The Dubai Police recently arrested a man whose video went viral on social media. What was the crime? He was charged with “Committing Public Indecent Act” for dancing indecently in a local cafe. Meanwhile, the person who captured the video and posted it online has also been arrested and charged for “Posting Online Content that Violates Public Morality.”
This incident serves as a reminder for everyone — citizens, residents, and tourists alike — to be respectful of the local culture, religion, and practices at all times. These include laws on public decency and behavior, which apply to Dubai and to the rest of the UAE in general.
All About the Public Decency Law
Nowadays, Dubai is known to be a modern and progressive city — a great example of tolerance — especially since there are hundreds of different nationalities who live and work here. Still, there are certain limits to what is considered as acceptable public behavior.
With regard to public decency, the UAE Penal Code includes Article 358, which states that “anyone who breaks the law regarding public decency shall be sentenced to detention for a minimum term of six months, whoever has flagrantly committed an indecent act.”
What exactly is considered as an indecent act? To understand this better, we need to look into matters concerning dress code, lewd acts, alcohol, drugs, public display of affection, and “live in” relationships.
A. Dress Code
It may not be explicitly stated, but there is a dress code to be followed in Dubai (and the UAE in general). We have discussed this in greater length in a previous post, but perhaps the key thing that every man and woman should remember is to dress modestly in public.
You can wear whatever you want at home, but when out in public, men are advised to wear shirts, long pants, or knee-length shorts. Likewise, women are advised to wear clothes that cover their shoulders, long pants, dresses or skirts that are knee-length at least.
Clothes that are too tight or reveal too much skin are generally frowned upon. The same goes for clothes that display offensive words or images. Wearing these could get you trouble, so don’t be surprised if a person (or police officer) walks up to you and tells you to cover up!
When playing sports or going to the beach, sports wear and swimsuits are allowed — just be sure to cover up when exiting their facilities. Meanwhile, when visiting mosques, women are expected to wear a headscarf, while men should wear long pants or trousers.
B. Lewd Acts
In Dubai and the rest of the UAE, lewd acts are considered as a violation of public conduct. This includes stripping naked in a bar, engaging in sexual activities at the beach… you get the idea. As per Article 358 of the UAE, anyone who commits a lewd act — such as public nudity — is in violation of public decency.
Such acts are punishable by a jail term of at least six months. If the act involves a girl or boy below 15 years old, the jail term increases to at least one year, regardless of where the act was committed, whether in a public or private place.
Drinking alcohol is allowed in hotels establishments that are licensed to serve such beverages. However, buying and drinking alcohol elsewhere — even in your own home — is another matter. To do this, you need to apply for an alcohol license from the Ministry of Interior in Dubai.
To apply for an alcohol license, you need to be: non-Muslim, at least 21 years old, a resident of Dubai (with a valid resident visa), and earning at least AED 3,500 per month.
Even if you have an alcohol license, you are expected to drink responsibly. Drinking in public places, such as out in the street, at the beach, or in the desert — is not allowed. The same goes for being drunk or displaying drunken behavior in a public place.
The use and possession of illegal drugs are considered as serious criminal offenses in Dubai. Punishment includes a four-year jail term for drug possession, and the death penalty for drug trafficking!
Notably, if you have a health condition involving the need to bring prescription medicine into the country, be sure to obtain a note from your doctor discussing your condition, medication, and proper dosage. In any case, take a look at this list of banned medicines in the UAE.
E. Public Display of Affection
Engaging in public displays of affection (PDA) with your partner may be acceptable in your home country, but here in Dubai, it would be wise to refrain from doing so. Holding hands, putting your arms above another’s shoulder may be okay in some places, but other intimate acts such as kissing, hugging, and sexual behavior are not taken lightly.
These “rules” apply to both married and unmarried couples. Suffice it to say that displays of affection are best kept at home — in private, and not in public. Something to keep in mind while you are staying here in Dubai!
F. “Live In” Relationships
There’s really no other way to put it, so it’s best to just state it bluntly: living together as a couple, engaging in sexual relations — outside marriage — is illegal in the UAE.
The penalty could reach up to one year in jail for consenting parties. If investigation reveals that one person had been forced to live with the other — the punishment could even reach the death sentence, particularly if the victim is below 14 years old. A serious crime, indeed!
So even if cohabitation or “living in” is acceptable in your home country, keep in mind that it is considered as a criminal offense in the UAE. So if you want to stay out of trouble, strive to avoid intimate relationships outside marriage. Better yet, why not get married with your significant other? Here is a guide to getting married for expats living in Dubai.
No matter where you come from or how long you have been living in the UAE, you are expected to abide by the laws on public decency and behavior. Keep in mind that you are a foreigner living in another country, so it goes without saying that you should always be aware, obedient, and respectful towards local culture and practices.
To learn more about proper behavior in the UAE, here is a social etiquette guide that we highly recommend all of our readers to follow!