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Laws and Regulations

Basic Laws and regulations in UAE

18 April 2019

Before planning a trip to any destination, it is important to note that if you break the law of the country, even your embassy may not be able to assist you. Hence it would be wise to know the basic laws and regulations of the destination you plan to visit. If you are planning a trip to Dubai, all the Laws and regulations in UAE will be applicable in Dubai, too.

The operative word in UAE is "Arab", and although Dubai is a popular and glamorous destination now, it is a Muslim country, and the laws are quite conservative. All emirates in the UAE, including Dubai, is strict in its moral and ethical code.

The legal framework of the Emirates is more of a dual acting system, comprising mainly Islamic Shariah and aspects of conventional law. However, in comparison to Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations, the laws in the UAE are more liberal. The regulations of the UAE are constantly being developed and adapted to meet the fast pace of developments happening here.

Just as is the case in other Gulf States, the legal system in Dubai is a mix of Sharia (Islamic Law), Civil and Criminal Laws, implemented by the Federal Judiciary, comprising courts of first instance and Supreme Courts. The Supreme Council of Rulers is the highest ruling body in the UAE. It appoints the five members representing the Federal Supreme Court, who presides over matters like constitutional law and rule. Local government is also involved and plays a vital role in legislation within each emirate.

Ignorance of the law is not considered or accepted as an excuse in the law court. Hence, it is better that expatriates acquaint themselves with the laws of the country they choose to live in. Here are some basic laws and information in the UAE, ranging from dress code to alcohol consumption rules, which may be of help.

General rules applicable to expats in Dubai

Entry/Exit Requirements

All expatriates are subject to UAE immigration laws, which can seem complex and demanding at times. A passport is a must for travel to UAE. While nationals of certain countries are allowed to obtain visitor visas on arrival at the airport, others will have to obtain visitor visas in advance. Please contact your local embassy for latest entry/exit rules applicable and visit www.uae-embassy.org for the latest visa information.

Customs Restrictions

Travellers are advised to avoid transport of any arms or items that may be considered to be against the law, such as military equipment, weapon parts, tools, ammunition, body armour, handcuffs or other police equipments. People carrying any such items even in small quantities will be arrested and may face stringent criminal penalties, including huge monetary fines, imprisonment and forfeiture of items. Transport of any such and all types of law enforcement equipments are usually taken seriously by the UAE, wherein it has already shown its ability to enforce its laws in such matters.

Apart from this, UAE's stringent anti-narcotics program bans poppy seeds, otherwise used in other cultures for culinary purposes, on its list of controlled substance. 

ID Card

The Government of UAE mandates that every person residing in the UAE should possess a national identity card. All expatriates intending to work or live in the UAE should visit www.eida.gov.ae for keeping yourselves aware about the registration procedure and requirements for ID cards.

Dual Nationality

The UAE government does not permit dual nationality. Children of UAE fathers automatically acquire UAE citizenship at birth, and can enter UAE with UAE passports. However, dual nationality is not acceptable in the UAE, and your passport may be confiscated, if caught. UAE nationals, in addition to being subjected to all general UAE laws, will also be imposed to some special obligations.

Working Illegaly in UAE

It should be noted that any attempt to work illegally in Dubai is considered a crime and can land you in prison or you may be deported. Expatriates seeking to reside and work in the UAE are required to present authenticated personal documents such as birth and marriage certificates, adoption and custody degrees, and other educational documents. The authentication of documents is a complex process, which involves state, federal and local offices, and may take several weeks for completion.

Although a local sponsor is allowed to hold an employee’s passport, it is illegal to do so as per the UAE laws. In case of any employer-employee dispute, the Ministry of Labour in UAE has established a special department for review and settlement of such labour claims.

Expatriates seeking to do business in the UAE, should do considerable research, and understand the UAE laws and regulations thoroughly before entering into a business in the Emirates. Your first line of research should be on what types of work visas or permits are required. Check for import tax and other laws regarding establishment of businesses in the UAE. A business license from the Economic Department of respective emirate is a must. 

