Written by Leanne Harvey

Dubai is a place frequented my many tourists. In fact, 1.5 million British Nationals visit the UAE every year. It is a mecca for all types of travellers. History buffs can’t get enough of the heritage areas, shopaholics flock to Dubai mall, 3.77 million square ft of heaven and the fifth largest in the world and the beach bums have a choice of all the beaches the Arabian Golf has to offer. There is something for everyone, and with that comes the avoidable risks as well. 

To the average Brit, it may be surprising to learn that when an individual is arrested abroad, there isn’t a magical statute in English law that can absolve them from the situation and teleport them back home. In fact, the idea of other countries interfering in foreign jurisdiction is regarded as highly inappropriate.

Dubai is a state within the United Arab Emirates. As per its convention, Islamic Sharia is the main source of legislation. Of course, it isn’t necessary to fully understand the legal system in any country you visit, but having a good understanding of the local customs in Dubai is strongly advised to ensure a smooth trip.

It is easy to read articles such as this and think that you would never find yourself in such a situation. I’m sure the British IT worker who was arrested earlier this year for showing his middle finger to another road user didn’t anticipate what happened to him. Road rage is expressed every day in the UK, the difference is you wouldn’t expect to face six months in prison for flipping the bird to the guy who cut you up on the roundabout on your way to work this morning.

There are plenty of examples of actions which you wouldn’t think would cause offence, most likely because they are common things to do in the UK. Technically, sharing a hotel room with your partner out of wedlock is illegal. Some hotels won’t even order taxis for unmarried couples as they are not meant to be alone with each other. Due to the reliance on tourism, this rule has been relaxed in recent years, particularly by large hotels which host more tourists. If you are travelling with your partner to Dubai and you’re not married, it’s wise to stay in accommodation which tourists frequent.  If you’re unsure, sites such as Trip Advisor will give you a better idea about the attitude of the hotel and also if anyone else has had any problems there.

In 2016 it was reported that a young woman from the UK was sexually assaulted by two men whilst holidaying in Dubai. Instead of being met with compassion by the local police, she had her passport seized and faced charges of extra-marital sex. These charges were later dropped but others have not been so lucky.

Real cases teach us how seriously public displays of affection can be taken over there. A 23 year old woman was arrested and jailed for greeting a friend she met at a diner with a kiss on the cheek. She was also fined for being out in public after consuming alcohol. It sounds shocking to us to be arrested for something so seemingly trivial, but this highlights the low-level tolerance the justice system can have when dealing with foreign visitors, even those who never intended to commit a crime.

Many people travel to and from Dubai trouble free, which leads some to believe that what you read online about harsh penalties is an exaggeration. However, incidents like this do happen and more than you would think. It can be difficult to communicate with the outside world once you enter the prison system, which for foreigners must be nothing short of terrifying.

Although Dubai is coined the most liberal of the Emirates states, detentions for simply being who you are, are possible. Homosexuality is punishable with up to ten years imprisonment. There is a gay community in Dubai - much like unmarried couples in a hotel, some places turn a blind eye - but a level of vigilance should be employed for your own safety.

Changes to the laws can also catch unsuspecting expatriates out; just last year the change in laws surrounding fundraising meant a British man spent twenty-two days in custody before being charged with fundraising without permission. His crime was sharing a link on Facebook to a fundraising page to raise money for refugees in Afghanistan.

Prisoners Abroad is currently supporting 42 British citizens in the UAE. You can read more about what it’s like to be imprisoned there here.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office provides advice for each country, including the United Arab Emirates, with a good overview of the laws and customs that you should be wary of while travelling there. Reading these and being #TravelAware will help to ensure that you don’t have any trouble on your trip and that you #makememoriesnotmistakes.