Page update - May 2, 2023
What UAE laws do you need to know in order not to get into trouble on vacation? Where and how do tourists get cheated and swindled out of money? How is it allowed to dress on beaches and in cities? Read the answers on this page.
The information on this page is current as of May 2023. As of January 1 and February 1, 2023, several new laws have come into force in the UAE, such as on non-Muslim divorce (Law 41), a new corporate income tax, and job loss insurance. HOWEVER! All these laws do NOT apply to tourists. And there are no changes for tourists in 2023. However, there were many important changes in 2022.
Starting August 19, the Municipality of Dubai has imposed a total ban of using adult pools in hotels for children under 5 years of age. Now children under the age of 5 are strictly prohibited from being in an adult pool EVEN when supervised by an adult.
Will this rule be followed strictly? This is an open question. Time will tell. In any case, there is the rule, but there is no responsibility for breaking it. So, you don't have to worry too much.
As of January 22, 2022 the MOI UAE (Ministry of Interior of the UAE) has completely banned the use of quadcopters and other UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles). Previously it was possible, but not everywhere and with restrictions. Now it is banned at all. Only companies that need the UAV for advertising or other commercial contracts are allowed, and they need special permission from MOI UAE.
The use of UAVs is now punishable by a fine of up to AED 50,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 1 year. Do not try to bring quadcopters or other UAVs with you!
In January 2022, a big list of amendments to the UAE laws came into effect. There are VERY many changes, but fortunately they do not matter for tourists, but except for one.
Legislation regarding drugs and medicines has changed, which could affect many tourists. Read the details below on this page.
The United Arab Emirates is a commonwealth of seven constitutional monarchies. There is a federal law in the UAE and local laws in the Emirates. Different laws take primacy in different cases and for different offenses.
Much of the law is based on Shariah (Islamic rules as defined in the Quran). On the one hand, the authorities of the country want order and compliance with these rules. On the other hand, the strict laws do not suit tourists and investors, and disturb the development of tourism business and other sectors of the economy.
In fact, in the UAE, some laws are not mandatory in hotels, some are in force only in certain emirates. For some violations there are no serious penalties, and the police are limited to warnings. In this review we will try to understand it all.
The most important thing to know! Being intoxicated and/or drinking alcohol in public places is strictly prohibited. The penalty under Article 313 of the UAE Penal Code is up to 6 months in jail and/or a fine of up to AED 2,000.
See our review "Money in UAE" for the current exchange rates of dirham.
Once again, please note that public drinking or being intoxicated are criminal offenses in the UAE. And the November 8, 2020, amendments have not made this law or the punishment any easier.
You can consume alcohol in bars, restaurants, at home or in a hotel room.
Since November 8, 2022, tourists are free to buy alcohol in any emirate except Sharjah. In Dubai, you need to show a passport, and the store employee himself will draw up a special tourist license. In other emirates you have to show your passport to prove that you are 21 or older.
Prices for alcohol in the UAE are high. Perhaps after seeing the prices, you will want to stay sober.
Read all the details of the laws and prices in our review "Alcohol in the UAE - prices and law".
A very important note! The UAE is NOT a police state, there are no policemen on every corner. You may see on tourist forums phrases like, "I walked around Dubai drunk, no big deal" or similar. "Allowed" and "not caught" are DIFFERENT situations. Some have been caught, some haven't. It's a matter of luck. But if caught, big trouble is guaranteed. Risk it or not? It's up to you. Our job is to warn you.
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Ramadan is the holy month in Islam. During this month, Muslims fast - do not drink, eat, or smoke from first light until sunset. In most Islamic countries, the law does not enforce anyone to fast, not even Muslims. But the situation is different in the UAE.
Article 313 point "a" of the UAE Penal Code prohibits, and we quote: "Eating, drinking and doing anything that breaks the fast of the month of Ramadan in public". Punishment: up to 1 month of imprisonment or a fine of up to 1,000 dirhams.
In other words, there is no legal obligation to fast, but publicly eating is forbidden for everyone, including tourists. It is also forbidden to drink, smoke, chew gum or even swallow saliva in public. These are the rules.
Recall that children and those who are sick, pregnant, lactating, employed in hard work or in a hard journey are exempt from fasting. And, accordingly, are exempt from Article 313 of the Penal Code.
During Ramadan, many cafes and restaurants are open during the day. You can eat "behind closed doors", this is not forbidden by law. You can eat, drink and even consume alcohol in most hotels. Amendments on November 8, 2020, removed the ban on the sale of alcohol during Ramadan, but left each emirate free to establish such a ban if necessary.
For the Ramadan schedule and all the details, see our review "Ramadan in the UAE".
