- We advise you to exercise normal safety precautions in the UAE. You should exercise common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour, as you would in Australia. Monitor the media and other sources for changes to local travelling conditions.
- Terrorist attacks could occur in the UAE Attacks could take place at locations frequented by Westerners. See Safety and security.
- The UAE is a Muslim country and local laws reflect the fact that Islamic practices and beliefs are closely applied. Familiarise yourself with local laws, and their impact on your personal circumstances, before you travel.
- Legal and administrative processes are significantly different from those in Australia. If you are arrested, you may face a significant period of detention before your case comes to trial. You could have your passport held by UAE authorities and be prevented from leaving the country. The resolution of even simple legal issues can be prolonged and complex.
- Travellers with unresolved criminal charges or unpaid debts in the UAE may be detained on arrival at the airport, including when transiting the UAE (see Entry and exit).
- There are strict laws on personal conduct, particularly in regard to sex and personal relationships, as well as the consumption and possession of alcohol and the comments you make online.
- Behaviour that would be considered offensive or anti-social, but not criminal, in Australia could be considered as a very serious matter by UAE authorities. Anyone violating UAE law, even unknowingly, may be subject to severe punishment.
- Sex outside of marriage is illegal in the UAE. It is possible that victims of sexual assault may face criminal prosecution rather than being considered the victim of a crime. There have been cases in the UAE where sexual assault victims have been imprisoned after reporting an incident to local police or upon seeking medical assistance.
- The UAE has a zero tolerance policy on the trafficking and possession of illegal drugs. Penalties can include a death sentence or life imprisonment, even for small amounts. Some medications available over the counter or by prescription in Australia are illegal in the UAE.
- Having a cheque bounce, not paying a bill or fine or not repaying a loan are considered fraudulent acts and may result in imprisonment. If you become involved in commercial or civil litigation it is possible that you will be prevented from departing the UAE until the matter is resolved. See Laws.
- See Travel Smart for general advice for all travellers.
- Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
- organise comprehensive travel insurance and check what circumstances and activities are not covered by your policy
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Entry and exit
Australians are eligible for a 30 day visitor visa-on-arrival for the UAE. This visa may be extended for up to an additional 30 days for Dh600 (AUD175). If visiting the UAE for business you must apply for a different visa. Australian citizens travelling to and through the UAE on diplomatic and official passports are required to obtain a visa before travelling.
Travellers with unresolved criminal charges or unpaid debts in the UAE may be detained on arrival at the airport, including when transiting the UAE (see under Laws).
Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate-General of the United Arab Emirates for the most up-to-date information.
Immigration authorities may refuse entry to Australians with a criminal record, regardless of how long ago the offence took place. Australians concerned about the possibility of being denied entry should consider contacting the Embassy or Consulate-General of the United Arab Emirates before departure.
Australian emergency passports are only accepted in the UAE for transits of up to 96 hours. You must also carry an onward ticket if transiting on an emergency passport. If you lose your passport before passing through UAE immigration, you must return to Australia on the next available flight to apply for a full validity passport. The Australian Embassy is unable to issue you a new passport if you have not cleared UAE immigration.
Make sure your passport has at least six months validity from your planned date of return to Australia.
The importation of pork products, poppy seeds and pornographic material is illegal. Videos, books and magazines may be scrutinised and censored or confiscated. There are restrictions on bringing certain medications into the UAE. Travellers have also been detained and deported for carrying medication to treat HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, or for testing positive to either illness. Please contact your nearest Embassy of the UAE if you have concerns. See also Health.
Safety and security
Terrorist attacks could occur in the UAE. Terrorists have indicated their intention to target the UAE. Attacks could occur at any time and could target places of worship, military interests, commercial facilities, hotels and other locations frequented by Westerners.
There have been a number of terrorist attacks in the wider Gulf region in the past 12 months.
Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. See our Terrorist Threat Overseas bulletin for more information.
The UAE has a low incidence of crime. Petty crime, including pickpocketing and bag snatching, occurs but is still relatively rare.
Incidents of physical and verbal harassment and sexual assault of women occur. You should avoid walking alone after dark in isolated places, including pedestrian underpasses. See our Women page.
Victims of sexual assault: Sex outside of marriage is illegal in the UAE. It is possible that victims of sexual assault may face criminal prosecution rather than being considered the victim of a crime. There have been cases in the UAE where sexual assault victims have been imprisoned after reporting an incident to local police or upon seeking medical assistance.
