Even though the United Arab Emirates is the second-most liberal country in the Middle East, there are still some stringent laws that many foreign tourists do not expect when they first visit Dubai. The Government of Dubai has public decency and morality laws that restrict public displays of affection.
Unless a couple is married, they should avoid holding hands in public in Dubai. Holding hands is seen as a public display of affection. This law is not commonly enforced upon tourists, unless it is during the holy month of Ramadan. Then, you could be arrested for hugging, kissing, or holding hands in Dubai.
Because the UAE is an Islamic country, extra-marital relationships are not permitted, and same-sex relationships are strictly illegal. Therefore, it is important for unmarried couples who holiday in Dubai to be aware of the country’s customs and laws. Tourists should always be respectful of the local culture when visiting Dubai.
Is it Really Illegal to Hold Hands in Dubai?
You will find many blogs and forums online that discuss this topic at length, and it appears that there is a lot of misinformation floating around. Westerns expats living in Dubai and tourists who have spent a lot of time in the UAE report that it is highly unlikely for a couple, married or unmarried, to be arrested for holding hands in public.
Sensationalist Western media often paints a warped picture of what this Islamic country’s public decency and morality laws actually look like in reality. If you and your loved one are planning a trip to Dubai, do not be put off by articles that say that you will be arrested for holding hands in public!
In Dubai’s shopping malls, hotels, resorts, and tourist attractions, it is not uncommon at all to see couples walking around hand-in-hand. It is in the more conservative areas, such as Sharjah, and in sacred places like mosques where couples need to be more respectful of laws against public displays of affection. Just be considerate and practice common sense!
During the holy month of Ramadan – a very sacred time in the Islamic calendar – tourists in Dubai should be extra-conscious about avoiding public displays of affection. This is the time that couples are most likely to get into trouble for holding hands or hugging publicly.
Is it Common for Arab Men to Hold Hands in Public?
Do not be surprised if you see a couple of businessmen walking down the street in Dubai holding hands. While this would be a strange sight in most Western countries where handholding has a sexual connotation, in the Arab world, holding hands is a sign of friendship between men.
That being said, Arab men never hold a woman’s hand in public unless it is their wife or close relative. As a female tourist in Dubai, do not offer to shake a local Emirati man’s hand unless he initiates the interaction.
Same-Sex Couples Should Be Careful Holding Hands Publicly
While the laws surrounding public displays of affection are a bit more lenient for heterosexual couples (especially Western expats and tourists), homosexuality is strictly illegal in Dubai and is punishable by the death penalty. The death penalty is very rarely imposed for homosexuality, but detainment, fines, and deportation are common punishments.
Unfortunately, it is not advisable for same-sex couples to walk around Dubai holding hands. It may attract unwanted attention, and if you offend a local, you could be reported to the police. This is especially true in sacred spaces and areas where Sharia law is more closely observed, like Sharjah.
Respect the Local Culture and Customs of Dubai
Even though you are unlikely to be arrested in Dubai for holding your boyfriend or girlfriend’s hand in public, it is still important to be respectful of Emirati culture and their laws and customs.
Do not push the limits to see what you can get away with! In the best-case scenario, you will make locals feel uncomfortable, and in the worst case, you can get arrested, jailed, and deported for indecent behavior in public.
Even it all it’s luxury and extravagance, Dubai markets itself as a conservative, family-friendly holiday destination. There are certain things that are not acceptable for tourists to do in public spaces:
- Couples that hug in public are considered improper, and on rare occasions, people are arrested for such acts of public affection. An exception to this rule is in places like the Dubai airport. You will certainly not get into trouble for hugging your beloved hello or goodbye!
- Kissing in public is a big no-no for married and unmarried couples in Dubai. Whether it is a peck on the cheek or a salacious snog, all public kisses are equally frowned upon and illegal.
- Swearing or making offensive hand gestures is highly improper and can get you fined, arrested, and jailed for up to a year in Dubai.
- It is also not okay to wear clothing with crass or offensive slogans or logos.
- Smoking outside of certain designated areas in Dubai is illegal. This includes cigarettes, vapes, e-cigarettes, and shisha pipes. Smoking is not permissible in enclosed public spaces, like shopping malls. In parts of certain restaurants and outside areas, smoking is permitted.
- It is prohibited to chew gum on the Dubai Metro, and you can be fined AED500 if you are seen throwing your chewing gum on the ground.
One should familiarize yourself with the local laws and regulations of Dubai out of respect for the Emirati people and their culture. It is true that certain public displays of affection between couples that are perfectly acceptable in Western societies are illegal in Dubai. However, don’t overthink it, and don’t trust everything you read online.
It is not true that you will be arrested for holding your partner’s hand in public in Dubai. While the official rule is that public handholding is only allowed between married couples, it is common to see unmarried couples walking around hand-in-hand. You will also see Arab men walking in the street holding hands, as it is a sign of close friendship.