Moving to a new country, especially when the culture is markedly different from your own, is a worry; so, is Dubai safe? The answer is, as it is with any complex question, it depends.
I have lived in Dubai for years and I think Dubai is safe. In that time I have never been threatened, never seen anyone threaten a member of my family nor have I been robbed. However, in my country of origin, New Zealand, I know that my sons have been threatened, and my daughter and I have been nervous about walking alone at night. My aged father was afraid in his own house – though he was never harmed. My husband was robbed in his garden in Italy and a good friend was pickpocketed at a bus stop in Singapore. So it depends on what you are comparing it to.
Also, safety in the UAE depends on whether you are male or female, how you dress and the sorts of places you frequent. Men tend to be left alone to go about their business, but even men are advised to dress appropriately. By this I mean at least shorts that are neither too short nor too tight and a shirt or T-shirt with short sleeves for casual day-wear. Singlet tops are really only for the beach although you do see tourists wearing them in the malls. This is not necessary as the malls can be very cool due to the air-conditioning.
In any situation where alcohol is involved, there is potential for trouble. It is against the law to buy or drink alcohol in Dubai without a license. In theory, this applies to tourists as well as residents. In practice, this law is not policed unless you draw attention to yourself in some way. So avoid being obviously drunk as this is an offense and could land you in trouble. It could also make you a target for any unscrupulous people who know that you are unlikely to be taken seriously by the police if you try to report a robbery when smelling of alcohol.
The dress code is posted at the entrance to many malls, hotels and restaurants. It asks people to dress modestly and with sensitivity to the culture. As with men, if you have at least knee-length shorts or a skirt and short sleeves, you are fine.
Do not get drunk and decide to go off with someone you have never met before and leave your friends behind. Do not get into a car with men you do not know even if it is in a very public space like outside the main doors of a five-star hotel. But these are things you should not do in any country in the world.
Keep in mind that socially acceptable behavior for women in UAE culture is totally different from, for example, the UK. What may be normal for you, may give a completely wrong message in the UAE.
Burglaries are not common but they do happen. There are two famous cases. One was a smash and grab jewelry gang that drove a car into Wafi Mall and turned over a posh jewelry store while the mall was full of customers. Videos of the incident were circling Dubai from people’s smart phones in minutes and the perps were caught. More recently, robbers killed a man and stole the diamonds they had pretended to want to buy from him. They were caught before they got off the plane they fled on. So if you are a gemstone dealer, be wary. The rest can relax a little more.
A standalone villa can become a target if you leave it for a long summer vacation as many people do. But many people also have housekeepers (known locally as maids) who stay behind and, hopefully, keep the house safe. Buy a safe and secure it to a concrete wall so that you can store your valuables. A lot of people lock their doors all the time when they are in the house, even in the daytime. Is it really necessary? I doubt it. The problem is that the UAE is very secretive about information to do with crimes. If the government were to publish statistics about crime in the UAE or in Dubai, I feel certain that people would appreciate how safe life is here compared to other parts of the world.
Fire safety is an issue especially if you live in a high-rise building. There have been a few spectacular fires and some deaths. Not many so far, but nevertheless, buy a couple of fire extinguishers and fire alarms for your home. The gorgeous buildings of Dubai are designed and envisaged by architects and engineers but largely built by cheap, unskilled labor. Things do go wrong with wiring. Another issue associated with high-rise buildings is the safety of children. How you monitor this depends on the issues you face, but every year, children fall from tall buildings somewhere in the UAE.
Apart from the chances of a traffic accident, taxis are safe; however, I would advise women never to sit in the front seat when taking a taxi on their own. You may think it is showing an egalitarian attitude, but it is likely to invite a hand on the knee. This could also happen to a young man, so sit in the back. Dubai is a very stratified society. The taxi driver will know at a glance what your social standing is compared to his, so there is no need for a pointless and misleading gesture of solidarity.
The biggest threat to anyone living in Dubai is one you will face every day, and that is the behavior of other drivers on the road. I had never had an accident until I came to Dubai and I had been driving for fifteen years. In the last fifteen years in Dubai, I have been hit from behind three times, once while I was stationary at lights and once at a stop sign. And I drive a large 4X4 which should be visible. Every time I go out on the highway, I see people doing dangerous things, weaving in and out of other cars at speed, passing on the wrong side, changing lanes without signaling, and speeding up rather than letting other cars in. I recommend you also buy a large 4X4 for your safety and the safety of your family. Also, make sure seatbelt discipline is high.