A very important note! The legal situation in the UAE is complicated with the Ramadan rules. On the one hand, Article 313 of the Criminal Code is in force! On the other hand, the rules are being violated everywhere. The UAE doesn't have enough police to be on duty at every corner to catch violators. Besides, the police have better things to do than catch tourists eating pie in the street. By the way, during Ramadan 2023, the police have taken up catching beggars.
We urge you not to break the law at all to reduce the chance of a fine to zero.
As we proceed through this page, we will not explain the idea that "allowed" and "not caught" are different situations. Our message is always the same: do not break the laws of another country to reduce the risk of trouble to zero.
Once upon a time, back under Sheikh Zayed ruling, any cohabitation or sex out of wedlock was punishable, even by mutual consent. Article 356 of the UAE Penal Code prohibited "consensual indecent behavior" and was punishable by imprisonment for one year or more.
However, after the death of Sheikh Zayed, a liberalization took place under Sheikh Khalifa. The article of the Penal Code remained, but the penalties for cohabitation were removed. They continued to punish sex out of wedlock. Remember the sensational case of Norwegian Marte Dallev, who filed a rape complaint with the police in Dubai but ended up going to jail herself for 16 months for having sex out of wedlock.
The Nov. 8, 2020, amendments officially abolished the penalty for cohabitation without marriage. As for sex, the issue is complicated. After all, the Penal Code doesn't explicitly talk about sex, the wording is vague. Probably, there will be no punishment for sex out of wedlock either. The amendments came into force recently, we must wait for law enforcement practice.
So far we strongly advise against flaunting one's sexual relations out of wedlock. Soon the law enforcement practice will be formed and we will know for sure.
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Article 378(b) of the UAE Penal Code prohibits interfering with another person's private or family life by taking photographs. The article carries a penalty of imprisonment for up to 7 years and a fine (the amount of the fine is not specified).
Naturally, taking pictures of many people in a public place is allowed without problems. But one person cannot be photographed without his/her agreement. The law also states that taking pictures in front of a person (if the person clearly sees this, but does not protest) is considered as the agreement.
By the way, the same article 378, but paragraph "a" prohibits unauthorized audio recording.
A curious case happened in December 2022. A man filmed his neighbors (a married couple) with his smartphone. He did it through a hole in the wall. There was no anything indecent and the video was only 25 seconds long. However, the court sentenced him to 2 months in prison and deportation after.
The UAE also has Law 5 (2012) on Cybercrime. Article 21 of this law also prohibits taking pictures of people without agreement and publishing these pictures on the Internet. The penalty is 6 months in jail and/or a fine of 150,000 to 500,000 dirhams. In this case, Law 5 and the CC duplicate each other.
In addition, it is forbidden to take photos of strategic and government facilities in the UAE. An interesting case happened in February 2015. The British citizens Conrad Clitheroe and Gary Cooper were taking photos of planes at an airport in the Emirate of Fujairah. They were arrested by the police and spent two months in custody.
Be careful when taking photos!
The list of banned substances in the UAE may be different from other countries. A medicine prescribed by a doctor in your homeland country may be on the bunned drug list in the United Arab Emirates. Most of all it is relevant to painkillers.
If you bring any uncommon medication, take the doctor's prescription with you. The prescription will not give you an absolute right to bring the medicine into the UAE, but it can protect you from problems.
Until 2022, it was a crime not only to sell drugs, but even to use them. In the UAE, several laws prohibit having and using drugs at once. The most recent, Law 8 (2016) established the penalty for possession of drugs: from 4 years in prison and a fine of 10,000 dirhams.
Since 2022, Law 30 (2021) recognized drug use as a disease. In fact, imprisonment has now been replaced by a stay in a special rehabilitation center.
Important for tourists! As of 2022, Act 30 (2021) abolishes the responsibility for bringing in (for the first time) food, medicine or drinks containing narcotic substances. WARNING: This does not mean that you can bring such things in! Just the first time you will be spared. This law was introduced precisely in the interest of the tourism industry. So that tourists are less afraid of the strict laws of the UAE.
Attempts to import drugs in tobacco mixtures or vape liquids are punishable by the law. The new law does NOT apply in these cases.
Authorities have the right to forcibly take blood samples from suspects.
There have been cases where UAE authorities have arrested transit passengers at airports. The equipment there is very sensitive, finding even traces of the presence of narcotics on bags.
Stay away from drugs while vacationing in the UAE.
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Always use only official cabs. In Dubai they are white with colored roofs and a TAXI beacon on the roof. These cabs work only by the meter, you will not be cheated. Or you can use UBER or Careem.
For official cab fares see our review "Taxis in the UAE".
Never get into cars with drivers who pretend to be taxi cabs. There were dozens (if not hundreds) of cases when they took tourists to their destinations and demanded excessive fees.
