Out of the world’s developing countries, the United Arab Emirates is one of the most advanced by far. The UAE is rich in many things, foremost among them oil, money, and opportunity. Professionals and laborers from the United States, South America, Europe, south and southeast Asia, and the rest of the Middle East congregate in the dense and massively important centers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai to work, make money, and build a life. So many foreigners come to the Emirates to work, in fact, that the Emirati citizens – the natives of the country – are a small minority in their own state.
Aside from the UAE’s unique demographic situation, it is much like any other country. The Emiratis have their own customs and their own laws, and if you plan on traveling to Abu Dhabi or Dubai, whether it be for business or for pleasure, you are fully expected to follow these laws to the letter. The Emirati entry standards are quite stringent, and they may seem strange or unnecessarily strict to you, especially if you are a westerner. Here are a few of the most important things you’ll need to know about Emirati immigration and customs policy before departing.
1) Don’t bother bringing much alcohol
If you often take alcohol with you on trips or like to give bottles of wine or spirits as gifts, you may want to have a look at Emirati customs standards before traveling. All seven emirates that compose the UAE have different laws governing the importation of alcohol, but you are almost certain to enter the country by way of either Abu Dhabi or Dubai. Abu Dhabi allows visitors to bring in two liters of spirits or wine or 48 cans of beer not exceeding 355ml each. Dubai’s alcohol restrictions are slightly more lenient: the authorities in the UAE’s second city will allow you to import four liters of alcohol instead of two.
If you’re staying at a hotel in Abu Dhabi or Dubai, you’ll still be able to drink as you please – bars and restaurants inside hotels are allowed to serve alcohol. Drinks in the UAE tend to be quite expensive, however. It would be a better idea to buy liquor at the duty-free shop before leaving the airport. The prices on duty-free liquors, wines, and beer in the Abu Dhabi and Dubai airport shops are relative bargains.
2) Don’t bother bringing any pornography at all
Pornography is almost an accepted fact of life in the West. Even most of those Americans and Europeans who don’t approve of it are more or less resigned to its existence. If you come from a country that allows a large degree of freedom when it comes to producing or owning sexually explicit material, you might not see porn as a big deal. You might even have some yourself, whether it’s in paper form or on your laptop.
The Emirati authorities take a slightly different view of pornography – they don’t tolerate it at all. It is illegal to bring sexually explicit material into Abu Dhabi, Dubai, or any other emirate. Keep this fact in mind when packing your bags. And while you can buy a certain amount of liquor at the duty-free shop and drink your fill at the hotel bars if you so desire, you cannot indulge in porn at all inside the UAE. Pornographic material of any kind is illegal to sell in the Emirates, and Etisalat and Du, the two ISPs that service the entire country, do their absolute best to block access to all pornographic websites within the UAE. If you happen to like pornography, you’ll just have to get used to being without it while you’re in the Emirates.
3) Don’t bring drugs into the country
This tip should fall into the category of “common sense”, but some travelers don’t seem to have any of that. So here’s the last point to remember, spelled out for those who may be liable to forget: don’t bring drugs into the UAE. Under no circumstances should you bring illicit drugs into the Emirates. Illicit drugs, according to the Emirati authorities, include (but are not limited to) narcotics of all kinds (cannabis, cocaine, heroin, etc.) and even many kinds of legitimate drugs if they are not paired with prescriptions. It is advised that you leave your non-necessary drugs at home. If you have to take any essential pharmaceutical drugs, be sure to have your prescription and all relevant documentation with you in case Emirati customs officials ask about them. Even over-the-counter drugs can cause problems for you at customs. If you have legal pharmaceuticals and the proper documents with you, you shouldn’t face any problems. However, if you don’t have a prescription for your drugs, you may be in for an ordeal. And if you are caught with narcotics of any kind, in any quantity, you will be taken to prison by the Emirati authorities and held indefinitely. This point cannot be stated forcefully enough.
The UAE is a demographically diverse country full of opportunity, but it is also a religiously conservative country, and its laws and customs must be respected by visitors and residents. Ignorance of a country’s laws is no excuse for inadvertently breaking them, so do your research before traveling to the Emirates and make all the necessary arrangements prior to your departure.