Dubai is a fascinating place which welcomes international travellers. It is important to bear in mind that this city is a Muslim city which follows Sharia law, and has some cultural norms that must be respected.
Adhere to basic etiquette or, at best, you could be in for unhappiness from locals and, at worst, could get into serious trouble if you ignore them.
- Dress conservatively. When in public places, avoid wearing revealing (tight, short, transparent) clothing and ensure your shoulders and upper legs up to the knees are well-covered. Inside hotels, the rules are much more relaxed. Women should carry a pashmina/shawl as entry to mosques is forbidden without a head covering. Men should not walk around shirtless, although this is permitted in international hotels at the poolside. Offensive slogans on t-shirts should be avoided.
- Avoid public displays of affection. That means kissing, cuddling, and holding hands. Kissing and public sexual displays are completely outlawed (punishable by jail).
- Do not carry alcohol. Alcohol is forbidden, except in specially-designated area (i.e. inside international hotels). Being drunk in public is also banned.
- Ramadan month (any time between May – August). This is a very important religious festival for Muslims, so be extra-respectful of cultural norms. It is forbidden for Muslims to eat, drink, or smoke during this time; smoking in public areas is likely to be banned. It is also considered disrespectful to practising Muslims to eat or smoke in front of them while they’re fasting, and visible eating areas (e.g. in malls) are closed. Nightclubs close and concerts are banned.
- Single female travellers should be aware that, although Dubai is considered to be generally safe, they may come in for some unwanted attention, particularly if dressed immodestly. It’s best to cover up (including head scarf) and not wear revealing clothes. As in any city, be cautious and don’t walk alone at night.
- Photography. Never photograph Muslim women, unless permission to do so has been given. Don’t take pictures of airports, government buildings, docks, etc. If in doubt, ask.
- Tipping in restaurants and hotels is not expected, but it is commonplace, and 10% is considered the norm. Check your bill first, as it may already have been added. Taxi drivers are not usually tipped.
- Drugs. Dubai has a zero tolerance policy on drugs, both narcotics and certain medications (e.g. codeine). Before you go, check which medications are banned, and ask your doctor for a letter covering diagnosis, medicines prescribed, and period of travel, plus a separate copy of the prescription. For a full list of banned medications: Dubai Medication
- Co-habiting, unmarried couples. Although unmarried couples living together is outlawed, most international hotels do permit this. Even so, in public, rather refer to each other as husband and wife. Gay and lesbian travellers should be especially cautious as homosexuality is a criminal offence in Dubai.
- Offensive behaviour. Do not swear, spit, or use rude hand gestures in public; this can result in imprisonment. Never, ever show disrespect towards the Islamic faith.
Dubai is considered to be one of the safest cities in the world to visit, and is a fascinating place.
As long as you observe basic good manners and adhere to the accepted conservative, Muslim behaviours, you will have an enjoyable and memorable trip!