As the cosmopolitan heart of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai is among the most modern and tolerant cities in the whole of the Middle East. And yet, despite this accolade, rarely a month goes by without an ignorant Western tourist landing themselves in the proverbial for committing some cultural faux pas – whether it’s exchanging saliva with a fellow traveler or just tucking into a tuna sandwich in the sunshine.
So, with such an array of strict and unfamiliar rules, how do you ensure you stay on the right side of the locals, and the law, when traveling in Dubai? By following our short list of ‘Dos and Don’ts’… that’s how.
When it comes to clothes in Dubai, the general rule is: ‘the more the merrier’. While you will see plenty of flesh on display along the city’s beautiful beaches (although absolutely no topless or nude bathing), both men and women need to be considerably more conservative when walking around in public. Men should refrain from hitting the city bare-chested, regardless of how warm the weather is, or how long they’ve spent in the gym, while women should take great care to avoid anything that’s transparent or overly figure-hugging, and try to keep their stomach, shoulders and thighs covered at all time. Always bear in mind that ‘indecent clothing’ is more than just disrespectful to the local culture… it’s illegal too!
One of the most common issues for Western tourists to Dubai are the strict ‘public displays of affection’ laws. It goes without saying that baring all on the beach or getting amorous down an alleyway can land you in hot water with the local authorities, but it’s the seemingly-innocuous activities like holding hands, smooching on a park bench or pinching your better half’s tush that catches innocent holidaymakers unawares: each of those ‘offenses’ can earn you up to a month of jail time, followed by the small matter of deportation. And, as you’d expect, it’s even worse if you’re in a same-sex relationship, or if the person you’re with isn’t your spouse. The best policy? When somebody shouts “get a room”, take their advice.
If you’re partial to a bit of road rage, or the odd expletive-laden outburst, Dubai probably isn’t the ideal travel destination for you. Ranting, raving or arguing in public is a major no-no, while using profanity
(including giving somebody the finger) can lead to hefty fines and jail times if reported. Gestures and actions that seem tame back home can be extremely offensive here, so play it safe and keep your cool.
We all know it’s polite to ask permission before you take a photo when on holiday, but in Dubai it’s even a legal requirement! If you take sneaky snaps of local residents, particularly women, without previously checking that its okay (and ideally getting it in writing), it’s quite likely you’ll end up with a hefty fine and a short stint in the local correction facility. They may confiscate your camera too, just for good measure.
Thanks to the many complexities of the Islamic calendar, the dates of Ramadan change each and every year. Unfortunately, failing to keep track of these annual shifts is no excuse when it comes to the local law enforcers. The holy month is always a time of bumper tourist arrests, primarily because it is illegal to eat, drink or smoke during daylight hours in this period, but also because the police are more likely to clamp down on other local laws during this period. So if you’ve discovered that your vacation coincides with Ramadan, what’s the best course of action for staying out of trouble? It’s quite simple, really – just refrain from all the really fun stuff until you’re back in the confines of your hotel. Or until it goes dark.
We all know that drugs are bad (right, kids?)… but while being caught smoking something illegal will usually land you with a small fine or a trip to rehab, the same offense in Dubai can result in a prison sentence of several years, or even a day out in front of a firing squad. It’s also worth noting that this even applies to some drugs available over-the-counter, including Codeine and various flu medications And it’s not just drugs either… other crimes that carry significantly higher sentences here include drink-driving, assault and running out on restaurant bills.
So there you have it – some top tips for staying out of trouble in Dubai. Follow our advice, and use your common sense, and you’ll be absolutely fine. Oh, and whatever you do, don’t criticize the government…
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