Updated November 24, 2022
Published January 28, 2021
By Joey Tyson
A shimmering city of skyscrapers sandwiched between endless desert and the twinkling waters of the Arabian Gulf, Dubai has become one of the most popular long-haul city break destinations in the last couple of years.
One of seven Emirates in the UAE, Dubai is an Islamic state, with rules and laws that are very different to those in the UK. While most tourists have no issues in Dubai, it’s always best to look into local laws and etiquette before any holiday.
Fall foul of the rules and you could end up with a hefty fine, or worse – a night in the cells. To make sure that doesn’t happen, we’ve answered some of the most common questions about the popular Emirate. Here’s what you can and can’t do when on holiday in Dubai.
Yes, tourists can drink alcohol while on holiday in Dubai – but only in certain places. Generally, that means bars, hotels, clubs and restaurants. Any place that serves alcohol is required by law to be a part of a licensed hotel or club, so it’s fairly obvious where you can and can’t have a drink.
Outside of these areas, alcohol rules are very strict. It is against the law to drink in a public place (that’s everywhere, including the beach), or be drunk in public. If you’re caught doing either you could be arrested and face prosecution. Remember, you must be over 21 to drink in Dubai.
Compared to most places in the region, Dubai is fairly liberal when it comes to dress. For the most part, men should be fine wearing long shorts in public.
That said, it’s still an Islamic emirate, and you should dress respectfully when out and about. For women, that generally means covering up from the knee to the shoulder, and avoiding strappy or revealing clothing.
Bikinis are okay on the beach, but shouldn’t be too risqué. Head coverings aren’t necessary unless entering a religious site, like a mosque.
According to the law, it’s illegal for unmarried couples to stay in the same room during a holiday in Dubai. In reality, this is not strictly enforced and it’s unlikely you’ll be challenged on it.
Many unmarried couples visit Dubai every year without issue. This is especially true in Dubai’s mega luxury hotels, which mainly cater to foreigners.
While rare, people have been arrested for kissing in Dubai – it’s not a city big on public displays of affection. In fact, outside your hotel room, it’s best to avoid anything overtly physical.
And that's not just limited to locking lips. Holding hands, hugging, getting a little too hands-on… at the very least, it will be frowned upon and offensive to the locals. In the worst-case scenario, it could land you in trouble with the police.
For the most part, no, it’s not illegal to take photos in Dubai. That said, you have to be very careful what you’re taking a photo of and who might be in that photo. For example, taking photos inside a public building, of the police, or of anything military related is asking for trouble.
It’s also illegal to photograph anyone without their consent – even if they happen to stroll by while you’re taking a selfie. This is especially sensitive for Muslim women, so if you’re out snapping away, be mindful of who’s around.
Dubai is probably one of the safest cities in the world for a holiday. Strict rules and laws mean that the crime rate is very low compared to other places in the region. Petty crime, such as theft, is rare, while violent crime is all but non-existent. As long as you use common sense – as you would on any holiday – it’s very, very unlikely you’ll have any safety issues in Dubai.
Seven-star hotels, supercars and spectacular skyscrapers are all part of the experience in Dubai. Obscene wealth is common, but it’s not just a place for the obscenely wealthy.
The sheer amount of hotel options means there are some decent deals to be had on a mid-range budget, especially in some of the bigger all-inclusive hotels. There’s also lots of free (or very cheap) stuff to do, such as visiting the beach, the souks and the malls, and taking an abra (traditional boat) across to old Dubai.
Of course, it’s hardly a bargain destination. The average cost of a beer is £10, while a three-course meal for two at a mid-range place will set you back around £70.
While social media isn’t illegal, you should be very careful about what you post online. Dubai has strict cybercrime laws, and anything deemed offensive could lead to a fine or, in extreme cases, jail.
Earlier this year, three men were arrested for pretending to smoke a cannabis in a social media video, while last year a man was arrested for a video in which he throws cash around in a public place. Selfies at the top of the Burj Khalifa, yes. Pretending to take drugs on video, no.
Swearing and dancing in public are big no-nos, as is eating on public transport. Looking at pornography online (or bringing it into the country) is also illegal. Some prescription drugs, which you can get over the counter in the UK, are also illegal in Dubai. Sex outside marriage is also illegal – although if you get caught for that one, you’re probably asking for it.
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Between sumptuous five-star hotels, world-class shopping and family-friendly theme parks and waterparks, Dubai is the ultimate destination for all types of traveller. Discover the best of the city here.Read moreabout 10 of the best things to do in Dubai