The culture and laws in the UAE are designed to ensure that everyone is respectful of each other regardless of their faith and nationality. Visitors and residents alike should avoid types of improper conduct and behaviour which can otherwise lead to fines, imprisonment and deportation.
Alcohol consumption is allowed only by non-muslims in licensed restaurants, pubs, clubs, private venues, and at home (for residents who have acquired an alcohol licence). For those living in the UAE a special licence must be obtained before purchasing alcohol from the exclusive, specialised, licensed stores. This licence is only a permit for buying alcohol. It does not give any immunity for alcohol related criminal offences. It is an offence to carry alcohol in your car if you do not hold the special alcohol licence. If you come to the attention of the police you may be arrested, even though you may have purchased the alcohol legally. You need to be 21 or over in order to drink alcohol legally in the UAE (18 in Abu Dhabi). Alcohol is not available in Sharjah.
Drugs are strictly forbidden. The penalties for drug trafficking, smuggling and possession, of even residual amounts, of drugs are severe. Consuming or carrying drugs, even if you are transiting through the airport from one country to another, can result in a standard 4 year imprisonment and deportation. Buying or selling narcotics is considered a serious crime which can result in life-imprisonment and sentences for drug trafficking can include the death penalty. If you are using prescribed drugs it is advisable to carry a doctor’s note. If you are bringing prescription drugs into the UAE you may need to seek prior agreement from the authorities
Sexual relationships outside of marriage are illegal, irrespective of any relationship you may have with your partner in the UK. Cohabiting, including in hotels, is also illegal. If you become pregnant outside of marriage, both you and your partner face the possibility of imprisonment. There are also legal ramifications when registering the birth with the local authorities.
The UAE has a zero-tolerance policy towards drinking and driving. You can be charged and imprisoned if you are caught with even the smallest amount of alcohol in your system. Tailgating, speeding, racing, lane jumping and using a mobile phone while driving are all against the law. There are numerous speed cameras on the roads and motorways. Fines in the UAE are heavy. If you are caught you may also face the possibility of having your car impounded. Wearing a seatbelt is mandatory.
Dancing is allowed in the privacy of your home or at licensed clubs. But dancing in public is classed as indecent and provocative. Sexual harassment or randomly addressing women in public, or taking their photos without permission, is strictly frowned upon. Offensive language, spitting and aggressive behaviour (including hand gestures) are viewed very seriously and can result in imprisonment and deportation. This includes “road rage”.
Holding hands for married couples is tolerated but kissing and hugging are considered offences against public decency. Open displays of affection are generally not tolerated.
You should be aware that the UAE Personal Affairs Law, which is based on Islamic principles, can apply to foreign nationals in child custody and divorce cases.
Smoking is forbidden in government areas, offices, shopping malls, most of the restaurants and bars. There are however many designated areas where smoking is allowed.