Visit Dubai: What not to do in Dubai – Don´ts in Dubai
Dubai is an intriguing city, fascinating and super modern – super modern in many respects, but very conservative in others.
While Dubai is not as conservative as many other Arabic cities, there are still a few things you should NOT do in Dubai. At least, if you don’t want to get into trouble or show disrespect.
After having visited Dubai many times, I am quite familiar with the rules but whenever I visit a new place, I try to inform myself about important do´s and don´ts of the destination – for one, because it is about showing respect. However, in Dubai, it is also because I don’t want to end up in prison.
Let´s be honest: Prison in Dubai is probably not fun and the “prison thing” could happen quite easily in the United Arab Emirates (a few examples follow in the text).
Okay, maybe you will not be thrown into prison straight away for smaller offenses, but the security and police might be there quite fast. And we don’t want to experience that, right?
Personally, the strict rules sometimes help me to feel safer as a solo female traveler (e.g. less alcohol), but there are a few things that worry me a bit.
So, whether it is to show respect or because you want to avoid the police in Dubai – here are my tips on WHAT NOT TO DO IN DUBAI (many things are officially not allowed, but people still do it anyways and though it is common practise you should be at least be aware, that officially, it is not allowed).
P.S. Very apparent don´ts, like stealing and other crimes, are not mentioned here, but of course, they apply.
So, here they are – the important things to do in Dubai
Alcohol is not forbidden in Dubai (unlike Sharjah, which is located next to Dubai) and you can buy it in certified bars, clubs, restaurants, etc.
However, not all restaurants serve alcohol and you should not take your own bottle or can of beer from your mini-bar and have it on the street or other places that aren’t selling and serving alcohol.
If you are not married, you are not allowed to share a hotel room with your partner. I know, most people do it anyhow, but it is actually forbidden and you could end up in trouble.
So, if you are asked at the hotel about your husband/wife, just play along and do not emphasize that you are not married. Hotel staff normally turn a blind eye towards this issue.
Forbidden – if you are gay, don’t say it and don’t show it. It can get you in real trouble (including ending up in prison), so your partner is just a good friend during your Dubai trip.
If you are a solo female traveler, don’t book accommodations in Dubai Deira – the old town of Dubai. Personally, I love strolling the area in the daytime, but it is really intense. You get stares and people constantly try to sell you something.
I feel safe during the day, but I definitely don’t recommend staying there as a solo female traveler. Even though this area is one of the cheapest, please avoid side streets and small hotels, if you want to feel safe.
P.S. Dubai is extremely safe and you will most likely be safe in Deira as a female, too, but it is just not the best experience – believe me, I have done it and say this from my own experience.
Here are places I recommend to stay in Dubai – the best neighborhoods and the best hotels for each budget.
Cursing and Swearing
Cursing and swearing in Dubai is not allowed – so while you would like to curse the crazy driver in front of you out loud, better to just keep it in your thoughts. Cursing the ruling family is as forbidden as cursing in general.
If you want to take pictures of Arabian people because they look so interesting to you in their traditional clothes, don’t. Or ask first. You are not allowed to take pictures of people without permission (especially of local women), and you also aren’t allowed to take photos of some government buildings.
Before marriage? Not allowed. This also explains the situation with sharing a room as a non-married couple. Sex before marriage is actually illegal – even as non-Muslims and foreigners. Unfortunately, a woman ended up in prison after she reported a rape, so this is actually very upsetting and it is terrible to see people being imprisoned for years because of reporting a crime that involved an activity that isn’t allowed in Dubai.
Oh, we all see the couples holding hands and even kissing in public on Instagram… often these are influencers who are looking to promote Dubai and who were invited by the tourism board. Truth be told: just because they are allowed to do it, doesn’t mean you are.
Actually, you can get in real trouble if you show affection in public. No kissing, and no cuddling for us regular people.
P.S. This, of course, does not mean you cannot hug or cuddle your kids. It just pertains to your spouse (or supposed spouse).
We know that Arabs are actually really lively and enjoy dancing and good music. However, dancing in public is not allowed (apart from clubs, etc.). So, when you hear some nice loud music from a restaurant, don’t get up to show your great dance moves – keep those for your hotel room or the bar-
I cannot help it, my shoulders start moving, even in Dubai, when I hear a great song and I do not make myself to freeze but I try to control and stop myself from twirling and wild dance moves.
Nobody wants to listen to me sing, so I have stopped singing out loud – at least in front of others. This gives me a natural advantage because I will not get in trouble for singing in public.
So, as pretty as your voice is, keep it low. Also, avoid loud discussions with others.
There are bars, restaurants, and other venues where music is played – so you don’t have to live completely without music. If you watch the water dancing show, you will hear music and that is fine, too. It is not per se forbidden and enjoy whenever you hear it in Dubai.
However, don’t take out your phone and turn on the music so that people around you can hear it. Save your dancing, singing, and music-listening for a trip to another part of the world.
During Ramadan, a time where Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, life gets a bit more challenging. If you visit Dubai during Ramadan (which lasts about four weeks), you don’t have to fast, too, but you are expected to show respect and not drink (even water) or eat in public during that time.
Dubai has some strict laws on drugs. So, this is not the perfect place if you enjoy an occasional joint or harder drugs. Punishment can be severe, so make sure you empty your bags of any drugs that could cause problems. If you are on medication, double-check if you can take that medication into Dubai.
Surprise, surprise. Don’t bring your magazines, DVDs, or anything of this sort with you to Dubai. Of course, all these things do exist in Dubai, and people have access to them, but don’t risk your neck by bringing anything that might get you into big trouble.
You can wear bikinis at the beach, and you can wear shorts and tops. However, here again, don’t necessarily wear what the Instagrammers wear. Most of the time, they disrespect local dress codes.
Some nations do care less about dress codes (anyone in Dubai probably knows which two nations they are), but don’t be one of them. I even heard from a local that security guards have actually asked people to leave malls or to change clothes and many locals are quite annoyed by the way tourists (and expats) dress. I am also wearing skirts that do not cover my knees in Dubai but try to not reveal too much skin at once.
Check out my post on what to wear in Dubai here.
Carry Fish Around
You can buy and eat fish, but don’t bring fish with you on the metro. It is not allowed – for very good reasons. Also, while talking about the metro, you cannot eat or drink in the metro (and for sure not eat fish in the metro).
As a man, do not enter the women‘s compartment on the metro. There are sections for females and children only and they are marked in pink. Men can be fined if they are standing or sitting in the wrong compartment.
Visit in Summer
If you enjoy the heat, then visit in the summer months (April to October) but I seriously suggest not visiting during these months. It will be warm and even hot in the winter, and unbearably hot in the summer.
Don´t Praise Qatar
Okay, this might even weirder than some of the other rules, but I thought I should add it as this is a very new topic. The last Asian Cup took place in the UAE and people cheering for the Qatar football team (at the Asian Cup) were punished (not sure what the punishment meant as it was not very transparent). With the political crises still going on, do not openly display your admiration for the country (though I am not sure what to admire there, well but anyhow) as you might have to face consequences you do not want to face.
Okay, that sounds like a lot of “don´ts” – some of them are quite obvious because you will visit an Islamic country and some are just showing courtesy. However, while it may sound like Dubai isn’t fun, you can still have an amazing time in Dubai – just follow these few rules and you will be fine!
So, after all, the don´ts in Dubai it is time to find out about the do´s, right?
Here are some great things to do in Dubai – find out about my favorite things to do in Dubai here
Find out how to spend 5 days in Dubai