Why Tourists Get In Trouble In Dubai

I’ve never spoken negatively about my time living in Dubai on this blog for a few reasons. First, I’d have been arrested, deported or at the very least, my site would have been banned. Second, most of it was damn good fun. But with recent news that a Brit in Dubai faces jail for brushing past a man in a bar and the resulting outrage in the UK media, I thought I’d impart some wisdom about the negative stuff in Dubai and the rules most prospective visitors to the UAE don’t know about. Do you know what can get you arrested in Dubai? This recent news story shows just how important it is to be aware of the rules in Dubai.

The dark side of Dubai, as told by a former expat

One of the most common backlashes in the comment sections of articles about foreigners getting in trouble in Dubai is that he or she should have played by the UAE’s rules, and that’s fair enough – but how many people visiting Dubai know the rules? It’s a grey area for tourists and people thinking about moving to Dubai alike. In fact, even those living in the UAE don’t fully know what’s ok and what’s not – so they play it very safeNow that I’ve left Dubai, I thought I’d share what I know in the hope that it will help people.

Negative things about Dubai

Yes, the lifestyle in Dubai is unbelievable. My social calendar was packed out with brunches at five-star hotels and ‘ladies nights’ where I could throw gin down my neck to my heart’s content and not spend a penny. Don’t get me wrong; I embraced the inauthenticity wholeheartedly while I was there. I rented yachts and rolled my eyes at taxi drivers who didn’t know where the Palm was when the real problem was the people who hired them. It’s all fun and games for a while, but the shallowness of it all got boring.

And then there are the aspects of Dubai life that really didn’t sit right with me morally.

Never have I been more aware of my white privilege than while I lived in Dubai. I think living in the UK for the majority of my life had blind sighted me to the fact that real, discriminative racism is alive and well. The inequality in the UAE is hugely visible, and the rigid class system is founded on race. Your payslip depends on your passport. Filipino girls doing the same jobs as some of my friends are paid a pittance in comparison and deprived of the perks we take for granted – days off, for example.

And the labourers in blue are paid and treated even worse. The country’s magnificent success is quite plainly built using modern day slave labour. I saw it daily when I passed men from Bangladesh and India dressed in blue boiler suits, toiling all day in insane heat for very little pay, before being shuttled back to their ‘camps’. It’s been exposed in world media and steps have been taken in the UAE to prevent this kind of oppression, but it’s still there.

I don’t feel educated enough on the topic to go into depth, but that’s because this stuff isn’t widely reported in the media. I was once told that it’s illegal to complain about the weather in the UAE, because it counts as disrespecting the country. It got hard to stay quiet when they started messing around with cloud seeding

I was often left feeling like a big pervert when I tried to read a fluffy Cosmo article and was instead served the ‘This site is blocked in your country’ message. It made me wonder what else was being censored.

Can you understand why I couldn’t publish this post while I was living there? There’s a real possibility of being banned from the country – at best.

 

What’s actually illegal in Dubai?

Here are the big things that tourists should be aware of before they book a holiday in Dubai.

Sex outside of marriage

You may have heard the stories about a woman who reported a rape in Dubai and was promptly arrested for having sex outside of marriage. That’s right, she was arrested. It made me uncomfortable to be living and earning in a country where I could be raped and subsequently arrested if I reported it. Where I’d be blamed for sitting in the passenger’s seat if a taxi driver ever touched me. Where I’d have to jump on a one-way flight out of the country if I ever found myself pregnant and unmarried.

I had a huge friendship group of young women who were living in and loving life in Dubai, and for the most part we all acted much the same as we would at home. Amid the skyscrapers, it’s all too easy to forget that you’re in a country that’s governed by Sharia Law. That’s how tourists find themselves in cells.

I’ve always considered myself a feminist (and if you don’t, have a word with yourself), but living in the Middle East has made me an angry one.

Let me be clear that I never had a problem with an Emirati man – in fact, I think I had maybe two conversations with locals of the opposite sex during my entire 14 months in Dubai – it was usually men from other parts of the world who caused problems. Perhaps because they knew that the law would protect them, and not the woman they were hassling.

Alcohol

One thing people can never get their head around is that Dubai is full of nightclubs and fancy hotel bars – but isn’t alcohol illegal in the UAE? No, as long as it’s consumed in a licensed hotel bar and you have a personal alcohol license, which expats can obtain from their employer. It’s worth pointing out that as far as I’m aware, tourists visiting Dubai can’t get an alcohol license, so police just turn a blind eye – unless they end up in trouble while drunk.

