Expat Guide for Dating Etiquette in Dubai
Despite Dubai being a city of modern amenities, tall towers and a population comprised largely of expatriates, rules for dating in Dubai are quite strict and should be followed by all those who choose to live in or visit the emirate. The city has a host of popular nightclubs and bars, which are popular venues for meeting people of all different nationalities. Therefore, dating is not uncommon in the city, but the rules governing dating in Dubai are very different from those in the UK, Europe or the USA.
Although Dubai is by far the most liberal emirate in the Saudi Arabian peninsula, there is a code of acceptable behavior when you are in public. Arab traditions in dating are much more conservative than Western norms, so do not automatically assume that what is acceptable in your home country will be considered appropriate in Dubai. Public displays of affection are frowned upon by Emiratis (local Dubai folk) and inappropriate behavior can land you in jail with possible deportation for serious offences.
Having said this, dating is common here and dating practices are mostly similar to those in other countries; the biggest difference is that modern dating behavior needs to be balanced with the more conservative Arabic norms of socially acceptable behavior. According to Islamic Sharia law, it is illegal for men and women to date in the same way as is normal in Western cultures, unless they are married. It is also illegal to live together or have sex without being married. Although these laws are not stringently enforced in Dubai, unless someone complains to the police, it is wise to tread with caution when it comes to living together or dating in Dubai.
As foreigners in a Muslim country, following these few simple rules will ensure that you can have an active social life, have fun and find companionship without the law breathing down your neck.
Approaching the fairer sex is fine as long as you practice discretion in your attempts. While walking up to a lady in a bar or nightclub and asking for her number or trying to engage her in conversation is fine, any form of harassment is likely to get you thrown out of the bar or even arrested for serious offences. Make sure that your hands are kept firmly by your sides; while a gentle pat on the butt or a little lip-locking may seem perfectly innocent to you, such behavior is unacceptable in Dubai and can land you in serious trouble with the police, particularly if the lady in question decides to file a complaint against you.
Be wary of approaching local Emirati women
While appreciating an Emirati lady from afar is fine, pestering her for a phone number or persistently hitting on her is likely to land you in the nearest jail fairly quickly. No matter how appealing she might appear to you, taking her picture without permission, following her or harassing her in any way is likely to get you abused or assaulted (unofficially) or can land you in prison (officially)! So avoid risky behavior and respect the local culture.
Avoid public displays of affection
Many foreign couples have been jailed for seemingly innocent behavior, but holding hands in public or a quick peck on the cheek is about as far as you can go in publicly expressing your feelings for your partner. This holds true for married couples as well as those who are dating. Hugging, grabbing or kissing in public is prohibited, so if you are tempted to get more intimate, head home and reserve any public displays of affection for within the walls of your home. This also holds true for dancing in public, which is considered to be indecent by the local population.
Don’t announce you are dating
While telling your close friends or relatives that you are in a relationship is fine, but announcing this to anyone else can land you in a spot of trouble. While most people turn a blind eye to live-in couples (and there are many in the city), an irate landlord or neighbor can complain and get you arrested, as live-in relationships for unmarried couples are illegal in Dubai. Avoid playing loud music or hosting wild parties that can be a source of disruption to others and might get you noticed! Also tell anyone who asks that the lady with you is your wife and you should be able to enjoy intimacy and have fun without the fear of getting into trouble with the law.
Emiratis are a traditional people who take great pride in their heritage and culture, and it is expected that those who visit their country will respect these traditions. In general, most Emiratis are tolerant and fairly open-minded, particularly the newer generation who are more exposed to Western influences. However, there is a limit to the kind of behavior that they will accept. There is nothing daunting about dating in Dubai as long as you respect the rules and traditions of the local people, particularly when in public places.