Time Out Dubai is your guide to living in Dubai. As part of our residents' guide we have information on UAE laws every expat should know about.
Time Out staff
Get up to speed on the laws you need to know to stay out of trouble in the emirates.
Consumer rights If you buy something, get it home and decide you don’t like it or you’ve seen it somewhere else for less, you can’t take it back – unless you’ve reached a specific agreement with the retailer. If the product you’ve bought has a defect that you’ve noticed during the warranty period, you’re entitled to a refund or repair. If a retailer tries to fob you off by only giving store credit you can report them – you’re entitled to a cash refund. New consumer rights protection measures have been introduced to safeguard against bad retail practices such as price manipulation or poor quality. Visit www.dubai.ae for details on how to make a complaint and follow up on it. Tenancy & cohabitation Subletting This is completely illegal in Dubai. There may be instances where a tenant comes to an arrangement with the landlord of the property, but if a property is sublet without prior permission, the tenant could face eviction before the end of the lease and lose the remainder of the rent they have already paid. Whoever you rent from, make sure they are either the landlord or, at the very least, that they are authorised to rent the property.
Agents It’s advisable to only deal with agents registered with RERA (www.dubailand.gov.ae). If you are asked to pay in cash, there’s always a chance that they may be unlawful.
Living arrangements Men and women living together who are not part of the same family throws up a few legal questions, but it is still something of a grey area. In practice, some people who do cohabit (for example colleagues sharing a villa to save on rent) come and go without major complications. But should arrangements be raised with the police for any reason they will have to investigate the situation, and it’s worth bearing in mind that these kinds of living arrangements are still technically illegal. Consensual relations between unmarried persons can be punished with a one-year prison sentence.
Public decency Married couples Only married couples are allowed to hold hands in public, but even they are not allowed to kiss or cuddle in public. Any public displays of affection of this nature are strictly prohibited, particularly during Ramadan, and could even result in deportation or the possibility of a criminal conviction.
Single men Approaching women randomly in public is not allowed and doing so could land you in serious trouble. Don’t do it.
Flashing flesh When on the beach it’s advisable to avoid wearing bathing suits that could be classed as skimpy, such as thongs. When leaving the beach ensure you cover up. This applies to both men and women. Aside from on the beach, it’s advisable to avoid wearing mini-skirts or hot pants – anything that could be classed as obscene, transparent or indecently exposing parts of the body is a big no-no.
Tattoos Always err on the side of caution and cover them up, because the law is still a bit grey on this. That said, it’s a given that any potentially insensitive tattoos could land you in a spot of bother.
Alcohol Alcohol is available to non-Muslims, with the legal drinking age being 21. Alcohol is only allowed to be served in hotels and licensed venues, and while it is possible to buy alcohol for private consumption at select stores, a liquor licence is required. There is zero tolerance on drinking and driving throughout the UAE, and if caught one risks jail and is likely to lose insurance coverage. Drinking in public, outside a hotel or being caught inebriated is not tolerated.
Drugs Legal expert Bachir Nawar says, ‘Drugs and even certain [psychotropic] medications are strictly banned in the UAE and the penalties are rather severe, with a minimum of four years in prison for use. Selling the drug is another question that may attract 15 years in jail and could be followed by the death sentence depending on the gravity of the offence. However, the death sentence is not something simple to declare in the UAE and the procedure goes through thorough scrutiny, which gives the judges examining the matters enough margins to assess the adequate sanction. Beware that some medication that may be sold over the counter in one’s home country are banned here, and it is worth checking this before arrival, as even the smallest amount in one’s bloodstream could lead to prison.’ Visit www.moh.gov.ae/en for further details on the matter.
In the event of arrest Legal expert Bachir Nawar suggests: ‘Depending on the charge, it would be best to contact a lawyer first and make sure that one does not sign minutes or reports unless one is comfortable with the content. Often things get lost in translation.’ Visit the Dubai Police website (www.dubaipolice.gov.ae), the Government’s website (www.dubai.ae) as well as not-for-profit organisation Detained in Dubai (www.detainedindubai.org) for more information and advice on this matter.