Traveling with your drone is easy and can get you some really unique aerial photography opportunities. But not all travel destinations with your drone are equally easy or drone friendly. If you’re traveling to Dubai hoping to get some great shots with your drone, you may want to think again. Just passing through on your way somewhere else? You may be in the clear.
If you have a connecting flight at an airport in Dubai, you don’t need to worry about having a drone with you, just make sure it’s packed in your checked luggage. If you’re entering Dubai with a drone for any length of stay, it’s supposed to be registered, which is tricky to do as a tourist.
The regulations regarding carrying a drone in transit through Dubai, as well as bringing one into the country as a tourist, are frustratingly ambiguous and somewhat circular. As with many travel experiences in certain parts of the world, the stated rules are almost impossible to follow to a “T”, and enforced sporadically. Is it worth it to bring your drone with you, if your final destination is Dubai?
Just Traveling Through (and NOT planning to fly)
If you’re just catching a connecting flight in Dubai on to another destination, chances are you’re not going to run into any problems (although some travelers may tell another story!). What you do need to be aware of however, is that Emirates Airlines requires that drones must be packed in the checked luggage (which is not what I usually recommend for traveling with a drone). This is true even if you’re coming from a country that has different drone air travel requirements. If your drone is found in your carry on bag, you run the risk of having it confiscated.
In order to safely travel with a drone in your checked luggage, make sure the battery is completely installed in your drone, or else carried with you in your carry on in a fireproof case. LiPo batteries should NOT be packed loose in the checked baggage.
How about if you’re staying for a few days in Dubai on your way somewhere else? Things get a bit trickier, as it requires going through customs. Strictly speaking, the regulations state that any drones brought into the UAE, including Dubai, must be registered with the GCAA (UAE General Civil Aviation Authority). But unless you’re a UAE National or a foreign national with a UAE residence visa, you can’t register a drone. That means tourists can’t really legally bring a drone into Dubai.
That’s not to say that many travelers haven’t had a different real life experience, however. Dubai is a huge hub of travel to other places in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, and many travelers heading to those places stay for a day or two in Dubai, and bring in their drones and back on the plane again without a hitch. It probably comes down to the mood of the customs officer, and your demeanor.
If you’re headed to say, the Maldives, with a two day stopover in Dubai and you need to bring in your drone with you, the best plan of action is to pack your drone in your checked luggage, and your spare batteries in your carry on. When you go through customs on your way out of the airport, if asked about the batteries or the drone, be sure to be polite and respectful, but clearly state that you are only staying in Dubai for a couple days, headed on to another destination, and that you will not even unpack the drone until you have reached your final destination.
Chances are good that they won’t bat an eyelash, and you’ll have no trouble. If you’ve caught someone on a bad day, however, you might be seeing the last of your drone. Don’t expect to get it back on your way out either, if it is retained. It’s highly unlikely that you will face a fine of any sort, but a big bummer to lose your drone.
If you’re worried about this possibility, I’d suggest that you not risk taking an expensive drone with you on your way through Dubai. You could consider getting a cheaper travel drone to take with you on vacation, one that you wouldn’t be quite so heartbroken to part with. You might not have quite the professional level of photo quality you’re used to, but you can still get some pretty decent shots, even with something like the DJI Mini 2 (see our review here).
Flying a Drone as a Tourist
In order to fly a drone for personal use in Dubai, you must register the drone with the GCAA (General Civil Aviation Authority), AND register your drone with the DCAA (Dubai Civil Aviation Authority). Both of these require an Emirate ID, which means that it’s practically impossible to legally fly a drone in the UAE (including Dubai) as a tourist. Only UAE Nationals and foreign nationals with a residence visa are able to register a drone and get a no objection certificate necessary to legally fly a drone.
The one exception to this is those who are granted special approval, and this only happens for those who are connected to a UAE-based organization with security clearances. So unless you have special connections, you’re probably not going to get to be one of the few tourists who gets to fly a drone in Dubai.
If you were hoping to stay in Dubai for a few weeks and get some really great aerial photography opportunities, you’re going to have to look elsewhere. It’s not just about being a tourist, either. Even for UAE Nationals and residents who have gone through all the registration requirements, drones must not be used for photography or videography (except in certain permitted locations and at certain permitted heights, with approval). So even if your local friend in Dubai registers a drone, gets pilot training, etc., he won’t be able to take aerial shots either, except under very restricted conditions.
Flying a Drone as a Resident
If you’re a UAE National, or moving to Dubai as a resident, it’s a different story. In that case, it’s really not too hard to bring a drone in with you to Dubai, and it’s also not too hard to get permission to fly your drone in approved zones. If you have an Emirate ID number (either as a UAE national or a foreign national with a residence visa), you can easily register your drone with the GCAA. This should be done prior to bringing in a drone from another country, to avoid any hiccups at customs. Be sure to have your documentation of the drone and registration with you when you go through customs on the way in.
Once you’re in the UAE (or if you’re already there), you need to apply for a pilot permit before you can fly your drone. In order to get a permit, you must go for a written theory test and a short flying test at Sanad Academy. When you pass both tests, they will issue you a permit that is good for one year.
The third step to being able to fly your drone in Dubai is to register your drone with the DCAA. You will need your proof of Pilot Permit in order to complete the application, as well as a passport size picture on a white background, Emirates ID, passport copy with visa page (for non-national), and insurance. The process of getting your registration with the DCAA can take up to 7-10 days.
Once you’ve gotten all the permits and registration steps taken care of, you’re cleared to fly. But make sure you know where you’re allowed to fly (which is fairly limited). A super helpful resource is the My Drone Hub app (available on the App store, and Google Play), which shows updated information about where you are permitted to fly within Dubai. The app also shows you locations and heights where photography is permitted. You can use the app to apply for special approvals as well.
Just passing through Dubai on your way somewhere else? You are probably fine to bring your drone with you, properly packed. Wanting to fly a drone in Dubai as a tourist? Not gonna happen. Resident bringing in a new drone? Just do your paperwork first.