will find that they are a warm and welcoming people and should have no problems settling into their new home.
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Information correct at time of publication