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UAE 2020 Crime & Safety Report: Dubai


This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Consulate General in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in the UAE. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s country-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.

 

Travel Advisory

 

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.

 

Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

 

Crime Threats

 

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Dubai as being a LOW-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. In comparison to similarly sized cities worldwide, Dubai’s crime rate appears to be significantly lower. However, do not let this lull you into a false sense of security. The majority of crime occurs in areas populated primarily by lower-income, temporary laborers originating from other countries. The majority of crimes attributed to this group consist of petty theft, public offenses (e.g. fighting, public intoxication), sexual harassment, and rare incidents of violent assault.

 

There have been well-publicized cases of alleged rape, where authorities charged the victim of the alleged rape for sexual relations outside of marriage. This is especially true where additional risk factors are present, such as drinking. The law puts a high burden of proof on the victim to demonstrate that sex was not consensual. In cases where the victim has failed to do so, authorities have prosecuted both parties and sometimes sentenced both to jail time.

 

The Regional Security Office (RSO) at the U.S. Consulate in Dubai relies primarily upon open-source reporting and discussion with consulate officials and private citizens, but is able to request specific information from the Dubai Police when appropriate. 

 

Street crimes (e.g. pickpocketing, shoplifting, petty theft) occur, but weapons are rarely involved.

 

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

 

ATM skimming devices, which criminals install to capture data from cards, are a threat throughout the UAE. For more information, review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

 


 

Cybersecurity

 

Online scams (especially those targeting bank customers), malware attacks, and electronic extortions are very common in the UAE. Criminals contact victims through the internet, including dating websites. These con artists usually pose as U.S. citizens who have unexpectedly experienced a medical, legal, financial, or other type of emergency in the UAE that requires immediate financial assistance. Co-conspirators may pose as UAE-based lawyers or medical professionals to verify the story and the supposed urgent need for cash. Some victims have lost tens of thousands of dollars from such scams. Email scams have become increasingly sophisticated using fake websites; the Consulate has heard reports of individuals taking U.S. citizens’ email addresses in order to pose as legitimate U.S. businesses. Recipients of such emails alleging a U.S. citizen is experiencing a medical, legal, financial, or other type of emergency in the UAE should ask the sender to contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance as soon as possible. The suggestion to contact the embassy or consulate may deter further pleas if they are not genuine.

 

Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

 

Transportation-Safety Situation

 

Road Safety and Road Conditions

 

Increasingly, the growing number of vehicles and continuous construction strains the road network in metro Dubai, though it is generally in good repair. Expressways are often unable to handle traffic volume, especially during peak traffic periods.

 

Vehicle accidents are relatively common. While most result in property damage and minor injuries, serious collisions resulting in fatalities or serious injuries do occur. Drivers display varying degrees of skill, aggression, and attention, and often maneuver erratically and at high speed, demonstrating little care or courtesy. Excessive speed, tailgating, and lack of speed/lane discipline by the diverse population, as well as occasionally diminished visibility due to heavy fog are the most common causes of the more serious accidents. Drive defensively. For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s reports, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, Road Safety Abroad, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

 

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.

 

Public Transportation Conditions

 

Public transport is generally safe and reliable. Dubai has an extensive automated metro rail system that provides transportation throughout the metropolitan area. You can find information on disruptions to transportation services on the Roads and Transport Authority Dubai website. Review OSAC’s report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

 


 

Taxicabs are widely available throughout the metropolitan area. Most cabs are tan except for the roof, which can be red, blue, green, or yellow, indicating a specific company; or pink, indicating female drivers/passengers only. Dubai law requires that all taxicabs use fare meters. Taxicabs should have the driver’s name and ID number posted on the back of the driver/passenger seat. To aid in reporting criminal or fraudulent taxi incidents to the police, try to obtain the taxi number, company, and color of the vehicle.

 

All taxis operating in Dubai have recently been equipped with surveillance cameras linked to a centralized system. This measure aims to monitor driver compliance with the applicable laws and professional standards; authorities can retrieve footage in case of a complaint by a user.

