United Arab Emirates travel advice

You should maintain a high level of security awareness, particularly in public places.

The vast majority of visits are trouble-free. Female visitors should take care when walking or travelling alone and should use a reputable taxi company, particularly at night.

Personal attacks, including sexual assaults and rape are rare but do happen.

Drink spiking, known to be used in date rape, can happen. Consular staff have received credible reports of drink spiking in night clubs in Dubai, resulting in sexual assaults on both men and women. Do not accept drinks from strangers or leave drinks unattended, including non-alcoholic drinks. When in pubs and clubs, stay with your friends and avoid getting separated in the crowd. Do not leave with a stranger.

Don’t accept lifts from strangers; use only licensed taxis or other recognized forms of public transport. Avoid the gold, green and white street taxis in Abu Dhabi; they can be badly maintained and erratically driven.

Excursions to the desert can be dangerous unless undertaken in adequately equipped 4 x 4 vehicles. Always travel in convoy with other cars, take a supply of water and a mobile telephone, and leave a copy of your travel plans with friends or relatives.

If you have a motor accident, ensure you follow the rules of the Emirate in which you are travelling. In Abu Dhabi, if no one has been hurt and vehicle damage is minor, drivers should move their vehicles to the side of the road to avoid blocking traffic; otherwise, the vehicles should not be moved. In Dubai, you should only move your vehicle if it is causing an obstruction to other motorists. In the other Emirates, you may only move your car if the accident is minor and both parties agree on who is responsible for it. In all cases, the police must be called, and it is an offence to leave the scene of the accident before the police have arrived. Even minor expressions of 'road rage', such as rude gestures, can attract significant penalties. It is very much in your interests to display calm at all times.

It is a criminal offence in the UAE to drink and drive, no matter how small the amount. This means that, should you drink and drive, your insurance is likely to be invalidated, leaving you to pay the claims of other parties involved in any accident. You also risk imprisonment.

Offensive gestures and bad language used at other drivers can lead to fines, a jail sentence, and possibly deportation.

Local laws and customs

You are therefore strongly advised to familiarise yourself with, and respect local laws and customs, which form the foundation of the UAE’s rich cultural traditions.

Hobbies that involve cameras and binoculars, such as bird watching and plane spotting, may be misunderstood - particularly near military sites, government buildings and airports.

There is zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol. Possession of even the smallest amount of illegal drugs can lead to a minimum four-year jail sentence. You should take care over the import of prescription drugs and some over-the-counter drugs. Britons can find themselves facing charges relating to cultural differences, such as using bad language, rude gestures or public displays of affection. British nationals should also be aware of the UAE’s strict laws banning sex outside of marriage.

Many people also stop off in UAE airports on their way to other destinations. UAE airports have excellent technology and security, so transiting passengers carrying even residual amounts of drugs are arrested. Passengers in transit under the influence of drink or drugs may also be arrested and can face four years in jail. The Emirati authorities count the presence of drugs in the blood stream as possession.

Residents can obtain liquor licences to consume alcohol in private homes. These licences permit the holder to purchase or consume alcohol only in the Emirate that issued the licence; a permit issued in Abu Dhabi, for example, is not valid in Dubai.

Alcoholic drinks are served in licensed hotels and clubs, but it is a punishable offence to drink, or to be drunk, in public. The legal age for consumption of alcohol is 18 in Abu Dhabi, although a Ministry of Tourism by-law allows hotels to serve alcohol only to those over 21, and 21 in Dubai and the Northern Emirates (except Sharjah, where any alcohol consumption is illegal).

It is an offence in the UAE to drink and drive, and there is zero tolerance for it. The penalties can be severe. The importation of narcotics, pork products and pornography into the UAE is illegal. Videos, books, and magazines may be subject to scrutiny and may be censored.

The penalties for drug trafficking, smuggling and possession, of even residual amounts, of drugs are severe. The possession and/or import of even the smallest amount of drugs can result in a minimum prison sentence of four years. The Emirati authorities count the presence of drugs in the blood stream as possession.

Women should dress modestly when in public areas, such as shopping malls. Clothes should cover the tops of the arms and legs, and underwear should not be visible. Swimming attire should be worn only on beaches or at swimming pools, and not in other public areas.

It is normal practice for hotels to take photocopies of your passport or other ID. You cannot stay in a hotel if you are under 18 years old and unaccompanied by an adult. Cohabitation in hotels is illegal.

Public displays of affection are frowned upon, and there have been several arrests for kissing in public. Sex outside of marriage is illegal and if any unmarried couples are brought to the attention of the UAE authorities they run the risk of prosecution, imprisonment and/or a fine and deportation. Problems will be encountered if an unmarried woman gives birth in the UAE. These problems can range from a refusal to issue a birth certificate to arrest and imprisonment. In order to obtain a birth certificate from the UAE authorities, a marriage certificate must be provided. The registration authorities may compare the date of the marriage against the date of birth. Cohabitation (including in hotels), adultery, cross-dressing and homosexual behaviour are also illegal.

Swearing or making rude gestures is considered an obscene act and offenders can be prosecuted. Offenders have, in the past, received six-month jail sentences for such acts, and some have been deported. You should exercise particular caution when dealing with the police and other officials.

Fraud, including bouncing cheques and the non-payment of bills (including hotel bills), is regarded seriously in the UAE and can often result in imprisonment and/or a fine. Bail is generally not available to non-residents of the UAE who are arrested for crimes involving fraud. Convicted debtors will not generally be released from jail until the debt is paid or waived.

Photography of certain government buildings and military installations is not permitted. You should not photograph people without their permission.

Weapons, ammunition, body protection and related equipment (such as cleaning kits, gun belts, etc.), however small the quantity and whatever the purpose, all require permission before entering or transiting the UAE. Bringing such equipment into the UAE without the required permission can lead to arrest and prosecution.

Entry Requirements

You must hold a valid passport to enter the UAE. Your passport must be valid for a minimum period of six months from the date of entry into the UAE. If you hold a residence permit, your passport must be valid for at least three months in order to travel into and out of the country.

Visitors must have legal status in the UAE when they depart. If you are subject to a travel ban, involved in legal proceedings, have unpaid debt or are a child subject to a custody dispute, you may be prevented from leaving the country. Visitors can incur heavy fines if they overstay or fail to extend their legal residency.


You should be aware that if you should require medical treatment whilst in the UAE, you would have to cover the cost of any medical fees incurred.

The UAE currently requires expatriates to be tested for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and Hepatitis B. If your test results are positive, you will be deported. There is no appeal system against this process. Taking a blood test shortly before travelling to the UAE would therefore be advisable.

You should seek medical advice before travelling to the UAE and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up-to-date.

You should take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before arriving in the UAE. Check for any exclusions and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.

General – Passports

Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may use your identity to commit crimes. You should always keep it in a safe place.

Laws in the UAE require foreign guests to hand over their passports when they check in to a hotel. The hotels do not usually keep the passport; it is normal practice for them to take a photocopy and then return the passport to its owner.

UAE employers may ask foreign employees to deposit their passports with the company as part of their terms and conditions of employment. While this is not an unusual practice, it is illegal under UAE labour law.
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