Although the pandemic hit Dubai's tourism just as much as anywhere else in the world, there was a steady year-on-year increase in visitor numbers until 2020.
In 2018 there were nearly 16 million visitors which was an increase of one million from 2016. The official number now stands at around 16.7 million tourists visiting Dubai every year. The large majority of these visits are safe and enjoyable, however, there are some laws that tourists may not be aware of before they arrive.
Whether you are visiting Thailand, the USA, China, or Dubai, it is always a good idea not only to research places to visit and activities but to understand the local laws and customs too. Not understanding local culture can sometimes get you in as much trouble as breaking the law.
To help keep you safe on your trip to Dubai here are some of the local rules and laws that should be noted.
Why is understanding local culture and customs important?
Most people understand that if they break a law abroad they have to pay the price, just as they would back home. This can mean anything from a caution to a fine, to actual imprisonment. What many visitors do not consider, is that local customs can be very different too.
Millions of people travel through Thailand every year, and many of these are young backpackers or people interested in partying in an exotic location. What many of these visitors fail to realize is that they often offend the locals with their behavior, even though no laws are being broken. Failure to cover knees and shoulders at temples, public displays of affection, and other seemingly minor activities, can cause great offense.
India and many other countries in the east find western habits unsavory, and Dubai is no different.
What laws should a tourist be aware of?
When it comes to breaking the law then the first one a westerner should be aware of is probably alcohol. It is completely normal and accepted to drink in many countries around the world so it may come as a shock to visitors to Dubai that it is not quite the same.
Other strict laws revolve around gambling, perhaps not surprisingly, the inappropriate use of VPNs, swearing, where you eat, where you wash your car, what you take photos of, what you wear - depending on where you are.
If you are planning on drinking in Dubai, read this
Sharia Law is in effect in the United Arab Emirates, and under this law, alcohol is banned. However, across the UAE, the laws on alcohol differ depending on where you are. In Sharjah, it is strictly illegal to consume alcohol regardless of whether you are a tourist or a local. In Dubai, it is somewhat different.
In November, the UAE relaxed alcohol laws slightly to make things clearer for people wishing to purchase alcohol. However, it still remains slightly unclear whether Dubai has totally dropped the alcohol permit system. The Government of the United Kingdom recommends that visitors obtain a temporary alcohol permit if they wish to drink while in Dubai.
What is clear, however, is that anyone wishing to drink must be 21 or over and only consume alcohol in their private home or a licensed establishment. These normally include nightclubs and hotel bars or restaurants.
Tourists must be fully aware that drinking in public or being seen under the influence of alcohol can lead to severe punishments involving imprisonment. Also, never drive after drinking any alcohol whatsoever.
Alcohol is not part of daily life in the UAE as it is in Australia or England, and this should be noted when traveling there. There are even many products such as perfume being made alcohol-free to suit the laws and lifestyle of the UAE.
How are the gambling laws in Dubai?
Gambling is another activity that many countries and their citizens enjoy. While the USA has different laws across the individual states, the UK has very relaxed laws when it comes to these activities. Visitors to Dubai will find that no bookmakers or casinos are lining the streets.
Just like many other countries, Dubai forbids betting on games of chance. There are no slot machines or gaming houses for tourists to visit, and gambling goes against the Muslim religion.
One common mistake that travelers make is thinking that if it is ok to do it at home then it is ok when away. But, you must remember that when you are overseas you have to follow that region's edicts, and gambling is not permitted in Dubai. This includes an online casino and internet poker, or slots.
You may think then that accessing off-shore online casinos would be a way to play your favorite card games while in Dubai. But, you may have to think again.
Using a VPN in Dubai
A favorite way for someone to reach the beste online casino in a country where casinos are not allowed is to use a VPN. The reality is that if you used your smartphone from your hotel room to play in an online casino or slot machines then you would not get caught. It is a law that is almost impossible to monitor. However, by using a VPN you are adding more problems if you did get spotted.
VPNs are not illegal in the UAE as long as they aren't used for any prohibited activity. By combining a VPN with gambling you will be breaking two laws at the same time.
Other laws to be aware of when in Dubai
Dressing and acting modestly is a good idea anywhere in Dubai, but in some circumstances even more so. Married couples holding hands are tolerated but kissing is not. Public displays of affection including hugging can also be frowned upon.
Drinking anything or consuming food on public transport is illegal, swearing is also prohibited in public and on social media. While eating on the metro can leave you with a fine to pay, swearing can see you end up with a jail sentence.
Tight clothing and dresses are not good ideas, and while Dubai is not as strict as Saudi Arabia, modest clothing is a good idea.
Once you learn the local laws it is clear that Dubai is not a middle-eastern Las Vegas and is unlikely to become one soon. However, by adjusting your habits for a short time you can enjoy the incredible architecture, shopping, relaxation, and activities that the city can offer.
Visit the Burj Khalifa, take a yacht tour, go quad biking in the desert, and afterward you can even enjoy a chilled glass of wine legally.