 

Ride hailing services (i.e. Uber, Careem) are safe and reliable. For more information on ride-sharing, review OSAC’s report, Safety and Security in the Share Economy.

 

Aviation/Airport Conditions

 

UAE airports have extremely rigorous screening standards, strictly forbidding seemingly innocuous items. Items such as small cutting blades, any weapons, any inert or live ammunition or component (even expended), law enforcement tools, and specialized communications equipment have created delays for travelers. In addition, any items containing THC or cannabis oil can result in detention or arrest. Even accidentally carrying these items through the airport can incur penalties or subject you to arrest and criminal prosecution.

 

Maritime Issues

 

On several occasions in past years, the Iranian Coast Guard detained small groups of expatriate recreational boaters for alleged violation of Iranian territorial waters while fishing near the island of Abu Musa, approximately 20 miles offshore from Dubai. The UAE and Iran have had a long-standing dispute concerning jurisdiction of Abu Musa. Fishing or sailing in these waters may result in seizure of vessels and detention of passengers and crew in Iran. Obtaining consular assistance in Iran for U.S. citizens is difficult and is only possible through the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which acts as a Protecting Power, providing limited U.S. consular services.

 

Terrorism Threat

 

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

 

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Dubai as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. The Department cannot rult out possibility of a terrorist attack against U.S. interests in the UAE, given its proximity to hostile and unstable countries, importance as a major transit hub for regional travel and commerce, and large expatriate population. UAE participation in the anti-ISIS coalition and the ongoing Yemen conflict has raised the overall likelihood of terrorist attacks against Emirati and Western interests alike. Although the UAE has reportedly withdrawn most of its troops from Yemen, terrorist groups operating in Yemen have threatened to target the UAE on several occasions. Continued threats from terrorist groups directed against U.S. interests worldwide require that U.S. citizens remain alert and incorporate good security practices into their daily activities. 

 


 

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

 

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Dubai as being a LOW-threat location for civil unrest directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

 

Civil Unrest

 

The UAE government must pre-authorize political demonstrations, which are extremely rare.

 

Post-specific Concerns

 

Dubai frequently hosts large-scale conference or events attracting international visitors. Expo 2020 Dubai – the first World’s Fair in the Middle East – may have participation from over 170 countries and attract 15 million visitors, generating 25 million visits. The Expo coincides with the UAE’s 50-year golden jubilee, and runs from October 2020 to April 2021. Expect Dubai’s two international airports to be very busy during this timeframe. Relevant authorities are developing plans to support and provide security for the event.

 

Personal Identity Concerns

 

While Dubai presents a Western image and is more tolerant than other countries in the region, the local culture is conservative. Be mindful not to offend local (Islamic) customs. Manner of dress, particularly for women (teens and adults alike), should be conservative and respectful. Women should remain vigilant, particularly during hours of darkness. Harassment of unaccompanied females occurs occasionally. Women, should take precautions against the possibility of verbal and physical harassment or sexual assault when walking alone, consuming alcohol, or riding in a taxicab. Female travelers should be cognizant that unwitting actions may invite unwanted attention. Avoid sitting in the front seat of a taxicab and be sensitive that some taxi drivers can misinterpret "small talk" as over-friendliness or even a form of propositioning. Taxis driven by women for the exclusive use of female passengers are available in some airports and by dispatch; identify these dedicated vehicles by their pink roofs.

 

Enhance recognition of religious sensitivities during Ramadan or other holy periods. Individuals may worship as they choose, and facilities are available for that purpose. However, religious proselytizing is illegal in the UAE. Authorities may imprison or deport those violating this law, even if they do so unknowingly. Read OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice.

 

Consensual same-sex sexual relations are illegal in the UAE. Penalties may include fines and imprisonment. Under interpretations of sharia, the punishment could include the death penalty. Although the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate General are not aware of any recent arrests or prosecutions for such activities, they remain illegal. Cross-dressing is also a punishable offense and there have been reports that the government took action against cross-dressing individuals. Review the State Department’s webpages on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

 

Public displays of affection are discouraged and may be a violation of local laws.