Some very useful advice can be found on tourist forums: "Always take a picture of the license plate number before getting into the cabin". This advice is very good. Firstly, if you get cheated you can call the police.
Secondly, it's easier to find lost things. Tourists forget belongings in cabs very often. There is an interesting statistic. In the first half of 2022, passengers forgot things in cabs in Dubai: 766 passports, 12,410 phones and 2,819 other gadgets, 342 laptops, and 1,200,000 dirhams of cash. Take a picture of the license plate, and you won't be part of this sad statistic. Fortunately, the vast majority of these items have been returned to their owners. Cabs in Dubai have cameras inside the cabins, so cab drivers don't misappropriate forgotten items.
There are many fines in public transport in the United Arab Emirates. You can get a penalty ticket not only for unpaid ride, but also for standing in the wrong place in a subway car.
In the subway, the most common trouble for tourists is riding in the wrong car. The subway has three types of cars and parts of cars: Silver (regular), Gold (luxury) and Pink (only for women and children). If you ride in the wrong carriage - a fine of 100 dirhams. In addition, there are a dozen more violations and penalties in the subway. Read more on our page "Dubai Metro".
In buses, the most common trouble is the penalty for fare evasion. Often tourists are simply unaware of the features of transport cards, and the turnstile simply does not count check-in. To know, read our pages "NOL Cards" and "Buses in the UAE".
To pay a fine on the subway with a ticket, you have to go to any subway ticket office. Since May 2021, the inspectors began to write electronic receipts. Such a receipt comes by e-mail, and you can pay for it online. But it's better to follow the rules to avoid any fines.
In all emirates except Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah, laws and regulations do not prohibit women from being on the beaches in bikinis. But you need to remember that you are not allowed outside the beaches in your swimsuit, you will need to put some clothes on.
Officially, bikinis are prohibited in the emirates of Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah. However, there is no punishment (no fine) for violation. In the past, female offenders were warned and asked to dress, but now even such cases have become a rarity.
In case of a violation, for example, a person went outside the beach in a swimsuit, the police do not fine. Usually they just warn and ask to get dressed. If a person refuses or starts a dispute then they can take the person to the police station and hold there for a short time. But even such cases are already a rarity.
Sunbathing topless is prohibited, nudism is prohibited. The penalty under Article 358 of the UAE Penal Code is imprisonment from 6 months. The wording of the violation: "Public indecency".
Once upon a time, back under Sheikh Zayed, you couldn't even wear shorts or a T-shirt in UAE cities. But those days are gone, and manners have changed a lot in the last twenty years.
The rules of the dress code have never been described and are not now approved by law, which is why the rules change so quickly over time. There have been debates about creating a dress code law for several years, but so far it's just talk.
Right now, the dress code exists. But in order to get the attention of the police, you have to dress oh-so frivolously. The rules are as follows:
1. You can't walk around in too tight clothing or semi-transparent clothing.
2. Underwear should not be visible, there should be no cleavage.
Clothing should cover the body from shoulders to hips, that is, there should be no open stomach. However, these rules are violated by tourists very often. The official recommendations also ask to cover the knees and shoulders. But these official recommendations have not been followed for a long time.
It is difficult for the police to watch for the dress code, they have a lot of other work to do. We urge you not to break the rules and protect yourself from potential trouble.
There is a strict dress code when visiting mosques. We have visually shown the dress-code on our page "Sheikh Zayed Mosque".
It is good to follow the dress code for another reason as well. Native Arabs now are only 10% of the population of the UAE, and the rest are guest workers Indians, Pakistanis, Malaysians and others. And, mostly men come to work there. About the population read our detailed review "Who lives in the UAE".
Men in the UAE 2.6 times more than women. Imagine for a moment their hige dissatisfaction. If you dress provocatively, would it be nice to look at their undressing looks? Although this is an individual moment, some of women tourists notice such things, some do not notice at all.
Couples in the UAE are allowed to walk by the hand or hug by the shoulder, but no more than that. This rule applies in all seven emirates. This rule applies to legal husband and wife as well.
It is forbidden in public: kissing each other or kissing the partner, hugging the intimate parts of the body or the stomach. Arrests for these violations are rare, but they happen from time to time, as the press loves to write about.
The same article 358 of the UAE Penal Code, "Public Indecency", can be applied in cases of violation. However, no one has been imprisoned in such cases for many years. Usually the police officer simply warns the offenders.
We haven't even seen any high-profile cases on this subject for several years. There have been high-profile cases in the past, such as those of Charlotte Adams and Ayman Najafi. But that was in 2010.
