Over 1.5 million British visitors travel to the UAE every year and more than 100,000 British nationals are resident there. The vast majority of visits are trouble-free, but you should take sensible precautions to protect yourself and your belongings. Don’t accept lifts from strangers. Use only licensed taxis or other recognized forms of public transport.
Personal attacks, including sexual assault and rape, are relatively rare, but do happen. UAE law places a high burden of proof on the victim to demonstrate that the sexual relations were not consensual, especially when the victim had consumed alcohol or where the alleged attacker was known to the victim. If the sexual relations are determined to have been consensual, both parties may face prosecution for the offence of sex outside marriage. In 2013, a Norwegian woman who reported her rape to Dubai police was convicted of sex outside marriage and illegal consumption of alcohol.
Female visitors and residents should take care when walking or travelling alone, and should use a reputable taxi company, particularly at night. Drink spiking can occur. Don’t accept drinks from strangers or leave drinks unattended.
Rip currents can occur at any beach, and can sweep even the strongest swimmer out to sea. Always comply with warning signs, especially red flags, and only swim from approved beaches.
If you’re visiting the UAE, you can drive a rental car using your UK driving licence. If you intend to drive a private vehicle as a visitor, you should check that you’re covered under the vehicle’s insurance.
If you’re applying for residence in the UAE, you can use your UK licence until your residence permit is issued, after which you’ll need to immediately get a UAE driving licence from the traffic department.
Driving standards in the UAE are not always as disciplined as in the UK and there is a high rate of traffic accidents. The World Health Organisation has reported that UAE road users are almost 7 times more likely to be killed than their UK counterparts and that the UAE has one of the highest rates of road deaths. Speeding is common.
It is a criminal offence in the UAE to drink and drive, no matter how small the amount. Your insurance is also likely to be invalidated in the event of an accident. Offensive gestures and bad language used at other drivers can lead to fines, a jail sentence, and possibly deportation. Flashing your lights in the UAE can mean a driver is coming through, rather than giving way.
If you have an accident you should follow the rules of the Emirate in which you are travelling. In Abu Dhabi, if no one has been hurt and vehicle damage is minor, drivers should move vehicles to the side of the road to avoid blocking traffic; otherwise, the vehicles should not be moved. In Dubai, you should only move your vehicle if it is causing an obstruction to other motorists. In the other Emirates, you may only move your car if the accident is minor and both parties agree on who is responsible for it. In all cases, call the police. It is an offence to leave the scene of an accident before the police have arrived.
Excursions to the desert can be dangerous unless you’re in a properly equipped 4 x 4 vehicle. Always travel in convoy with other cars, take a supply of water and a mobile telephone, and leave a copy of your travel plans with friends or relatives.
Pedestrians should take great care. Only cross roads using designated pedestrian crossings, failure to comply can lead to prosecution. Vehicles often don’t stop at zebra crossings marked on the roads.
Many areas of the Gulf are highly sensitive, including near maritime boundaries and the islands of Abu Musa and the Tunbs in the southern Gulf. Vessels entering these areas have been detained and inspected. Mariners should make careful enquiries before entering these waters.
You should consider how regional tensions may affect your route. Vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, Northern Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and Bab El Mandeb regions may be at increased risk of maritime attack.
Be careful when travelling by tourist boat. The safety of these vessels may not be up to UK standards. Make sure life jackets are available for all passengers.
Events in the Middle East, including Iraq and the Middle East Peace Process, can affect local public opinion. Follow news reports and be alert to local and regional developments, which might trigger public disturbances.