It’s never a good experience to be fined or imprisoned for an offense you didn’t realize was illegal. To help you stay informed, we’ve listed 15 seemingly harmless crimes that could land you in significant trouble in the UAE. Don’t say we didn’t caution you!
Things that can get you arrested or fined in the UAE
1. Checking someone’s or your spouse’s phone
It’s important to remember that accessing someone’s phone without their permission, even if it’s your partner’s, is a serious legal offence in the UAE. If you use a password that you weren’t authorized to access, be prepared to face a steep fine or even aggravated offence charges. Obtaining the password with the intent to commit a crime will be considered an aggravated offence.
Penalty: Imprisonment and/or a fine between Dh50,000 and Dh100,000 for accessing any information system with a password acquired without permission. If there is criminal intent, you face a minimum of six months in jail and/or a fine between Dh300,000 and Dh500,000.
Case study: In 2016, a woman in Ajman was found guilty of breaching the privacy of her husband after she transferred photos from her husband’s phone to hers via WhatsApp because she suspected he was having an affair. The woman was fined Dhs150,000 and deported.
2. Calling someone silly or stupid; defaming an individual
Calling someone stupid or silly is considered a crime that is punishable by a jail term and a fine.
Laws you violate: Article 373 of the UAE federal penal code.
Penalty: One-year jail term and a fine of Dh10,000.
Case study: An Arab man was sentenced to 60 days in prison and fined 20,000 dirhams for calling his wife an idiot on WhatsApp.
It should be also noted that defaming an individual on social media is a criminal offence in the UAE. This is in accordance with Article 373 of the Federal Law No.3 of 1987 of UAE on issuance of the Penal Code (the ‘Penal Law’), which states, “Detention for a period not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding Dh10,000 shall be imposed on anyone who, by any means of publicity, disgraces the honour or the modesty of another person without attributing any particular act to the defamed party.
2. Spreading rumours
Spreading false rumours – especially those posted to social media – could land you in jail for up to three years, with a fine of Dhs1 million. The penalty can be imposed on those who knowingly spread misinformation that could harm the public interest or disturb the peace.
Penalty: Three-year jail term and a fine of Dhs1 million.
Case study: During the 2016 floods, numerous photos and videos of the aftermath were shared on social media. Unfortunately, some of them were fake, prompting officials to declare that spreading “rumours” about the disaster was illegal and reckless.
4. Taking photos of others (without consent)
Whenever you take someone’s photo, it’s always a good idea to ask for permission, but this is a non-negotiable in Dubai, particularly if you plan to post it online.
Penalty: six-months jail term and a fine of Dhs500,000.
Legal expert says: “It is no surprise that there are laws protecting the privacy of the public, as no one wants their picture made public without their knowledge or consent. If you intend to take a photo or video of a crime, it is advisable to only share it with the authorities, or you yourself could be facing jail time, fines and deportation.”
5. Illegal satellite TV
Planning to install an unauthorized satellite dish antenna to catch your favorite TV show? Beware – this could land you in trouble. Residents found using pirated TV services may face criminal charges, as authorities have repeatedly warned that the advertisement, sale, and distribution of television service by unlicensed providers is illegal in the UAE.
Laws you violate: Law No. 7 for 2002, and Federal Trademark Law No. 37 for 1992 and its subsequent amendments
Penalty: Dh2,000 fine and legal action.
Case study: An Asian man who was sentenced to one month in prison and fined Dhs5000 by a Dubai Criminal Court last year for illegally selling satellite TV receivers that decode channels. He was also ordered to shut down his shop.
6. Plucking flowers, spitting
The next time you see flowers on the roadside in Dubai and feel like plucking them, don’t, because you could end up paying as much as Dh1,000 as fine. Defacing public property is a civic violation and municipalities in the UAE can issue fines, depending on the damage done by the individual.
Penalty: Dhs500-1,000 for plucking flowers and destroying public landscaping, and will not consider any excuse such as age, gender or ignorance.
Spitting will also incur a fine of Dh500, while chewing and spitting betel leaves, which are banned in the UAE, comes with Dh1,000 penalty.
7. Drying clothes on the balcony
Hanging clothes to dry out on balcony railings, cloth lines, or from a window is illegal in the UAE.
To avoid hanging laundry over the balustrade directly overlooking the street, residents have been urged to adopt alternative modern laundry-drying techniques, such as electric clothes dryers and clothes drying racks.
“Airing laundry on the balcony of an apartment or hanging them from a window or railing distorts the image of the building and is not allowed,” said a municipal statement.
Penalty: A violator will be slapped with fine of Dhs1,000, which will be doubled in case of recurrence, according to Law no. 2/2012 in Abu Dhabi.
Smokers and drinkers should be aware of this clause: Those individuals who smoke while standing on the balcony, take a note. If the ashes fall to the ground, he can incur a fine.
