Across cultures, codes of conduct are part of the social norm. Some rules that are universally accepted in most countries of the West are not necessarily aligned with the customs and behaviors of Islamic countries. Many rules and customs in Arab countries are accepted (or invalid) in certain places, and non-compliance may lead to sanctions, fines, and penalties for non-compliance. For this reason, before flying to Dubai, it is very wise to familiarize yourself with the laws and cultural customs of the country.
Even though Dubai is advanced in many areas, it has its own customs, rules of conduct, dress code, and laws that differ from Western styles. Throughout the country, there are a number of rules that follow local tradition and culture, as well as the Islamic law. Locals and tourists will both find signs reminding them of the laws and accepted rules of conduct, which are posted in public areas.
In order to avoid unpleasant situations that could ruin the holiday or impair business activity, tourists and business travelers visiting the country are encouraged to adhere to local conventions.
There is a strict prohibition against harming the dignity of local leaders, state symbols, or state properties. Try not to engage in any discourse on state leaders and their symbols. Additionally, refrain from pointing at sites, flags, images of leaders, military installations, aircraft, and religious sites, as it is written in Dubai's law.
In the local culture, it is customary to respect the environment and all those sharing the public spaces. Contrary to what we are familiar with in our immediate surroundings, in Dubai it is not customary to speak loudly in the streets, shout, talk on the phone loudly or “get help” with hand gestures during the conversation. Use of foul language and conspicuous or blatant hand gestures will be perceived as disrespectful behavior and in some severe instances, may result in entanglement with law enforcement.
Blunt, rough hand gestures are generally considered disrespectful in Dubai and may result in charges and punishment under local law. As a general rule, avoid pointing at people, symbols, institutions, and buildings. If you still want to point, use your whole hand instead of one finger.
As a Muslim country, showing affection in public places is not acceptable. Avoid close contact, hugs, kisses, or any kind of affection between the sexes as much as possible. An acceptable gesture is to hold hands with your spouse, but not beyond that. Also, expressions of affection or contact between spouses who are not married are neither appropriate nor legal.
Unfortunately, there are laws in Dubai regarding LGBTQ+ couples. It is highly recommended to avoid any public displays of affection or contact in such relationships as they are defined in the country as a crime.
Although in many places in the world it is common to photograph as much as you like, in Dubai it is different.
Photography of sites and government or military buildings is prohibited. Photographs of certain religious sites and buildings are also prohibited, so when visiting such a site, it is advisable to check if photography and/or flash photography is allowed.
Drinking alcohol is allowed in designated places, which have been approved, such as restaurants, places of entertainment, and certain complexes in hotels. Drinking in public places such as parks is banned, and driving under the influence can result in a heavy fine or even jail time. Due to strict enforcement and zero-tolerance policies in this area, excessive responsibility should be exercised when consuming alcohol. The consumption of alcohol is allowed from the age of 21 for non-Muslims.
Drugs are strictly forbidden! Trafficking, purchasing, and using drugs are serious violations of the law, and the penalties are severe in the state.
There are even certain medicines that are banned in the Arab Emirates for use, even if tourists come with a prescription confirming their use. Information on the subject can be found on the Dubai Airport website.
Smoking is only permitted after the age of 18. Smoking is not allowed indoors, in sacred buildings and in public buildings. Smoking is also prohibited in a vehicle with children under the age of 12.
As in most Arab countries, the dress code in Dubai is modest. Revealing attire is not acceptable and is perceived as offensive towards the locals. While tourists are often not reprimanded by local police for inappropriate clothing, it is possible that showing too much skin could lead to complaints by locals. This could result in punishment being applied.
Even if there is no real fear of punishment, be sure to dress modestly and appropriately as to show respect for the locals, their culture and values. Particular attention should be paid to this when visiting holy places and government institutions. In holy places, women should wear a head covering and cover their arms and shoulders with a garment. In public places such as malls, markets or restaurants, you can walk around freely but make sure you are acting appropriately.
Unlike the Western world, a bathing suit is not acceptable on beaches and promenades, but only in enclosed pools or private beaches. To be on the safe side, ask at your hotel about the usual attire for the beach or pool you wish to visit.
Be sure to speak in a low voice, without shouting, and in a way that respects others and those in your environment.
When interacting with locals, avoid touching their bodies in a friendly manner, unless they are initiating it themselves. This is contrary to what is customary in the West. When shaking hands with a man, be prepared for the fact that it may be longer than usual (as is customary in Dubai) so do not rush to end the handshake and pull your hand away, but wait for the other side to do so. Handshaking with women is not an acceptable gesture in Dubai – completely avoid reaching out to a woman.
Resting your feet in a way that the sole is raised, or better yet – facing someone else, is perceived as degrading to the person in front of you. Therefore, always make sure to sit with your feet resting on the floor. When women sit with one leg over the top of the other leg, it is considered a seductive and disrespectful act.
Avoid talking about politics in any way. Any such discourse could lead to a critique of local government, or even be mistakenly perceived as such by the other party. More importantly – do not talk in any way about royalty and local government. If you find yourself in a conversation surrounding this topic, always try to close the discourse by saying that everything in the country is great. The hospitality and experience have been amazing.
Dubai is fascinating and the experience of visiting this unforgettable country will remain with you for a long time to come. However, to enjoy your visit and avoid embarrassment (at the very least) and fines or heavy penalties at worst, it is imperative to behave in the country in a manner that is acceptable to it. There is a high emphasis in the local culture on respecting others and the environment. Deviating from this norm can cost you dearly. Therefore, behave modestly, respectfully, politely and patiently and maintain full awareness of your actions and conduct.