Sex, alcohol, drugs, and pork in the UAE

This article's title is a bit sensationalist, I agree. Still, these are important issues to be aware of before going to the United Arab Emirates, in Abu Dhabi, in Dubai or in the Northern Emirates.

For more information on the topics that are not covered here, read: Behaviour to adopt in the UAE.

Sex in the UAE

The UAE are an Arab Muslim country, so they have a different approach than us concerning this matter. As a consequence, be aware that, according to the law, it is strictly prohibited:
- to have sex without being married,
- to have sex with someone else than the person you're married with.

Theoritically, prostitution is prohibited. Housesharing is also prohibited, in order to avoid the possibility of unmarried couples living together. Although relatively widely tolerated for unisex housesharing, mixed collocations are dangerously illegal.
Even if you invite a friend of the opposite sex in your apartment, be discreet and be sure to be on good terms with your watchmen.

However, you will realize quickly that there is some difference between the law and its implementation, both in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Prostitution is actually very common, and you will see many unmarried couples (and many unfaithful husbands).
In all cases, remain discreet, and know that, for these practices, fines and prison sentences can be very heavy, and especially if you're Muslim.

For couples, see our article: Travel as a couple in the United Arab Emirates.
You should also know that homosexuality is forbidden and heavily sentenced.

Drugs in the UAE

There is absolutely zero tolerance regarding drugs in the UAE. Never joke with this matter, as the penalties are very heavy, and can go up to the death penalty.

All drugs, soft or hard, are illegal in the UAE: cannabis, heroin, crack, weed, cocaine, Ecstasy ... Even the smallest amounts can be detected at the airports and can lead to heavy prison sentences; quantities no bigger than 1 milligram have already sent their holders directly to jail. Detection methods are technologically very advanced at airports in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and the authorities do not make distinctions in sentencing according to the amount owned.

The sale and trafficking of drugs most often leads to life imprisonment or to death penalty, still in force in the UAE.

Alcohol in the UAE

Alcohol is not illegal in the UAE, but only for non-Muslims.

Many bars and pubs serve alcohol in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but all are in hotels. Indeed, only hotels are allowed to serve alcohol.
They serve approximately everything you could dream of, and you shouldn't have any difficulties to find your favorite beverage.

You have to be 21years old minimum to enter bars, and ID card is often requested if you look young .Remember that it is forbidden to be drunk in public, so be careful and drink reasonably!

For your personal use, purchase of alcohol is highly regulated. Only Liquor Shop have the right to sell alcohol. They are often hard to find because they are most of the time hidden behind wood panels or painted glass.
You must have a license, which is obtained from the Criminial Authority, to buy alcohol. Even if this license is asked in very few liquor stores, it is always better to have it in case of a control.
Be careful: alcohol is strictly forbidden in the Emirate of Sharjah, as well as when crossing a border with the Sultanate of Oman or Saudi Arabia.

Pork in the UAE

Pork meat is not illegal in the UAE, but it can be hard to find. Indeed, supermarkets such as Carrefour do not sell some. 
However, it is possible to find pork in Spinneys stores (a British supermarket chain). Stores that sell pork are generally forbidden to Muslims, and are often difficult to find, for the same reason that the liquor shops.
In the big cities such as Abu Dhabi or Dubai, you should find easily pork ribs, sausages, bacon and sausages, even if good french charcuterie is sometimes hard to find...
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