I was once drinking in a bar with my female friend and her drink was spiked. Fortunately, we got her home safely. She went to the hospital the next day and the doctors had only one question: why was she drinking when she didn’t have an alcohol license? Never mind the fact that someone targeted her, and how badly things could have turned out.

Public displays of affection

Everyone knows the story of the couple who got caught having sex on the beach in Dubai – but can you hold hands? It depends who you ask. I did it and nobody batted an eye lid, but it only takes one local to find it offensive and you could find yourself in bother with the police.

Another instance where everyone turns a blind eye is when it comes to hotels. Technically, you can’t check into a hotel with a member of the opposite sex if you aren’t married. I’ve done it, and I’ve never heard of anyone being arrested for it.

Co-habiting with a member of the opposite sex you’re not married to isn’t allowed. (That doesn’t mean that Dubai isn’t filled with 6 bedroom apartments with mixed genders.)

Conduct

You do however have to be careful about which charities you support on social media, the language you use on social media and in public, and definitely don’t take pictures of females you don’t know.

You can be arrested for raising your middle finger at someone in the UAE.

Drugs

You should also check whether any medication you’re on is illegal in the UAE before you fly, and obviously don’t take drugs.

 

As someone who has actually lived in Dubai, I don’t find the news about the Brit touching another man’s hip in a bar and being arrested for it hard to believe.

Why I left Dubai

I’d never want to disrespect another’s culture, but it can be difficult to get your head around laws and rules that so completely undermine your own values. Maybe it was the day a local lady at work asked me how to get rid of the ‘homosexuals’ (whispered in horror) on her Snapchat story. Maybe it was the day I watched a western female expat scolded on the metro for showing both her arms and legs, because – and I quote – “Men might touch you”. I think it was a culmination of these moments and other personal reasons, that had me thinking, “I’m done”.

Yes, Dubai did a lot for me, career-wise and for my own personal growth. But for me, it could never be home. Most people who move there set themselves an expiration date. The plan is usually the same: get in, keep your head down, make some serious money, live the high life for a bit, then get out.

I’m curious, what are your thoughts? Would you live in Dubai? Or holiday there? Did you know about all of this?

These are just my personal views, and I’m not suggesting anyone doesn’t visit or move to Dubai because of what I’ve written. I had a ball there, as you’ll know if you followed my blog and my Instagram during those 14 months. But I prefer to give my readers the whole story, and these are the truths that underlie that glam life in Dubai for expats.

I know some people will have a problem with what I’ve written and I’d never want to offend, but I hope this article at least makes people aware of the care they should take in Dubai to avoid getting into trouble.

You can follow this blog on FacebookInstagram and Twitter. You can also subscribe to my newsletter for weekly updates and to make sure you never miss a post.

Pin this

Rules for visiting Dubai - what can get you arrested?

Share:

26 Comments

  1. October 8, 2017 / 6:26 pm

    This is a really interesting read, and very sensitively handled. I remember being shocked by the racial divide, too – I had no idea it existed quite that much until I saw it for myself – and, weirdly, I couldn’t get my head around the lack of recycling. Dubai is a fascinating place to visit and I loved my time there, but I’m glad to be home xx

    • Dannielle | While I'm Young
      October 9, 2017 / 8:46 am

      Oh I totally forgot to include the lack of recycling! It really irked me that some countries are SO careful, recycling everything, when other countries just couldn’t care less about it. I always love hearing other people’s views who have actually experienced Dubai, thanks for your comment Beth xx

  2. October 8, 2017 / 10:45 pm

    These are the reasons I’d never visit Dubai. Well done for talking about it honestly.

  3. October 8, 2017 / 10:58 pm

    That’s a super interesting post and it needs to be said. A lot of UK tourists see Dubai as a kind of Mallorca with camels, when as you point out really it isn’t.

    The cause of that is Dubai’s accessibility with Emirates flying from regional airports (Newcastle, Birmingham etc), combined with news of people like the Beckhams buying up places over there. So it seems just like any other sun and sea destination – just a bit more exotic.

    I was also really interested in hearing your reasons for leaving, thanks so much for sharing all this.

