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Laws and Regulations

Living Together in Dubai

15 November 2019

Dubai follows the Sharia Law, which governs the social activities and lives of people. Here, living together or live-in relationship is against law, and hence cannot be practiced by anybody. In other words, you cannot live in with your so called partner, without marriage, and if you want to live together as a couple, you have to get married first. If you do not do so, it is considered 'illegal' and against the law.

However, instances of unmarried couples living together in Dubai, are not rare, which means, it is possible for unmarried couples to live together, but not legally permitted, and hence, you may do so at your own risk.

Some unmarried couples do live together in Dubai without landing in trouble with the authorities, but, arrests can happen, if the couples get into trouble with the law, usually if they have done something to draw the attention of police.

Usually western couples are often confused about the perspective of Dubai about a live-in relationship. The following laws are applicable in Dubai, although the rules in other emirates of UAE are different.

  • In the UAE and Dubai, it is against the Sharia law to live together with someone you are not married to. You can only live together with a member of the opposite sex if you are married to them, or if they are your family member.
  • The Dubai police may not verify each apartment complex or hotel, knock on doors and verify marriage certificates, unlike in Sharjah or in Saudi Arabia, but, if someone complains about an illegal activity, or if you are caught by the police for some other issue, then the police may be obliged to investigate.
  • In fact, it is illegal to stay in a private room or even in a car, for that matter, with an unrelated member of opposite sex, and this is applicable to Dubai hotel rooms too. This rule is referred to as the ‘Tawajed Clause’.
  • Another description is the Al Khilwa Al Muharama Clause, which stipulates that two people of opposite sex who are unmarried and unrelated are not allowed to live together.
  • Article 356 of the UAE Penal Code states that anyone convicted of engaging in consensual sex outside of marriage, and if caught under such circumstances, you are likely to be punished with a jail sentence, followed by deportation.
  • However, in reality, the police will not make a random check to find out if you are sharing a car with someone of the opposite sex who is unrelated to you. If there is a problem, it is more likely for other reasons, for instance, the police thinks an illegal taxi service is going on, or if involved in an accident or if you happen to break the traffic rule.
  • A lot depends on your employer too. If residing in company provided accommodation, a conservative employer or a government employer may not favour a live-in relationship.
  • It is also to be noted that obtaining a residence visa is possible for spouse, but, when unmarried couples plan to live together, this is not possible.
  • The risk is higher, if your live-in partner is already married to someone else. If their spouse files a complaint with the police about their husband or wife in an illicit relationship, then police investigation is inevitable.
  • The UAE law mandates a new tenancy contract in your name to obtain a visa. As per the laws, you are not permitted to live with someone who is not your relative or family. So if you plan to share your home with an unrelated live-in partner, you would need two tenancy contracts.
  • If you happen to live in an expat community and keep all to yourself and remain as an expat who respects the fact that this is a Muslim country, and stick to the laws here, without disturbing your neighbours or the members of your community, you can avoid police verifications to a great extent.
  • Dubai is a country that operates and practices Sharia Law, and it is therefore obvious that expats residing in Dubai are also bound by the law of the country they are in. It is important to understand that Sharia is also a code of conduct in the country.

Unmarried Couple Sharing Hotel Rooms

In Dubai, It is generally presumed that the hotel rooms are shared only by married couples. The hotels do not ask for a marriage certificate, but, they usually wish to see only a passport. Majority of the hotels in Dubai, particularly, the luxury hotels, do not enforce the ‘only married couples’ rule. Therefore, unmarried couples may not face a trouble in booking a room. At the check-in, you may be required to show your passport. However, if caught in any scandal for misbehaviour at the hotel, then a police verification will follow, and if found that you are unmarried, you may be in for legal trouble.

living together in Dubai

Unmarried Couple Sharing Common Accommodation

As per laws in Dubai, it is illegal for unmarried couples to share a private room or accommodation.  According to law, if you are caught under such circumstances, you may face punishment under Article 356 of UAE Penal Code.

