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Living in the UAE

Common Crimes and Laws in the UAE

You’re convinced that you would never break the rules? The UAE has a lot of very strict laws that expats often would not expect, but also impresses with a rather low crime rate. Still, it is not uncommon for expats to become the target of scams. Learn more about how to recognize and avoid them!

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At a glance:

  • Smaller crimes like petty theft are among the most common crimes committed in the UAE.
  • There are many laws expats struggle to stick to, including co-habitation laws, alcohol laws, and laws prohibiting eating and drinking in public during Ramadan.
  • There are different types of scams common in the Emirates that often target expats.

If you expected having to rent a bullet proof vehicle for a safe commute in the Emirates, we will have to disappoint you. The UAE is a relatively safe country, with violent crime rates being at a low. Although about half of all expats worry about their safety before their move to Dubai or Abu Dhabi, most of them report feeling quite safe in this country at the Arabian Gulf.

Petty Theft and Scams, the Most Common Crimes in the UAE

Even compared to first-world countries and Western cities, the UAE has a rather low crime rate. Especially violent crimes and property crimes are rare and hardly ever affect expats or tourists. This does not mean that smaller crimes do no occur, of course. According to the US Bureau of Diplomatic Security, petty theft, pickpocketing, scams, and sexual harassment still occur although they are usually not violent and weapons are not involved.

Drug crimes are generally not very common which is also due to harsh punishments. However, the DEA Dubai Country Office reported an increase in seizures of weapons, drugs, and human smuggling by the authorities. Drug trafficking groups enter the UAE to collect and distribute their goods but also use it as a transit point. These crimes will probably leave most expats untouched.

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Sticking to the Rules — Unexpected Laws in the UAE

While you may think of yourself as an upright resident in the UAE, you might still be breaking a few laws without even knowing. You might get away with some of them, but others will easily get you in trouble. We have listed the most common laws expats struggle with.

For Married People Only

As you may or may not know, it is illegal in the UAE to have sexual relations with someone you are not married to. It doesn’t matter if you have just met your partner a week ago or if you have been with them for 20 years, if you want to share your bed with them you better do it secretly (or not at all). This also extends to co-habitation. You may have lived with your partner before you came to the Emirates together, but as far as the police is concerned, you better get your own place. Some emirates are stricter than others, but the minimum jail time for this is one year, usually followed by deportation.

Keep It Decent

Of course, it’s not a problem to hold your spouse’s hand in public or give them an innocent peck on the cheek. However, passionate kissing and touching should be reserved for your private space only. You should be aware that disrespectful behavior, even if it is not sexual, can get you in a lot of trouble quickly. This includes showing the finger and other inappropriate gestures, as well as foul language and spitting. If you want to find out more about cultural values and social customs in the UAE, check out our article on the topic.

On the Rocks… Alcohol Laws in the Emirates

The UAE, including Dubai which is known as a party hub, have rather strict alcohol law. Only restaurants and bars with a proper license (usually those attached to a four- or five-star hotel) can serve alcohol and, of course, you are allowed to drink as much as you wish there. However, drunken behavior in public is not allowed and if the alcohol makes you feel particularly romantic, you should switch to water or soft drinks before you get yourself into trouble.

Keep in mind that you need a license to buy and transport alcohol, or store it in your house. Strictly speaking, this is even necessary to consume alcohol in the first place. Applying for a license is not that difficult but it has to get renewed annually and is tied to the emirate in which it was issued. Your Dubai license will therefore not grant you the right to buy drinks in Abu Dhabi.

The Holy Month of Ramadan

Non-Muslim expats do not have to participate in the fast during the month of Ramadan but are still required to be respectful of those around them who do. There are some cafés and restaurants which discreetly serve their customers between sunrise and sunset. But even if you find one of these spots to buy a sandwich and a cup of coffee, you won’t be allowed to enjoy both in public. As confusing as it might seem to newcomers, during Ramadan eating and drinking should be reserved for your private space or the hours after sunset.

Police Enforcement and How to Call for Help

Law enforcement is rather strict in the UAE and the police pay attention to every breaking of the law, no matter how benign it might seem. They are using sophisticated equipment, including fingerprints and iris scan technology, to identify expats in the UAE. While the police does not treat expats with kid gloves — in 2014 several expats were arrested for consuming alcohol without a permit — calling the police when you become the victim of a crime is a good idea.

The emergency response number you should dial in case of a fire is 997, to report a crime, call 998, and 999 to receive medical services. The operators usually speak a lot of different languages and will be able to help you. However, if you need police assistance and don’t speak Arabic, you should specifically request a police officer who speaks English.

Updated on: December 11, 2019
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