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Crime & Safety in Dubai and the UAE

In this guide, we are covering overall crime and safety in Dubai and the UAE, both in terms of traditional crimes (theft, assault, etc.) and modern crimes (financial, internet-based). Check out our handy overview of the most common scams at the end of this article.

Traditional Crimes

Traditional crimes include everything from pickpocketing to robbery, assault, car theft, and bribery.

Comparing crime between countries is complex and difficult. Every country measures crime slightly differently. What is legal in one country may be an offense in another.

Portugal, for instance, legalized both the public and private possession and use of drugs in the year 2000. The UAE, on the other hand, strictly regulates drugs through its Narcotics Law (Federal Law No. 14 of 1995). Possession of even the smallest quantities of drugs leads to prison sentences of at least 7 to 10 years and imprisonment up to life for possession of larger quantities of illicit drugs.

Shoplifting is similarly treated differently in different jurisdictions. Selected Californian cities such as San Francisco have stopped persecuting theft valued at less than $950. Stores across the city, including large chains such as Walgreens, are shutting down stores as police refuse to intervene. Lack of punishment leads to "organized retail theft," making continued operations in the city unprofitable for many stores.

In the UAE, even small-scale shoplifting incidents are punished by prison sentences of up to one year.

The UAE does everything in its power to limit and reduce crime. Back in 2012, it went so far as to stop the issuance of work and entry permits to Bangladeshi nationals due to elevated crime rates among citizens from the South Asian nation. Common crimes included shoplifting, the use of forged passports, and visa overstays.

In a similar fashion, Dubai suspended the new issuance of visas for single men below the age of 40 from 20 African nations in 2022, again due to elevated crime rates. Affected nationalities include Nigeria, Liberia, Uganda, Congo, Rwanda, and Sudan.

The UAE is a melting pot of hundreds of cultures and yet continues to effectively control crime in its city due to exceptional governance.

While comparing the incidence of crime between countries remains complex, the online data platform Numbeo is trying to do so through its worldwide crime index. To do so reliably, it analyzes and combines 14 crime factors, including theft, robberies, home break-ins, car thefts, and even corruption and the incidence of bribery.

Countries are ranked on a scale from 0 to 100, with 0 being the lowest possible crime.

The UAE, despite its diverse population and millions of international tourists visiting every year, is ranked 2nd in overall crime as of 2023. At a crime rate of 15.1, it ranks just lightly behind the world’s safest country Qatar at 14.8. Qatar is a neighboring country with an almost identical population make-up as the UAE, and just like the UAE is also part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a group of economically cooperating wealthy Arab Gulf countries.

Crime Index by Country 2023 - 14 Traditional Crimes - Based on Numbeo Data
The UAE is the 2nd safest country in the world.

The third-best ranking country in terms of crime is fellow GCC member Oman, at a crime index value of 19.7.

Switzerland and Singapore, widely perceived to be two of the safest countries in the world, are the 7th and 25th safest countries respectively, at crime index values of 23.6 and 29.2.

Larger Western countries such as the UK and US rank significantly worse, being the “safest” 75th and 86th countries, with crime index values of 46.9 and 49, respectively.

Crime tends to be higher in large cities, and that’s also the case in the UAE.

Dubai, the UAE’s largest city with a population of 3.5mill, has slightly higher crime rates than Abu Dhabi and the smaller emirates such as Ajman and Sharjah.

Crime Index by City 2023 - 14 Traditional Crimes - Based on Numbeo Data
Dubai is the 6th safest city in the world, and Abu Dhabi is the safest city in the world.

Looking at a ranking of the world’s cities by crime, using the same previously mentioned 14 crime factors, we see that Abu Dhabi now ranks as the world’s safest city, with a crime index value of just 11.2. Doha, the capital city of Qatar, follows as the world’s second safest city. Ajman and Sharjah, two smaller cities in the UAE, are the 4th and 5th safest cities in the world, and Dubai secures the 6th spot globally, at a crime index value of 16.4.

This makes Dubai safer than cities such as Bern, Switzerland, Reykjavik in Iceland, and every single city in Japan.

Dubai is incredibly safe given its large size, millions of visitors, and a population that is made up of 90% foreigners. Whether you are visiting one of the many public beaches or large hotel resorts, it is not uncommon to see tourists and locals alike leave designer handbags and other valuables behind while they enjoy a swim or a stroll.

The food courts in Dubai’s many malls get super busy on weekends, and as a result, securing a table can be challenging. When you find an available table before your food is ready, it is a common - and safe - idea to “reserve” a table with your cell phone or bag while you go back to pick up your food order. Thanks to widespread video surveillance and an abundance of private on-duty security personnel wherever you go, pickpocketing and common thefts have become close to extinct.

In many countries, crime tends to be blamed on immigrant populations, whether that be Mexican immigrants in the US, Syrians in Germany, or Tajiks in Russia. The UAE, and Dubai in particular are proof that you can achieve record low crime levels despite a population that is 90% foreigners and to a large extent originates from some of the poorest countries in the world.

