Dubai is generally a very safe place. However, especially western travelers need to be aware that Dubai, despite of its western appearance, applies Sharia law (Islamic law) which includes the following criminal offenses:
Under UAE Law, a juvenile is an individual aged 18 or below. Capital punishment, imprisonment, or fines cannot be imposed as sentences against juveniles who commit criminal offences. The Juveniles law follows a Restorative Justice model focusing on the needs of the young offender. Judges can issue a variety of non-punitive sentences including reprimand, putting young offenders under the supervision of a guardian, or rehabilitation.
In 2015, 40% of all cases examined by prosecutors were related to offences committed by juveniles.
The competence of Sharia Courts has been limited by presence of Civil and Criminal Courts. In some Emirates, particularly Abu Dhabi, however, Sharia law came to apply to all types of civil and commercial disputes, capital criminal offences and matters of personal status. Each of the seven federal Emirates maintains a parallel system of Sharia Courts proper to it.
Flogging is a punishment for certain criminal offences (such as adultery, and alcohol consumption by Muslims) and it is applicable to both genders. Between 2007 and 2014, many people in the UAE were sentenced to 100 lashes.
Stoning is a legal punishment under Sharia. Between 2009 and 2013, several people were sentenced to death by stoning.
Verbal abuse pertaining to a person's sexual honor is illegal and punishable by 80 lashes. In January 2014, a man in Abu Dhabi was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment and 80 lashes for alcohol consumption and raping a toddler.
Alcohol consumption for Muslims is illegal and punishable by 80 lashes, many Muslims have been sentenced to 80 lashes for alcohol consumption.80lashes is the standard amount for anyone sentenced to flogging in some emirates. Sometimes 40 lashes are given. Non Muslims are required to have Alcohol Licenses to be allowed to consume spirits and alcohol. If a license was not obtained, the punishment will be 1–6 months detention and/or a fine not exceeding 2000 Dirhams (approximately 544 US Dollars). Non Muslims cannot be punished by flogging under Sharia Principles for consuming alcohol and this has been confirmed by UAE Federal Law No.52 of year 2006. Drunk-driving is strictly illegal.
Abortion is illegal and carries a sentence of one to five years in prison and/or a fine (around 2722 US Dollars).
False allegations crimes
Many western associations state that many women who reported rape but were convicted for false allegations are still victims of rape. This is what they call criminalization of rape victims. The Emirates Center for Human Rights expressed concern over Dubai's criminalization of rape victims.
In Dubai, a woman who engages in consensual extramarital relations and press false allegations of rape can be sentenced to over a year of time in prison.
The Emirates Center for Human Rights states that "Until laws are reformed, victims of sexual violence in the UAE will continue to suffer" referring to a case in July 2013 in which a 24 year old Norwegian woman, Matre Dalelv reported an alleged rape to the police and received a prison sentence for "perjury, illicit [consensual extramarital] sex and alcohol consumption" and false allegations after she admitted lying about the rape.
Apostasy is a crime punishable by death in the UAE. Blasphemy is illegal, expats involved in insulting Islam are punished by deportation. UAE incorporates hudud crimes of Sharia into its Penal Code - apostasy being one of them. Article 1 and Article 66 of UAE's Penal Code requires hudud crimes to be punished with the death penalty,therefore apostasy is punishable by death in the UAE.
Dress code violation
The UAE has a modest dress code. The dress code is part of Dubai's criminal law. Most malls in the UAE have a dress code displayed at entrances. At Dubai's malls, females should cover their shoulders and knees, therefore sleeveless tops and short shorts are not permitted. However, the dress code is not strictly enforced in public places and it is very common to see people wearing all kinds of outfits at those places, especially in Dubai.
Homosexuality, display of public affection
Homosexuality is illegal: homosexuality is a capital offense in the UAE. In 2014, an Emirati man was on trial for being accused of a "gay handshake".
Kissing in public is illegal and can result in deportation. Expats in Dubai have been deported for kissing in public. In Abu Dhabi, two residents of Arab nationalities have been sentenced to 80 lashes for kissing in public.
Article 1 of the Federal Penal Code states that "provisions of the Islamic Law shall apply to the crimes of doctrinal punishment, punitive punishment and blood money." The Federal Penal Code repealed only those provisions within the penal codes of individual emirates which are contradictory to the Federal Penal Code. Hence, both are enforceable simultaneously.
A new federal law in the UAE prohibits swearing in WhatsApp and penalizes swearing by a $68,061 fine and imprisonment, expats are penalized by deportation. In July 2015, an Australian expat was deported for swearing in Facebook
During Ramadan, it is illegal to publicly eat, drink, or smoke between sunrise and sunset. Exceptions are made for pregnant women and children. The law applies to both Muslims and non-Muslims, and failure to comply results in arrest.
Personal status law
Sharia law dictates the personal status law, which regulate matters such as marriage, divorce and child custody. The Sharia-based personal status law is applied to Muslims and sometimes non-Muslims. Non-Muslims can be liable to Sharia rulings on marriage, divorce and child custody. However, the burden is on the Non Muslim party to request that foreign family laws are applied on a particular case. Judges would entertain such requests in line with Article 1 of the Personal Status Law.
In 2015, non-Muslims owning assets in the Emirate of Dubai were given the option to register their wills with the DIFC Wills & Probate Registry. Previously, the Sharia Law could still apply to the real estate assets owned by the non-Muslims. This welcome change has brought certainty in this area of law. The wills can now be prepared by wills draftsman duly registered with the Registry.
OVERALL RISK: LOW
Dubai is an overall safe city. It is highly ranked 20th out of 113 on the ranking of the safest and most dangerous cities.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: MEDIUM
There are some areas with high density of pickpockets, especially Jumeira Beach which is well known as the main pickpockets spot. Do not leave your belongings unattended and be vigilant both while getting on the public transport or enjoying the sunshine on the beach.
MUGGING RISK: LOW
Mugging and kidnapping are very rare.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
Dubai is full of visitors thus numerous people try to take advantage of it. In shopping centers, scammers will try to get you to answer questions to win a prize; however, this is a kind of scam to sell a travel package to you. In the fast car rental services, you can be charged for getting speeding tickets. Sometimes, taxi drivers overcharge their clients.
TRANSPORT AND TAXIS RISK: MEDIUM
Generally, public transport is safe and reliable. If you are considering renting a car, be aware of unpredictable driving behaviors.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: LOW
The United Arab Emirates experiences extremely high temperatures, which can exceed 50C. Sandstorms occur on a regular basis. Sometimes, a severe thunderstorm may occur in the UAE. Information on natural disasters can be obtained from the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System.
TERRORISM RISK: MEDIUM
A number of terrorist attacks occurred in the Gulf region in recent years. The probability of new attacks is high.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW
Overall, female travelers risk in UAE seems to be on par with main European countries, Australia, Canada or USA. We recommend taking normal safety precautious and trying to avoid visiting remote neighborhoods late at night.