Safety in Dubai
Dubai is a fast growing city that has its share of problems but nothing that using common sense can't avoid.
Driving and pedestrian safety has also been an issue given the different nationalities that share the road. Do not jaywalk or cross where there are no clear pedestrian markings. Speeding is common here, and the odds of you being knocked over are quite high unless you follow the rules. Avoid driving on the extreme left lane of highways to avoid being "flashed" and being forced to move a lane over. Road rage is also starting to become an issue given the increase in traffic jams and poor driving courtesy.
Rude hand gestures (the "finger" etc.) and profanity can lead to fines and jail times if reported, so keep your cool if you are cut off or are behind an erratic driver. In general, you will find those gestures and actions that some may find only slightly offensive in your home country—or perhaps not offensive at all—can at times be extremely offensive to the Dubai locals. Therefore, use a degree of common sense of what is right and wrong to help you stay out of trouble.
The United Arab Emirates might seem to have more relaxed laws than their other Arab counterparts, but the laws are still very different from most Western countries, and their laws are strictly enforced. A simple kiss in a public place, having an alcoholic drink in the wrong place or even losing your temper could land you a month or more in jail. Please exercise caution and common sense when visiting and make sure you are aware of all their laws or expect severe consequences that could seriously ruin your vacation.
Dubai strictly follows Islamic laws which should be respected by all travellers. Islam is the official religion, therefore do not publicly criticize or distribute material against it. Eating in public during the holy month of Ramadan is prohibited from sunrise until sunset and visitors should consume meals in the confines of their hotel or residence.
In conversations about politics and world affairs, avoid criticizing the ruling family of any of the seven Emirates or prominent business families. The United Arab Emirates does not have any formal relations with Israel, and the government publicly supports causes that involves the Palestinian people or Palestinian statehood.
Public display of affection are frowned upon and public sexual acts can lead to jail time followed by deportation. In 2008, a British couple were arrested and faced jail sentences because they had sexual contact on a beach in Dubai. If all tourists remain respectful, decent and ensure that they do not upset the local people, there should be no problems.
Homosexuality, along with all sexual relations outside of marriage, is a criminal offense with possible deportation or months of jail. Public displays of affection or cross-dressing may lead to jail time and/or deportation. They should be avoided completely in public to ensure that no problems arise. In 2013 a Norwegian woman reported she had been raped but then, following bad advice, rescinded it. She was then sentenced to sixteen months in jail for extramarital sex and filing a false police report. After public pressure she was pardoned and deported.
Women should dress sensibly and avoid wearing revealing outfits. This is especially true when traveling to districts like Karama, Deira and Bur Dubai, where the streets are packed with men, especially on evenings and weekends. While swimsuits and bikinis are a common sight on Dubai beaches, avoid sunbathing topless or wearing microbikinis—even in the private beach of a hotel.
Prostitution is illegal in Dubai but still it is visible at nightclubs, bars and other places. Law enforcement ignores partially the solicitation but penalties are high if something is too obvious or others call the police. The biggest problem is that many prostitutes don't have a legit residence permit so human trafficking and forced prostitution is an issue to keep in mind.
While petty crime is hardly reported or mentioned in the news, keep an eye on your wallet or purse when in crowded areas like Naser Square or Deira in general. If withdrawing large amounts of cash from ATMs or banking institutions, either conceal the notes or ask the institution's security to escort you to your vehicle. Cases have occurred where people have been robbed of large amounts of cash when in crowded places just because they were not careful.
Conmen are ever present in Dubai, especially the "Nigeria 419" scammers. Do not arrange meetings or entertain their requests or give any personal details. Should they not comply, individuals who will be happy to listen to their business propositions are the police.
Thanks to Dubai's new property boom and bust, real estate fraudsters are also popping up, so exercise extreme caution if you are interested in buying or renting.
Drug use and distribution are serious criminal offences, even when in the company of the person consuming the material, and can lead to a prison sentence of several years or even to be in front of the firing squad. Passenger baggage is screened quite thoroughly when entering Dubai. Even prescription drugs (without original prescription note) or ones that you bought over the counter in your country can lead to a prison sentence.
You need to be careful when you are a tourist in Dubai, like many places around the world, people have a keen eye for tourists and can cheat you. For example taxi drivers can drive a longer way to the destination given that you pay by meter or try to charge you 20 dollars when you are sure you heard them say 20 Dirhams: (they do sound rather similar).