 


 

While in the UAE, individuals with disabilities and reduced mobility may find accessibility and accommodation very different from that in the United States. Although the UAE has several modern cities, the level of service, especially outside of newly constructed areas, is not comparable to the United States. This includes the availability of public transportation attuned to the needs of those with disabilities and reduced mobility, well-designed sidewalks and road crossings, and accessible businesses. Public transportation in Dubai is wheelchair accessible. However, the buses that connect Dubai with the other emirates in the UAE are not wheelchair accessible. Review the State Department’s webpages on security for travelers with disabilities.

 

Drug-related Crimes

 

UAE has a zero-tolerance policy on drugs. Authorities have arrested and convicted several U.S. citizens for carrying even small quantities of banned substances. Trials usually result in a prison sentence of several years followed by deportation.

 

Consuming or possessing alcohol without an alcohol license is illegal. The law strictly prohibits public drinking. Driving under the influence of alcohol, with any amount of alcohol in the system, is a crime; the UAE has a zero-tolerance policy in this regard. Bars in most major hotels serve alcohol to guests of the hotel. Persons who are not guests of the hotel, and who consume alcohol in the restaurants and bars, must have their own personal liquor licenses. Authorities only issue liquor licenses to non-Muslim persons who possess UAE residency permits; these are valid only in the emirate that issued the license. Authorities regularly detain those arrested on alcohol-related offenses for many days as they await a court hearing. Penalties may include hefty jail sentences, substantial fines and, for Muslims (even those holding U.S. citizenship), lashings.

 

Other Issues

 

Taking photographs of UAE military facilities, sensitive civilian sites, airports, some beaches, or foreign diplomatic missions – including the U.S. Consulate General – may result in arrest, detention, and/or prosecution by local authorities. Travelers should be aware of signs indicating where photography is prohibited. It is illegal to take photographs of other people without their consent. In addition, engaging in mapping activities, especially mapping that includes the use of GPS equipment, without coordination with UAE authorities, may have the same consequences. Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

 

Arrests, fines, and/or deportation may result for committing any of the following acts: making rude gestures, swearing, touching another person without his/her permission, and making derogatory statements about the UAE, the royal families, the local governments, or other people. Keep in mind the cultural differences among the many people who coexist in the UAE and be cognizant that unwitting actions, including clothing choices, may invite unwanted attention.

 

The UAE has strict laws regarding use of the internet and social media. Authorities have arrested and criminally convicted those deemed to have posted information determined to have disturbing to public order on social media sites. Social media users should be cautious about online posting of information authorities might deem insulting or challenging the local or national government. Avoid posting insults or derogatory information about governments, institutions, or individuals. Review OSAC’s report, Lèse Majesté: Watching what you say (and type) abroad.

 

Charity and fundraising activities are closely regulated by the UAE government, and it is against the law to conduct any private fundraising activity online (including those conducted on popular fundraising websites for personal causes). 

 

The UAE National Media Council implemented new rules in 2018 for conducting business as a social media influencer in the UAE. Influencers must apply for trade and e-media licenses in order to promote brands on social media in the UAE. For more information please review the website of the National Media Council.

 

Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of other countries. For more information, review OSAC’s report, All That You Should Leave Behind.

 

Police Response

 

Investigative resources and sophisticated equipment are available. The police use fingerprint and iris-scan technology, and have a national registry for expatriates living and working in the UAE. Authorities have installed smart cameras with facial recognition technology in several areas in Dubai to detect potential violations and identify wanted persons.

 

Police responding to the report of a crime may not always provide the same level of service as in the U.S. Most police officers below the rank of Warrant Officer are from the expatriate community and are hesitant to make independent decisions. These officers wear green uniforms and may have limited education and English-language abilities. Those above the rank of Warrant Officer are generally Emirati, and wear tan/khaki uniforms; many have studied in Europe or the U.S., and are fluent in English. An Emirati police supervisor will usually make any decisions concerning anything other than routine matters. Dubai police HQ and emergency dispatch have a variety of language capabilities to serve the significant expatriate community.

