Although ignorance may be bliss at times, this definitely isn’t the case when you’re in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
In fact, if you aren’t careful, you might find yourself with a serious fine or worse- a jail term.
Two Singaporeans were recently jailed in Abu Dhabi for wearing women’s clothes. Their story reminds us of how scary the consequences could be if we unknowingly break a law in a host country while travelling.
The UAE gets a whole lot of visitors every year. According to the Gulf News, a total of 14.9 million people visited Dubai in 2016, and the trading hub of the country is “firmly on course” to hit its target of 20 million visitors by 2020.
If you are one of the millions who plan to visit the UAE in the near future, here are five rules to take note of before stepping foot on foreign soil.
1. No eating or drinking during the month of Ramadan
When you are surrounded by the smell of lentils, hummus, a myriad of spices, abstaining from food may seem impossible.
However, according to article 313 of the UAE Federal Penal Code, eating or drinking in public between sunrise and sunset during the month of fasting is punishable by law in the Emirates.
Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, and is observed by Muslims worldwide as the month of fasting – a requirement that forms one of the pillars of Islam.
If you plan on visiting the Emirates during this holy month, be prepared to fully embrace the 30 days of fasting leading up to the festival of the “Breaking of the Fast”, or Eid al-Fitr.
Travellers who are caught breaking this rule will be issued a warning first. However, if you’re caught repeatedly, don’t be surprised if you’re hit with a fine or a one-month jail sentence, the maximum punishment applicable.
2. Think twice before kissing in public
Dressing conservatively is definitely advised while you’re on this side of the globe – in other words, stay away from mini-skirts and bikinis.
To be on the safe side, while you’re in the Emirates, it may be wise to dress as the locals do.
This ideology extends into any form of public display of affection as well.
As explained by The National, while holding hands may be tolerated, kissing and petting in public is “considered an offence to public decency.”
In fact, numerous tourists have gotten in trouble with the law for such behaviour.
While you are given some leeway behind closed hotel room doors, try not to push your luck with the law!
3. Get a good night’s rest because dozing off on the metro can be costly
Make sure you are well-rested (and not about to doze off) when you get on board the metro in the UAE as sleeping on buses and the metro is not allowed.
Although millions of people travel by buses and the metro in the Emirates, many are actually unaware that this rule exists.
However, as the Gulf News explains, you could be rudely awakened and greeted with a Dh 300 fine if you are caught sleeping on the metro.
4. Be careful where you snap pictures
In today’s social media-driven world, we are constantly looking to take pictures to update our social media profiles.
However, as lawyers have warned, when you are in the UAE, you have to be very wary of the photography laws in place.
If you are looking to take a picture of a local, you have to ask for their permission first. This rule was put in place especially to protect women and children from unnecessary attention.
Forgetting to obtain permission from the individual(s), or taking pictures in restricted areas could result in a fine of at least Dh 500.
So be careful before you get trigger happy with the beautiful sights!
5. Talking about religion is a no-no
Although the country allows for the quiet practice of any religion outside of Islam, and is tolerant of individuals from other faiths, any form of preaching is strictly forbidden.
According to the BBC, rulers of the country have actually ensured that believers of non-Islamic faiths have a place of worship to go to.
This tolerance wanes however, if you are caught trying to preach your religion to Muslims or other non-Muslims. A conversation about Bikram yoga may seem harmless to you, but could be interpreted as the promotion of Hinduism to another.
Our advice? Stay clear of any conversation centered around religion if you don’t want to end up reprimanded and punished with a fine or jail term.