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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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UAE 2019 Crime & Safety Report: Abu Dhabi


The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses the UAE at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Abu Dhabi does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Please review OSAC’s UAE-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Crime Threats

There is minimal risk from crime in Abu Dhabi. Criminal statistics are difficult to assess because the host government does not release criminal statistics or publicize crime related information. In comparison to similarly sized cities worldwide, Abu Dhabi’s crime rate appears to be significantly lower. However, U.S. nationals should not be lulled into a false sense of security due to a lower crime rate. While violent crimes and crimes against property do occur, they are infrequent. Most Western travelers are not impacted by crime.

Crimes such as pickpocketing, petty theft, and different forms of scams do occur, although these crimes are often non-confrontational, and weapons are rarely used. Petty theft does occur, often within the large expatriate workforce, which accounts for more than 85% of the population.

Violent criminal acts are rare and occur mostly within the third-country national communities.

ATM skimming devices, installed by criminals to capture data from cards, are a threat throughout the UAE. For tips on how to spot and avoid ATM skimming and fraud, please review OSAC’s Report, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.

Cybersecurity Issues

U.S. citizens have been the victims of email scams seemingly originating from the UAE. Given the transnational nature of cybercrime, employees of the U.S. Government and private corporations should evaluate cyber best practices and make every attempt to password protect information systems. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, Cybersecurity Basics.

Other Areas of Concern

The UAE has large expatriate population of mostly non-Westerners. There is an increased possibility that activities in the home countries of these expatriates could impact security in the UAE. However, these communities are generally law-abiding and disinclined to commit criminal acts that would put them at risk of arrest, deportation, and the loss of employment.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions 

Traffic accidents are a leading cause of death in the UAE, and unsafe driving practices are common. Reckless drivers, fog, unmarked speed bumps, and drifting sand create unsafe road conditions. Drivers display varying degrees of skill, aggression, and attention, and often maneuver erratically and at high rates of speed, demonstrating little care or courtesy. Defensive driving is necessary.

Traffic lights go from green to red quickly; due to the presence of traffic cameras, drivers often come to an abrupt stop, causing rear-end collisions at intersections. Vehicles frequently turn from non-designated turning lanes at major intersections, and taxis make frequent stops in undesignated locations to pick up passengers. It is extremely important to pay close attention to other drivers and surrounding traffic. Traffic circle behavior can be counterintuitive; right turns are frequently taken from the inside traffic lanes.

Authorities strictly enforce traffic laws, with police patrols and an extensive camera network. Red-light offenses are especially serious, resulting in large fines, points on a driver’s license, and possible jail time combined with impounding the offending vehicle for up to 30 days. Drunk driving and alcohol-related incidents are serious offenses and result in arrest, jail time, heavy fines, and deportation for foreigners.

Avoid using your mobile phone while driving. Avoid making any offensive gestures at others while driving. Authorities have arrested and prosecuted expatriates over rude gestures not punishable by law in their home countries.

Persons involved in accidents involving injuries automatically go to jail until the hospital releases the injured person from the hospital. In addition, if the Saaed officer (road service contracted by the Abu Dhabi Police to respond to accidents) at the scene cannot determine who is at fault, they will contact an Abu Dhabi Traffic Police Officer to resolve the situation. If fault is still not determined, both parties must go to the local police station to resolve the situation. Even relatively minor accidents may result in lengthy proceedings, during which authorities may prohibit both drivers from leaving the country.

For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

Public Transportation Conditions

Exercise caution when taking taxicabs. Female travelers should not to sit in the front seat as a lone passenger, and should avoid engaging in idle conversation. Being too friendly may cause the driver to misunderstand your intentions. Abu Dhabi law requires the taxicab to use the fare meter. If the driver refuses, get out of the taxi and call another one. If there are any incidents, taxicabs have the driver’s name and ID number posted on the back of the driver/passenger seat, or on the computer screen on the dashboard. Record the information, call the police, and report the incident. Each taxicab is equipped with a camera that continually records activity in the vehicle. Recordings are often used for investigative purposes.

