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UAE - The Laws You Need To Know

Want to stay on the right side of UAE law? And know what to do should you get on the wrong side? Here’s the essential info you should be armed with at all times.
Under Sharia (Islamic law), adultery is strictly forbidden and punishable in court. Those found guilty face up to three years in prison and deportation.
Alcohol consumption is strictly forbidden in Islam but, with the exception of Sharjah, the UAE does allow tourists and residents to drink in licensed restaurants and bars. To purchase alcohol from MMI or A&E, then store and consume alcohol in an unlicensed place, such as your home, a license is necessary. But don’t fall for the misconception that this is a ‘get out of jail card’ for drinking excessively. If you’re found to be under the influence in public, you can be arrested and charged, whether you have a license or not. And don’t even wet your lips with alcohol if you’re driving. The UAE has zero tolerance. This counts if you’re over the limit the morning after, too.
Banking and insurance
All local bank accounts are ruled by Sharia, therefore, John Bailey, a consultant at Acuma Independent Financial Advice, recommends a husband and wife should always open and have access to separate accounts. This is because in the event of death, a joint account can be frozen within the hour, meaning any money in this account is unavailable to the surviving spouse. He suggests excess money should be sent to an offshore account to ensure access to funds, should the worst happen.

“Review any existing insurance provisions you may have made before moving to the region. Obtain written confirmation that this will still provide protection in the Middle East, as many policies will no longer offer coverage as an expat,” he adds.

If you have life insurance or deathservice benefits with your employer, Bailey advises that you should arrange for these to be paid out to an account offshore, again to avoid any complications with local law.
During the recession, bounced cheques were the reason why one in four prisoners were behind bars. Last October, a presidential decree removed criminality/jail time – but only in certain instances. The ruling applies to cheques issued as collateral, not payment, and those issued only by UAE nationals whose cases are being processed by The Higher Committee for Debt Settlement Fund. This means for the vast majority of people a bounced cheque could spell prison.
Technically, it’s illegal for men and women who are not married or related to live together, even in a strictly platonic sense. Although most people who choose to cohabit with the opposite sex don’t encounter any problems, you could find yourself in hot water, should a disapproving neighbour report you.
Consumer rights
Yes, you do have some, according to the Ministry of Economy’s The Consumer Code of Rights, which was drawn up in 2006 to promote competition and fair trade.

And it’s not strictly concerning the retailer. On your side, you should be aware of warranties, guarantees, origin, storage and expiry prior to purchase. Buying from reputable retailers will naturally work in your favour, when it comes to product quality and aftercare.

You should always request a receipt from the seller and check the details are correct before setting aside for your records. When it comes to products that have an extended lifespan, like electrical goods, you should certainly be aware of warranties and after-sale services provided, again storing away any guarantees in case required in the future.

Retailers, meanwhile, cannot mislead in terms of advertising and must provide consumers with the correct information about their rights, including policies on refunds, replacements, defective goods and repair.

The code also stipulates that goods and services should be presented with clear information in Arabic and any other language and that the price must be displayed in dirhams.

Receipts must be provided upon the purchase of goods and where necessary, valid guarantees and warrantees should be offered alongside. Those providing a service must guarantee a service quality for a period of time and if services are not conducted with ‘due care’ they should be provided again for free, or refunded.

Employees should also be in the know when it comes to the products and services available in-store.

If you have a complaint against a retailer, you can voice this by calling 600 545555. For more information and to see the consumer code in full, log onto consumerrights.ae
Not wearing a seatbelt and driving while on your mobile are illegal and both are subject to a fine. Although not legally required, for safety purposes, children should sit in the backseat of the car with their seatbelts on or should be in a car-seat of some form. For more information, visit buckleupintheback.com
In the UAE it’s no secret that the divorce courts tend to favour men so, from a woman’s point of view, it’s less than ideal should proceedings begin here. We spoke to legal eagle Holly Sautelle-Smith of Expatriate Law to get to grips with divorce, including some possible scenarios

I am an Australian citizen but my husband has approached the UAE courts for a divorce. Can he do this?

Yes. Generally speaking, the country where a divorce petition is first issued will take priority over any subsequent countries (providing its jurisdiction to hear the divorce is not challenged). Often issuing a divorce petition becomes a race against time. Although you can ask the court to apply the law of your home country, this is seldom done.

Our split is amicable. We have reached an agreement that we are both happy with in terms of children and finances. What should we do?

In this instance, it’s possible to draft an agreement into a legal document that can then be endorsed by UAE courts. An uncontested divorce can be obtained within eight weeks or so, but a contested divorce can take up to a year to resolve.

My husband is Muslim. Can he divorce me simply with words?

