Travellers to the United Arab Emirates do have to be more aware of cultural rules and norms than many other destinations, and the question of what travellers can and can’t wear in the UAE, especially in the tourist hotspots of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. So here are some helpful hints and guidance on what to wear in the United Arab Emirates so you can dress appropriately and avoid trouble.
It should go without saying that wherever you are in the world it is important to respect local culture and customs, and the United Arab Emirates is no exception to that. Despite Dubai and Abu Dhabi being relatively more easy going than other emirates due to their popular tourism status, they are still conservative Muslim countries that operate largely under Sharia law. Many of the problems that arise from tourists wearing inappropriate clothing in the UAE usually stem from a misunderstanding or lack of comprehension of what is or is not acceptable. This is why it is so important to know what you can and cannot wear in the UAE before you go.
Dress codes in the United Arab Emirates.
Basically speaking no one is expecting travellers to cover up completely. There is an understanding that you are a visitor and as long as you are respectful no one will expect you to wear traditional dress.
Traditionally Arab men in the UAE wear the Kandura, which is the long white robe you will see the majority of men wear here. Traditionally the longer the robe the higher station a person has, so a slightly shorter robe represents modesty. This is coupled by the Ghutra and the Agal, the white headscarf and black band that fits around your head.
Women in the UAE wear the Abaya, a long, light cloak that covers the whole body loosely and is the national dress of the UAE. Sometimes this is coupled with a Niqab and Gafaaz to cover the head and face as well.
Travellers are obviously not expected to adopt this form of dress for the most part. Western style clothing such as T Shirts or long skirts are permitted, and in some specific places such as private hotel beaches even swimwear and bikinis are acceptable, but you have to be aware that there are very specific places for that. Whatever you wear in the UAE it is always better to be modest in your dress and respectful. It never hurts to follow the lead of the locals or expats around you.
So what is acceptable to wear in the United Arab Emirates?
Roughly speaking for the major cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, most western clothes are generally acceptable if they cover the shoulders and knees.
For men this means long trousers and trainers, plus a shirt or T shirt. Short sleeve shirts are fine and seen as respectful as they cover the shoulders. Long, knee length shorts are considered acceptable in most areas, especially the beach, but not in restaurants or other public areas. Short shorts are definitely not acceptable (but to be fair they are not acceptable anywhere on men) and vests or muscle shirts are not acceptable either.
For women this means long skirts, dresses and tops that cover up your shoulders and cleavage. Tops with straps that are otherwise relatively modest anywhere else will get you unwanted attention from the police, and it may be a good idea to carry a scarf to throw over your shoulders if you are unsure. Contrary to popular belief however women do not have to cover their hair with a scarf unless they are at a specific religious building such as a mosque.
For both genders it is also illegal to wear clothing with what is considered offensive slogans or branding, and by that I mean what the UAE authorities consider to be offensive, not you, so just be careful with any slogans on your T shirts, especially if they are religious in nature.
Outside of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, in Sharjah and Ajman for example, Sharia law is far more dominant and dress styles are far more conservative. Women must cover up almost completely, including upper arms and down to ankles/ Covering hair is not always expected unless at a mosque but take a scarf to do so just in case. Men are not allowed shorts at all and have the same shoulders and full leg requirements as women.
What is acceptable to wear at the beach?
The UAE has some stunning beaches and obviously you are going to want to enjoy them and probably take a dip, but what do you wear?
Many beaches in the UAE are private and owned by international hotels, so a lot more is permissible here, but even on public beaches you are allowed a little leeway.
Men are allowed to wear speedo style trunks for swimming in, but for the sake of everyone (and not just local sensibilities) long trunks or board shorts are always a better option. Going topless for men is fine in the water and is acceptable on private beaches if you want to sunbathe but put a T shirt on outside of it just to be on the safe side.
Women are allowed to wear bikinis on private beaches, but be relatively sensible with this. The type of string bikini you see in Miami or Mexico will not get you many positive looks here, so wear a bikini by all means but a sensible one. If you want to be on the safe side a one piece swimsuit with a shawl or other beachwear is fine on the beach. Again if you step off the beach you will be expected to cover up more. Going topless is obviously not acceptable at all.
What is acceptable to wear at a mosque?
Basically speaking at a religious building such as a mosque you should be more respectful and dress far more conservatively. In practical terms this means pretty much what you would wear outside in public, all shoulders and legs covered, modest dress that doesn’t show any skin or offensive clothing. The big difference is that in mosques, women are required to cover up their hair too and carrying a scarf or shawl for this purpose is always a good idea.
Many mosques will loan you a scarf or appropriate dress if you need one.
Be respectful and enjoy yourself.
Many of the rules and norms around dress aren’t as restrictive as many travellers assume, and a lot of the choices around what to wear are just common sense when you bring a little bit of respect into the thought process. The UAE is a great place to visit, just remember to show respect.
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