United Arab Emirates

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Friday, 29 August 2014.   This advice contains new information under Entry and exit (visa extension of additional 30 days now possible for AUD175) and Laws (employment in the UAE). We continue to advise Australians to exercise normal safety precautions in the UAE.

United Arab Emirates overall

Summary

  • We advise you to exercise normal safety precautions in the UAE. Exercise common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour, as you would in Australia.
  • We continue to receive reports that terrorists are planning attacks against Western interests elsewhere in the Arabian Peninsula.
  • 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. The UAE is a Muslim country and local laws reflect the fact that Islamic practices and beliefs are closely applied. Laws may also vary between individual Emirates. You should 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.
  • There are strict laws on personal conduct, particularly in regard to sex and personal relationships, as well as the consumption and possession of alcohol.
  • 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 towards illegal drugs. Penalties can include the death sentence or life imprisonment. Medications available over the counter or by prescription in Australia may be illegal in the UAE.
  • Practices such as bouncing cheques, non-payment of bills, including unpaid fines, hotel bills, personal loans and local credit cards, 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 the Laws section for further details.
  • See also our general advice for business travellers and living and working overseas.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
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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.

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.

You may have difficulties entering the UAE (other than transit) on an emergency passport.

Make sure your passport has at least six months validity from your planned date of return to Australia. You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.

Australian citizens travelling to and through the UAE on diplomatic and official passports are required to obtain a visa before travelling.

The importation of pork products, poppy seeds and pornographic material is forbidden. Videos, books and magazines may be scrutinised and censored or confiscated.

Safety and security

Terrorism

Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.

While Al Qaeda has indicated its intention to target the UAE in the past, no terrorist attacks have occurred. However, attacks against targets in the Arabian Peninsula, including the UAE, cannot be ruled out.

Statements by international terrorist groups have called for attacks against Western interests in the Gulf region. These include references to residential compounds and military, oil, transport and aviation interests. We have in the past received reports that terrorists are planning attacks against Western interests in the UAE and the wider Gulf region.

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. See our Terrorist Threat Overseas bulletin for more information on terrorism and our General advice to Australian travellers for tips on staying safe overseas.

Crime

The UAE has a low incidence of crime. Petty crime, including pickpocketing and bag snatching, occurs but is still relatively rare.

Women may be vulnerable to physical and verbal harassment. Incidents of sexual assault against foreign women are rare, but do occur. You should avoid walking alone after dark in isolated places.

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 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 victims in this process. 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. If your passport is lost or stolen overseas, report it online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.

Review the general advice to Australian travellers for further information on being safe and prepared abroad.

Local travel

Road travel can be dangerous due to unsafe driving practices such as speeding, tailgating, poor lane discipline and reckless overtaking. Roaming animals, careless pedestrians, fog and drifting sands are additional road hazards. Off-road driving can also be hazardous. 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, 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. Don’t be afraid to ask about or insist on minimal safety requirements with tour operators.

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 page for Australians travelling by boat.

The International Maritime Bureau issues piracy reports on its website.

Airline safety

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.

Laws

Prior to travelling to the UAE you should familiarise yourself with local laws and their impact on your personal circumstances. 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. 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.

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. If you come to the attention of UAE authorities, your case will be dealt with by the local judicial system. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail. Any custodial sentences will be served in local jails. The resolution of even simple legal issues can be prolonged and complex.

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 have in the past been 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. Practices such as bouncing cheques, non-payment of bills, including unpaid 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 crimes involving 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 under Information for dual nationals for further details).

Severe penalties, including the death penalty, apply for serious offences such as drugs: There is a zero tolerance policy towards drugs. Penalties for drug trafficking include the death penalty and life in jail. Penalties for possession or use of illegal drugs include imprisonment and heavy fines. The UAE has issued a warning to visitors, including passengers transiting the UAE, to be aware of its strict laws against illegal drug possession. 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. Other serious crimes, such as murder, treason and rape, may also 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.

Personal conduct: 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 derogatory remarks, including on social media, about the royal families or the local government.

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 local people, particularly women, without permission and where there has been no previous contact is illegal and can lead to arrest or fines.

Photography of government buildings, special installations and facilities, palaces, bridges, airports and related transport infrastructure is prohibited.

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.