In rare cases, they may be taken to the police station, where they will have to be "guests" for a few hours. It is not very scary, but hardly anyone wants to waste his vacation time at the station.
So, it's better to leave displays of affection until the hotel room. In a hotel room or at home you can do anything. Although it would be more correct to say "almost everything".
Article 354 of the UAE Penal Code punishes homosexuality by a capital punishment. Fortunately, this law does not apply, as each emirate has its own milder laws on the subject.
In Dubai, the punishment is up to 10 years in prison. In Abu Dhabi, up to 14 years imprisonment. Note that just the fact of homosexual relations is already punishable. Even if the relationship took place behind closed doors.
Also let's talk about some of the side effects of this legislation. In the United Arab Emirates, it is forbidden to wear clothes of the opposite sex. Article 358 of the Penal Code applies.
In 2017, there was a case that "blew the minds" of the Dubai police. A man named Noor Qistina Fitriah Ibrahim from Singapore was arrested. According to the documents, he was a man. He(she) himself claimed to be a transgender woman. With him(her) was a male photographer (exactly male) who was wearing a bow tie and earrings.
The police arrested the two people. It's hard to say how they worked it out there - who has what gender and whether they should be punished under Article 358 of the Penal Code. But in the end the court gave them 1 year in jail.
There is only one piece of advice. Dress in accordance with what is written in the column "sex" in your passport.
The UAE has a very hot climate. Don't forget the dangerous sun. Wear light clothes which will reflect the sun's rays and not dark clothes which will absorb them and heat up. Never forget to wear a hat. Read our in-depth review "Weather and climate in the UAE".
In summer the sand on the beaches gets so hot from the sun that it hurts to walk on it. The same applies to the tiles at the pools and water parks. Bring beach shoes as we talked about in the review "What to take to the UAE".
During the summer months on the beach use sunscreen, we recommend SPF 30 or higher for adults, 50 SPF or higher for children. Remember that sunburn treatment is not covered by most travel insurance.
You can always take a break from the heat in stores, cafes, shopping malls, and metro stations. Even the bus stops there (many, but not all) are equipped with air conditioning. The peak of the heat from 12pm to 3pm is best spent indoors.
- Previously, in the UAE, a person could be criminally liable for injuries during first aid. Amendments on November 8, 2020, removed this liability. First aid can now be administered without fear.
- Attempted suicide used to be a criminal offense in the UAE. The Nov. 8 amendments abolish criminal liability. Now all failed suicides will be recognized as mentally ill and treated in appropriate institutions.
- Previously, any items marked "Made in Israel" and generally anything related to the state of Israel were banned in the UAE. But recently relations between the UAE and Israel have normalized. Now Israeli items are allowed.
- It used to be illegal to vape in the UAE. As of April 2019, vaping has been legalized. The sale of devices and liquids are allowed. In July 2020, it was even planned to hold the World Vape Show in Dubai. But the exhibition did not take place because of the coronavirus. IQOS and similar systems have also been legalized since April 2019. All the details in our review "Vape and IQOS in Dubai".
- For rules and restrictions on smoking tobacco, see our review "Smoking and Cigarettes in the UAE".
- Swearing, loud language, and aggressive gestures in public places are prohibited. Religious propaganda of any kind is prohibited. Abuse to religion in any form, of any religion, not just Islam, is forbidden. Pornographic products of any kind are banned, even topless photos are considered as such in the UAE.
- In 2017, the relationship between the UAE and Qatar deteriorated greatly. On June 7, 2017, the Emirati authorities outlawed any expression of sympathy for the state of Qatar. The conflict between the UAE and Qatar ended in January 2021. However, it is still better not to talk about Qatar, "out of harm's way".
If you have to communicate with UAE citizens, you should follow the rules of etiquette:
- All gestures are made with a full palm, but not with a finger. Pointing with the finger is considered indecent;
- Taking food or drinks, accepting or giving gifts, giving or taking business cards or documents should be done with the right hand only;
- All food should be held with the right hand only. If you have to eat with your hands, only with your right hand;
- If invited to the Majlis, take off your shoes. In the Majlis there is a division into male and female parts;
- It is indecent to point at someone's foot, to sit cross-legged, to show one's feet;
- If someone enters the room, it is customary to stand up, especially if it is a person of high rank, advanced age, or a woman.
- It is possible to get into trouble as soon as you enter the UAE, as not all items can be brought in. Read our detailed review "What you can and cannot bring into the UAE";
- It is possible to get in trouble on exit, as not all items can be taken out. Read our detailed review "What you can and can't take out of the UAE";
- In this review we talked about the rules for adults. Read about what you need to know for a trip with children in our review "Vacation in the UAE with children".
Have a good holiday in the UAE, and read our interesting pages about this country (see list of pages below).
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