This information is not intended to encourage anyone to break the law, it is a perception or observation of life in Dubai from the perspective of couples living together. Nothing in here should be taken as advice. If you break the law in any country, you are at risk of being arrested and prosecuted.
Yes, there are unmarried couples living together in Dubai. You can live together with your boyfriend or girlfriend, meaning it is possible, not permitted, just as it is possible to do many things that are illegal in different countries. Many unmarried couples do live together in Dubai and the UAE without resulting in problems with the authorities but arrests can and do happen (more often for having sex in Dubai outside marriage than cohabitating). If couples do get into trouble with the law, it is usually because they have done something to draw the attention of the police, or offended someone who reports them to the police. The longer version ...
Many (usually western) couples wonder about living together in Dubai when they're not married. Note that the following comments apply to Dubai, there are differences in how the rules are applied in other emirates.
- In the UAE and Dubai, it is against Sharia law to live together, in the western sense, with someone you are not married to. You can only live together with a member of the opposite sex if you are married to them, or they are a family member. So the western expression about "living in sin" is taken more literally in the UAE.
- Dubai police do not spend their time walking through apartment complexes and hotels knocking on doors and asking for marriage certificates (although in Sharjah they do according to news reports in April 2010), and there are no morality police as is the case with the Mutawwa in Saudi Arabia. However, if someone makes a complaint about illegal activity, then the police are obliged to investigate, and if the complainer has more wasta than the police and/or the alleged criminals, then the police will naturally investigate the complaint even more thoroughly.
- Strictly speaking, it is illegal to be in a private room, or even in a car, with an unrelated member of the opposite sex. This applies to rooms in Dubai hotels also. The rule is referred to as the Tawajed clause.
- Or another description is the Al Khilwa Al Muharama clause (?) which says two people of opposite sexes who are unmarried and unrelated, are not allowed to live together.
- If you get caught, then you're likely to get punished under Article 356 of the UAE Penal Code which reportedly says that anyone convicted of engaging in consensual sex gets a minimum 1 year jail sentence followed by deportation. But it seems that most offenders get 1-6 months in jail followed by deportation (this is just a comment on our part based on reading newspaper reports, not a thorough analysis of court sentences).
- Gulf News Express reported 09 June 2011 comments from a lawyer, Haroon Tahlak from Dubai Advocates and Legal Consultants, who said "It is prohibited for an unmarried man and woman to live together, or share a close space [apartment or room] under the UAE law. The clause is called Tahseen Al Ma'asiya. The punishment under the law is a jail term of between one and six months to be followed by deportation."
- In reality, hopefully, the situation is not quite as harsh as it sounds (like many things in Dubai ... unless you get caught). This is what one official was reported as saying in November 2007 (in a Gulf News article - see Unmarried couples living together in Dubai forum topic for more comments on Sharia law, culture, customs etc with respect to men and women mingling in the UAE): "Mohammad Yousuf, Deputy Director of the Dubai Courts Department, said while the Federal punitive law is implemented in the UAE, the situation is different in Dubai. The Tawajed or Tahseen Al Ma'asiya clause, he said, is not implemented in Dubai."
- And in a Gulf News Express report 09 June 2011, an advocate, Amer Syed from Al Suwaidi & Company, was quoted saying "In my experience, people are charged with living together unlawfully only if they've broken another law. Rarely are there cases of people hunted down for living with a member of the opposite sex, unless a tip or complaint is lodged" (however he did tell a story of a couple who were arrested, convicted, deported after the police came to their apartment to investigate a complaint made about theft by a maid).
- It is almost unheard of for anyone to get into trouble because they're sharing a car with someone of the opposite sex that's not related to them. If there is a problem, it's more likely because of another reason, for example the police think an illegal taxi service is going on, or there's been an accident involving alcohol.
- Nationality and/or culture can make a difference - Asians seem to appear in newspaper reports more often than western nationalities as getting into strife especially unmarried mothers. A Muslim woman living with a non-Muslim boyfriend, or 2 unmarried Muslims living together, are more at risk of legal problems than a Muslim man living with a non-Muslim girlfriend.
- Your place of employment can make a difference also, since usually your employer is also your sponsor and might be held responsible if you step out of line. A conservative employer, or government employer, is unlikely to view a couple living together very favorably, especially if they're in company provided accommodation.
- Note also that while it is possible for one party to obtain a residence visa for their spouse in the UAE, if you're not married, that will not be possible. At least not a husband or wife visa. If you employ your boyfriend/girlfriend, then it might be possible since they're an employee as far as the authorities are concerned.
- If you're living with someone who is married to someone else, then there is a greater risk of problems, especially if their spouse also lives in the UAE. If they file a complaint with the police about their husband or wife in an illicit relationship, then the police will almost certainly investigate. If a couple is separated but not divorced, then legally they are still married.
Couples sharing hotel rooms in Dubai
- Hotel rooms are often shared by unmarried couples. We've never heard of a hotel asking for a marriage certificate, and they usually only want to see one passport.
- Even if both passports are shown, eyebrows wouldn't be raised at the different surnames since it is usual in the UAE for Arab women to keep their own surnames after getting married.
- In 2009, there was a case where the Dubai police went to a Dubai hotel and arrested a couple sharing a hotel room. The woman's husband had complained to the police that she was sharing a hotel room with her boyfriend who had come to visit her.
Men and women sharing accommodation in Dubai
With respect to sharing apartments and villas, it is quite common for groups of unrelated mixed gender people to share accommodation (and sometimes even rooms but usually room mates are of the same sex) in Dubai. Again, if people do run into trouble, it's more likely because they've annoyed neighbours who have complained to police about noise, alcohol in Dubai, and/or drugs in Dubai. Note that the Dubai Municipality (DM) has threatened, and evicted, bachelors, single people, and families from what they deem to be overcrowded villas. Groups of single people sharing a villa in Umm Suqeim or Jumeirah are at risk of this, however, as of 2009-2010 at least, they do not seem to be as high on the DM target list as the 50 bachelors or half-dozen families sharing a villa in Rashidiya. And classified advertisements for flatmates continue to appear in Dubai newspapers and on classified ad websites.
Couples wondering about living together in an apartment or villa in Dubai are normally unlikely to have any problems, unless they draw attention to themselves in a way that the police are prompted to get involved. As the concept of having a girlfriend / boyfriend is not generally acceptable to many non-Western cultures, you may find it more convenient to refer to your partner as your wife / husband when dealing with non-Westerners. That can smooth the path so to speak, in many circumstances, however, you won't get away with that if you're in a situation where the authorities want to verify your relationship. For example if your girlfriend gets pregnant in Dubai.
Living together in other emirates
In order of risk of problems from lowest to highest, it looks something like this (in our opinion only):
- Dubai (lowest risk)
- ... big gap ...
- Abu Dhabi
- Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al Quwain, Ajman, Fujairah
- ... big gap ...
- Sharjah (highest risk)