UAE – What You Should Know Before You Go

UAE Culture

One of the attractions about a trip to the UAE is the chance to experience the totally different lifestyle and culture found in this wealthy Arabic destination.

The seven emirates that make up the UAE (Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain) are all Muslim countries and they all share the same main language of Arabic. They also use the same currency, the UAE dirham, and they are all in the same time zone. This makes it very easy for visitors to travel between the different emirates without any problem.


Like much of the Middle East, the UAE is a strong Muslim country with a culture based on the teachings of the 7th century prophet Muhammad and the text revealed to him from God in the holy Qur’an.

The Sharia legal system in the UAE is based on the Qur’an and covers not only criminal behaviour, but also moral and religious codes of practice. It covers money lending, politics and social issues such as food and drink, marriage, divorce, child custody and sexual relationships.


The dress code in the UAE is modest and respectful, particularly for women. Women in these countries are expected to wear a hijab (veil) to cover their face and hair in public. Full-length burqas are also worn as part of the Arabic culture.

While visitors are not required to follow the same strict rules, they are expected to be respectful of the culture. Beachwear, shorts, sleeveless T-shirts, figure-hugging clothes and low-cut tops are not acceptable outside beach resorts. Women in particular should dress appropriately when shopping, travelling on public transport and visiting attractions by wearing clothes that cover the upper arm, chest and thighs.

When visiting a place of religious, historic or cultural importance such as a mosque, shawls are available to borrow to cover the head and shoulders.

Appropriate Behaviour

The UAE has strict rules banning homosexuality and sex outside marriage. Visitors should not be overly affectionate and should avoid kissing in public. These laws may seem prudish and oppressive to westerners but nonetheless must be respected and adhered to. Even swearing and rude hand gestures are considered criminal acts in the UAE, so best be warned.

Photographs of locals should not be taken without first obtaining their permission, particularly if they feature women.


Smoking is forbidden in public places and new laws for smoking a traditional shisha (hookah) pipe mean it can only be done outdoors. Laws are extremely tight on taking or carrying drugs, even for personal use. Anyone charged with a drug offence in the UAE is likely to face imprisonment or even the death penalty.

Food and Drink

According to Islamic law, certain food and drinks are not allowed to be consumed by Muslims. These specifically include pork and meats not slaughtered in the name of God using the dhabihah purification rituals.

Alcohol and intoxicants are also forbidden for Muslims and the legal drinking age for non-Muslims is 21. Visitors will find that alcohol is only served in tourist hotels, licensed restaurants and clubs. It should never be drunk outside these venues i.e. on the street or in public places.

By being aware of cultural differences and being respectful of local laws and traditions, visitors will find they have no problem enjoying a wonderful trip to the UAE.