Barbecuing on a balcony: Residents found barbecuing on a balcony may be fined Dhs500.
Also avoid installing satellites and keeping furnitures in your balcony. These measures are put in place to keep the city clean and attractive. The government has encouraged residents not to abuse their apartments’ balconies.
8. Filming an accident scene
While it might seem like a natural response to take pictures or videos of an accident, doing so in the UAE can have serious legal consequences. Unless you’re seeking compensation for injuries or damages, it’s best to avoid taking pictures or videos or gathering around the accident scene altogether.
Laws you violate: Article 44 of Law No 34 of 2021 under the UAE Cybercrime Law that came into effect on January 2 this year and Article 197 of the UAE Penal Code under the Ministerial Resolution No 178 for 2017 on Rules and Procedures of Traffic Control
Penalty: Six months in jail or/and a fine between Dh150,000 and Dh500,000 for taking pictures of accident victims. Dh1,000 is the penalty for crowding an accident scene.
9. Fundraising or raising money for charity, begging
Publicizing a fundraiser on social media and appealing for donations without permission is against the UAE’s Charity Law. Any type of fundraising must first be approved by the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department, to ensure funds do not end up in the wrong hands.
Legal expert says: “Having to obtain the required authorisation before conducting any type of fundraising, even if for a charitable purpose, is not a new issue. However, failing to do so now might have much more serious implications in light of the aggressive punishments outlined in the Federal Law on Combating Cyber Crimes. The punishments include imprisonment, fines no less than Dhs250,000 and up to 500,000 and deportation.
Anyone caught begging in the UAE will be fined AED 5,000 and imprisoned for a term up to three months, according to Federal Law No. 9 of 2018 on Anti-begging.
According to Article No. 476 of the Federal Decree-Law No. 31 of 2021 Promulgating Penal Code (Law of Crimes and Penalties), whoever manages the crime of organised begging that is committed by an organised group of two or more persons shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a duration not more than six months and fined a monetary penalty of not more than Dh100,000.
You might also like: What happens if you sell tobacco to a minor in the UAE?
10. Selling items on social media
UAE residents risk a fine of up to Dh500,000 for selling items on social media without a licence, including mums who are operating online catering, tailoring and beauty businesses from home. In the UAE, residents are required to have a trade licence in order to carry out any commercial activities online.
Penalty: Dh500,000 for selling items on social media without a licence.
11. Swearing in WhatsApp messages
Not only is it a criminal offence to drop an F-bomb in public, but it’s also against the law to use abusive language in WhatsApp messages – and that includes the ‘middle finger’ emoji. Under the UAE’s cyber crime laws, anyone convicted faces a fine of up to Dhs500,000, a prison sentence, and deportation.
Case study: In 2015, a man was initially fined Dhs3000 for swearing at a colleague over WhatsApp, but prosecutors later appealed the verdict, saying he should face a fine of up to Dhs250,000 or imprisonment. While the content of the message was not made public, it was described as ‘insulting words’.
12. Washing cars in public
Washing cars on the street, in public places or in residential areas is not allowed in the UAE.
Rule you violate: Municipality rules.
Having a dirty car is illegal in the UAE. Municipal authorities can also issue fines for illegal washing of cars, of up to Dh500.
13. Carrying khas khas
Poppy seeds, or posta, or khas khas, which are commonly used in Indian and Pakistani cuisine, are banned in the UAE, and those found with it could face a long haul in jail.
Law you violate: Federal Law No. 14 of 1995 which criminalises production, import, export, transport, buying, selling, possessing, storing of narcotic and psychotropic substance.
Penalty: 20 years in jail.
14. Feeding Stray Animals
Some animal welfare groups are of the opinion that feeding stray animals and birds will increase their ability to give birth and the infants are more likely to die in a very short span of time.
Feeding stray animals like cats & dogs and birds like crows & pigeons is a big no no and can lead to legal consequences including a fine of AED 500, as per Dubai Municipality Rules.
15. Illegal use of VPN
Are you using virtual private networks (VPNs) to make audio and video calls in the UAE?
Using VPN by hiding the IP address to get access to websites/calling applications/gaming applications that are blocked by the UAE Government is illegal and can be punished with a fine and by imprisonment of at least one year.
In the UAE, the use of Virtual Private Network (VPN) may not be considered as illegal if it is used in accordance with the guidelines of the Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority (the ‘TDRA’). The TDRA had mentioned in its statement in August 2016 that in the UAE, VPN may be used by companies, institutions and banks for internal purposes. However, use of VPN technology for illegal means and to commit a crime is serious offence in the UAE.
This is in accordance with Article 10 of the UAE Cyber Law, which states: “Shall be punished by imprisonment and a fine not less than Dh500,000 and not exceeding Dh2,000,000 or either of these two penalties, whoever frauded a computer network protocol address by using an address belonging to a third party or by any other means for the purpose of committing a crime or preventing its discovery.’’