When people hear “Middle East,” they usually think of undeveloped countries. However, Dubai challenges this preconception, offering tourists a clean, sparkling city to visit and enjoy.
However, over 16 million people visited Dubai in 2019, and the number of tourists visiting the city has only grown since. But, you still may have safety concerns. And you should be careful when traveling to Dubai, even if not for the reasons you think.
Dubai is very tourism-oriented, and it’s one of the most diverse cities in the world, with 85% of the population originating elsewhere. However, the strict laws of the United Arab Emirates leave little room for freedom.
Is Dubai Safe to Visit in 2022?
Dubai is strange. It’s one of the safest cities in the world–at least from a crime standpoint (and that’s only theoretically).
The real danger comes from the strict enforcement of the law, much of which is outdated or restricts people’s freedom from more Western and democratic countries.
Crime in Dubai
There is very little crime in Dubai. Mainly because the main population is foreigners, and if they commit a crime, they’ll be deported.
There’s also a strong police presence in tourist areas and CCTV cameras that line the streets, meaning you’ll be safe if you don’t wander too far off the track. However, that doesn’t mean there’s no crime whatsoever.
It just means there’s less than in cities of a similar size, which isn’t known for sure since the UAE refuses to release its crime statistics.
There is still petty crime, like pickpocketing and theft, especially in Jumeriah Beach, a known pickpocket area and tourist destination. You should remain aware of your surroundings and keep a close eye on your possessions as you should in any city.
Avoiding Bad Neighborhoods
Like any other city globally, Dubai has bad neighborhoods you’re better off avoiding altogether. While there are a couple of areas, crime is still very low, given the severe consequences of breaking the law in Dubai.
Avoid Sonapur, where many international workers live.
Deira and Bur Dubai are also rather seedy, so you should avoid these areas. If you’re female and traveling alone, you should avoid these areas, given the lax laws against rape and strict rules against prostitution.
Sharia Law: What to Avoid Doing in Dubai
Most of the danger of Dubai doesn’t come from crime but from the law that prevents it. Many laws are based on outdated customs and policies from conservative interpretations of Muslim law.
Other laws are based on the fact that the UAE is not a democracy and forbids democratic freedoms other countries have. So while in Dubai:
- Don’t engage in PDA (especially same-sex PDA)
- Don’t be drunk in public
- Don’t possess CBD or certain forms of prescription drugs (If they detect it in your bloodstream, it counts as possession)
- Don’t dress immodestly ( bare arms, low necklines, short shorts), especially if you’re a woman
- Don’t swear, any kind of swearing, in public
- Misuse social media or the internet (criticizing the government, starting a charity, and more)
- Don’t use rude gestures (don’t flip off people in traffic, or even make the rock n roll symbol)
- Don’t evangelize your religion
- Don’t photograph people or government buildings without permission
- Don’t criticize the government
If you avoid these behaviors and just act respectfully while there, you should have no problems on your trip. However, the laws can seem very restrictive, so if you think you’ll have problems following them, then it’s best not to go.
Dubai is the most progressive and lenient of the emirates.
However, most standards still enforce their punishments, including deportation, fines, and jail time. If you break one of these laws or run into trouble with the police while you’re there, you’ll be lucky to get away with a fine and deportation.
The Threat of Terrorism
The United Arab Emirates is in the Gulf region of the Middle East, meaning they are at risk for terrorist attacks. They’ve recently been threatened with missile strikes on military and civilian targets and are currently listed under Level 3: Reconsider Travel by the US Department of State.
Other governments agree that travel to Dubai and the UAE is not recommended, like the British government, which considers the country at an elevated risk.
Terrorists are more likely to attack Western targets, including hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, and other areas with large crowds.
Maintain a low profile, vary routes and times for all required travel, and treat mail and packages from unknown locations with the utmost caution.
Environmental Hazards: Pollution, High Temperatures, and Riptides
Dubai prides itself on being clean and well-maintained. Unfortunately, environmental factors are often against them. The weather gets above 100 degrees regularly, there’s horrible pollution, and the beaches often have dangerous currents.
Every citizen of Dubai has over twice the carbon footprint of an American. With little rainwater and a minor aquifer, Dubai’s only water for drinking and sanitation is seawater.
Stunning, yes, but that’s what happens when a big city is out in the middle of the desert. The coastline is filled with desalination plants that constantly puff out CO2 to keep up with the demand.
This means haze and terrible breathing conditions. If you have asthma or other respiratory diseases, you best avoid this city.
The temperature also skyrockets during the summer months from May to October- but the winter months are relatively amicable, with temperatures in the 70s and 80s.
If you still choose to visit in the summer, prepare for the hot temperatures, drink plenty of water, and spend most of your time indoors. If you want to spend some time on the beach while you’re there, watch for red flags and riptides.
The currents can be dangerous and even drag experienced swimmers away from the shore. Moreover, the pollution affects the water and can make you sick, so you may be better off sticking to the hotel pool.
Take The Bus: Speeding and Traffic Violations
Unless you’re prepared to deal with highly aggressive drivers who speed as they breathe, you’re better off using public transportation or flagging a taxi. Driving is dangerous here, as many traffic laws and speed limits are simply ignored.
