Legal view: Can my girlfriend and I cohabitate in UAE without attracting fines?

Photo: Alamy
Photo: Alamy

Know the law in the UAE.

By Ashish Mehta

Published: Sun 15 Nov 2020, 1:26 PM

Last updated: Sun 15 Nov 2020, 2:28 PM

Question: I have been living in Dubai with my girlfriend for the last two years. We both are UK citizens and were always worried that our staying together was not legal in the UAE. We recently read news reports in the local media which mentioned that co-habitation is decriminalised. Can I and my girlfriend continue to cohabitate? Will it be illegal? Will the authorities still impose fines for co-habitation? Can partners living together own properties in the UAE?

Pursuant to your queries, it may be noted that till recently in the UAE engaging in a relationship (sexual) with someone who is not married to you was a criminal offence and hence punishable by law. This is in accordance with Article 356 of the Federal Law No. (3) of 1987 related to issuance of penal code (the 'Penal Law of UAE'), which states: "Without prejudice to the preceding two Articles, the crime of indecent assault with mutual consent shall be punished by detention for at least one year; and if the crime is committed against a male or female who is under 14 years of age, or if the crime is committed by coercion, it shall be punished by temporary imprisonment.” Further, cohabitation without marriage attracted deportation if the couple who are co-habiting are found guilty by the criminal court. This is in accordance with Article 121 of the Penal Law of UAE.

However, very recently, the UAE government announced reforms in the personal laws, women’s safety, suicide, alcohol consumption and laws related to Good Samaritan. The changes included decriminalising cohabitation of couples who are not married. Therefore, if you are living with your girlfriend in the UAE, it may not be considered as a crime henceforth and there may be no imprisonment or penalties for co-habitation. Further, as individuals you and your girlfriend may own a property in the UAE. In the UAE, foreign nationals may own properties at designated areas in the emirate of Dubai. This is in accordance with Article 4 of Law No. (7) of 2006 concerning real property registration in the emirate of Dubai, which states: "The right to own real property in the emirate will be restricted to UAE nationals, nationals of the Gulf Cooperation Council member states and to companies fully owned by these, and to public joint stock companies. Subject to the approval of the Ruler, non-UAE nationals may in certain areas determined by the Ruler, be granted the following rights:

a. Freehold ownership of real property without time restrictions; and

b. Usufruct or leasehold over real property for a period not exceeding 99 years.”.

In view of the foregoing, it may be noted that there are no restrictions in the emirate of Dubai for foreign nationals to co-own properties in certain designated areas.

Know the law

In the UAE, foreign nationals may own properties at designated areas in the emirate of Dubai

Ashish Mehta is the founder and Managing Partner of Ashish Mehta & Associates. He is qualified to practise law in Dubai, the United Kingdom and India. Full details of his firm on: Readers may e-mail their questions to: or send them to Legal View, Khaleej Times, PO Box 11243, Dubai.

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