Public Display of Affection in Dubai
There’s nothing better than exploring a new place with someone you love! I was researching travel options in Dubai and I began to wonder what it would be like to travel there with a significant other. I had heard that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has many strict laws regarding public behaviour and that people could even get in trouble for just holding hands!
Can you hold hands in Dubai? Yes, you can hold hands when visiting Dubai. However, you’re going to want to end the public displays of affection at handholding. It is not generally acceptable for couples (even married ones) to hug, kiss, or partake in any sort of petting while in public.
There are many situations in which foreign visitors have gotten in trouble for engaging in public displays of affection (PDA) and it really is probably best to keep physical contact to a minimum when out in public. Being married somewhat changes what is and is not acceptable in terms of PDA. Whereas a married couple should be able to hold hands without any issues at all, a man and woman who are not married can run into all sorts of potential issues when visiting Dubai.
Okay to Hold Hands in Dubai
According to my research, handholding seems to be pretty safe. You should have no problem walking down the street and holding hands with your husband or wife. But pay attention to your surroundings because each situation can be different. And it is definitely worth noting that PDA is a lot more acceptable between husband and wife than it is between people who are not married. But from the outside looking in, the average passerby won’t be able to tell if you are married or not. So as long as you’re not drawing attention to yourself by engaging in excessive PDA, go ahead and hold hands.
But it probably won’t kill you not to hold hands during the time you’re in Dubai. When in doubt, the safest bet is just to avoid physical contact with your partner in public. There are many strict rules and laws that govern how people should behave with members of the opposite sex in Dubai. I didn’t know that you could get in trouble for things like kissing on the street or sharing a hotel room with someone of the opposite sex!
I was also really surprised to discover that same-sex relationships are illegal in the UAE. So if you are traveling with a spouse or partner of the same sex then you’ll unfortunately want to hide that fact for your own safety. It’s easy to dismiss Dubai’s customs as backward and close-minded, but you have to remember that when traveling you will encounter cultures that are built on ancient traditions and rich histories that may vary greatly from your own.
The following list is a reminder of some things you should bear in mind when traveling to Dubai with a romantic partner:
- Sexual relations outside of marriage are illegal
- Sharing a hotel room with someone of the opposite sex that you’re not married to is illegal
- Sexual acts between members of the same sex are illegal
- PDA – such as kissing (quick peck), hugging, and even holding hands is generally frowned upon
- Passionate/sexual kissing or groping should be completely avoided in public
- Any penalties for PDA will be much harsher for unmarried couples
In all likelihood you won’t run into any problems while in Dubai. Use your common sense and if you get approached by police or authorities regarding your behaviour just remain calm, polite, and respectful. Have situational awareness and an understanding of the fact that holding hands or kissing in some places – like a night club – will be more acceptable than in other places – like a on a public street with families and children present.
Consequences for Public Displays of Affection
The consequences for PDA are going to vary depending on the severity of the offence. In most cases you’ll probably just get a warning or a fine. But a severe breach can absolutely cause you to be placed in jail and/or deported.
In case your wondering, there is no special PDA police task force running around Dubai looking for hand holders and couples who are getting a little too cozy. If you engage in PDA in sight of some type of officer of the law, you may receive a warning or a fine. Or the officer may do nothing at all. The outcome will vary according to the situation, but it’s good to bear in mind the possible consequences.
Another way you might find yourself getting in trouble is if someone reports you. Perhaps your behaviour rubbed someone the wrong way, and they’ve now decided to report you to the authorities. The authorities will be bound to follow up on the complaint, and may feel obliged to take disciplinary action against you.
A severe breach that could get you imprisoned or deported would consist of something like having sex in a public place. Which, let’s face it, will likely get you in trouble no matter where you are!
Why is Dubai so strict about PDA?
Dubai is located in the United Arab Emirates and has deep roots in the Islamic religion and the Arab culture. Dubai views itself as a forward thinking city, but it also has a great respect for its history and the tendency towards modesty is due to Dubai’s strong ties to Islam. So while the laws in Dubai may seem conservative and extreme to an outsider, it’s important to realize that they represent a deep seated respect for the traditions, history, and religion of the area.
Can I stay in a hotel in Dubai when traveling with a partner that I am not married to?
The good news is that since Dubai is such a popular tourist destination, there are many unmarried couples who stay in hotel rooms together without any issues. If every single tourist couple that wasn’t married was punished or denied a room, Dubai’s tourism industry would definitely suffer.
However, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared for a scenario in which a hotel might have a problem with an unmarried couple wanting to share a room – after all it is against the law in Dubai. Worst case scenario, you and your partner will have to book separate rooms.
Again, if someone questions you, the best thing you can do is remain calm. You still have options. You can get two rooms or you can leave and try to find a room at a different hotel and see if you have better luck.
If you’re a married couple, it’s a really good idea to travel with your marriage license when heading to Dubai. That way you can prove that you are married and you won’t run into trouble when you’re trying to book a hotel room together.
What should I do if I get put in jail in Dubai?
If the worse case scenario happens and you get put in jail, you will want to do your best to contact your country’s embassy or consulate in Dubai. You should make note of the contact information for the embassy or consulate before traveling to Dubai so that you can be prepared for any circumstance. This is actually a smart thing to do anytime you’re traveling to a foreign country.
What other things should I be mindful of when visiting Dubai?
You should be careful not to take photographs of people without their permission – especially women. As a tourist, of course you’ll want to take pictures to document your trip, but you can avoid trouble by doing your best to capture just the landmarks rather than the people.
You should also avoid being drunk and disorderly in public! This is something you will get in trouble for in pretty much any country you visit, but Dubai’s liquor laws are quite strict, and there is also ZERO tolerance for drinking and driving – meaning your blood alcohol level must be at zero before you get behind the wheel of a car.
Single men should be mindful of the way they address women. If you are seen to be randomly addressing women in an aggressive or unwelcome way or harassing women you could face either imprisonment or deportation.
It’s in your best interest to dress modestly while you are visiting Dubai. Again, it depends on your surroundings, but the general expectation is for visitors to dress nicely. Neither men nor women should wear overly revealing outfits or clothing with violent/offensive slogans or text. Also, your bathing suits should leave something up to the imagination and should definitely only be worn at the beach.
Dubai is a primarily Muslim city. That means that Ramadan is observed and during that time you can bet that rules regarding PDA will be even more strictly enforced. It might also be difficult to find places to eat as Muslims fast from dawn until sunset during Ramadan.
ExpatWoman’s Guide to Dubai Etiquette: How to Behave in Dubai. (2019, July 28). Retrieved October 15, 2019, from https://www.expatwoman.com/dubai/guide/faqs/expatwomans-guide-to-dubai-etiquette-how-to-behave-in-dubai.
Global Affairs Canada. (2019, September 3). Travel Advice and Advisories for United Arab Emirates. Retrieved October 15, 2019, from https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/united-arab-emirates.
The Dubai Code of Conduct. (2017, October). Retrieved October 14, 2019, from http://www.discover-dubai.ae/general-info/1360/the-dubai-code-of-conduct.