  4. October 9, 2017 / 12:09 pm

    I really applaud you for sharing this! To be honest, I’ve never had the desire to visit Dubai after reading so many articles about how women are treated there. A few years ago I read about a Norwegian woman who was raped and sentenced to prison, and have also read the articles you mentioned (and many more). When I visit another country I always read up on its culture, so as to know what is expected of me and what I can expect. Countries where I am so openly discriminated against because of my sex/gender do not appeal to me at all, and so Dubai, and many other countries, aren’t really on my bucket list for that reason alone.

    • Dannielle | While I'm Young
      October 9, 2017 / 1:08 pm

      I think the thing about Dubai is, that on the surface the country DOES value women – the Sheikh has lots of females in his staff – yet should any of those women find themselves a victim of sexual assault, they wouldn’t be protected. It’s a tricky subject but I really wanted to address it and get it right. Thanks for your comment!

  5. October 9, 2017 / 12:55 pm

    Couldn’t agree more. I found it as a convenient place to live in but I too left the country eventually. I must admit that when I first started to live there, somehow I felt that I became a bit materialistic and shallow. I was lucky that I got my senses back immediately. In another emirate(Sharjah), apparently you could also get in trouble if you walk with the opposite sex who isn’t your husband–even if he is you’re cousin! I wouldn’t be surprised because it is where they have made a huge deal about lingerie being displayed in window stores and locals have complained about. Personally, it is the place where from the moment you arrive, you just know that you will leave again. There was no homey feeling even if it was a convenient city.

    • Dannielle | While I'm Young
      October 9, 2017 / 1:06 pm

      I feel ya, I definitely took on the Dubai Princess persona and didn’t like it one bit. I think it’s technically against Shariah law to be in the same room with a member of the opposite sex that you’re not married to, but for obvious reasons it’s not really enforced in most places. I do find the censorship on ads etc when it comes to women’s bodies crazy – did you ever see that pic where the woman was just photoshopped out and replaced with a beach ball?!

  6. October 10, 2017 / 4:15 am

    It echoes my thoughts. There are very few destinations which I have hated in my 10 years of travel. Dubai is one of them. Loved this honest article which states quite honestly why Dubai sucks as a destination. While visiting Dubai I felt as if I was moving around in a jail. I will write my own version soon. Sharing this on Twitter and Facebook.

  7. sabrinatrevis
    October 10, 2017 / 2:12 pm

    Danielle, this is very well written and I’m glad you finally decided to publish it! I think I will never be able to live in Dubai or in any other Sharia ruled country and you articulated the whys in a very clear way 🙂 Keep up the good work gurrl!

  8. October 10, 2017 / 11:54 pm

    Finally, someone who shares how I feel! I really didn’t enjoy Dubai. On several occasions I did not feel safe. Firstly, my friends and I were dancing at a hotel nightclub and we started getting circled by men who tried to grab us. We were with some male friends who lived there at the time and I had to pretend I was married to one of them and we literally had to run out of there and go back to our apartment. Secondly, we were at a salsa night and this gentleman asked my friend to dance so my other friend being British took a photo (we love a picture) and all hell broke loose. He tried nicking the camera, threatening to ring the police if she didn’t delete the photo and we got chucked out of the club by the bouncers.

    Safe to say I have no interest in visiting there again.

  9. October 11, 2017 / 5:57 pm

    This is such a interesting read and I really love the way you have written down your thoughts without patronizing anything. While I had some vague idea about the laws of Dubai, I never thought it was so stringent and that it could apply to the tourists as well. It is always good to read about the customs and social norms of any place we visit or stay. But with Dubai, I realize that one needs to be way too cautious to avoid getting into any trouble.

  10. October 12, 2017 / 9:30 am

    Thanks for that well-written report. It’s nice to have it laid out out so clearly. What locals can take offense at can catch out even the best intentioned traveler, but usually without such bad consequences!

  11. Elena
    October 12, 2017 / 9:37 pm

    My profession is in high demand in Dubai and paid well, but my second passport is Israeli, so they would never let me in anyway. And maybe this is good – I am extremely intolerable to the crap you are describing.

  12. October 13, 2017 / 3:14 am

    It was interesting to read this candid post about Dubai. Always beneath the gloss and glamour of many of the cities of the world there lies an underbelly which is not all that preety. But these experiences need to be shared as it will be a guide to other visitors who are realistically aware of the issues.

