Is It Safe in Dubai?

Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE.

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In terms of crime, Dubai is one of the safest destinations in the Middle East. The largest city in the United Arab Emirates is a major tourist and business hub and one of the fastest-growing cities with international travelers in the world. Street crime including pickpocketing and bag snatching is uncommon, and thanks to the presence of security and cameras, you’ll feel safe using public transport in Dubai and wandering around most parts of the city by day and by night.

Dubai has some of the lowest crime rates—for both violent and non-violent crimes—of any city in the world and is ranked as one of the best places for personal safety.

Dubai Laws

The biggest risk to your safety in Dubai is unwittingly breaking a local law. Dubai has strict laws regarding alcohol consumption, dress, sexual conduct, and social behaviors in general that are important for visitors to take note of. Some of these laws include only drinking alcohol in your home and at licensed venues. That means living in Dubai will need to apply for a license to purchase alcohol and keep it at home. Tourists in Dubai can obtain a temporary liquor license for one month.

Drug use is also prohibited in Dubai, with even transiting passengers in Dubai facing strict consequences for getting caught with illegal substances. Though punishments for recreational drug use have loosened, check the rules before departure. Not being aware of a law isn't an excuse for breaking it, so make sure you're familiar with at least the most common infractions before setting off.

The truth is that many of these laws are broken every single day and no one cares; bars will sell you an alcoholic beverage even if you don't have a permit, hotels will give rooms to couples without asking for a marriage license, and travelers will take selfies that have other people in the background. It usually isn't a problem, until it is. A nearby plainclothes police officer or an upset individual who reports you can quickly turn your harmless mistake into a punishable offense.

Travel Advisories

  • Due to COVID-19, the U.S. Department of State has issued a global travel warning to avoid all international travel indefinitely.
  • Prior to COVID-19, the State Department advised travelers to "exercise normal precautions" when visiting the UAE, the lowest possible travel warning.

Is Dubai Safe for Solo Travelers?

Solo travelers have little to worry about in terms of personal safety. The city is safe to walk around and explore, and the ubiquitous cameras placed on every street provide a sense of security even when walking alone late at night. As long as you follow the local rules, you should be just fine while exploring Dubai.

Is Dubai Safe for Female Travelers?

The strict rules around sexual behavior and conservative culture also make Dubai an exceedingly safe location for female travelers. Women are expected to dress modestly and have most body parts covered (exceptions are made when at the beach), but even catcalling is rare to hear around the streets of Duba. And while sexual assaults are very rare in the city, the UAE legal system can potentially punish the woman as well as the attacker, giving victims little recourse. In fact, several human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, discourage victims from reporting sexual assaults to local police in case of retribution.

Safety Tips for LGBTQ+ Travelers

The United Arab Emirates has some of the strictest laws regarding LGBTQ+ rights in the world, and just because Dubai is a major cosmopolitan city doesn't mean it's more progressive than other parts of the country. All types of same-sex acts are illegal and punishable by fines, imprisonment, deportation, flogging, or death, although the most extreme consequences are usually only applicable to Muslim defendants and when coupled with other crimes, such as adultery. In fact, any type of romantic relationship outside of marriage is unlawful, so heterosexual travelers need to be wary as well.

Trans travelers arriving in Dubai have been detained and questioned at the airport for not having their gender recognized by local officials, and have even been deported back to their home country. Wearing clothes that don't correspond to your sex assigned at birth is also illegal in the UAE.

Safety Tips for BIPOC Travelers

Dubai is a remarkably diverse and international city that houses people from all over the world. In fact, the foreign-born population of the Emirate of Dubai makes up about 85 percent of the population, far greater than the number of native Emiratis.

Just because Dubai is a cosmopolitan city doesn't mean that prejudice doesn't exist, but foreign residents and tourists are more likely to see discrimination based on nationality rather than skin color. Citizens coming from Western countries such as the U.S., Europe, or Australia enjoy privileges that other citizens do not. The capriciousness of the law in Dubai can be applied indiscriminately to anyone, but citizens from non-Western nations may have more trouble if they are caught doing something illegal.

Safety Tips for Travelers

  • It is legal for non-Muslims to consume alcohol in Dubai, so long as they’re drinking in a licensed venue (which are typically attached to a hotel). Once you’re outside of a legal venue, if you’re seen to be drunk or causing a raucous in public you could land yourself in jail.
  • The official legal alcohol limit for drivers in Dubai is zero—there’s no leeway here, so don't get behind the wheel even if you've had just one drink.
  • Kissing and holding hands in public is deemed “inappropriate behavior,” so keep it clean while you’re out and about. Any sexual relation between non-married couples is also illegal.
  • It is an offense to use rude language or aggressive hand gestures, including while driving.
  • It’s against the law to make defamatory statements or offensive comments about people and organizations in the UAE, so mind your language on social media posts—including review sites.
  • While Dubai is a conservative city year-round, it is doubly so during the month of Ramadan. During this time, it is forbidden to eat or drink in public during daylight hours (some restaurants and shopping malls have curtained areas for non-Muslims to dine in during Ramadan). Don't play loud music and be sure to dress extra-modestly.
Article Sources
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  2. The Economist. "Safe Cities Index 2019." August 5, 2019.

  3. U.S. Department of State. "Global Health Advisory." March 31, 2020. Updated December 22, 2020.

  4. U.S. Department of State. "United Arab Emirates." May 17, 2019.

  5. Khaleej Times. "Hefty fine, jail for staring at women, catcalling in UAE." Retrieved December 22, 2020.

  6. Human Rights Watch. "World Report 2020." 2020.

  7. Human Dignity Trust. "United Arab Emirates." Retrieved December 22, 2020.

  8. NBC News. "UAE imprisons transgender tourist, friend for their look." August 24, 2017. Retrieved December 22, 2020.

  9. Human Dignity Trust. "HDT - Injustice Exposed - The Criminalisation of Transgender People and Its Impacts." Retrieved on December 22, 2020.

  10. Global Media Insight. "UAE Population Statistics 2020 (Infographics)." July 7, 2020. Retrieved December 22, 2020.