Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates and second most populous city in the UAE after Dubai.
Initially, Abu Dhabi began as a magnet for the oil industry, but over the last decade, it grew massively in popularity as a tourist destination.
Whilst crime is very low in Abu Dhabi and it is a safe destination to visit, for the LGBTQ community, the reality is a lot different. Homosexuality is illegal here, so just like LGBTQ rights in Dubai, you run the risk of being arrested and/or deported if you get caught expressing your sexuality! Despite this, many LGBTQ expats (who are mainly cabin crew for Etihad) live here without any problems and have even created their own underground gay scene.
We visited Abu Dhabi during our travels in the UAE and give our take on whether we think Abu Dhabi is safe for gay travellers based on our first-hand experience. To be clear, we are not advocating Abu Dhabi as a gay haven, simply an honest account of what it was like for us.
Gay dating apps in Abu Dhabi
Gay dating apps such as Grindr or Scruff are illegal and blocked in Dubai. The best way to get around this (but still illegal), is to use a VPN which will give you full access to the dating apps and will allow you to surf the Net anonymously.
Is it legal to be gay in Abu Dhabi?
No, it is not! Article 354 of the UAE Federal Penal Code is quite clear about this: “Whoever commits rape on a female or sodomy with a male shall be punished by death.” Article 80 of the Abu Dhabi Penal Code makes sodomy punishable by imprisonment of up to 14 years.
In practice, for foreigners, if arrested for being gay, you're more likely to get a short jail sentence and/or deportation. For locals however, punishment is more severe, including imprisonment of up to 14 years, along with fines, torture, executions, beatings, floggings and even chemical castrations!
The government has also blocked “illegal websites” as per UAE regulations, therefore all LGBTQ related websites, dating apps, as well as porn websites cannot be accessed unless you use a VPN which is also illegal but the only solution if you wish to access those gay apps and websites.
In terms of LGBTQ rights in Abu Dhabi, there are none. The only positive right we found is the right to change your legal gender.
For us, travelling as a gay couple in the UAE felt like we had gone back into the closet. In public we acted like we are “mates” and avoided any public displays of affection. For your own safety, this is what we recommend to gay travellers in Abu Dhabi.
The gay scene of Abu Dhabi
Obviously there is no official gay scene in Abu Dhabi as it's illegal. However, as with the gay scene of India before the anti-gay laws were repealed, there is an unofficial underground “scene”. You would need to connect with locals or other LGBTQ expats living in Abu Dhabi to find out more information. Etihad airlines has its base in Abu Dhabi, so most of its crew will be based here, so you know you're going to connect with a lot of local gay expats on Grindr or Scruff.
When we were in Abu Dhabi, we found that the gay dating apps are the most effective way for discovering the unofficial gay scene. Unfortunately, the UAE government monitors internet use and has banned most LGBTQ websites and gay dating apps. The solution is to get a VPN. However, you should be aware that VPNs are also illegal in the UAE. If you choose to get one, try this VPN service. We used it extensively during our trip in Abu Dhabi not just for Grindr but also to surf anonymously.
In terms of gay friendly hangouts in Abu Dhabi, as a general rule of thumb, the bars of the large international hotel chains are most likely to be open minded, serving international clients. A particular favourite of ours is Ray's Bar, located on Level 62 of Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, because the cocktails are delicious and the views across the city are stunning.
Gay friendly hotels in Abu Dhabi
When we travel to Islamic countries which have strong anti-gay laws, we always err on the side of caution and book two single beds, especially if staying in a family run guesthouse or small hotel. Otherwise, we try to book in one of the large international chains like The St Regis Abu Dhabi, The Four Seasons Almaryah Island, or the Sofitel Abu Dhabi Corniche, who are most likely to have had LGBTQ training for their staff, and will no doubt have welcomed gay travellers before.
One strong bit of advice we always give is to email/call ahead and ask if the hotel are ok to host a gay couple and allow you to share a double bed. The worst thing is to run the risk of this being a problem at the check in desk!
STAY WITH A GAY LOCAL
Misterb&b is the Airbnb equivalent for the LGBTQ community. Unlike on Airbnb, you know your host is gay, avoiding any nasty surprises when you check in. It is also a great way to meet gay locals and discover the underground gay scene. Click below to get 10 € (or $10) off your first booking.
So…is Abu Dhabi safe for gay travellers?
It's a weird question to answer because on the one hand, if you keep your sexuality to yourself, behind closed doors, Abu Dhabi really is one of the safest places in the world. After all, many gay expats live and work here without any problems, and love it.
But on the other hand, the very fact that you have to constantly be careful not to appear “too gay” in public is exhausting and can make you feel quite paranoid. In particular for gay couples visiting Abu Dhabi like us, this is certainly not very romantic at all!
Nonetheless, we think it would be a shame to skip visiting Abu Dhabi. It is so unique – a luxurious paradise built in the middle of a desert, with some really impressive buildings like the Emirates Palace, the Etihad Towers and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. In this impressive Mosque you can find the largest hand-woven carpet in the world, measuring 5,630 m² (60,600.81 ft²). In addition, the world's fastest roller coaster is here – the Formula Rossa at the Ferrari World reaches speeds of up to 149 mph (240 km/h). Abu Dhabi also has the world's further leaning manmade tower – the Capital Gate Tower.
Just be cautious when you visit and avoid any public displays of affection. Also ensure you have a decent VPN service set up on your phone beforehand so you can use Grindr/Scruff to connect with locals without problems.
Safety precautions for gay travellers to Abu Dhabi
- Avoid public displays of affection
- Stay in the closet
- 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
- Be careful with you hang out with
OUR FAVOURITE TRAVEL TIPS
⭐️ TRAVEL INSURANCE — We recommend you always take out travel insurance before your next vacation. What happens if you suffer from illness, injury, theft or a cancellation? With travel insurance, you can have peace of mind and not worry. We love World Nomads travel insurance and have been using it for years. Their comprehensive coverage is second to none and their online claims process is very user friendly.
⭐️ SAFETY & SECURITY — All travelers (gay or not) can sometimes encounter danger when traveling. CloseCircle is your “virtual body guard” mobile app which provides security alerts and support wherever you are in the world. They have a 24/7 emergency response team monitoring their users who will contact you immediately if the SOS swipe button is activated. Support can include anything from practical advice, to free evacuation from areas with extreme weather or security risks. You can read more about CloseCircle in our article about how to stay safe whilst traveling.
⭐️ ONLINE ANONYMITY — A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a must in many countries: it allows you to surf anonymously and maintain your privacy whilst traveling. You'll particularly need it in countries where gay dating apps are blocked by the government. We recommend ExpressVPN, a reliable and cost effective service which we used and loved during our travels.
⭐️ HOTELS or APARTMENTS — When we plan a trip, we always look for the best hotel deals. We love Booking.com because not only do they have a comprehensive listing of accommodation options, they also offer the best prices. Added bonus: they provide 24/7 support and free cancellation for most listings.
⭐️ SIGHTSEEING and ADVENTURES — When we travel somewhere, we like to seek out the best experiences, whether it is cooking with locals in Bangkok, hiking on a glacier in Patagonia, or going on a wildlife safari in Sri Lanka. Our favorite place to look is GetYourGuide because they have over 30,000 highly rated activities, a user-friendly booking process with free cancellation and a 24 hour customer support.
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