Sexual assault victims should contact the Australian Embassy in Abu Dhabi, Consulate-General in Dubai, or the Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra, as quickly as possible to obtain relevant information on these issues and guidance on what support services may be available. Consular officers cannot provide legal or medical advice, but can provide lists of English-speaking service providers who may be able to assist. Contact details are listed under Where to get help.
Money and valuables
It is a legal requirement in the UAE for foreign guests to hand over their passports for scanning when they check in to a hotel. Some hotels may be willing to accept a photocopy of the passport.
Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. It should always be kept in a safe place. You are required by Australian law to report a lost or stolen passport online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.
The rate of road deaths in the UAE is higher than in Australia. Speeding, tailgating, poor lane discipline and reckless overtakingare common on UAE roads and accidents occur frequently. Drivers should also be aware of additional hazards, including roaming animals, pedestrians, fog, drifting sands and sand or dust storms
Off-road driving can be dangerous. You should ensure vehicles are well equipped, properly maintained and carry sufficient water. For driving in desert areas, travellers should consider using a Global Positioning System (GPS), as well as ensuring they have adequate supplies of petrol and water. It is recommended that you travel with at least one other vehicle when travelling in the desert. For further advice, see our road travel page.
Tourist visa holders who want to drive in the UAE must get an international driving permit before leaving Australia.
The safety standards you might expect of transport and tour operators, including adventure activities, are not always met. Sufficient safety equipment may not be provided and recommended maintenance standards and safety precautions may not be observed. Always use available safety equipment, such as lifejackets or seatbelts, even if others don't. If appropriate safety equipment is not available, you should use another provider.
Travellers entering the Gulf area by sea should be aware that many areas are sensitive in relation to security and territory. In particular, maritime boundaries and the islands of Abu Musa and the Tunbs in the southern Gulf are the subject of jurisdictional disputes. There are reports of detentions and inspections of vessels and arrests. For more information, you should also read our Travelling by boat page.
The International Maritime Bureau issues piracy reports on its website.
The Australian Government does not provide information on the safety of individual commercial airlines or flight paths. See instead the Aviation Safety Network website for information on aviation safety in the UAE.
Please also refer to our general air travel page for information on aviation safety and security.
When you are in the UAE, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you.Prior to travelling to the UAE you should familiarise yourself with local laws and their impact on your personal circumstances. Behaviour that would be considered offensive or anti-social, but not criminal, in Australia could be considered as a very serious matter by UAE authorities. Anyone violating UAE law, even unknowingly, may be subject to severe punishment.
If you come to the attention of UAE authorities, your case will be dealt with by the local legal and judicial system, which differs significantly to Australia. If you are arrested, you may face a significant period of detention before your case comes to trial. You could have your passport held by UAE authorities and be prevented from leaving the country.
The resolution of even simple legal issues can be prolonged and complex. Any custodial sentences will be served in local jails. It is standard practice for deportees to be held in immigration detention for at least 24 hours before leaving the UAE.
A list of lawyers able to represent Australian citizens in the UAE is available from the Australian Embassy in Abu Dhabi or the Australian Consulate-General in Dubai. Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is provided in the Consular Services Charter.
Laws may vary between individual Emirates. The UAE is made up of seven Emirates, each with its own independent judicial system, with variations in law, legal procedures and penalties, including on issues such as consumption of alcohol, dress and personal behaviour. Although there is a federal court structure with a final court of appeal in Abu Dhabi (the Abu Dhabi Supreme Court), Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah are not part of this federal judicial system. The UAE is a Muslim country and local laws reflect the fact that Islamic practices and beliefs are closely applied. Sharia or Islamic courts work alongside the civil and criminal courts in the UAE and this can make legal issues and systems seem complicated to outsiders.
Commercial, civil and family law disputes
Australians are often involved in commercial and civil disputes where the local firms or courts have taken possession of their Australian passports, effectively preventing them from leaving the UAE until the dispute is resolved. Having a cheque dishonoured and not paying bills, including court fines, hotel bills, personal loans and local credit cards, are considered fraudulent acts and may result in imprisonment. Transit passengers with unpaid debts in the UAE may be detained upon arrival in the UAE. Bail is generally not available to non-residents of the UAE who are arrested for fraud. Debtors can be imprisoned until debts are settled.
Australians who might engage in activities that involve local legal matters, particularly with regard to family law (divorce, child custody and child support), are strongly advised to seek professional advice and ensure they are aware of their rights and responsibilities. Decisions relating to child custody are based on Islamic law (see 'dual nationals' section below).