Traffic Laws

Throughout the UAE, stringent penalties are imposed for certain traffic violations, particularly for drinking and driving under the influence of alcohol. In such cases, violators are often jailed for several days, and may have to go through legal procedures, black points and huge penalties. A driving license is a must to drive in UAE and foreign driver’s licenses are not recognized. If involved in an accident, the UAE law emphasizes that you remain there until authorities arrive. For any further details on traffic rules, visit www.rta.ae.

Non-payment of Bills and Bounced Cheques

As for issues such as post-dated cheques getting bounced, it is considered a criminal offence, unlike in other countries, where it is only looked as an annoyance. Non-payment of bills, and passing bad cheques, are taken seriously in the UAE, resulting in fines or imprisonment.

Rules for smoking/alcohol/drugs

Drinking or possession of alchol without the Ministry of Interior liquor permit is illegal and may result in arrest and/or fine and imprisonment. Alcohol is served at bars in some major hotels, but is intended only for the hotel guests. Any others, who are not guests of the hotel, and who consume alcohol in restaurants and bars here, are required to have their own personal liquor licenses. Liquor licenses are issued only to non-Muslims who own UAE Residency Permits.

Smoking is banned in several public offices and places such as shopping malls. Hence, it is important to follow the rules. There are designated smoking areas in Dubai, so it is easy to keep up the rule.

Basic laws Dubai

Similarly, UAE law emphasizes that possession of even trace amounts of illegal drugs can result in years of imprisonment for foreign nationals in the UAE. If the medication has been prescribed by a doctor in your home country, then carry a copy of the prescription when taking medicines. Certain medication and drugs are classified as narcotics in the UAE, and it is considered illegal to possess them. If you are found caught with what is considered an illegal substance, you are liable for an automatic four-year imprisonment prior to deportation. Therefore, first check out the banned substances list with the Drug Control Department or UAE Ministry of Health, before importing them to UAE.

Behaviour / Dress codes in the UAE

The codes and behaviour and dress code in UAE basically reflect the Islamic traditions of the country, and are more conservative than those of western nations. Public decency and morality laws throughout the UAE are very strict, in comparison to western and European nations. Any public display of affection or immodesty is not tolerated in the UAE, and may be subjected to imprisonment.

While dancing with few friends after a night out may not be considered offensive in several countries, dancing in public is considered as indecent in UAE. However, dancing at home, or at official clubs, is accepted, anything else is considered offensive.

Certain unwitting actions, including wrong clothing choices may draw unwanted attention. Emiratis dress conservatively and expect expatriates also to dress conservatively when in public. While beachwear is allowed in beaches, any form of nudity is not accepted.

Taking photographs of potentially sensitive UAE military and civilian sites or foreign diplomatic missions may result in arrest or detention. If an expatriate man addresses a local woman in public, or takes her picture without permission, or bothers her in any way, it is not considered an acceptable behaviour.

Unmarried couples are not permitted to live together or share a room in Dubai or in the UAE.

Islam is the main religion throughout the UAE. Expatriates follow their own religions and that is tolerated. But, anything that is anti-Islam will not be tolerated at any level and may result in fines and imprisonment. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, and hence eating, smoking or drinking in public places during this month may not be acceptable.

Islamic Law (Sharia)

In Sharia Law, just as in other legal systems, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Both the plaintiff and defendant are equal in the court of the law. Under Islamic law, crimes that carry definite penalties are apostasy, murder, fornication, adultery, homosexuality and theft.

On the whole, if you want to live and work in the UAE, you will have to abide by the laws of the land, and accept the rules by which Emiratis live. As an expatriate you are bound to the laws of the country you live in.

Robin Vinod

Writer/blogger who writes on topics such as travel, real estate, employment and everyday life on GCC countries

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