  13. October 13, 2017 / 9:56 am

    Very glad that I read this. We (as an unmarried couple – shock!) are heading to Dubai for the first time soon and whilst we do have some idea of the restrictions of Sharia law, a lot of this was new to us. Thanks.

  14. October 14, 2017 / 11:40 am

    This is by far one of the most interesting and helpful blog articles I’ve read in a long time. You’re incredibly brave, I don’t know if I could’ve done that if I were you. Not because I don’t care about what happens but because after living there and having a great time there, you don’t wanna be banned from that place…
    Anyway, with this article you’re doing many people a favor. Dubai is rising in popularity, so many people are going there on holidays but so few know that there’s actually sharia law there. Everyone is always so negative about Saudi Arabia but Dubai has the same laws (though it is not AS bad as Saudi).

  15. October 14, 2017 / 1:00 pm

    Thank you for sharing this honest article. It is hard to believe, that a country like Dubai with all its bling bling has this other side. I know it has, although as you already stated, you do not read a lot of it in media. I was not aware about the alcohol license…

  16. October 14, 2017 / 4:21 pm

    This is such an important post, thanks very much for sharing. For starters, I would have been in trouble photographing crowds etc. It’s a bit sad that some of those rules exist, but it’s better to be informed about them so that you can avoid consequences.

  17. October 15, 2017 / 3:53 am

    I am so glad you wrote about this . Love your honesty… I have only seen pictures of glittery Dubai, with sky high buildings. No one talks about how it feels like living there. Great post.

  18. October 18, 2017 / 9:16 am

    I live in India. My own country is conservative to some extent like public display of affection is not widespread, you should wear conservative cloths, but then no one cares if you really don’t do these things. There are no ‘rules’ as such, it’s more about respecting the local culture. But to know that a place which has rules to imprison women who have been raped actually exists – that sounds unbelievable to me.

  19. October 20, 2017 / 9:14 pm

    This post is so good, Dannielle. I’m so glad you’ve shared the “other side” of living in Dubai. I’d really like to visit Dubai and some of the things, that I’d already been slightly concerned about, you’ve highlighted in this post do slightly put me off. I think I’d feel like I couldn’t quite relax properly out of fear I’d do something completely innocent yet that’s potentially illegal in Dubai. I suppose like anywhere though, it’s just being aware of your surroundings and the culture you’re in and it still must be such fascinating place to experience.

    • Dannielle | While I'm Young
      October 20, 2017 / 11:11 pm

      Thanks Emma! I do still think it’s an amazing place to visit, absolutely. After all, most tourists go, have a fab time and come home safe. I just think it’s important to highlight this stuff because so many people use my blog for advice about Dubai, and so far I’ve only ever shared the cliche glam expat lifestyle side of things.

  20. Midknight
    October 26, 2017 / 2:33 pm

    Which of your values are so different?

    My values aren’t that different from those of Dubai to be honest. I don’t think it is necessary to drink and do drugs in the street and it’s not necessary to kiss in public, why can’t that just stay private? What is that important about kissing in public?

    I also think it’s not very bright to have sex with regularly changing people just to try one another out. The thought of getting married and being faithful to one another seems quite charming instead. But I guess the Western society prefers to hump each and everyone like there’s no tomorrow.

    The problem about collecting money seems fine to me, too, because money laundering actually is an international problem, and you just never know where the money people are collecting will go. I do not mind that Dubai thinks it should be registered before you’re allowed to ask for funds.

    It all has reasons you just need to think harder about before judging.

    I actually would like to live in Dubai. To bad I can’t yet, but I will try to in the future. In case someone has a job in Dubai for me contact me.

    • Caroline
      October 31, 2017 / 2:10 pm

      What about the homophobic, sexist and racist values? I’d REALLY hope they’re very different to most people’s. I don’t think many people would say that their values line up well with Sharia law.

      Having sex outside marriage doesn’t have to mean ‘humping everyone’ – but even if it does, that’s someone’s own business and doesn’t affect anyone else. Not everyone chooses to marry their long-term partners, either. Some are fine with living together and/or having children without needing to add the label of marriage for religious or cultural purposes. I don’t see why the legal status of marriage should affect how couples are allowed to live.

  21. Caroline
    October 31, 2017 / 2:11 pm

    Hi Danielle, just found this post and have to say it was a breath of fresh air after seeing so many gloss over the huge issues in Dubai in favour of the glam image it portrays. x