Mobile application-based ride-sharing providers Uber and Dubai-based Careem are generally safe and reliable. For more information on ride sharing, review OSAC’s Annual Briefing Report Safety and Security in the Share Economy.

Inexpensive and safe local bus transportation is also available in Abu Dhabi. Please refer to Abu Dhabi’s Department of Transportation for more information.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) is a modern hub with rigorous security standards. Airport security requires all passengers to undergo a retinal scan upon arrival and departure.

The U.S. Embassy strongly advises travelers, including U.S. government personnel and anyone transiting UAE airports, to avoid transporting weapons or items that may be considered law enforcement or military equipment without prior written approval from the UAE government. Such items include, but are not limited to: firearms, firearm parts/tools, ammunition (even one bullet or spent shell casing), body armor, handcuffs, and any other military or police equipment. Transport of these items into or through the UAE is a violation of UAE law. Authorities will detain or arrest persons carrying such items, even in the smallest quantities, and will impose strict criminal penalties, including imprisonment, large monetary fines, forfeiture of the items, and deportation. Authorities have jailed and arrested U.S. citizens, even though airlines and U.S. authorities allowed shipment on a U.S.-originating flight.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is moderate risk from terrorism in Abu Dhabi. The Department of State remains concerned about the global threat of terrorism, including the continuing possibility of terrorist attacks against U.S. citizens and interests in the Arabian Gulf and Arabian Peninsula. The UAE’s participation in the anti-ISIS coalition and the ongoing Yemen civil war has raised the overall likelihood of terrorist attacks against host nation and Western interests. The continued threat posed by terrorist groups seeking to target U.S. interests requires Americans working or traveling in the UAE to remain vigilant, maintain a low profile, and vary routes, times, and routines while in the country.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest

There is minimal risk from civil unrest in Abu Dhabi. Political demonstrations are extremely rare and must have prior approval from the UAE government.

Post-specific Concerns

Personal Identity Concerns

While the UAE is less traditional in its outlook than some other Islamic countries, the local culture is conservative; foreigners should be careful not to offend local (Islamic) sensibilities. Western females are occasionally harassed. Dress should be respectful and appropriate for the given location (more conservative when touring holy sites, tourist attractions, or formal events, or during local holidays). Avoid public displays of affection, considered violations of local law.

While individuals are free to worship as they choose, and facilities are available, UAE does not permit religious proselytizing. Authorities may imprison or deport persons violating this law.

Drug-related Crimes

The UAE continues to advance and promote its national drug strategy by intensifying security at airports, land routes, seaports, border crossings, and coastline patrols. The UAE continues educational campaigns, harsh judicial penalties, and rehabilitation to reduce the demand for illegal drugs. The UAE acts swiftly to punish violators in drug-related offenses. Drug trafficking groups continue using the UAE as a collection and distribution point, as opposed to merely a transit point. They now use more female smugglers from European, Asian, and African nationalities in an attempt to diversify their methods of operation. The possession, use, or trafficking of illegal drugs can result in long jail sentences, heavy fines, and even the death penalty for those convicted of drug-related offenses.

Police Response

U.S. citizens are subject to UAE laws and regulations. Four of the seven Emirates (Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain) share a federal judicial system. However, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Ras al-Khaimah each have judicial systems, legal procedures, and penalties independent from the other Emirates. Violating Emirati law can result in arrest, prison, fines, and deportation. For further information on criminal penalties, please visit the U.S. Department of State Travel website.

Consuming, possessing, or transporting alcohol without a Ministry of Interior alcohol permit is illegal. The legal blood alcohol limit for drivers is 0.0 percent; authorities may arrest drivers with any alcohol in their system even if they hold a valid permit. Several arrests in 2017 included an additional charge of consuming alcohol without the requisite permit. In each instance, although authorities later dropped the initial charges, the charge of consuming alcohol without a permit and its lengthy prison sentences remained. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.

