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Dubai. What’s Legal, What’s Not

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Dubai. What’s Legal, What’s Not

story by: Anna Sarjeant

Dubai is a city of conflicting interests. On the one hand it’s the land of glamour and excess; opulence, richness and undisputable entertainment, and yet on the other, it’s devoutly Muslim.

This can lead to confusion for many Dubai travellers. Which is why we’ve composed this Q&A of frequently asked Dubai questions: 

I’m not married! Can I book a hotel with my partner?
Officially, no. Sharing a room with anyone outside of marriage is illegal. However, most hotels, particularly the top-end ones that cater predominately for foreigners, don’t enforce it. 

It would be wise to refer to one-another as husband and wife, rather than girlfriend, partner or fiancé. A little white lie on occasions can potentially save you from a lot of hot water!

Can I hold my partner’s hand?
For married couples, holding hands is generally tolerated but anything more, such as kissing or even hugging would be considered offensive.

Of course it wouldn’t necessarily be obvious if you were married or not – at a quick glance anyway – but err on the side of caution and keep your hands solely to yourself.

Is homosexuality illegal?
In a word, yes. Hotel wise, it would be better to book a twin-bed room as any same-sex sharing is deemed unacceptable. Homosexual behaviour is a criminal offence so avoid all public displays of affection.  

Can I drink alcohol?
Yes, if you’re a non-Muslim visitor, but it’s still very different to New Zealand. Alcohol is legal if you're 21 and can be bought in licensed restaurants, bars, clubs, private venues – usually attached to hotels.

Tourists can’t purchase alcohol in general stores or supermarkets. Locals may have a license to do so, but these aren’t available for travellers.

Once drinking avoid leaving the venue until you’re sober again. It’s against the law to be drinking, drunk (or even smelling of drink) in the street or public space. 

Can I buy alcohol during Ramadan?
The consumption of alcohol is strictly forbidden during Ramadan (along with other things but we’ll come back to that). An exception is with some of the larger, five-star hotels, which may construct a screened-off area for non-Muslims to eat and drink, sometimes serving alcohol drinks but only after sundown.

Can I wear a bikini?
More relaxed than most UAE destinations, bikinis are acceptable in Dubai BUT it’s limited to the beach and the pool only. Don’t let your togs overflow into the streets or public places - IE, you won’t get away with throwing on your shorts and just a bikini top for a quick stroll to the convenience store.

What’s suitable day attire?
A good rule for women is to remember CSL – chest, shoulder and leg; too much of any will land you in trouble. Avoid anything low-cut or super high (short skirts and hot pants won’t be tolerated) and always have something on-hand to cover your shoulders, especially in conservative areas such as Old Dubai.

For men, it’s a similar set-up. Bare chests will offend if you’re not on the beach or a pool lounger. Knee length shorts and long-sleeved tees or shirts are a good combination for souks, malls and sightseeing. Anything that can be rolled if you get too hot is ideal.

Can I have medicine in my luggage?
The UAE is very strict when it comes to drugs and medicine. Even painkillers need to be considered, especially if they contain codeine which is forbidden.

If you are on prescribed medicine, it pays to be organised. Take a doctor’s note to prove they are for genuine medical purposes. Your doctor will need to provide evidence describing the illness and the relative medicines prescribed, including dates of travel. If in doubt, check with the nearest UAE Embassy or Consulate before you leave.

And narcotics?
We all know certain drugs are legal in some countries and not in others, so be aware that in Dubai they’re all illegal - even having drugs in your bloodstream is illegal and comes with a hefty punishment. 

Is smoking permitted?
Only in certain designated areas. Smoking isn’t permitted in government buildings, offices and malls. There are areas where smoking is allowed, mostly in bars but it’s best to double, double check before you light up!

Is dancing forbidden?
You can drop as many shapes as you like in the comfort of your own home, or a friend’s if you’re visiting them in Dubai. It’s also fine in licensed clubs or at licensed events, but in any other public areas it would be regarded as indecent.

What happens if I swear?
In the past travellers have received a 6-month prison sentence for swearing in public, so definitely something to avoid. Spitting and any other form of aggressive behaviour - such as hand gestures and road rage is also forbidden. Which all round is quite a nice rule to abide by!

What’s Ramadan?
During the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Muslims observe the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad with a month of fasting.   

Everyone – Muslims and non-Muslims alike are expected to refrain from eating and drinking in public. Including the chewing of gum.  

Should I avoid travelling to Dubai during Ramadan?
Not at all. Ramadan offers a unique cultural experience. Certainly, with a ban on all public eating and drinking as well as playing loud music and dancing during daylight hours, and altered hours for shops, spas and golf courses, it’ll definitely make a difference to your usual holiday agenda, but it’s an event you won’t forget in a hurry.

If you have any more questions regarding your trip to Dubai, don’t hesitate to contact one of our HOT staff – pick up the phone or pop in-store.

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