Home Living in the United Arab Emirates Love, Marriage & Partnership An expat guide to dating in the United Arab Emirates
Last update on November 11, 2019
Valentine Sergon Written by Valentine Sergon

Expats looking to date or find a relationship have a few options in the United Arab Emirates.

Because of the country’s nature as an expat haven, dating in the United Arab Emirates will usually involve meeting people from all over the globe. That said, expats still need to be discrete and respect the local culture during their quest for love.

This helpful article provides all the information you need about the dating scene in the United Arab Emirates. It includes the following sections:

Dating in the United Arab Emirates

Dating in the UAE can, in some ways, be quite similar to dating in your home country. You can meet people online, in bars, during activities, or at work. You could also explore casual dating or better still, discover love.

Because Emiratis don’t date and the idea of dating is considered antithetical to Muslim values, it is strongly advisable that you are very discreet when it comes to public displays of affection or public dating. You can find out more about that in our Guide to culture and social etiquette and Guide to women’s rights in the United Arab Emirates.

Challenges you may come across

Despite the similarities in the dating scene, there are some important realities that expats should be aware of when it comes to dating in the conservative Arabian Gulf. For example, although it is not commonly enforced, it is technically illegal for men and women to have sex or live together outside of marriage. Furthermore, even dating could fall under indecency, which is illegal.

While same-sex dating happens in the Emirates, it is also a dangerous affair. Another thing to bear in mind is that men outnumber women three to one there, therefore this could swing in or against your favor, depending on your gender. A recent study shows that 91% of UAE residents find dating to be ‘quite’ or ‘very’ challenging; 15% higher than the average rate of other countries surveyed.

How to meet people in the United Arab Emirates

Explicit dating is frowned upon in the Emirates, therefore most expats try to meet people through activities of mutual interests. Here are some other ways to meet potential partners in the country:

Join Meetup groups

The popular website, meetup.com is thriving in the UAE. Whether you want to find clubs for people who want to practice salsa or a particular language, play football or try exotic cuisine, you will find it there. And because the UAE is a transient place to live, you will find that people make friends very easily; you shouldn’t be surprised to see someone you just met several times a week! You can also scope out potential romantic interests this way.

The Dubai Friendships Meetup Group (with 4,600+ members)
The Dubai Friendships Meetup Group (with 4,600+ members)

Blind dates

Another possibility is to ask friends to set you up with people they think you will like. That way, you know your friend has already somewhat vetted them before you meet.

Ladies nights

If you want to meet people in person and you enjoy the bar scene, then you have plenty of options in the UAE. Throughout the country, and in Dubai and Abu Dhabi especially, ladies nights abound every night of the week in various hotels. This promotional concept usually means that women get their first few drinks for free, and because there are plenty of women, there are also plenty of men. This is a fun and cheap option if you like to explore the nightlife scene and prefer to meet potential love interests in person. If you live in Dubai, make sure to swing by Nobu at Atlantis on a Monday night and enjoy one of the city’s most popular ladies nights. You can find more fun nightlife spots in our article on The best rooftop bars in Dubai.

Ladies Night at Nobu, Dubai
Ladies Night at Nobu, Dubai

Online dating

The online dating scene is constantly changing in the UAE, and many dating sites are actually banned. Surprisingly though, Tinder usually works (always with a VPN, sometimes even without one). However, it is important to keep in mind that sex before marriage is illegal in the Emirates, so if you meet someone on this app, be careful about where and how you meet. It goes without saying that it is always wise to be careful and respect the local laws of the country you live in.

Dating etiquette in the United Arab Emirates

A typical dating scenario in the United Arab Emirates

Because the UAE is a highly patriarchal society, generally speaking, the man will usually make the first move when it comes to asking someone out. They might do this in person or via a phone call or WhatsApp. You will then likely go to one of the many restaurants in the city, to a nice bar, or do a fun activity. For some fun ideas, read our article on The best restaurants in Dubai.

Thiptara in Dubai
Thiptara, often dubbed as ‘one of the most romantic restaurants in Dubai’

Dating behavior in the United Arab Emirates

Depending on how familiar the couple is, they will likely greet each other with a kiss on the cheek or a hug; the man usually opens doors for his date, too. It is quite common in the larger cities to see men and women out at a restaurant or bar alone. They might be laughing or chatting quietly, they might also hold hands or even kiss on the cheek. That said, excessive public displays of affection are generally a bad idea in the UAE.

A good rule of thumb in the UAE is to overdress. Most people like to wear their nice clothes when they go out, therefore informal wear is a little less popular. The man will almost always pay the bill – and may even take offense if a woman offers to pay.

Dating Emiratis

If you decide you would like to date an Emirati, there are some things you should keep in mind. As a man, approaching or dating an Emirati woman carries a lot of accountability as her behavior directly impacts her family’s honor. Therefore, if you are undeterred, you should try as much as possible to let her take the lead. Just make sure you are not misreading the situation and getting yourself into a difficult situation.

If you are a woman looking to date an Emirati man, you are in a much better position. Many Emirati men like to date expat women because expat women consider dating to be a normal part of life – and not necessarily a one-way road to marriage. Once again, the man will usually make the first move. That said, he may or may not allow you into the more intimate parts of his life, like family. It is possible that he may or may not consider a relationship with an expat as a precursor to a lifelong partnership.

Guide to dating in the UAE

Moving into a relationship in the United Arab Emirates

Your relationship’s progression, whether or not the two of you become exclusive, and when this might be, depends entirely on factors such as your culture, their culture, how you both met, and how honest you have been about your intentions.

Because the UAE is a cultural melting pot, there are no strict rules about how quickly things should move. However, dating an Egyptian will be very different from dating an Irish person. Try to keep in mind that living together outside of marriage is illegal in the UAE; people do it, but they must be extremely discreet and run the risk of exposure by neighbors.

The role of family in dating in the United Arab Emirates

For expats, meeting family members might mean an international trip, so this might not happen very quickly. Meeting Emirati family members will be a feat unless you and your partner are discussing marriage. Within Emirati families, it is very common for parents to choose a potential partner and for wives to move into their husband’s family’s home alongside their parents and other married siblings. After all, they have big houses!