Luckily, Dubai has plenty of options for public transportation, from the safe bus system to the ladies-only pink-roofed taxi service. They also have a subway system, a monorail, and even a tram service for getting around the city.
Dubai is not a walkable city. It stretches over 900 miles of coastline–not to mention the city itself. You’ll need transportation to get around the city.
And you’ll need them. If you’re female and want to take a taxi, try to get the Pink Taxis service. You can identify them by their pink roofs, and the drivers are all female and wear pink headscarves.
If you can’t get one, sit in the back of the taxi and don’t talk to the driver. Over-friendliness can be seen as propositioning by men in the UAE.
Women and LGBTQ+ Travelers in Dubai
Women, particularly those traveling solo, will want to be careful. While rape and assault are rare, it does happen, and the burden of proof falls on the victim.
There have been cases where women reported rape to the police, and the victims were arrested for having sex outside of marriage and deported.
Practice good safety, such as not accepting drinks from strangers, leaving drinks unattended, walking alone at night, sitting in the women-only section of the bus, dressing modestly, and don’t be overly friendly with strange men.
Emirati women are supposed to remain pure until marriage, so Emirati men see Western women as the alternative. You’ll likely attract attention, so it might be good to wear a ring and lie that you’re married to deter them. Nevertheless, remain cautious, and you should be fine.
LGBTQ+ travelers will want to remain discreet. In the UAE, it’s a crime to be gay or even touch a man on the hip (even accidentally).
Dubai is more lenient, but you should still be cautious, and it may be prudent to say you’re relatives if you’re sharing a hotel room.
While this may deter you, remember that of the millions of visitors Dubai gets each year, many are just like yourself and had pleasant visits. Dubai lives off of tourism, so they are far more lenient than the rest of the country, even if you should still keep a low profile.
Things to Consider
If you’re packing for a multi-country trip, you’ll want to include some loose-fitting, long-sleeved, comfortable clothes for Dubai. If you’re visiting warmer countries and have mostly short clothes, it can seem inconvenient to pack longer clothes for just one country, but it’s necessary.
Keep the time of year and weather in mind for the trip. During the summer months, stay indoors and drink plenty of water if you’re visiting during the summer months.
Don’t off-roading into the desert unless you’re experienced or have a guide. There are plenty of desert tours in the city, so pick one if you want to explore beyond the city limits.
Modern Slavery: The Deplorable Conditions of Dubai’s Working Class
Over 85% of citizens in Dubai are foreigners. And most of them were tricked into coming to the city for work, then trapped and forced into horrible living and working conditions.
Most of the working class in Dubai are from Southeast Asia or India, who answered ads with jobs that offered $300 a month, 9-5 hours, five days a week, plus room and board.
Under these conditions, they’ll make enough money to send home to their families and live well themselves.
Only their passports are confiscated on arrival, and they’re forced to work 14+hr days, 6-7 days a week in Dubai’s blistering heat. The living conditions are horrible, with 10 to 12 people in a room, and they’re only paid $175 a month.
Wages are also withheld for months to keep people from quitting, and debts to landlords rack up. They’re essentially trapped in the city, the modern equivalent of slavery, the terrible truth behind Dubai’s shiny façade without passports or funds.
While Dubai is a fine place to visit and tour, you should be aware of the blood, sweat, and tears of the people who keep the city running.
Frequently Asked Questions
Dubai is an unusual city, a tourist oasis in the middle of the desert. They have several famous buildings and sites, like the largest mall globally, the tallest building in the world, indoor ski slopes, and beaches.
The low crime rate and focus on tourism make it a great place to visit, if only for a brief time.
Why Shouldn’t You Go to Dubai?
Restrictive laws, horrible pollution, and just straight-up slavery are all black stains underneath Dubai’s clean and safe veneer. If you have problems with any of these, you’re better off not visiting the city.
Can You Kiss in Public in Dubai?
No, PDA is strictly prohibited, especially if you’re LGBTQ+. You’ll want to keep your relationships private unless you’re married and straight.
Is Dubai Safer Than America?
Crime-wise, yes. Freedom-wise, no. In America, you have the protection of due process and objective courts. They don’t exist in the UAE.
Can You Wear Short Clothing in Dubai?
You can… but you shouldn’t. Short clothing is seen as disrespectful and lewd, even in the extreme heat. You’ll want to remain respectful of the locals while visiting, so cover up. Women, in particular, should avoid short clothing to avoid drawing propositions and attention from men.
Can Unmarried Couples Go to Dubai?
You can, but get separate hotel rooms. Sex before marriage is illegal in Dubai, so you’ll want to get separate rooms or lie about your relationship.
Is Dubai Safe? Final Thoughts
Dubai isn’t for everyone. If you keep your head down and enjoy the touristy parts of the city, you’ll be just fine and can even have a great trip.
If you have problems with the laws or feel uncomfortable with the city, you’re better off avoiding it altogether. Dubai is a city of extremes. Extreme heat, extremely touristy, extremely restrictive, and highly immoral.
They keep the city clean with slavery, advertise polluted beaches, and pump billions of CO2 into the air for clean water. The city itself is clean, safe, and attractive.
It’s very safe in terms of crime, has several world-famous attractions, and has hundreds of five-star hotels and resorts. If you want to visit, you’re sure to have a good time, as long as you stay in safe areas and use our safety tips.