Is it safe to travel to the Middle East?

Donít believe the hype about the Middle East; while danger spots do exist, for the most part this is a peaceful, hospitable and unforgettable region.
Mention that youíre going on holiday to the Middle East and youíll certainly raise an eyebrow or two, but you shouldnít be put off by negative perceptions or news reports that often only tell one side of the story. Yes, there are countries and regions that aren't safe to visit, and it always pays to have your wits about you when travelling there, but chances are youíll be safer than you would be walking through a big city back home.
Just as you wouldn't write off France, or indeed the UK, because of terrorist attacks in recent years, you shouldn't assume that youíll be at risk on a visit to the Middle East. Take the plunge and not only will get to know a beautiful and fascinating region, youíll also be supporting local people, who, in many places depend on tourism for their livelihoods.

The Fear Factor

From the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, to todayís horrors in Syria and Yemen, to long-standing troubles in Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon, itís easy to be fearful about a visit to the Middle East. However, donít let problems in some areas colour your perception of an entire region Ė these are the exception rather than the norm, and some countries are entirely trouble free. When it comes to crime, rates are generally low, even in major cities, and muggings and theft are rarely a problem Ė with rates lower than in many major European and North American cities.

Whatís more, experienced tour operators will always be aware of the situation on the ground and can take steps accordingly should any problems arise. And in many places, the tourist police are out in force. In Egypt, for example, tourist buses and taxis travel in convoy on certain roads.

What does the UK Foreign Office say?

As of November 2018, the FCO advice warns against all but essential travel to the Gaza strip, the Golan Heights border areas with Syria and Lebanon, the Iran/Afghanistan and Iran/Pakistan border regions, eastern Lebanon and the southern suburbs of Beirut, and Egyptís North Sinai region. It warns against all but essential travel to Iraqi Kurdistan, Egyptís South Sinai (except for the perimeter around Sharm el Sheik) and the area west of the Nile Valley and Nile Delta regions. Dual Iranian-British citizens are advised not to visit Iran unless absolutely necessary. Most of these areas are well away from popular tourist sites; Oman has no travel warnings at all, for example, and Jordan is only out of bounds within 3km of the Syrian border.

Be aware that each government issues its own advice for its travellers, and this can vary widely; check the advice from your home country before planning your trip.

What about insurance?

If you're keen to visit areas of the Middle East that have government warnings in place, getting travel insurance has to be a priority. Campbell Irvine Direct, who we work with, offers specially tailored policies for people travelling to countries which have FCO travel warnings in place, and often covers travellers when other insurance companies won't. You could, for example, be offered a policy that will cover you for illness, accident and theft Ė but it wonít cover you in the event of war, rebellion or terrorism.

What about visas?

In some countries, such as Egypt, Jordan and Israel, visas are available on arrival, but itís always safer to arrange them in advance, and in many cases your operator will be able to help you with this. Other countries will need advance preparation; the process to gain a tourist visa for Iran can be slow and painful, taking up to eight weeks, so youíll need to plan a trip here well in advance. If you have an Israeli stamp in your passport youíll be denied entry to Iran, Iraq and Lebanon.

Our top trip

Cultural tour in Oman

Cultural tour in Oman

Immerse yourself in mystery and magic of the culture of Oman

From £1995 9 days ex flights
Tailor made:
This trip can be tailor made throughout the year to suit your requirements
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If you'd like to chat about Middle East or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Middle East safety tips

Donít ignore security warnings. Never leave your bag unattended, and do what the security authorities advise. Itís not scaremongering, and itís always better to be on the safe side. In Israel it is very common to have your bags searched by security staff at shops, restaurants etc. Sometimes cars are stopped and have their boots searched. Itís always best to carry your passport as ID. Donít go hiking off the beaten track without expert guides. In certain areas, around Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, for example, landmines are a big issue, although these areas are well signposted. It also pays to avoid public demonstrations. These can get out of hand very quickly and tourists have been hurt and arrested in the past. Keep abreast of local laws. Photographing military installations or insulting the prophet Mohammed is a no-no in most countries and dressing inappropriately or displaying overt affection in public wonít endear you to the local police either. Your tour operator will be able to advise.
Andrew Appleyard, from our supplier, Exodus Travels on travelling safely in Israel:
ďI think what people get wrong before they travel, is that they expect to see an army presence everywhere. And you donít see that in places like the Sea of Galilee, Caesarea, or some of the old sites. It is only in places like Bethlehem, or you go into the Old City of Jerusalem, maybe around the Dome of the Rock, where you will see the Israeli Defence Force. Usually around Friday prayer time. But the military certainly isnít everywhere. However, I would suggest never going out after dark in any of the major cities on your own. Ever. Simple as that. Never hire an Israeli hire car and drive into the West Bank. And if you do, you should take all the hire car stickers off it as soon as you have hired it. Because if you go into a Palestinian area, it may get stoned, or if you park it, all the tyres might be removed.Ē
Written by Nana Luckham
Photo credits: [Page banner: Marc Veraart] [Nomad tribes Iran: Ninara] [Man on phone: Aziz Acharki]