 

Police do not respond to minor traffic accidents. Unless there are injuries, the concerned parties should report the accident through the Dubai Police’s mobile App or go to the police station to get the police report.

 

Travelers can download the Dubai Police App for iOS and Android mobile devices and use it to summon police assistance directly through its interface. The app shares GPS location information directly from the device, allowing users to share their location with the authorities effectively. You can also use the app to report non-emergency situations.  

 

U.S. citizens detained or arrested should notify the Consular section of the Consulate. Authorities usually deport expatriates involved in criminal activity following incarceration.

 

Call 999 for police, and 997 for fire emergencies. English-speaking operators are always available. Dubai’s emergency call-in network has captured many international emergency phone numbers with the understanding that, in an emergency, people tend to revert to familiar numbers; a caller dialing 911 or 112 during an emergency will still connect to Dubai police and emergency services. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

 

When seeking emergency assistance, provide the operator/dispatcher with a detailed description of the location and the type of emergency. Many streets are identifiable by a number-letter combination. Dubai has changed some street names from the number-letter format to a name format. This can cause confusion when trying to find a location or give directions. Ever-changing construction zones further aggravate the problem, as Dubai builds and updates its infrastructure. Identifying landmarks or businesses near the location is essential in helping emergency personnel respond.

 

The Dubai Police recently started using the smartphone Emergency Locator System (ELS), designed to provide precise location information to first responders during an emergency. Once the caller contacts emergency numbers, the phone sends a free text message containing his/her location to the Dubai Police. This service is only available on smartphone devices using Android 4 System Version and above, as well as any iPhone with IOS 13 or above.

 

Police/Security Agencies

 

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. The Dubai Police Force has jurisdiction over the Dubai emirate. Violating Emirati law can result in arrest, prison, fines, and deportation.

 

Medical Emergencies

 

Report medical emergencies and request assistance at 998. Ambulances are modern and staffed by trained paramedics. It is best to give directions based upon Makani number-- a unique 10-digit code that exists for every building in the city. Do not end an emergency call until you are certain that the person on the other end clearly understands your directions. If your location is difficult to find, advise the operator that you will meet the ambulance at a nearby landmark. Heavy traffic may impede the ability of emergency medical services to respond in a timely manner. Consider transportation by private vehicle if a safe and secure option is available. Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Consulate’s Passport and U.S. Citizen Services page under the Medical Assistance tab.

 

The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Departments webpage on insurance overseas.

 

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

 

The UAE government prohibits the import of many medications obtained legally 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 a traveler did not request and receive approval prior to arrival, they must declare the medication with Customs and request approval upon arrival; failing this, authorities may 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. 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, refer to OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.

 

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

 

OSAC Country Council Information

 

The Dubai Country Council is active and meets monthly. To reach out to OSAC’s Middle East & North Africa Team, email OSACNEA@state.gov.

 

U.S. Consulate Contact Information

 

The U.S. Consulate General in Dubai is located at Umm Hurair-1, First Street, Bur Dubai.

 

Hours of Operation: 0830- 1700 Sunday to Thursday

 

Website: https://ae.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/dubai/

 

Embassy Operator: +971-4-309-4000

 

American Citizen Services Section (Abu Dhabi): +971-2-414-2200

 

State Department Emergency Line: +1-202-501-4444

 

Other U.S. Diplomatic Posts In the UAE

 

Embassy Abu Dhabi, Plot 38, Sector W59-02, Street No. 4 (Embassies Area). Call +971-2-414-2200.

 

Helpful Information

 

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

 

Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)

UAE Country Information Sheet

OSAC Risk Matrix

OSAC Travelers Toolkit

State Department Traveler’s Checklist

 

 

 

 

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