Safety & Laws in Dubai: What You Need to Know

Photo of tallest building in the world, the skyscraper Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE.

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Dubai is one of the safest destinations in the Middle East. Street crime including pickpocketing and bag snatching is uncommon, and thanks to the presence of security and cameras, you’ll feel safe using public transport in Dubai and wandering around most parts of the city by day and night.

In fact, the biggest risk to your safety in Dubai is yourself. Many a tourist has fallen foul of the local laws, resulting in hefty fines, jail time and deportation.

As the United Arab Emirates is a Muslim state governed by Sharia Law, it is worth familiarizing yourself with the local customs and regulations before you visit Dubai. Here are some tips for a stress-free stay.

Being Drunk and Disorderly in Public

One of the fastest ways to bring your Dubai stay to an early end is to be drunk and/or disorderly in public. It is legal for non-Muslims to consume alcohol in Dubai, so long as they’re drinking in a licensed venue (typically attached to a hotel, or in the home of a non-Muslim resident who has a liquor license). Once you’re outside of these venues, however, if you’re seen to be drunk or causing a raucous in public, you could land yourself in jail quick smart. Plain-clothes and uniformed police officers patrol the city, so be on your best behavior at all times.

The legal drinking age in Dubai is 21.

Drink Driving

The official legal alcohol limit for drivers in Dubai is zero—there’s no leeway here, so ensure you’re completely sober before getting behind the wheel. The police must be called to all car accidents, including single vehicle incidents.

Drugs

Dubai has a zero tolerance policy on drug possession and trafficking, with some offenses punishable by death or lifetime imprisonment. Even prescription medicines that are legal in your country may be illegal here, so it’s worth checking on their status before packing them in your luggage.

Public Displays of Affection

You may have heard stories of visitors to Dubai being locked up for amorous displays of affection. The easiest way to avoid any drama is to, quite simply, keep your hands to yourself. Kissing and holding hands in public is deemed “inappropriate behavior,” so keep it clean while you’re out and about. On that note, sex outside of marriage and homosexuality are illegal here, so exercise caution if traveling with an unmarried and/or same-sex partner.

Dressing Appropriately

Dubai is a modest country, and the local Emirati people are recognizable by their elegant all-white (male) and black (female) attire, which covers them from head to toe. While you don’t have to adhere to these dress standards yourself, it is worth adopting a more modest wardrobe during your stay in Dubai, particularly when visiting shopping malls and government offices. That means shoulders and knees must be covered for men and women, and no tight-fitting or transparent clothing. You can wear bikinis and other swimwear on the beach, but topless sunbathing is strictly forbidden for women, and everyone must cover up before they leave the sand.

Offensive Language or Hand Gestures

Many of Dubai’s laws and customs are rooted in showing respect for one another. It is therefore an offense to use rude language or aggressive hand gestures, including while driving. Feeling frustrated that someone just cut you off on the road? A toot of the horn is about as far as you can go here.

Social Media, Slander and Photography

In fact, the UAE has very strict laws regarding all forms of social behavior, and this extends to social media. It is illegal to take someone’s photo without their consent, so be sure you’re not featuring any other people in that Instagram post. It’s also illegal to take photos of airports, bridges, government buildings and palaces in Dubai. It’s against the law to make defamatory statements or offensive comments about people and organizations in the UAE, so mind your language on social media posts—including review sites.

A Note on Ramadan

While Dubai is a conservative city year-round, it is doubly so during the Holy Month of Ramadan. During this time, it is forbidden to eat or drink in public during daylight hours (some restaurants and shopping malls have curtained areas for non-Muslims to dine in during Ramadan). You mustn’t play loud music (including via your personal headphones), and you should take extra care to dress modestly at all times.  

By following these rules, exercising common sense, and showing respect for all people, you’ll likely have an enjoyable, safe stay in Dubai.