Dubai is one of the most popular traveling destinations in the world, which is due in no small part to its stringent laws and efficient enforcement of those laws. The regulations cover almost every aspect of life in Dubai, including the use of drones.
Tourists traveling with drones will be wise to pay attention to these details to avoid problems. So, what do Dubai’s authorities say about drones? Are they legal?
You may not fly drones in Dubai without a proper license, which makes it difficult to even transport a drone into Dubai without complications.
Licenses are hard to get, especially for tourists. You may keep your drone in checked luggage if you pass through on a connecting flight.
Many tourists (and even locals) have had horrible experiences with Dubai airport security confiscating drones and charging for their release.
To avoid a similar situation, you should familiarize yourself with Dubai’s laws about flying drones or even having them with you. Let’s look at the details of Dubai’s drone laws and how you can keep yourself (and your drone) safe.
Dubai’s Drone Laws For Travelers
Dubai has strict laws regarding the ownership and use of drones. These laws are similar throughout the United Arab Emirates, but Dubai has a few regulations.
Any citizen who owns a drone (even a small one for recreational use) must register the drone with the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) and apply for a relevant drone license.
But if it’s that difficult for a citizen of Dubai to own and fly a drone, what hope does a tourist have? Well, in short, it depends on the kind of tourist you are.
The laws are there to ensure drone pilots are aware of airspace regulations and no-fly zones, so it’s a sensible strategy, and they enforce it exceptionally well.
Are You Just Passing Through?
Dubai is a popular destination for connecting flights, and many tourists spend a few hours at Dubai Airport as a stop-over while waiting for their next flight. If this is you, you have nothing to worry about as long as you follow particular guidelines.
The first point to remember is that you are not to fly your drone; this should go without saying, but it’s incredible how often people don’t realize it.
There are two important reasons not to fly your drone at Dubai Airport: First, it’s an airport. Second, it’s in Dubai.
Most countries have rules forbidding drones from flying near airports; this is also true in the UAE. You are not legally permitted to fly a drone within 5km (3.1 miles) of the outer fence of any airport or airfield in Dubai.
So if you’re planning to fly your drone to kill time while waiting for your connecting flight, the simple advice is, don’t. You’ll only extend your stay, but not in a good way.
The second crucial point when you’re passing through Dubai is that your drone must remain packed in your checked-in luggage. Please don’t take it out under any circumstances. The safest option for you (and your drone) is to forget that it exists until you reach your destination.
Are You Staying For A While?
This is where things get complicated. Because the GCAA requires that all drones in Dubai must be registered and that anyone who wants to fly a drone in Dubai must have a license and formal approval documentation, it stands to reason that anyone who wants to take a drone into Dubai (even just for a few days) must register it with the GCAA. It makes sense, doesn’t it?
The problem is that only UAE residents, and carriers of UAE ID documents, can apply for drone registration. Even if you download the GCAA app from the App Store and try to use it, you will find that a tourist can’t do so.
So, whether you will be in Dubai for two days or two years, you will not be able to (legally) carry your drone into Dubai, even if you’re not planning to fly it.
Customs officers have every legal right to confiscate your drone and no reason to give it back to you since you illegally brought it into the country.
Now, I know that many people have managed to bring their drones into Dubai. They even declared it to customs officers and experienced no problems.
The standard advice on boards like Reddit is to pack your drone in your checked luggage and be honest with the customs officer about it, specifying that you will not be flying it.
More often than not, they will allow you through with no further questions asked. But there have been many cases where the drone was confiscated, often with no fine or holding fee.
So, in reality, you should ask yourself, is it worth possibly losing your drone forever? Do you really have to take it along to Dubai if there’s a chance that you will never see your drone again?
For most people, it isn’t worth the risk of possibly losing that expensive piece of equipment.
The Exception To The Rule
Some non-UAE travelers can legally get their drones into Dubai without any problems and are even allowed to fly their drones in certain areas. So how do they do it if non-citizens can’t even apply for a license?
It all comes down to your connections in the end, but not the wrong way.
Someone who works for a UAE-based company may be allowed to take a drone into Dubai and even fly it if the company’s UAE offices apply for the registration, license, and operational approval first.
This is how movie studios and other videography companies manage to use drones in Dubai legally.
Other Drone Laws In Dubai
If you somehow do manage to get your drone into Dubai and have permission to fly it, there is one more obstacle you should also keep in mind.
People fly drones for two main reasons. The first is for recreational purposes, i.e., just for fun. This is similar to flying a radio-controlled aircraft or helicopter.
There’s something immensely satisfying about controlling a drone and flying around with it, even more so when you can do various tricks.
The second reason is to take photos and videos. Drones are a great way to record your holidays and special events and are handy for business purposes.
The recreational factor is usually not a problem, but the requirement for anyone not a UAE citizen, is that the camera is turned off at all times.
Visitors are not allowed to record photos or video footage using a drone unless it’s for a local UAE-based company by special pre-arrangement, as mentioned before.
Even citizens can only use a drone’s camera in particular “green zones,” often only with prior operational approval.
So, if you were planning to record your time in Dubai with a drone, you would have to think again. You do not want to get on the wrong side of Dubai’s highly-efficient police force.