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Laws and Regulations

Living Together in Dubai

04 September 2015

In a live-in relationship, a man and a woman live together under a single roof as couples, without being legally married to each other. Dubai, being a Muslim state, is strict in its moral and ethical code. The laws here are very different from those in western countries, and if you wish to live and work in UAE, you need to be very careful when it comes to your behaviour.

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. But, if you do not do so, it is considered ‘illegal’ and against the law.

But, on the other hand, there are cases of unmarried couples living together in Dubai, i.e., it is possible, but not permitted, and 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 presumed that hotel rooms are shared only by married couples. Hotels do not ask for a marriage certificate, and they usually want to see only a passport. However, even if both passports are shown, the different surnames may not pose a problem, as in the UAE, Arab women continue to keep their own surnames even after marriage.

Most hotels in Dubai, particularly the luxury hotels, do not enforce the "only married couples" rule. So, chances are you won’t have trouble booking a room. At check-in, you may be required to show only your passport. Once you have checked into a hotel, refer to each other as 'husband' and 'wife', rather than referring to your partner as 'boyfriend' or ‘girlfriend’ or ‘fiance’, as this may help prevent potential problems.

However, as mentioned earlier, if caught in any scandal, or for any misbehaviour at the hotel, police verification will follow, and if discovered you are not married, you may land yourself into legal trouble.

living together in Dubai

Unmarried couple sharing common accommodation

It is illegal to stay with your live-in partner of opposite sex in a private room, if the two of you are not related to each other. This is also the case if caught in a similar situation when driving your car. The Muslim Law clearly stipulates that if you are caught under such circumstances, you are likely to face punishment under article 356 of UAE Penal Code.

When sharing apartments and villas, it is sometimes noticed that groups of people with mixed gender share a common accommodation in Dubai. But again, they are likely to run into trouble not because of shared accommodation, but, for other reasons such as for annoying neighbours, who in-turn would have complained to Police.

On the whole, couples living together in an apartment or villa in Dubai may not run into problems, provided, they do not draw attention to themselves so as to make the police get involved. It is also suggested that you may refer to your partner as your wife/husband when introducing them to non-westerners, as the whole concept of living together is not acceptable in Dubai or UAE or in many non-western cultures. Saying so may however, only save you from any immediate trouble. You are unlikely to get away with that when you land in situations where the authorities seek to verify your relationship.

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