Behavior to adopt in the United Arab Emirates

How to behave in the UAE? 

The United Arab Emirates is an Arabic country with an extremey different culture to that in Europe . A relatively large number of day-to-day activities change as a result of these cultural differences. Subsequently, a number of behaviours that are widely regarded as acceptable in the majority of European countries might well be frowned upon in the United Arab Emirates. Having said that, the United Arab Emirates is for the most part a very tolerant country with regards to differences in culture and daily habits. 

The following is a little summary of the major do’s and don’ts to be respected when living in the Emirates . 

Clothing: How to dress in the Emirates? 

This question is usually part of the FAQs. How should one dress, as a man or as a women, in Dubai or in Abu Dhabi? 
The Emiraties wear their traditional clothing which consists of a dishdash or gandoura for men and of an abaya for the women. To know more about the traditional wear in the Emirates, please read the article on Traditional Wear in the Emirates. 

For the Expats, they can dress as they wish with, however, certain limits. 

For men, just about anything goes; one can walk around in shorts and flip-flops just about anywhere. Do not however walk around without your top off even on your way to the beach. Only get undressed once on the beach. 

For women, refrain from wearing clothes which are too revealing. People have been refused entrance to malls and restaurants in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, although this is very rare. What will bother you the most is the looks you might receive from the men, in particular the Indian and Pakistani men. They will make no attempt at disguising their starring habits should a young lady come into their site. In any case, expatriate women are in no way, shape or form obliged to wear the abaya or the veil if they do not wish to. On the other hand, revealing clothing worn in the evening or at night at the restaurants and night clubs is very common and very widely accepted especially in Dubai.

Travelling as a lone women in the United Arab Emirates

Due to a large number of cliches affiliated to the country, women are often unsure as to whether or not it is a good idea to travel alone in the United Arab Emirates.
The answer is yes. It is possible for a lone women to travel or live alone in Dubai, Abu Dhabi or the Northern Emirates.

With regards to safety, the UAE is a very safe country where aggressions on women are very rare (more rare than in a European country for example), however the county's usual safety precautions should none-the-less be respected.

Expatriate women are of equal standing to the men when it comes to the law, and even though women will undoubtedly be exposed to sexist cliches and sometimes the insistent staring of laborers, life is totally livable for a women in the United Arab Emirates.

Behavior to adopt in public areas

Behaviour in plublic requires some adaptation when arriving to the UAE from a non muslim country. It is important to know that in all public places, it is forbidden to:
  • Kiss on the lips; however it is not forbidden kiss cheeks or hold hands,
  • Be too touchy-feely as a couple; avoid hugging/cuddling and smooching,
  • Drink alcohol or to be drunk in the streets (alcohol is authorized only at home or in hotel bars),
  • Be rude or make rude signs (the middle finger can earn you up to one month in prison),
  • Be naked or topless (this can be very badly seen),
  • Dress as someone of the opposite sex, even as joke; be aware that a man dressing as a women can be sanctioned to a number of months in prison. 
Although there is a limited amount of tolerance with regards to the above rules in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, it should be borne in mind that expatriates are regularly sentenced to time (short spells) in prison. The Emirate of Sharjah is somewhat less tolerant and the rules listed above are strictly enforced.

During the Ramadan month, it is also forbidden to:
  • Drink in public areas (that includes water and all other soft drinks),
  • Eat in public areas (that even includes chewing gum),
  • Smoke in public areas.
The standard penalty for severely/blatantly abusing the above conditions is usually time in prison util the end of the Ramandan Period. For more informations, read our article on Ramadan in the United Arab Emirates.

Freedom of Speech in the Emirates

Note that it is strictly forbidden, in the UAE, to criticize:
  • monotheist religions, and more particularly Islam,
  • the country, the flag, and everything to do with the nation, 
  • political views and anything to do with the royal family.
Even as a joke or under the form of humour, these criticisms can earn one a stay in prison. Read our more detailed article on internet and censorship in the United Arab Emirates and on religions in the United Arab Emirates.

Travelling as a couple in the United Arab Emirates

Sex, drugs, alcohol and pork in the United Arab Emirates

Exploring the United Arab Emirates > Useful tips for the UAE