Last night, I saw on the news that Qantas was switching its main hub from Singapore to Dubai. (Qantas has since switched back to Singapore)

Smart Traveller notes about the United Arab Emirates:

Homosexual acts and sex outside of marriage: Homosexual acts and all kinds of sex outside of marriage are illegal and may lead to severe punishment, including imprisonment and fines. Foreigners have been imprisoned for having sex with people to whom they are not legally married. De facto relationships and civil unions are not recognised in the UAE and any sexual acts within these relationships are considered to be sex outside of marriage. It is also against the law in the UAE to live together or share the same hotel room with someone of the opposite sex to whom you are not married or closely related. If checking into a hotel as a couple, you may be asked by management to prove that you are legally married. These laws apply equally to UAE residents as well as visitors.

Should I assume that when Smart Traveller says that the laws apply equally to visitors, that includes even people who are just on layovers? Or are the laws less rigorously enforced for people on layovers?

Background: I'm not planning on engaging in homosexuality, adultery or fornication in Dubai, but I'd rather not financially support airline routes that would expose fellow passengers to the risk of jail.

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    I'm confused about your last statement - "I'd rather not financially support airline routes that would expose fellow passengers to the risk of jail" - they're not. If you choose to visit a country, you must choose to follow their laws while you're there. I'm not saying I agree with their laws, but they're their laws, so if we want to visit their country, we should respect their right to make their own rules.
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 5:08
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    Well, Mark, that only goes so far. Unjust rules are still unjust. To compare, 'we' should not respect the Taliban's right to keep girls out of school, or Israel's right to keep Palestinians from their own land. The only thing 'we' have to accept is that we will be treated according to their laws when entering their country, as you first say.
    – MastaBaba
    Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 7:39
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    @MarkMayo If someone's going to Europe from Australia, are they choosing to visit Dubai?
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 7:57
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    @AndrewGrimm If one has a choice of hub location based on airline, the airline choice also entails a hub choice. As QANTAS have actively chosen Dubai in place of Singapore they too have actively chosen to accept the conditions imposed by that country. FWIW Singapore also have had end enforced some relatively draconian laws in the past. eg men with long (by their definition) hair at one stage received compulsory haircuts. [In several visits to Singapore in recent years I did not notice any enforced restrictions on "normal" behaviour.] Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 13:40
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    @MastaBaba and there you come into the definition of "just". At least one of the points you mention is extremely debatable, what you call "Palestinian land" isn't for very many people, including me and every Jew on the planet for example.
    – jwenting
    Commented Apr 2, 2013 at 6:57

2 Answers 2


Laws apply when you touch the ground of a country. The only way to get around that would be to go into a foreign embassy. There is no difference how long you are there or where you stay.

On top of that, places that have a very high traffic of foreigners will alert you if possible if you are trying to do something illegal. So if there are two guys in the UAE checking into the same hotel room, you can be sure to get a comment that this is not allowed. That does not mean that they cannot give you two rooms right next to each other - be it even with a convenient connecting door.

Regarding "exposing travelers": countries where strict laws apply such as Singapore and the middle East, I have had the experience that often you are very openly advised on the reasons you could get shot or life in prison for (drugs etc) already during the flight.

What I usually experienced is that when it comes to sex & alcohol, most countries that are rather strict on it, will offer the one or other way to get around the regulation - as long as you are discreet, and even more so if you are a foreigner. Provided you do not leave a cookie crumb trail that officials can follow, such as two guys checking into the same hotel room.

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    same hotel room will usually be fine, they just give you a room with 2 single beds. Had it happen more than once on organised trips, or traveling with my father (and no, I'm not homosexual, but the hotel crew would not know that as they never ask).
    – jwenting
    Commented Apr 2, 2013 at 7:00

If you're on a layover and not entering the country, that is, not going through immigration, you can expect that the law will not be equally enforced.

As soon as you go through immigration, expect it does, though even in practice you will find that this particular law, in the UAE, is not too strictly enforced, either for visitors or residents. But, it can be. If you're going to stay a few nights in a hotel and have loud sex with your girlfriend, you could just find yourself deported. (Note, that I don't have hard proof for this, but all cases I remember of foreigners being charged, in any way, in the UAE, for unlawful sexual behaviour somehow really didn't try to be subtle.)

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    Not sure that's correct - in many cases the laws will apply to you while on an airside transit too
    – Gagravarr
    Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 10:33
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    I am not sure I have seen a lot of hotels INSIDE the transit zone so you can stay there without going through immigration. And if there is, I would be highly surprised if that country's laws do not apply there.
    – uncovery
    Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 11:01
  • You guys are right: the laws do apply, but are less likely to be as strictly enforced when in transit. Though I would not advise having sex in, say, the transit bathrooms, either with your wife or boyfriend.
    – MastaBaba
    Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 11:23
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    Dubai airport does have hotels inside the transit area, so you could trigger the problems without even clearing immigration!
    – Gagravarr
    Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 12:15
  • That could almost be a kafkaesque setup! :)
    – MastaBaba
    Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 22:44

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