If it is your first time in Dubai there are a few things you need to take note of and be aware of, as Dubai has a different culture to most European and North American cultures.
Ten years ago Dubai was a simple Arab port where many people enjoyed the sunshine and the laid back life. Today there are many tourists from all over the world visiting this beautiful city, however lately specific high profile cases have arisen regarding drugs and sexual behaviour. We must warn you that the UAE is a none tolerant state when it comes to even the smallest drug quantity and lewd sexual behaviour. In June 2008 a British couple who were not married and under the influence of alcohol were apprehended performing a sex act on a public beach and could have been sentences to up to 6 years minimum in jail. What you must remember sexual relations outside of marriage should you be apprehended are completely illegal and carry a prison sentence.
Despite its modern outlook, Dubai strictly follows Islamic laws which should be respected by all travelers. Islam is the official religion, therefore do not criticize or distribute material that speaks against it . Eating in public during the holy month of Ramadan is prohibited from sunrise till sunset and visitors should consume meals in the confines of their hotel or residence.
In conversations regarding politics and world affairs, avoid criticizing the ruling family of any of the seven Emirates or prominent business families. The United Arab Emirates does not have any formal relations with Israel, and the government publicly supports any cause that involves the Palestinian people or Palestinian statehood.
While petty crime is hardly reported or mentioned in the news, keep an eye on your wallet or purse when in crowded areas like Naser Square or Deira in general. If withdrawing large amounts of cash from ATM's or banking institutions, either conceal the notes or ask the institution's security to escort you to your vehicle. Cases have occurred where people have been robbed of large amounts of cash when in crowded places just because they were not careful.
Con-men are ever present in Dubai, especially the "Nigeria 419" scammers. Do not arrange meetings or entertain their requests, nor give any personal details. Should they not comply, one group of individuals who will be happy to listen to their business propositions are the police. Thanks to Dubai's new property boom, real estate fraudsters are also popping up, so exercise caution if you are there to shop around for a new home.
Driving and pedestrian safety has also been an issue given the different nationalities that share the road. Do not jaywalk or cross where there are no clear pedestrian markings. Speeding is common here and the odds of you being knocked over are quite high if you don't follow the rules. Avoid driving on the extreme left lane of highways to avoid being "flashed" and being forced to move a lane over. Road rage is also starting to become an issue given the increase in traffic jams and poor driving courtesy. Unruly hand gestures can lead to fines and jail times if reported, so keep your cool if you are cut off or are behind an erratic driver.
Alcohol is widely available at bars, restaurants, hotels, and leisure clubs. You cannot purchase alcohol from a supermarket. It is against the law to walk in the street drinking alcohol or to be drunk in a public place. You are not allowed to drink and drive; and this means a total ban on the consumption of alcohol whilst in charge of a motor vehicle; this includes the day after the night before. If you are caught drinking and driving you will face a prison sentence, if you are in doubt about the alcohol limits in your blood take a taxi. Note: Alcohol is banned in Sharjah.
There is a zero tolerance in Dubai in relation to drugs and illegal substances. The penalties are extremely harsh and should you be found with the slightest amount of any substance you could face the death penalty. Passenger baggage is screened quite throughly when entering Dubai.Bringing drugs into the country, even ones you have a prescription for or bought over the counter in your country can lead to jail time. A full list of banned medication can be found here.
Gay and lesbian travelers should be particularly careful, as homosexuality is a criminal offense with possible deportation, and should also avoid any public displays of affection or cross dressing.
When taking a photograph in Dubai, please bear in mind local people wearing national dress may take exception if photographed without their permission. Please avoid taking pictures especially of women wearing national dress.
Topless sunbathing is not permitted on the beaches.
Women should dress sensibly and avoid wearing revealing outfits when in busy areas. This is especially true when traveling to districts like Karama, Deira and Bur-Dubai where the streets are packed with men, especially on evenings and weekends. While swimsuits and bikini's are a common sight on Dubai beaches, avoid sunbathing topless or wearing micro bikinis - even in the private beach of a hotel. Note: Women are not allowed to wear swimwear on public beaches in Sharjah.
Public display of affection are frowned upon and public sexual acts can lead to jail time followed by deportation.
It is not appropriate for men to walk along the street bare-chested. It is very advisable that females avoid wearing very short skirts or revealing tops as you may attract unwanted attention.