23 Dubai Laws You Should Know

Moving to another country is a daunting challenge in itself, without the added pressure of understanding a foreign culture and its laws. However, Dubai is a modern and cosmopolitan city which makes relocating here less of a hassle compared to other places.

Over 200 nationalities reside in the United Arab Emirates, making the country home to one of the world’s highest percentage of immigrants. The locals or the Emiratis constitute only around 20 percent of the total population, while South Asians (primarily Indian and Pakistani) constitute the largest expatriate groups.

In addition, residents and tourists both concur that Dubai laws place a high priority on safety. As a result, Dubai is one of the most safest cities in the world to live and work in. Men and women can even walk alone at night without fear of being mugged or attacked. According to data collected by the Numbeo index from 328 cities in 2019:

  • Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, is the safest city in the world. This is the second year in the running that the city has been chosen for the top slot.
  • Dubai ranked 6th in the list of safest cities in the world.
  • 94 per cent of people felt safe walking alone.
  • 90 per cent of people never worry about their car being stolen.
  • 88 per cent of people do not fear being robbed or mugged.

As observed, Dubai is hospitable, friendly and relaxed toward people from diverse backgrounds. However, there are still some Dubai laws that one should become acquainted with while visiting or living in the city.

1. The Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) requires all tourists and residents (including transit travelers) entering the UAE to obtain e-approval when traveling with medication across the border. 

2. It is illegal to bring any food items containing poppy seeds because the latter is a source of opium, a banned substance in the UAE.

3. Eating (even chewing gum) and drinking is prohibited on all forms of public transportation, stations and pedestrian crossings by Dubai laws.

4. Driving under the influence of alcohol or any narcotics is a crime. The UAE has a zero tolerance policy for intoxicated driving, and motorists will be arrested under Article 59.3 of the UAE Penal Code.

Penalties for intoxicated driving include:

  • Fine of AED 20,000
  • Jail time
  • 23 Black Points
  • Confiscation of the vehicle for 60 days
  • Suspension of driving license for a period of three months to two years

5. Dubai laws allow non-Muslim residents to buy or consume alcohol if they have an alcohol license. It is illegal to drink without an alcohol permit under UAE Alcohol Law of 1972. Punishment involves a jail term for six months and/or a fine of AED 5,000.

6. Smoking inside public buildings under Dubai laws is prohibited. However, many public establishments have allocated smoking zones outside the building for smokers.

7. Begging and peddling is illegal.

8. Owing to a rise in money scams and dubious charities, Dubai Laws now have enforced strict rules concerning any charitable or volunteering endeavors. Fundraising for a charitable cause requires prior approval from the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department (IACAD). Collecting money without permission breaches the UAE’s charity laws. The Dubai Volunteering Law of 2018 clearly states:

“No volunteering organisation or volunteers may carry out any volunteer activity or allow any volunteer activity to be carried out without obtaining a permit from the CDA.” — Article 6

“All volunteers must be registered with the CDA to practice voluntary activity.” — Article 14

9. Though Arabic is the official language of the country, most business is conducted in English. All street signs are bilingual and almost everyone is fluent in English. As a result, learning Arabic is not mandatory under Dubai laws. However, it is recommended to pick up some of the basics. Any attempt to learn Arabic is appreciated by the local Emiratis. Knowing the language also comes in handy when dealing with any legal or governmental paperwork.

10. The UAE is incredibly tolerant toward other faiths, with well-established houses of worship and members given full freedom to practice their religion. However, it is at heart a Muslim country, and respect toward Islam and the Sharia Laws is expected. Proselytization of religious materials and attempts to convert Muslims is strictly prohibited.

11. Special Dubai laws apply during Ramadan, the holy month of fasting for Muslims.

  • Drinking, eating (even chewing gum) and smoking are not allowed in public from sunrise to sunset.
  • Modest dressing is emphasized.
  • Public displays of affection are kept to a minimum.
  • Dubai laws require employers to respect shorter working hours.

12. Disrespect toward the ruling family is not tolerated.

13. While Dubai laws are very relaxed about clothes, it is recommended to dress modestly in family-friendly public spaces, historic landmarks and religious structures.

14. Despite the thriving night life and social scene, there are Dubai laws surrounding dating, romance and sexual relations.

  • Keep public displays of affection to a minimum.
  • Sex outside marriage is illegal.
  • Cohabitation or live-in relationships are illegal, unless the man and woman are married or related to each other.
  • Homosexuality is illegal.
  • Cross-dressing is illegal.
  • Adultery is punishable by UAE law.

Punishments include fines, imprisonment and even deportation.

15. Swearing in public or making rude gestures is punishable under Article 373 of the UAE Penal Code. Flashing your middle finger can have you deported. This also extends to social media platforms which are protected by UAE’s tough cyber laws.

16. UAE’s cyber laws prohibit the use of any false IP address or third party that provides restricted material, access to blocked sites or downloading copyrighted material. This also extends to VPN users.

17. Checking someone’s phone, including your spouse’s, is illegal under UAE’s privacy laws.

18. It is prohibited to snap pictures of military buildings, courts and palaces.

19. Posting pictures or videos of accidents on social media is prohibited.

20. Taking photographs of people without their consent is prohibited under UAE’s privacy laws. Men have been arrested in the past for taking photographs of women at the beach.

21. Dirty or poorly washed cars are considered a sore eye for the city’s ambience, and are usually towed away. Owners can face fines and impound fees under Dubai laws.

22. Littering is strictly prohibited and carries heavy fines.

23. Bounced cheques are a serious crime in the UAE. Punishment includes jail as well as fines ranging from AED 2,000 to AED 10,000. Under recent Dubai laws, people with bounced cheques worth less than Dh200,000 can pay their fines through their smartphones without having to go to police station.

Further Reading

Drinking Alcohol in UAE: 7 Things You Must Know to Avoid Jail

11 Unusual Dubai Laws for Tourists and Residents

Stay out of Legal Trouble: 9 UAE Laws You could Accidentally Break

Safety & Laws in Dubai: What You Need to Know

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