Religiously-speaking, yes, he can cancel the marriage by pronouncing ‘Talaq’ and a Muslim woman can do the same, if she has permission from her husband (or in some circumstances, this can also be permitted on grounds of ‘harm’). To be legally recognised, however, the divorce must be registered with a court.

What will happen to our property and finances?

There are no family laws in the UAE that deal with the allocation of property on the breakdown of marriage. On divorce, each party shall retain the assets and property held in their respective names. The division of jointly owned property, meanwhile, is dealt with under general Civil laws. One party may apply to the court for an order of sale orfor the other to buy them out.

We have assets abroad – does UAE law apply to these too?

UAE courts only have the jurisdiction over jointly owned bank accounts, assets and property owned in the UAE, not overseas.

Will i get spousal support following a divorce?

Under UAE law, a husband can never make income claims from his wife, even if he has custody of the children. A wife can, however, regardless of her wealth and income. These consist of compensation type claims, for example a year’s worth of expenses to cover any moral damage or failure to support her during the last year of marriage. These awards are not ongoing and usually ordered as a percentage of the husband’s annual income, between 25 and 40 percent. Aside from these claims and child maintenance, a woman cannot make financial claims for herself for ongoing spousal maintenance.

Who gets custody of children?

Parents don’t share equal parental responsibility for children in the UAE. Following divorce, the mother will become the ‘custodian’ of young children and the father ‘guardian.’ The custodian is obligated to nurture and care for the child, meet the child’s day- to-day needs and have the child live within their home. Typically, the mother will have custody of young children. Unless the court orders otherwise, custody will move from the mother to the father once the children reach the age of 11 for a boy and 13 for a girl. Nowadays, it’s common for the court to be flexible in respect of the custody criteria to ensure that the child’s best interests are met. The guardian is also entitled to regular visitation rights.

Am I entitled to child maintenance?

The court will consider the standard of living the children have experienced during the marriage to determine the appropriate level of child maintenance required by the wife to care for a child, including factors such as rent, schooling, food, medical expenses, home help, clothes, flights and extracurricular activities. In addition, the wife can claim a monthly figure as a ‘carer’s allowance’. This figure depends on the level of the husband’s income and the level of spending during the marriage.
Drugs and prescription the UAE medicines
‘Recreational’ drugs are strictly forbidden in the UAE, and punishments are severe. Prescription drugs considered to be psychotropic (mind-altering substances) are also forbidden. For instance, medicine like codeine may be permitted in other countries – here it’s not. Carry prescriptions and check out moh.gov.ae for listings of permitted and banned medicine.
Working in the UAE certainly has it perks, but aside from tax-free earnings, there are certain employment laws you should be aware of:


Once you pass your probation (maximum of six months), this time period should be considered part of your overall employment term and taken into account when calculating gratuity and other benefits.

Minimum wage

There’s no minimum wage. Employees who make less than Dhs4,000 (plus accommodation) will not be able to sponsor their spouse or children to reside in the country, hence a lot of people leaving their families in their home countries.

Annual leave

What are an employee’s annual leave entitlements? For every year of service, you’re entitled to two days for every month, if the service is more than six months but less than one year. If service exceeds a year, you should be given a minimum of 30 days annually. Annual leave is largely calculated on the basis of a calendar month rather than by working days. If you don’t avail leave days and leave the company (having served your notice period) or even if you have been dismissed, you’re entitled to receive money in lieu of holiday days.


Friday is considered a day off for everyone, bar those who are paid on a daily basis. With the exception of labourers on a daily wage (and those in service industries), employees should not be expected to work on more than two Fridays in succession.

Maternity leave

Women who have been working for a company for a year are entitled to 45 days maternity leave at full pay (taken before or after birth). At the end of it, the employee has the right to extend the leave for up to 10 days without pay. During the 18 months after delivery, nursing employees are entitled to two daily intervals of 30 minutes to nurse her child, which are not considered part of her working hours. There is no paternity leave in the UAE.


Pregnancy out of wedlock is illegal in the UAE. And regardless of marriage, abortion is not permitted. Anyone found to be conducting or undergoing this procedure will face prosecution and jail time (up to five years for the former, and usually six months for the latter). If you’re not wed, you will also be charged with having sex outside of marriage.

Even if a woman has been raped or is known to be carrying a child with abnormalities, UAE law doesn’t permit abortion. Abortion is only validated when the mother’s life is in grave danger or the child will have severe deformities and will not survive. In such instances, this has to be approved by a medical panel.

Sick pay

According to the UAE Labour Law, an employer doesn’t need to pay sick leave to anyone on probation. Those who are at least three months past probation are entitled to full pay for the first 15 days, half pay for the next 30 days and no pay thereafter.


A failed attempt will see you in front of a judge on charges, with the possibility of a Dhs5,000 fine and six months in jail.