There are laws against taking photos in areas designated “No Photography Zones” – the Embassy District, government buildings, military bases, and key infrastructure sites. Also, taking photos of women or individuals in public locations may result in confrontation or reaction by security personnel or police. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report Picture This: Dos and Don'ts for Photography.

Firearms, firearm parts, ammunition, body armor, handcuffs, and/or other military/police equipment are illegal. Violations can result in lengthy jail sentences and large fines. Violators’ passports are normally held until judicial cases are resolved.

If approached by a police officer, be prepared to show your identification (Passport with visa, if required, or Emirates ID).

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

U.S. nationals detained or arrested should request that the authorities contact the U.S. Embassy Consular American Citizens Services (ACS) section. The U.S. Embassy ACS phone number is +971 2 414 2200 and the U.S. Consulate Dubai ACS phone number is +971 4 309 4000.

Crime Victim Assistance

The Abu Dhabi emergency telephone number for police is 999, medical service (ambulance) is 998, and fire is 997. Emergency operators/dispatchers speak a variety of languages, including English. When calling for emergency assistance, the caller should provide a detailed description of the location and the type of emergency. Most streets in Abu Dhabi are identified by name and/or number; however, many have been re-named/re-numbered and may be known by several names. The vast majority of residential properties are not numbered. Identifying landmarks or businesses at the scene of an incident is essential in assisting emergency personnel.

Investigative resources, including sophisticated equipment, are available to assist police investigators. The police use biometrics (fingerprints, iris scan technology), and have created a national registry for expatriates living and working in the UAE.

During life-threatening emergencies, it is prudent to remember that police and emergency services may have lengthy response times. A UAE national police supervisor, generally at the rank of lieutenant or above, will handle non-routine decisions. Police officers below the rank of lieutenant are expatriates often reluctant to make independent decisions. English fluency is rare for expatriate police officers; English-speaking officers generally work with investigative units. Non-Arabic-speaking U.S. nationals should request an English-speaking officer when contacting the police department. English-speaking officers may not be readily available during the UAE weekend (Friday and Saturday).

For local first responders, please refer to the Embassy’s Emergency Assistance page.

Medical Emergencies

Due to the lack of street addresses, emergency callers should provide detailed directions to their location based on prominent landmarks, and must be prepared to meet the ambulance upon arrival. The caller should verify and ensure the emergency operator understands the directions provided. It is important to know the quickest and shortest route to the main emergency facilities. All U.S. nationals should identify and select a primary care physician prior to arrival in country or as soon as possible upon arrival.

Trained paramedics staff ambulances, which are equipped with life-saving equipment. However, ambulances do not always respond quickly; consider transportation by private vehicle if a safe and secure option is available.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The UAE government prohibits the import of many medications that are legally obtained in other countries. Recent guidelines from the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention require travelers entering the UAE with medication qualifying as narcotic, psychotropic, controlled, or semi-controlled, according to UAE law, to get an approval from UAE authorities. Request approval in advance by filling an online form and submitting required documents. If approval was not requested and received prior to arrival, the medication needs to be declared with Customs and approval requested upon arrival, failing which UAE authorities may decide to take necessary measures against the traveler, including confiscation and/or prosecution. Approval request upon arrival takes up to five days, during which the medication remains with UAE authorities. Travelers should solicit approval prior to arrival. Information on the required documents and list of concerned medication is available on the website of the Ministry of Health and Prevention. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, Traveling with Medications.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for the UAE.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Country Council in Abu Dhabi is meets twice yearly. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Middle East & North Africa Team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Embassy Abu Dhabi

Plot 38, Sector W59-02, Street No. 4 (Embassies Area)

Hours of Operation: 0830-1700 Sun-Thur (closed on U.S. and UAE national holidays)

Embassy Contact Numbers

Telephone: +971 2 414 2200

Emergency after-hours telephone: +971 2 414 2500

Website: https://ae.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/abu-dhabi/

Nearby Posts

Consulate General Dubai: https://ae.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/dubai/

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling to the UAE should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.

Additional Resources

UAE Country Information Sheet

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