ExpatWoman's Guide to Dubai Etiquette: How to Behave in Dubai | ExpatWoman.com

ExpatWoman's Guide to Dubai Etiquette: How to Behave in Dubai

Although Dubai is a very tolerant place to live there are certain rules to follow to make your time here easier.

Posted on

31 July 2013

Last updated on 28 July 2019
ExpatWoman's Guide to Dubai Etiquette: How to Behave in Dubai
Visitors and residents should remember that, as Dubai is a Muslim city, a more modest code of behaviour is required. Being drunk and disorderly in public is unacceptable, and may result in a fine or worse.

Public displays of affection should be minimal – holding hands is acceptable but kissing and hugging in public is not.

Noise disruptions, bad language, making obscene gestures and showing disrespect in any way to Dubai’s religion or its leaders are all forbidden and may land you in legal trouble.

The following are also considered illegal in Dubai: use or possession of drugs, cohabitation, sex outside of marriage, having a baby out of wedlock, adultery and homosexuality.

So here are our top tips on how to follow Dubai etiquette:

Dress Code

Although you will see plenty of exceptions, mainly from tourists, there is a dress code for Dubai and this has been implemented as a show of respect and to avoid any offence being given.

To sum it up you should cover your shoulders, cleavage and legs above the knees and avoid really tight or sheer clothing. Bikinis should only be worn on beaches and around pool areas and should not be of the G string bottom variety. Topless bathing is of course illegal!

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The dress code matters less so in a bar but you should think about covering up with a handy pashmina for the journey. All malls in Dubai have implemented the dress code and you can be thrown out of a mall or asked to purchase more “decent” clothing to be able to remain in the mall.


Public displays of affection with the opposite sex in Dubai can get you in to trouble- so no kissing, canoodling, fondling in public whatsoever- whether it’s with your husband or not- it can still cause offence. A peck on the cheek or holding hands with your husband is fine!

Hand Gestures

Hand gestures in Dubai can cause you to be fined, put in prison or deported- depending on who you flick the bird to! So no matter how crazy the driving do NOT be tempted to use a rude hand gesture. Hand gestures that will cause offence include giving the Vs, giving the finger.

No hand gestures in Dubai


Swearing at someone in Dubai is also illegal- whatever happens keep your cool and don’t use that potty mouth- it could get you in serious trouble! 

Take care when swearing over social media, the Internet or via popular instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp, too- if a person is found swearing online to another person and they take offence and complain, they could be fined AED 250,000 and jailed, while expats could also face deportation under a federal law governing Internet users. 

Being Drunk

It is actually illegal to be drunk in public in Dubai and this can also lead to fining, imprisonment or deportation. 99.9% of the time all will be fine but you really need to keep your wits about you.

Always, always hop into a taxi straight outside whatever venue you are at- don’t be tempted to go for a wander! And whatever you do- never, ever drink and drive- not even one. There is a zero tolerance policy here and it is not worth the risk to yours or others’ lives- again get a taxi, abandon vehicle- use the Safe Driver service! Make sure you have an alcohol licence too!

SEE ALSO: What is Ramadan all about?


Normal tourist photography is acceptable but it is considered offensive to photograph Muslim women. It is also courteous to ask permission before photographing men. In general, photographs of government buildings, mosques or military installations should not be taken.


When a woman meets an Emirati or Arab man, do not offer to shake his hand, unless he extends his hand towards you first.


Drugs/ narcotics are of course totally illegal in Dubai but there are also prescription drugs, like Valium for example, that also contain prohibited ingredients that are illegal in the UAE and should not be transported here. Here is a link to the banned drugs in the UAE.