A Guide To Moving To The UAE – Laws & Regulations


Now that you are safely on your way to your new life in the mysterious Middle East, you need to be up to date on what’s expected of you as a foreigner once you’re feet hit terra firma. In recent years, UAE states such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi have hit international headlines relating to expats and their ignorance of Emirati law. People have been jailed for drink driving, cheating on their spouse and pre- marital sex.

1. Alcohol Laws

Photo: Martin Cathrae

Alcohol consumption is only allowed if you are a non-Muslim expat. You can apply for a special alcohol licence if you have residence status and this will allow you to buy liquor in specialised stores which you can then consume in the comfort of your own home.

This document while permitting you to consume alcohol does not give you the right to be drunk in the streets. Public drunkenness is an arrestable offence.

If you have friends or family visiting it is also worth noting that a tourist visa does not allow them to drink alcohol, if you end up having a liquid lunch with your loved ones, know that it is technically illegal.

2. Public Decency Laws

Photo: David Martyn Hunt

If you are a lover and not a fighter please take note of the following legalities. Public decency laws in the UAE are considered crimes of honour and are punishable not by arrest but deportation. Imagine explaining to everyone back home that you lost out on a once in a lifetime experience for a midnight tryst.

Sexual relationships outside marriage are considered illegal.

If reporting a sex crime be very careful, contact the police and then immediately contact your embassy. In the past women have been convicted of having pre/extra marital sex while perpetrators have gotten away scot free with their heinous crimes.

Photo: Klearchos Kapoutsis

Dancing in the street is a no no. It is considered provocative and you should only let your twinkle toe tendencies out at home or in a club.

For the snap happy; under no circumstances should you take a photograph of military bases, airports or government installations during your time in the Emirates. Furthermore, you cannot take a photograph of a young lady without her permission.

While not appreciated in the West; spitting, swearing and generally aggressive behaviour in the UAE is completely unacceptable. You will be arrested.

Smoking is legal but only in designated areas i.e. non-residential areas. It is also illegal to smoke in a car with children under the age of 12 present.

Public Displays of Affection are not only frowned upon but in some circumstances illegal. It’s perfectly acceptable for a married couple to hold hands but that’s as far as it goes.

Photo: Niv Singer

The topic of gay rights in the UAE is very controversial. Homosexuality is illegal and holds very grave punishments for those caught. If caught in homosexual acts in Abu Dhabi expect jail time of up to 14 years. The federal penal code also states that homosexuals can be subjected to experimental hormone treatments such as chemical castration.

Drugs are strictly forbidden and any one travelling to the UAE with prescription medication should have a doctor’s note and notify the relevant authorities beforehand.

3. Financial Laws

Photo: Pete

Most transactions are carried out via cheque but be very careful when making large purchases that your cheque doesn’t bounce or you will be spending some time in the slammer.

Photo: Arthit Suriyawongkul

Although the UAE is the most westernized state in the region it is still a Muslim culture that needs to be both understood and respected. In the UAE justice is usually severe but fair. If you do the crime you will most definitely do the time and no amount of begging will get you out of it. Once arrested you will be put in jail until your court case.

Title photo: Jason Mrachina

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