Culture Shock in United Arab Emirates

Expats moving to the UAE are bound to experience elements of culture shock, based primarily on the distinctive line between the modernity that exists, and the prevailing and widespread religious beliefs. 

The grey area attached to local laws in the UAE and the consistency in interpreting and enforcing legislation is large and often times illegible, much to an expat's disadvantage. It's essential that foreigners know the "rules", are aware of their incredibly stringent consequences and realise that the police may fill a more affected role than what an expat may be used to in their home country.

Though certain emirates assert themselves as Las Vegas lookalikes, and the expat population found in some cities overshadows that of the local life, the Muslim religion still mandates behaviours and actions, and expats must show appropriate levels of respect.

Laws in the UAE

Drinking and drug laws

The consumption of alcohol is only legal for non-Muslims in UAE within licensed restaurants, pubs, clubs, or private venues. Additionally, non-Muslim expats living in UAE with residence status can apply for an alcohol licence, which entitles them to purchase alcohol from specialised stores and then consume their beverage of choice at home.

This does not exempt an expat from charges of public drunkenness, which is an offence that warrants arrest. Furthermore, for expats who expect family members to visit on a visitor's visa, be exceptionally careful if planning to consume alcohol. Those on a tourist visa cannot purchase an alcohol license, which makes consumption illegal.

There is a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to drinking and driving. The minimum drinking age is 18.

It's strictly illegal and forbidden to bring drugs into Abu Dhabi. Even the slightest, residual amount can result in arrest, a four-year imprisonment and then deportation.

This is not a law to take lightly. Even those simply transitioning through major airports are subject to strict searches.

Expats bringing prescription drugs to Abu Dhabi should bring a doctor's note and should make an effort to notify authorities beforehand.

Public decency laws

  • Sexual relationships outside of marriage are strictly illegal. This rule is of the utmost importance to young women who are considering reporting sex crimes. 
  • Dancing in public is considered provocative and indecent. Do so only in clubs or in the home. 
  • Publicly photographing women without their permission is frowned upon. Furthermore, it's illegal to take pictures of military, airport or government installations in the UAE.
  • Acting aggressively, cursing, spitting or using offensive language can result in imprisonment. Never address authorities, especially officers, in this manner.
  • Smoking is acceptable only in designated areas, otherwise it's illegal.
  • Kissing, hugging and generally displaying affection is against the law. It's fine for a married couple to hold hands in public, but anything more is not normally tolerated.

Business crimes

While cheques, especially post-dated cheques, are a commonly accepted method of payment, a bounced cheque is considered a serious offense, and can result in jail time.   

Religion in the UAE

Ramadan is the holy month for Muslims. Each day during this holy month, from sunrise to sunset, Muslims all over the world abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, as well as from participating in anything that is considered ill-natured or excessive. During day time eating and drinking in public areas is not allowed and it is punishable by law.

Contrary to many opinions in the region, business does not stop during Ramadan.

Shopping malls and restaurants generally tend to have extended hours in the evenings. Some restaurants have special dispensation to stay open during the day to cater for the non-fasting workforce but they will cover the premise's windows and doors for privacy and to be mindful of those fasting.

Working in the UAE

The first working day of the week in the UAE is Sunday and the weekend is over Friday and Saturday. Most of the government and public offices are closed on Saturday; however this varies for the private companies.

The working hours and office timings in UAE vary according to the nature of the business establishments. Some private companies are open for straight nine hours with one hour lunch break while others have three or four hours lunch break. Hence, it is common to see offices open until seven or eight in the evening.

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