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Unusual Laws That Exist in the UAE

Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are identified in the footnotes below.

By Ubaidullah Kazi

Section Editor for Middle East

Over the past few decades, the United Arab Emirates (or the UAE) has witnessed a rapid wave of infrastructural and economic development. This has caused numerous Western organisations to set up their bases of operations in the Region, which in turn is profitable for the UAE Government since its corporate tax rates can go up to 55%.[1] Naturally, the increased interaction with the West has resulted in people looking to favourably migrate to the country and bring their ethics and traditions with them.

However, the country still enforces certain rules that most individuals today would perceive to be conservative in nature and unusual in a world where people raise discussions on topics such as Feminism and being more inclusive of members from the LGBTQ+ Community. Apart from the well-known rule which states that insulting Islam or the ruling families is a punishable offence, here are some other ones which someone looking to migrate to the UAE would find it beneficial to bear in mind:

1) Spreading Rumours

As one of the most ambiguous offences, anything that may be considered as a rumour is punishable as per UAE law. For instance, indulging in gossip over social media could potentially result in a three-year prison sentence and a hefty fine of up to a million Dirhams (which translates to about two hundred thousand British Pounds). With this rule, the Government intends to penalise those who “damage the social peace and public order” as well as those who may be viewed as a “threat to national peace.” This was brought to light after the 2016 floods, when photos and videos of the damage caused by the heavy rain and strong winds were circulated widely on social media platforms. These were denounced as rumours, and it was declared that discussing the storm and sharing negative photos was illegal.[2]

2) Washing a Car (Incorrectly)

Dirty cars are perceived to be “disfiguring the city image and public health” because of which their owners end up paying rather unreasonable sums of money to cover their fines and impound fees.

Additionally, washing your car in a bad way can be legally troublesome – owners are forbidden from washing their cars in residential areas or hiring individuals to do the washing. These informal car washes “damage the beautiful image of the city” and is also considered a hazard to the environment (due to the filthy water contaminating the roads and sewers).[3] The appropriate method is to take the car to professional services such as those at gas stations and car parking areas of shopping centres.

3) Consuming Food in Public Transport

Eating and drinking are absolutely prohibited on all forms of public transport. Whether it is a bus, metro or even pedestrian crossing, anyone spotted consuming food (or beverages) would end up paying 100 Dirhams (roughly 20 GBP).[4]

4) Taking Photographs of Other People Without Their Consent

According to Article 378 of the UAE Penal Code, taking photos and videos of people without their consent is noted as an “invasion of their privacy.” In such situations, the equipment will be confiscated, and the recordings destroyed, while the photographer would be issued a fine and could possibly end up in prison.

5) Possession of Drugs

For the purpose of their rules, one would be understood as “possessing” illicit drugs, even if a tiny amount is present in your blood or urine. For example, a British tourist was sentenced to four years in prison in 2008 after the customs officers found a speck of cannabis stuck to his shoe.[5]

6) Swearing

The UAE is very stringent when it comes to bad language. Swearing, profanities, insults and “all other kinds of vulgar language” are considered as obscene acts (which are extended to include rude gestures such as simply showing a thumbs-up) as they “disgrace the honour or the modesty” of a person according to Article 373 of the UAE Penal Code, and offenders could be jailed, fined, or even deported. For instance, in June 2016, a court ordered the retrial of a man who was convicted of swearing at a colleague in a WhatsApp message.[6]

7) Consumption of Alcohol

Drinking or being intoxicated in public is a punishable offence - visitors can drink only in licensed establishments and cannot appear drunk while outside those establishments. The legal age for drinking is 21 years old, which is why it is very important that tourists are cautious when drinking on flights before landing in the UAE.[7] For instance, Dr Ellie Holman was jailed in 2018 due to public intoxication after landing when she drank a glass of wine on the flight. The incident has reportedly cost her more than fifty thousand Pounds in legal fees and missed work.[8]

In summary, it has become critical for individuals looking to visit the UAE to know exactly what is permitted and what is prohibited so that they do not get trapped in legal wrangles. While there exists a gap between Western traditions and customary Islamic (Shari’a) Law that seems to be difficult to bridge at the moment, there is some hope for reforming the Law in the near future based on the changes in perspective on the part of the Government itself or by the indirect influence of those settling into the region.


Image: Phil Sylvester, ‘8 Local Laws in Jordan: What Travelers Need to Know’ (World Nomads, 17 September 2021) <> accessed 24 November 2021

[1] Dan Moskowitz, ‘Countries with the Highest and Lowest Corporate Tax Rates’ (Investopedia, 7 December 2020) <,Anguilla> accessed 22 February 2021 [2] Siobhan Ali, ‘11 Unusual Dubai Laws for Tourists and Residents’ (culturetrip, 17 June 2019) <> accessed 23 February 2021 [3] Farheen, ‘Dubai Laws For Tourists – Find Out The Unusual Laws To Abide To’ (pickyourtrail, 30 July 2020) <> accessed 21 February 2021 [4] Vaishnavi Venkataraman, ‘10 Unusual UAE Laws Tourists & Residents Must Know About’ (Curlytales, 10 June 2019) <> accessed 24 February 2021 [5] Ankit Subarno, ‘16 Things You Should Avoid Doing When You’re In Dubai’ (ScoopWhoop, 14 June 2019) <> accessed 24 February 2021 [6] Anonymous, ‘Ten Things you can’t do in Dubai’ (BBC News, 19 August 2016) <> accessed 22 February 2021 [7] Kara Godfrey, ‘Dubai news: Seven things to NEVER do in the city - or face prison sentence’ (Express, 3 October 2018) <> accessed 23 February 2021 [8] Kara Godfrey, ‘Dubai flights: Passenger jailed for drinking alcohol onboard but is it against the law?’ (Express, 10 August 2018) <> accessed 24 February 2021

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