Good governance & processes make a country safe, not blanket bans on immigration.

While traditional crimes such as pickpocketing, burglaries, and car thefts are rare in the UAE, it is still important to remain vigilant, especially when it comes to modern financial and cybercrime committed over the internet. These are more commonly observed in the UAE but can easily be avoided with proper awareness.

Financial and Cybercrimes in Dubai

Widespread video surveillance and abundant city-wide security personnel have made traditional crimes difficult and often close to impossible to execute. As a result, criminals are looking for alternative means to illicitly get your money.

If you stay in the UAE, you will invariably get contacted by a variety of phone and internet scammers during your time here. Cyberscams are difficult for local authorities to stop as in many cases they originate from outside the country and make use of phone number spoofing to hide the source of calls or internet connections.

Let's cover three common cyber- and financial crimes targeting the UAE.

The Phone Scam

One of the most common scams involves you receiving a supposed call from a lottery, often involving the well-known local "Big Ticket" lottery. The scammer claims that your phone number was randomly selected by the lottery, and asks you to share personal contact details to claim the prize. To receive your prize money, you are asked to share your bank account details including a one-time mobile tan number that would allow the scammer to directly access your bank account.

Unfortunately for the "Big Ticket" lottery, these scams have become so common that many residents now confuse the organization with illegal scam operations. One resident who paid for a lottery ticket and won even declined to claim his AED100,000 prize at first suspecting the calls to be a scam.

Remember, if you are not buying a ticket, you cannot win. Also never share mobile tan information. Banking mobile tans (OTP codes) are never needed to receive funds from third parties!

Also, scammers are creative, and as a result, constantly come up with new storylines to get access to your bank account.

Common stories involve calls from the hospital about a relative involved in an accident and needing immediate payment for treatment.

Another typical story involves fake government agencies calling and asking you to pay outstanding fines or even asking for your bank details and tan (OTP) so that they can "transfer" overpaid fees back to your account.

If in doubt, just hang up, find out the contact information online of the place supposedly calling you, and call them back yourself.

The Rental Scam

A more advanced financial scam involves the real estate market. The scam works as follows: a real estate company advertises apartments and houses on online platforms such as Bayut and dubizzle. The company gets access to these properties by tricking landlords into believing that they are authorized real estate agents. With the keys to a property in hand, these "fake" real estate agents then show the apartments to prospective tenants. They make interested tenants believe that they manage the properties for the landlord, and as a result, have the authority to sign the rental agreement on the landlords' behalf.

After the rental agreement is illegally signed between the "agent" and the tenant, the fake real estate agent/manager will ask for direct rent payment by the tenant, circumventing the actual landlord.

A scammer can keep this scheme running for 2-3 months before the actual property owner will investigate why they have not received rent from any tenant. As time is limited, the scammer will try to repeat the operation with as many apartments as possible, within the 2-3 month period, before leaving the country with the collected rent amount.

As the tenants have never signed an agreement with the actual landlord, legally speaking they will have to vacate the property. The tenant lost their advance rent payment, and the landlord lost several months' rent without a proper tenant. If the tenant is unlucky, they have just paid annual rent in advance, with no hope of recovering the lost amount.

This scam can be avoided by only working with well-known, reputable real estate agencies. Also, be sure to check your agent's real estate registration number and if in doubt, cross-check its validity with the Dubai Land Department.

The Skype Scam

A third type of online scam is the Skype scam. The scammers are rarely based in the UAE, and instead simply target UAE residents from abroad.

The scam works as follows: the scammer sends you a contact request on Skype or another video chat platform. The people targeted are usually men, and the fake profiles sending out the contact requests commonly feature profile images of attractive young women.

Many men, out of curiosity, accept the friend request.

The "fake" woman then makes up a story about why she accidentally sent the victim a friend request, e.g., that she misspelled the username of a friend or relative. Over days and weeks, she will keep up online conversations with the victim and try to get as many private details as possible. Over time, she will connect with the victim on WhatsApp, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other platforms, thus getting access to the victim's private and professional network.

She will then ask the victim for a video call, but coincidentally, only the victim's camera works. She cannot be seen. One thing leads to another, with the scammer's goal being to collect comprising photos (screenshots) and videos of the victim.

The scammer uploads a video with the collected footage to Youtube, for now in private mode, and sends the victim a link.

Next come the threats: "Send me x amount of money by next week or I will share the video link on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc."

Giving in to the scammer is unwise, as the threats tend to continue even after the initial payment. As in many cases of blackmailing, it is usually best to make the difficult decision to break off all contact with the scammer and risk the footage being leaked.

A large proportion of these scammers are located in the Morocaan town of Oued Zem, and they target victims all over the world, not just in the UAE.


The UAE and Dubai are some of the safest places in the world.

While traditional crimes are rare, financial- and cybercrimes are more common. The good news is that remaining vigilant and knowing about common internet crime schemes goes a long way in protecting you from getting scammed. This is the case wherever in the world you are located, inside or outside of the UAE.

Stay safe!


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