There is a zero tolerance policy towards drugs and those accused of drug crimes are not eligible for bail. Penalties for drug trafficking include the death penalty and life in jail. Penalties for possession or use of illegal drugs include lengthy imprisonment and heavy fines. These laws apply equally to passengers transiting the UAE.
The presence of illegal drugs detected in blood or urine tests is considered possession, regardless of where or how long ago the drugs were originally consumed. You may also be charged with possessing drugs if trace amounts are found on your body, clothing or luggage. Amounts of 0.05 grams or less can lead to conviction. See our Drugs page.
Behaviour such as swearing and making rude gestures, including hand gestures, are considered criminal acts in the UAE and may result in significant penalties and deportation. Foreigners have been subject to corporal punishment for making insulting remarks and gestures to local officials. It is illegal to make offensive or derogatory remarksabout the royal families or the local government.
There are also strict laws regarding online behaviour, including comments made via social media platforms. Swearing, insults, extortion, making threats or accusations are crimes punishable by fines, imprisonment and deportation. We strongly advise travellers and residents in the UAE to take particular care not to cause offence, including on social media.
It is illegal to harass women in the UAE. Unwanted conversation, prolonged stares, ogling, glaring, shouting, touching any part of the body, stalking or any other comments or other behaviour that may offend are considered harassment. Taking photographs of people, particularly women, without permission and where there has been no previous contact is illegal and can lead to arrest or fines.
Intimate public displays of affection between adults are socially unacceptable and may attract the attention of local authorities. There have been arrests and convictions for public displays of affection between adults of the opposite and same sex, including kissing. Beachgoers should be aware there are strict local laws against dressing inappropriately. Topless sunbathing and nudity are strictly prohibited. See ‘Local customs’ for further information on modesty.
The penalty for preaching or distributing non-Islamic religious material to Muslims is imprisonment and deportation. Making derogatory comments about Islam (in writing or orally) could lead to imprisonment or other penalties.
Homosexual acts and sex outside of marriage
Homosexual acts and all kinds of sex outside of marriage are illegal and may lead to severe punishment, including imprisonment and fines. Foreigners have been imprisoned for having sex with people to whom they are not legally married. De facto relationships and civil unions are not recognised in the UAE and any sexual acts within these relationships are considered to be sex outside of marriage. See our LGBTI travellers page.
It is also against the law in the UAE to live together or share the same hotel room with someone of the opposite sex to whom you are not married or closely related. If checking into a hotel as a couple, you may be asked by management to prove that you are legally married. These laws apply equally to UAE residents as well as visitors. Foreigners have come to the attention of authorities for sub-leasing accommodation from someone of the opposite sex.
Prostitution is illegal in the UAE and severe penalties apply to those providing such services, as well as to customers.
Victims of sexual assault: It is possible that victims of sexual assault may face criminal prosecution rather than being considered the victim of a crime. There have been cases in the UAE where sexual assault victims have been imprisoned after reporting an incident to local police or upon seeking medical assistance. Sexual assault victims should contact the Australian Embassy in Abu Dhabi or Consulate-General in Dubai, or the Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra, as quickly as possible to obtain relevant information on these issues and guidance on what support services may be available. Consular officers cannot provide legal or medical advice but can provide lists of English-speaking service providers who may be able to assist you in this process. Contact details are listed under Where to get help.
Registering births of children born to unmarried parents: Parents who are not legally married may face difficulties in registering the birth of their child in the UAE. An unmarried woman should avoid giving birth in the UAE as she will face legal problems ranging from refusal to issue a birth certificate, to arrest and imprisonment. Similar difficulties will be experienced in registering a birth if the date of marriage of the parents is less than nine months prior to the birth of the child, regardless of where conception took place. The father may be required to face a court panel before a birth certificate will be issued. This process can take some time and may be distressing for the parents involved in this process.
You should respect UAE restrictions on the consumption and possession of alcohol. Limits on the duty free importation of liquor into the UAE are strictly enforced.
The Emirate of Sharjah (which does not include Dubai or Abu Dhabi) is dry and alcohol is strictly prohibited at all times. Elsewhere in the UAE, it is illegal for Muslims to possess or consume alcohol. It is also illegal for non-Muslims to sell or offer alcohol to Muslims.
Non-Muslim UAE residents must hold a liquor licence issued by the UAE Ministry of Interior in order to purchase, carry or consume alcohol, including at home. A licence is only valid in the Emirate that issued it (for example, a licence issued in Abu Dhabi is not valid in Dubai). Alcohol is sold in a limited number of designated stores and may only be purchased by licence holders. Alcohol is served in bars and clubs at many major hotels for consumption by non-Muslim hotel guests and liquor licence holders.
