Etiquette in Dubai: Do’s and Don’ts for Travelers

Even though Dubai is a cosmopolitan city which has developed rapidly, it is important to keep in mind that it is still predominantly an Islam state. This means that tourists must be wary and respectful of the Islamic culture and its traditions and etiquette. Although certain Western practices may be permitted sometimes, many things that are considered ‘normal’ in other countries may incur severe penalties in the UAE. Here is a list of some important etiquettes and mannerisms in Dubai that should be followed by all tourists:

1. Dressing Etiquette 

Islamic tradition values modesty of attire, and it isn’t respectful to wear skimpy, revealing clothes in public for both men and women in Dubai. However, in most tourist places, such as hotels, there aren’t any restrictions as such. In public, since there will be many locals present, it is advisable to wear clothes that cover your knees and shoulders that aren’t too tight fitting for both men and women, so as to be respectful. There is no dress code for young children. 

In public, men and women should avoid:

  • Low-cut tops and midriff revealing crop tops. 
  • Shorts that are too high above the knee.
  • Sleeveless shirts that expose the shoulder, especially in places of worship and heritage sites. 
  • Any attire with offensive or inappropriate symbols, words or pictures printed on it. 
  • Nudity anywhere, as this will lead to penalties. 

Preferable dressing conduct:

  • Although tourist women aren’t expected to cover their heads at all times, it is preferable to carry a headscarf or shawl if need be in religious places, etc. 
  • Bikinis and all swimwear are allowed at beaches and swimming pools, but roaming around in these clothes anywhere else is highly disrespectful. 
  • Dresses, skirts, and shorts are permitted given that they are or at least close to knee length. Dresses and skirts shouldn’t be too tight and leggings under them would be preferable. 

2. Greeting Etiquette 

Formally, the Arabic greeting is ‘as-salam alaykum’ which translates to ‘peace be upon you’. The response to that is ‘wa’alaykum as-salam’,  which means ‘peace be upon you too’. 

On the first meeting, it is typical to shake hands as a formal gesture. However, this will not be a very firm handshake, rather, a softer, light handshake. It is only appropriate for a man to shake a woman’s hand if she offers first.

It is only if the relationship is closer and less formal, men put their hands together and offer a kiss on the cheek. Men only do this gesture to other men and women to other women as a sign of greeting and welcoming the other person.

  •  Dining Etiquette

 Here are some basic dining do’s and don’ts in Dubai:

  • Wash your hands before your meal
  • Wait to be seated at your table and place the napkin on your lap
  • After your meal, provide a tip of at least 10-15%
  • Always eat with your right hand 
  • Some people pray before and after their meal. Wait for them to finish the prayer before you start eating
  • Leave your cutlery upwards on your plate after eating
  • Do not keep your phone, keys, wallet and other personal items on the table
  • Do not begin eating before your host or other guests, unless asked to otherwise
  • Do not eat with your left hand
  • Do not use your phone while dining
  • Do not stretch across the table for food, take it from your side of the table 


3. General Social Etiquette

Manners and appropriate conduct are essential in any social setting in Dubai. Here are a few general tips to ensure proper, respectful behaviour in public. 

  • Rude Behaviour: It is unacceptable to swear in public. This can lead to hefty fines or even jail time. Any rude hand gestures, disrespectful and aggressive behaviour could lead you into trouble. 
  • Right Hand Usage: Ensure that you only use your right hand while eating meals, accepting presents, paying or accepting cash, etc. 
  • Drinking: Drinking in various nightclubs in Dubai is okay if you are of age, but driving under the influence or any kind of uncouth behaviour when drunk will lead to heavy fines. 
  • Littering: Littering will face penalties. 

4. Religious Sensitivities 

Dubai, being predominantly Islam, has abundant mosques and places of religious worship that accepts visitors, so that you can learn about and appreciate the culture. In religious places especially, you must follow the traditions and etiquettes. Here is how you can be sensitive and respectful of the religion:

  • Dress Code 

When visiting a mosque, both men and women must cover their shoulders, arms and legs. Women must wear a headscarf to cover their hair. Some popular tourist mosques will offer traditional attire that you can wear during your visit, do not refuse it. It is most appropriate to dress in the traditional clothes the mosque offers you. 

  • Prayer Times

Always be respectful of the prayer times. Be aware of any religious festivals and follow its rules (see below for more information).

  • Sensitivity Towards Religion and Places of Worship

Regardless of whether you agree with the norms, do not engage in conversation that may be religiously insensitive. Learn about it but do not disrespect it. 

Photography, wearing shoes, and other such actions must only be done with apt permission. Do not engage in any of these without asking the locals first. 