Prostitution is illegal in the UAE and severe penalties apply to those providing such services, as well as to customers.

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 under Local customs for further information on modesty.

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.

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.

Laws on alcohol consumption and possession: 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. Drinking or possession of alcohol for UAE residents without a UAE Ministry of Interior liquor licence is illegal and could result in arrest and imprisonment. Alcohol is sold in a limited number of designated stores and may only be purchased by liquor licence holders. These licences are only available to UAE residents and only permit the holder to purchase or consume alcohol in the Emirate that issued the licence (for example, a permit issued in Abu Dhabi is not valid in Dubai). The Emirate of Sharjah is dry and alcohol is strictly prohibited at all times. You should be aware that special alcohol rules apply throughout the UAE during the holy month of Ramadan.

Alcohol is served in bars and clubs at most major hotels but may only be consumed by hotel guests. Residents are not allowed to drink in hotels unless they hold a liquor licence. The legal age for alcohol consumption by licence holders in the UAE is 18 years of age, though a Ministry of Tourism by-law requires hotels to serve alcohol only to those over 21 years. 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 penalty for alcohol-related offences may involve corporal punishment where the offenders are Muslims.

Travelling with prescription and non-prescription medication: 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 the Health section for details on obtaining approval from local authorities to import medication.

Driving in the UAE: 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.

Employment in the UAE: 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. 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.

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.

Registering births of children born to unmarried parents: As sex outside of marriage is illegal in the UAE, there are potential difficulties in registering a birth of a child born to parents who are not legally married. 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 of such a child 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.

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 conflicts or wars.

Local customs

The Islamic holy month of Ramadan is expected to begin in mid-June 2015. 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.

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.

Children born in the UAE of fathers with UAE citizenship automatically acquire UAE citizenship at birth. Children born of mothers who are UAE citizens may be entitled to UAE citizenship when they turn 18 years of age if they meet certain requirements. This means that the Australian Government may not be granted consular access to any Australian citizen child of parents either or both of whom are UAE citizens.

Our Dual nationals page provides further information for dual nationals.

Health

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 are prevalent with more serious outbreak occurring from time to time. We advise you to boil all drinking water or drink bottled water and avoid raw and undercooked food. 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.

Medication: Everyday medication available over the counter or by prescription in Australia (such as codeine) may be illegal or considered a controlled substance in the UAE. Check the list of restricted and controlled medications. Any such medication is not allowed into the country without prior permission from the UAE Ministry of Health. If you arrive with certain medication and without prior approval and the required documentation, you will not be allowed into the country and you may be prosecuted.

Before travelling you should visit the ‘Travelling with Medication’ page of the UAE Embassy’s website for the most up to date instructions on what you must do and the documents you need to be able to travel into the UAE with medication. . 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 names with your doctor or pharmacist.

Even if your medication is not on the list of restricted and controlled drugs, 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 Ministry of Health to check whether their medication is illegal or on the controlled list. The Ministry of Health can be contacted by emailing essaj@moh.gov.ae or faxing 0011 971 2 631 3742. The Ministry’s Drug Control Department customer service centre can be contacted on telephone 0011 971 2 611 7240, fax 0011 971 2 632 7644 or email drugcl.csc@moh.gov.ae. 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

8th Floor
Al Muhairy Centre
Sheikh Zayed the First Street
Abu Dhabi UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Telephone: (971 2) 401 7500
Facsimile: (971 2) 401 7501
Website: www.uae.embassy.gov.au

or

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.

In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra may be contacted on (02) 6261 3305.

Additional information

For parents

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 and require the father’s permission to leave the country.

For general information and tips on travelling with children see our Travelling with children page.

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

The UAE often experiences extremely high temperatures. During the hottest months of the year, July to September, the temperature can exceed 50˚C. You should take steps to avoid dehydration such staying out of the sun and drinking water.

Sandstorms and dust storms occur regularly.

Flash flooding may occur in river canyons.

Information on natural disasters can be obtained from the Humanitarian Early Warning Service. If a natural disaster occurs, follow the advice of local authorities.

Additional Resources

For additional general and economic information to assist travelling in this country, see the following links:



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.

Maps are presented for information only. The department accepts no responsibility for errors or omission of any geographic feature. Nomenclature and territorial boundaries may not necessarily reflect Australian Government policy.