However, there are cases of people of mixed genders sharing a common accommodation in Dubai. But, there is always the risk of getting caught, as sometimes the neighbours get annoyed and complain to Police. In short, unmarried couples living together in Dubai, may run into problems if they draw attention to themselves making the police get involved.

Also, if sharing accommodation, it is better to refer your partner as your wife/husband when introducing them to others, as the whole concept of living together is not acceptable in the UAE and in many other non-western cultures. Although just saying so may save only from immediate trouble, you are unlikely to get away with that if you land yourself in situations where the authorities seek to verify your relationship.

Dating in Dubai

Dating is permissible in Dubai, and several expats do it. But, permissible does not mean it is legal. Despite Dubai being a city of modern amenities, with a host of popular nightclubs and bars, which are popular venues for different nationalities, the rules for dating in Dubai are quite strict and visitors to this emirate are also expected to follow the rules if they wish to visit or live in the emirate.

Dubai has several popular nightclubs and bars, and these are popular venues for meeting people of different nationalities. Therefore, dating is common in this city, but the rules here are different from those in western countries. One major difference is that the modern dating behaviour should be balanced with a more conservative Arabic norm of socially acceptable behaviour.

Firstly, it is illegal for men and women to date in a manner that is acceptable in western cultures, unless they are married. It is also illegal to live together or have sex before marriage. But these laws are not stringently enforced in Dubai, unless if someone complains to the Police. Therefore, one has to tread with caution when dating or living together in Dubai.

Be subtle and practice discretion in your attempts when approaching the fairer sex. For instance, although walking up to a lady in a bar/nightclub and asking for her number or trying to engager her in conversation is fine, but, any form of harassment can get you thrown out of the bar or can lead to imprisonment for serious offences.  Also, remember to exercise caution when approaching local Emirati women. While appreciating an Emirati lady from afar is fine, following her or persistently hitting on her may very quickly land you in trouble.
When dating take care to avoid public displays of affection. In fact, this even holds true for married couples, as public displays of affection is considered indecent by local population.
Also, it is better not to announce that you are dating to anybody other than your close relatives or friends, as although most people turn a blind eye to live-in couples, a complain from an irate neighbour or landlord may land you in trouble if you are in live-in relationships are illegal in Dubai.

Emiratis are traditional people who are proud of their heritage and culture. In general, they are tolerant and open-minded to a great extent with newer generation who are exposed to western influences. But, they have limits to what kind of behaviour is acceptable. Therefore, there is nothing daunting about dating in Dubai, provided you respect the rules of local people, particularly in public places.

Kissing someone in public

Public displays of affection are considered as inappropriate behaviour and generally frowned upon by Emiratis, and can even land you in jail with possibility of deportation in case of serious offences.

Several foreign couples have been jailed earlier for seemingly innocent behaviour. However, holding hands in public or a quick peck on the cheek is just about how far you can go when expressing your feelings publicly for your partner. This holds true for married couples as well, apart from those who are dating. But, hugging, grabbing or kissing in public is prohibited in Dubai. This also holds true for dancing in public.

Role of Police in Such Activities

This entirely depends on the reason why you had invited Police attention in the first place. As mentioned earlier, the Police personnel in Dubai do not go out to every apartment or hotel room to check if there are unmarried couples living together. A lot of it also depends on your relationship with neighbours, say, somebody having hinted to the police about a couple living together.

Else, they take action when couples are caught flouting rules in public, or when someone from the public complains about illegal activities happening there. Public displays of affection are not well-tolerated in Dubai. Holding hands is fine for married couples, but, kissing or hugging in public, are not acceptable. But, in the case of unmarried couples, even holding hands in public is not permitted, and you might run into trouble if you are stopped by the police in a public place like restaurant, or shopping centre. So, it is important to be aware of your surroundings.

As said, if caught, the next course action would be a thorough investigation, followed by a one year jail term and deportation.

On the whole, stick to the laws as far as possible, stay safe, and live a life of dignity even when in an unknown land far away from your home country. In extreme cases, even if opting to live together, beware of all the consequences and know your limits.

Robin Vinod

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

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