In Depth

Five things tourists can’t do in Dubai

Foreigners travelling to the United Arab Emirates told to obey a range of local laws and customs

Tourists travelling to Dubai have been warned they risk hefty fines and imprisonment if they fall foul of local laws and customs.

The Foreign Office advises Britons travelling to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to be aware of their actions to ensure that they don’t offend, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or while visiting religious areas.  

The Gulf state has notoriously strict rules when it comes to drugs and alcohol. 

There is zero tolerance for drugs-related offences and traffickers risk the death penalty if caught, while alcohol can only be consumed by tourists in designated areas.

But there are also a number of stranger ways foreigners can find themselves in trouble with the law.

Swearing or making rude gestures

“Dubai is very conservative when it comes to bad language,” says the BBC. Swearing, insults and making rude gestures are considered obscene acts and offenders can be fined or jailed.

Last year, a British man was arrested for sticking his middle finger up at another motorist while driving to Dubai International Airport. The 23-year-old faced six months in jail for the crime, but was released after his accuser failed to turn up in court.

Importing pork or porn

Importing pork products and pornography into the UAE is illegal, the Foreign Office says. Videos, books and magazines may be subject to scrutiny and censored.

In 2007, a Japanese engineer was arrested at Dubai airport after customs officials found 77 pornographic DVDs in his luggage, The Independent reports.

Cross-dressing

Cross-dressing is illegal in the UAE and anyone caught doing so risks being imprisoned. Last year, two Singaporean nationals, one of whom is transgender, were given a one-year jail sentence after they were caught wearing women's clothes in public and “behaving indecently”.

Using electronic cigarettes

E-cigarettes are illegal and risk being confiscated by authorities at airports and borders. However, the government is considering lifting the ban, according to the UAE’s English-language newspaper, The National.

Having sex if you’re not married

All sex outside marriage is illegal in Dubai. If the authorities become aware that a person is conducting a sexual relationship outside marriage, they run the risk of prosecution, imprisonment and/or a fine and deportation, according to the Foreign Office.

Kissing and hugging in public are also strictly prohibited, as is living or sharing a hotel room with someone of the opposite sex unless you are married or closely related. However, the BBC notes that tourists are rarely prosecuted for this.

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