Dubai 2021? Do’s and Don’ts for Foreign Travelers

Dubai Expo 2020 2021 Sustainability Pavillion

Dubai Expo 2020, the Sustainability Pavillion

Planning on a trip to Dubai before intense summer heat hits? Or maybe this coming summer to visit the World Expo 2020? Brush up on how to act to avoid holiday disasters far worse than sunburn and frizzy hair. Among the seven member states of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai – if it was a Disney dwarf – could be called “Tolerant”.  That’s modern Middle East tolerant, a term that benefits from a bit of clarity.

Tips to help navigate Dubai-acceptable conventions:

Outrageous Dubai: where you can illegally scale soaring skyscrapers, and hit a Guinness Record holder every time you spit (but don’t – it’s not allowed!) – but where you’d best save attention-grabbing antics like Parkour for another trip to Hawaii or San Tropez.

Unmarried visitors in particular should get wise to acceptable rules of behavior. Public displays of affection (including kissing and holding hands) and all forms of nudity are verboten.  And all those single ladies (and men) – keep your music volume on low.

The guidelines have just recently been re-broadcast and are absolutely in play, with rules strictly enforced.  They appear to be aimed at the Emirate’s world-record-breaking shopping malls which act as magnets for tourists (and all manner of unrestrained cultural habits), but you can be fined or imprisoned for violating them anywhere.

Kissing on the shores of Dubai Creek, suggestive caresses in the Gold Souk and blasting your iTunes on a sightseeing bus can land you in big trouble with the police. Rules soften in Western-style bars and resorts, but why confuse things with the double-standard?  Heed that classic advice to the amorous, and get a hotel room.

The Tawajed clause in Sharia (Islamic) law technically forbids an unmarried couple to share bedroom, or even a car.  In Dubai, where foreigners outnumber natives nine to one, enforcement on this point gets pretty limp.  Hotels typically require only one guest to register, and never ask for a marriage certificate. So relax a bit, but don’t flaunt your ring-less status.

Discretion is always the smarter choice. And contact a local travel expert in your language before you fly. They will be sensitive to the rules “your people” might be more likely to break. Like burping is encouraged in China, but not at all in America. So, use common sense.

Keep your clothes moderate, which will also help you cope with oppressive heat and humidity. Opt for loose-fitting and opaque fabrics; top that camisole or skinny tee with an overshirt or sun-blocking shawl. Keep limbs maximally covered (and be grateful for how much better your protected skin will look when you are seventy).

Women’s beachwear should scream “college swim team”, not “Ipanema Beach”.

I’m OK with these rules, they’re nothing that a dozen years of Catholic school hasn’t already tattooed on my psyche. But if they drive you to drink, stick to any of the long list of nightclubs, restaurants and hotels that legally serve alcohol.

And drop Green Prophet a postcard to tell us how the trip went.

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6 thoughts on “Dubai 2021? Do’s and Don’ts for Foreign Travelers”

  1. Meem says:

    As of May 2014 there was not a lot of conforming to the Dubai Mall rules of clothing as posted on the entrance doors. Still saw shorts and camisoles and nobody telling them to change. I did hear that they are stricter on clothing in Abu Dhabi, but as I haven’t been there in over a year I cannot confirm this. This laxness is spilling into Oman which is a bit more conservative so I wonder how that will be accepted in the interior of the country vs the urban capital area. We shall see.

  2. Doug says:

    Sounds like a really stupid place to visit. Control control control

    1. fawwazUae says:

      you worst,if you didnt like it,then dont come,we just want to avoid misbehaviour like animal

  3. Richard says:

    That’s more incidents than I’ve seen in 13 years! You must attract trouble Laurie 🙂

  4. Laurie Balbo says:

    Good to know, Richard, that things are actually more tolerant than advertised.

    In my three visits, I saw a woman booted off a tour bus for wearing too short shorts; another asked to leave a restaurant because of a bandage-sized tank top; and a couple aggressively heckled for making out in front of our hotel.

    Probably wise for visitors to be aware of the formal rules, even if they’re not always applied.

  5. Richard says:

    Just thought I’d give my perspective from 13 years living in Dubai…

    Ignore the above advice and do what you like, apart from nudity and sexual behaviour in public. If you can do those things in your home country, congratulations. If it’s Ramadan (as it is at the moment) you might want to avoid eating, drinking, smoking and kissing in public if you don’t want to get shouted at by a policeman.

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