Gay Dubai: Is it safe for gay travellers? Gay life in the UAE
Dubai is regarded as the Vegas of the Middle East. Just like Las Vegas it’s a new, modern city built in the middle of a desert. Unlike Las Vegas however, you risk getting into quite a bit of trouble if you openly express your sexuality in public…
Dubai is one of the 7 “Emirates” of the United Arab Emirates, a country ruled by a monarchy with Sharia Law in place. The other 6 Emirates are Abu Dhabi (the capital), Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain.
We explore whether Dubai is safe for gay travellers to visit, particularly in light of the anti-gay laws in place.
Pro tip: Before heading off, you may want to consider getting a VPN which will allow to use blocked gay dating apps such as Grindr, as well as surfing anonymously.
Table of Contents
Is it legal to be gay in Dubai?
Short answer, no. Sadly, in Dubai, good old fashioned Sharia Law rules the school. If you’re caught having consensual gay sex, you face a short prison sentence and deportation.
In reality however, the Sharia police don’t come knocking on your door spying on your every move. The previous arrests of LGBTQ tourists happened as a result of public occurrences, like for example when a Lebanese / Bulgarian lesbian couple where caught kissing on a public beach, or 2 men were seen having oral sex in a car. In both situations, the couples were arrested, imprisoned for a few months, then deported. One famous trans celebrity, Gigi Gorgeous, was denied entry to Dubai in August 2016 when the immigration staff realised she was trans:
When we went to Dubai, we were visiting our French friend who is gay, and happily living/working there. Whilst we felt we had to go back in the closet in public, we still had a fun time discovering the underground gay scene of Dubai. We found it wasn’t as open as say, the gay scene of Beirut, but it’s still very much there.
Gay scene of Dubai
As it’s illegal to be gay here, there is no official gay scene in Dubai or LGBTQ organisation. However, thanks to the large expat population and the 20,000+ Emirates cabin crew who are based here, Dubai is seen as a sort of gay mecca by Arab men from surrounding countries. This is because there are a number of underground unannounced gay events taking place each week.
Our advice is to use Grindr or Scruff to connect with locals and expats as a way to find out which gay events in Dubai maybe taking place when you’re there. Note that gay dating apps are blocked in Dubai, as are any blogs/websites that depict “immoral” things(!). You can however get around this by investing in a good VPN service which allows you use the apps anonymously. We recommend ExpressVPN, a reliable and inexpensive VPN which we used in Dubai without any problems.
One of the most popular “gay” clubs in Dubai at the moment is the “Barcode” party, which takes place each Saturday at a different location, usually in one of the international hotels. Another gay friendly club in Dubai to check out is Fantasia. To avoid attracting negative attention, these events are announced last minute via word of mouth or on the the gay apps, similar to the gay scene of New Delhi.
Finally as a general rule, the bars of the large international hotel chains are the ones which are more likely to be open minded. One of our favourites is the Level 43 Sky Lounge at the Sheraton, which not only has delicious cocktails, the views across the city here are stunning.
Gay friendly hotels in Dubai
Pro tip: Misterbnb is the Airbnb equivalent for the LGBT community. Unlike Airbnb you know your host is gay (or at least gay friendly) and it’s a great way to connect and meet with locals in Dubai and have the flexibility of living in an appartment instead of a hotel.
As being gay is illegal in Dubai, hotels will require two men sharing a room to have an extra mattress added, or will only allow you to have a room with twin beds. However, the larger international brands are more likely to allow gay couples to share a double bed, in particular the following:
- The Sofitel Dubai: lush hotel located near the famous Jumeirah beach.
- The Hilton Dubai Jumeirah: North American chain who are used to hosting gay travellers.
- Sheraton Jumeirah Beach Resort: we love the gorgeous gay friendly rooftop bar here.
Our advice is to email/call ahead and ask if they are ok to host a gay couple and allow you to share a double bed. Otherwise, we advise you err on the side of caution and settle with two single beds, particularly if not staying at one of the international branded hotels.
In terms of best location, the main things you’ll want to experience in Dubai are the tallest building in the world (the Burj Khalifa, 830m/2,723ft), the huge shopping malls and the Palm Islands. So any hotel near these would be the ideal location for your stay.
So…is Dubai safe for gay travellers?
Let’s call a spade a spade here. It’s illegal to be gay here, and any public displays of affection between same sex couples, even accidental ones, risk getting you into trouble. As a general rule, we don’t avoid visiting a destination just because it has anti-gay laws as we believe boycotting such places is counter-productive. We wrote about this at length in our article about what it’s like travelling in Asia as a gay couple, and advice for gay travellers to Iran.
Having said that, thousands of LGBTQ travellers visit Dubai every day, whilst others reside here without any problems at all. Obviously this is not in any way like San Francisco or Madrid, but if you don’t flaunt your sexuality in public and take care with you who you hang out with, and where, you’ll be absolutely fine. It goes without saying you should be astute and aware at all times, and stay in the closet in public for your safety!
With all this in mind, we think that Dubai is safe for gay travellers, but obviously with basic common sense being applied at all times. Just be cautious when you visit and avoid any public displays of affection. Also ensure you have a VPN set up on your phone beforehand so you can use Grindr/Scruff to connect with locals without problems.
Safety precautions for gay travellers to Dubai
- Avoid public displays of affection with people of the same sex
- Set your social media channels to private
- Unless staying in a hotel you know welcomes gay travellers, book a room with 2 single beds (whether it is 2 queen beds or one king bed and a twin)
- Be aware at all times
- Stay in the closet
- Be careful with you hang out with, especially when meeting people on Grindr
- Get a good VPN services so you can use the internet and gay dating apps safely and anonymously
Travel recommendations for Dubai
A VPN is your friend: we cannot stress the importance of using a VPN for your phone/laptop in Dubai as anything LGBTQ related is otherwise blocked, particularly the gay dating apps. We used ExpressVPN which we found to be reliable, very easy to use and cost effective.
Sim card / Wifi: Dubai has public wifi hotspots pretty much everywhere. However, public networks are never secure and they are an open door to hackers and viruses. The best solution is to rent a portable wifi device which allows you to share a secure connection between several devices and works in any country. The alternative is to buy a local SIM card for your smartphone.
Travel insurance: Whether you go for shopping, hiking or just lay on Jumeirah Beach all day long, you need travel insurance. We use World Nomads because they offer considerable coverage especially for adventurous travellers. They also make it easy to make a claim as it’s all done online.
Flights: To find our flights to Dubai, we used Skyscanner. Their website is very easy to use and always finds the best deals in seconds. It also allows you to search for the cheapest flights for any given month.
Hotels: When we plan a holiday, we use Tripadvisor to research the best places to stay and activities to do. We also use Booking.com to find the best deals and to book accommodation online. But as mentioned above, call/email ahead to check they’re ok with two men sharing a bed.
General tips: we’ve put together all our safety tips from our years of travel experience in our article about how to stay safe when travelling.