The legal drinking age in Abu Dhabi is 18 years of age, though a Ministry of Tourism by-law requires hotels to serve alcohol only to those over 21 years. The legal drinking age in Dubai and the northern Emirates is 21 years.
Special alcohol rules apply throughout the UAE during the holy month of Ramadan.
Drinking in public or being intoxicated in a public place is illegal and offenders may be arrested. Foreigners have also been arrested on arrival in the UAE after becoming intoxicated on incoming aircraft or while in transit. Visitors to the UAE should also be aware of incidents arising from the use of taxis where passengers are intoxicated. Any dispute with the driver may result in the passengers being taken directly to the police station and charged with public intoxication.
The penalties for alcohol-related offences include fines, imprisonment, deportation or corporal punishment.
Medication available over the counter or by prescription in Australia may be illegal or considered a controlled substance in the UAE. If a person arrives with certain medication and without prior approval and the required documentation, they will not be allowed into the country and may be prosecuted. See Health for details on obtaining approval from local authorities to import medication.
Driving and road rules
You may be jailed or fined if you have any alcohol in your blood when driving. These laws are strictly enforced in the UAE. Police must be called to all road accidents. It is also illegal to leave the scene of a traffic accident. It is illegal for UAE residents to drive without a UAE drivers licence once their residency has been granted. Non-residents must use an international driving permit in the UAE.
Jaywalking, walking on highways and hitchhiking are illegal in the UAE, and offenders will be fined.
You must have a valid work permit from the UAE Ministry of Labour to undertake any form of employment in the UAE. Australians intending to work in the UAE should clearly establish the terms and conditions of their employment or sponsorship at the beginning of their employment to minimise the risk of contractual or labour disputes. Should a dispute arise, the UAE Ministry of Labour has established a special department to review and arbitrate labour claims.
UAE employers may request to hold a foreign employee’s passport as a condition of employment. While this practice is not unusual, it is against the law.
A full medical exam is required for work or residence permits and includes an HIV/AIDS test. Testing must be performed after arrival in the UAE, HIV certificates issued by foreign medical authorities will not be accepted. You will be detained and deported if found to test positive for HIV or hepatitis. There is no appeal process.
Other legal issues
Serious crimes, such as murder, treason and rape, may attract the death penalty.
Australians, including Australian government personnel and those transiting UAE airports, have been arrested, detained, fined, imprisoned or deported for transporting arms or items that may be considered law enforcement or military equipment without prior written approval from the UAE Ministry of Defense. Such items include weapons, weapon parts and tools, ammunition, body armour, handcuffs, and other military or police equipment. Transport of these items into or through the UAE is considered a violation of UAE law.
Photography of government buildings, special installations and facilities, palaces, bridges, airports and related transport infrastructure is prohibited. Hobbies such as plane spotting, bird watching or flying remote control helicopters or planes can also be considered a breach of the law, particularly around these sites.
It is illegal to carry weapons, including pocket knives and capsicum/pepper spray.
It is illegal to eat, drink or smoke in public between sunrise and sunset during Ramadan.
In July 2015, the UAE passed a new law that criminalises discrimination through speech, written word, or via online media. The new law also criminalises any vandalism of religious symbols, rituals or holy rites. Penalties include jail-terms of six months to over 10 years and fines up to AED 2 million.
In 2014, the UAE government announced a list of groups that it considers to be terrorist organisations. Individuals associated with these groups could be refused entry into the UAE, or arrested and detained.
Extra-territorial application of Australian law
Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography, and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia. Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.
Australians risk prosecution under Australian law if they fight in foreign countries.
The Islamic holy month of Ramadan is expected to begin in early-June 2016. During Ramadan, Australians travelling to countries with significant Muslim communities should take care to respect religious and cultural sensitivities, rules and customs. In particular, it is illegal to eat, drink or smoke in public between sunrise and sunset during Ramadan in the UAE.
The UAE is a Muslim country with strict standards of dress and behaviour. You should familiarise yourself with local customs, culture and attitudes before you leave home, seek local advice on arrival and take care not to offend.
Men and women should dress modestly. This is particularly the case in Sharjah and Ajman where Islamic law is strictly enforced. Loose modest dress is recommended. Revealing clothing is likely to draw unwanted attention. If you are in doubt about appropriate dress, you should seek local advice.