According to the Dubai Code of Conduct, ‘vulgar’ language can land you jail time or a fine. Offensive ‘hand gestures,’ are also punishable by law.

Free zones

Free zones have different employment laws than non-free zones. For example, DIFC, has its own laws and judicial system, so your employee rights may differ if you have moved company. It’s worth checking with your HR department.


If you’re on a local contract, you are legally entitled to gratuity. This is often based on your basic salary with 21 days of salary for every year of employment less than five years and 30 days of salary for each year of employment over five years.

However, legally, you could be short-changed. According to the Court of Cassation, all amounts received by an employee on a regular basis, including bonus and commission, are to be considered when calculating end of service entitlements.

Another way employers can control gratuity is through the employer contract. Often the initial offer letter you receive is not the employer contract submitted and recorded at the UAE law department. This could affect your gratuity when you leave the company. For example, the initial offer letter might state that the monthly salary is Dhs 20,000, whereas the employment contract may state that the monthly gross salary is Dhs20,000, half of which is the basic salary and the remainder covers transportation and housing. This means the gratuity will be calculated on the basis of the basic salary as written in the employment contract. So when you sign your employment contract, make sure it reflects your original offer letter.

The maximum gratuity is two years’ full pay, for any single employment stint.
Arrested, charged, and prosecuted
We speak to the British Embassy to get an insight into Dubai’s legal system

I’ve been arrested. What next?

Following arrest, you can be remanded in custody for 48 hours. During this period, you must be seen by a Public Prosecutor, unless you’re considered to be under the influence, medically unfit or it’s a public holiday.

The Public Prosecution largely has 21 days in which to investigate your case and present it to the Court of First Instances. However, the Public Prosecutor may extend your remand period if a crucial piece of evidence, like a forensic report, has not been produced. The public prosecutor is under no obligation to explain to you or the Embassy why he has asked for an extension, he only needs to satisfy the court that an extension is necessary. Even simple cases take up to three months. More complicated cases can take longer.

What should I do?

• Don’t sign anything in Arabic that you cannot understand. If you misguidedly sign a confession, it could be upheld in court. • Get yourself a lawyer, if you can. In the UAE, lawyers aren’t appointed free of charge. This means those who can’t afford one will have no choice but to represent themselves. Exceptions are made if the accused is facing life imprisonment or the death penalty. • Self-representation in court certainly isn’t something you should rely on. Much of the proceedings will be in Arabic. • Contact your home country embassy. They can offer help, advice, source a legal counsel and contact your family. • Although embassies can provide support, help you get any necessary medical treatment, and act as a channel to family members, they can’t get you released from prison. • Contact your employer. As some businesses here operate with local partners, they may be able to offer help and have some leverage, depending on what you have been arrested for.

Will I be released on bail?

If your offence is minor, you will most likely be permitted bail, but only once your case has been referred to the Public Prosecutor.

For more serious crimes, the approval of the Public Prosecutor is again required, or that of a judge in the Court of First Instances, once the case has been referred to trial. You should request bail when you encounter either of these two people. Your lawyer can also make a request in writing to Dubai Public Prosecution.

As part of a bail agreement, you may have to handover a fee and your passport, plus the passport of a guarantor –this usually has to be a male of any nationality with a valid UAE residency.

What will happen in court?

The judicial system in the UAE is based on Sharia and there is no jury, only a judge. You may or may not get the opportunity to speak and along with statements and forensic reports, all evidence can be considered, even hearsay.

Can I appeal?

Yes. Everybody, including the prosecution, has the right of appeal against a sentence. If you have not appointed a lawyer, you should consider one at this stage.

Appeals must be submitted to the Appeal Court within 15 days, via your lawyer or you can do this yourself, through the prison authorities. If an appeal is unsuccessful you can appeal again within 30 days of the appeal court judgment, this time to the Court of Cassation.

For more information, log onto gov.uk/help-if-you-arearrested- abroad/y/unitedarab-emirates

We speak to the British Embassy to get an insight into Dubai’s legal system If you’re a British expat you can seek assistance from The British Community Assistance Fund (BCAF), a not-for-profit organisation run by volunteers. Where possible, help can be provided in the form of legal, financial, medical assistance and repatriation. bcaf.ae

This information is provided by the British Embassies in Dubai and Abu Dhabi as a public service. While every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of the information presented, it cannot be guaranteed. All information should be verified with the relevant UAE authorities.

The legal systems differs slightly between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, log onto gov.uk/help-if-you-arearrested-abroad/y/united-arabemirates, for more information.

To download full article CLICK HERE
Published: November2013
Publication: Good magazine, Motivate
Title: UAE - The laws you need to know
Practice: Litigation
Authors: Abdullah Ishnaneh, Karam Chehade
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