5. Interaction with Other Genders 

It must be kept in mind that interactions between genders are much more conservative in Dubai than it is in the West. Some things to be kept in mind include: 

– Consensual Greeting Only 

Handshakes are a formal gesture of greeting in Dubai. But it must be remembered that as a man, you should only shake an Emirati woman’s hand if she offers first. This also applies for any other physical gesture of greeting. 

– Behaviour Towards Emirati Women

Staring at traditionally clothed Emirati women is considered very disrespectful. Clicking pictures or making unwanted physical or verbal gestures towards women is an offense and will be punished seriously. 

– Public Display of Affection 

Public Display of Affection in Dubai is completely unacceptable. It is not just disrespectful, it is a punishable offense. Anything beyond holding hands and short hugging can land you in a lot of trouble. Any further kind of affectionate gestures can bring you a large fine or even jail time. So it’s best to keep these actions well away from the public. 

– Gender Segregated Area

There are certain places that have separated designated areas for men and women to ensure safety and comfort. These include spas, some swimming pools and metro compartments. You must adhere to these segregations, otherwise, you may be fined or penalised. 

6. Traditional Customs and Religious Festivals 

Here are some basic customs to be followed in a traditional Emirati home and during religious festivals and holidays.

  • Ramadan Customs

Ramadan is the holy month of fasting and prayer for Muslims. During this time, Muslims observe a fast from daybreak to sundown every day. Although non-Muslims aren’t expected to fast, there are certain rules that must be followed. Eating, drinking, smoking and chewing gum in public during this month is prohibited. Any form of consumption of eatables or chewables is not allowed in public as it is disrespectful to those fasting. Eating in operating restaurants, hotels and private spaces is acceptable.  

  • Visiting an Emirati Home

While visiting an Emirati home, here are some basic etiquettes that are best to follow:

  • Dress modestly so as to be respectful
  • Most homes in Arab culture require shoes to be removed outside the house before entering unless specified otherwise.
  • It is always polite to bring a gift for the host when you are visiting. This could include pastries, sweets, flowers, etc. 
  • Emirati hosts serve the guests Arabian coffee to welcome them, typically accompanied with snacks. It is rude to refuse these, so have at least one serving. You can indicate that you do not want more coffee by slightly shaking your cup side to side.
  • Lightly shake the hand of the host when arriving and leaving the house, unless the host is female; in that case, only shake her hand if she offers first.   

7. Photography in Public

It is understandable if you wish to take many photos of beautiful Dubai during your visit. It is worth keeping many memories in the form of photographs. The picturesque landscape of Dubai also attracts many professional photographers. But there are a few things to keep in mind about the photography policies in Dubai. 

  • Signboards: It is always better to look for a signboard that indicates if the area prohibits photography. If there is no such sign, you can click photos. If there is one, put both your professional and phone cameras away. 
  • Generally Prohibited Photos: In Dubai, it is a general rule that photographing women, military, and government facilities is not permitted unless specified otherwise. 

Remember that non-consensual or prohibited photographs are considered an offense and can incur fines or punishment. If you are asked not to photograph or delete a picture of something or someone, do as instructed to avoid getting into trouble. 

8. Tips to Maintain Etiquette in Dubai

It is crucial to remember that when you are in another country, you will be under their laws, rules, and regulations. Following all these rules is important to ensure the best stay. Here are some general tips to maintain etiquette if you are visiting Dubai:

  • Do Your Research: The best way to be respectful while visiting any country is to learn about it. Doing prior research to find out the expected behaviour of your vacation spot will give you the advantage of being prepared and not facing last-minute issues.

  • Listen to and Follow the Locals: There is nothing like learning about a culture from the people belonging to it. Observe the locals and their mannerism in different settings. If they are maintaining silence in some public space, it would benefit you if you do the same. If they request you to follow a certain instruction, it is best to oblige.

  • When in Doubt, Ask: If you are unsure of a rule, dress code, etiquette, or anything similar during your visit, just ask someone who is there to help you. Usually, hotel desks have extensive information on various tourist destinations, so if you want to clarify something, you can do it at your hotel reception. Otherwise, you may even ask a tour guide, a shopkeeper, a taxi driver, or even a local. If you are asking a local, be respectful while addressing them and only speak to them if they seem willing to help. 



If you are prepared, courteous, and considerate towards the Emirati culture, then you are sure to have a blast in Dubai. Since Dubai is constantly modernizing and hosting tourists and immigrants from other countries, many conservative rules are being eased out. UAE values its traditions, nationality, and culture very much, so if you’re paying a visit, go with a curiosity to learn their rich culture while still being mindful of their expectations from visitors.

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