Information for dual nationals
The UAE does not recognise dual nationality. This may limit the ability of the Australian Government to provide consular assistance to Australian/United Arab Emirates dual nationals who are arrested or detained.
Children born in the UAE of fathers with UAE citizenship automatically acquire UAE citizenship at birth. They must enter and leave the emirates on UAE passports.
Child custody decisions are based on Islamic law. You should consult a lawyer to resolve custody disputes and to determine whether children may be prevented from leaving the country.
Our Dual nationals page provides further information.
We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.
It is important to consider your physical and mental health before travelling overseas. We encourage you to consider having vaccinations before you travel. At least eight weeks before you depart, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and any implications for your health, particularly if you have an existing medical condition. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our health page also provides useful information for travellers on staying healthy.
While public medical facilities in the major cities of the UAE are adequate, services may not be available in remote areas. A number of private facilities, especially in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Dubai, meet international accreditation standards. For patients without travel health insurance, hospitals will require a guarantee of payment before commencing treatment. Costs can be very expensive depending on the level of health care required and length of stay.
Cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) have been reported in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman. Other countries outside the Middle East have also reported imported cases from returned travellers. See our MERS-CoV travel bulletin.
Water-borne, food-borne, parasitic and other infectious diseases occur from time to time. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering diarrhoea.
Red algae or red tide, which can cause skin and eye irritations and breathing problems, may affect beaches from time to time. You should not swim in affected water.
Some medications available over the counter or by prescription in Australia (such as codeine) are illegal or considered controlled substances in the UAE. Travellers must not enter the UAE carrying any illegal medicines. Travellers entering the UAE with controlled or prescription medications must carry additional supporting documentation. If you arrive with controlled or prescription medication without the required documentation, you will not be allowed into the country and you may be prosecuted. See the UAE Embassy’s website for the list of illegal and controlled medications and the additional documents you will need. Medication on the website is listed by its generic name, which may not be the name by which it is known in Australia. Check your medication's generic name with your doctor or pharmacist.
If you need to have any of your medical documents authenticated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade before you leave Australia, see our Legalising documents page.
Even if your medication is not on the list of illegal or controlled medications, you should carry a copy of your prescription, a letter from your doctor and carry all medication in its original packaging. This applies while you are taking medication which is detectable in your system.
Transit passengers should also contact the UAE Embassy or the Ministry of Health to check whether their medication is illegal or on the controlled list.
For more information about travelling with medication in the UAE , the Ministry of Health can be contacted by emailing email@example.com or faxing +971 2 631 3742. The Ministry’s Drug Control Department customer service centre can be contacted on telephone +971 2 611 7240, fax + 971 2 632 7644 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also contact the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in Canberra. The Australian Government cannot assist in determining whether any medication is considered a controlled substance in the UAE.
Where to get help
Depending on the nature of your enquiry, your best option may be to contact your family, friends, airline, travel agent, tour provider, employer or travel insurance provider in the first instance.
The emergency number is the UAE is 999.
If the matter relates to complaints about tourism services or products, contact the service provider directly.
The Consular Services Charter explains what the Australian Government can and can’t do to assist Australians overseas. For consular assistance, see contact details below:
Australian Embassy, Abu Dhabi
Al Muhairy Centre
Sheikh Zayed the First Street
Abu Dhabi UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Telephone: (971 2) 401 7500
Facsimile: (971 2) 401 7501
Australian Consulate-General, Dubai
25th Floor Burjuman Centre Office Tower
Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Road (Trade Centre Road)
Dubai UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Telephone: (971 4) 508 7100
Facsimile: (971 4) 355 1547
The working week of the Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Consulate-General in Dubai is Sunday to Thursday in accordance with local practice. Please visit the Embassy website for information about opening hours and temporary closures that may affect service provision.
If you are travelling to the UAE, whatever the reason and however long you'll be there, we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate.
The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency - whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.
In a consular emergency if you are unable to contact the Embassy you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.
Natural disasters, severe weather and climate
The UAE often experiences extremely high temperatures. During the hottest months of the year, June to September, the temperature can exceed 50˚C. You should take steps to avoid dehydration such as staying out of the sun and drinking water.
Sandstorms and dust storms occur regularly.
Flash flooding may occur in river canyons.
Earth tremors occur in the UAE, particularly following a major earthquake elsewhere in the region.
Information on natural disasters can be obtained from the Humanitarian Early Warning Service. If a natural disaster occurs, follow the advice of local authorities.
For additional general and economic information to assist travelling in this country, see the following links: