Is the Maldives Safe? 7 Safety Tips for Visitors

From local laws and customs to island hopping and transport safety, here's everything you need to know before you go to the Maldives.

Water bungalows and palm trees in the Maldives Photo © Getty Images/Mohamed Abdulla Shafeeg

Thousands of people visit this Indian Ocean paradise each year, but safety should always be your number one priority. The relaxed atmosphere does tend to lull some visitors into forgetting their common sense. Here are a few things to keep in mind for your holiday in the Maldives.

Islam in the Maldives

The Maldives is an Islamic country, and if you've never traveled to a Muslim country, you may be unaware of local laws and etiquette. It's a bit more than simply respecting customs like you would in Buddhist countries – in many Islamic countries, not observing certain rules can carry a fine or prison time.

It is obviously illegal to import explosives, weapons, firearms, ammunition and drugs, but in addition the importation of material deemed contrary to Islam such as pornography, pork and pork products, alcohol, idols for worship, bibles or any non-Islamic religious text is also illegal. Although in practice tourists traveling to the resort islands are usually allowed to bring in religious material for private use… but that means one bible, a whole crate-load will raise some suspicions about your true intent.

Islamic law doesn't exactly leave much room for tolerance of other religions, and public observance of any religion other than Islam is illegal. Religious practice is allowed within private residences, but it is illegal to either invite or encourage Maldivian citizens to attend such meetings. To show they're serious about this, they can throw you in jail for it. So if you're thinking about being friendly and inviting a Maldivian along for a some gospel singing, be aware that yes, they can put you in jail for that and at the lighter end of the scale you may face deportation or fines. Or all three if they really want to make an example of you.

Alcohol is generally prohibited under Islamic law, and in the Maldives it is only allowed on the resort premises and really should not be taken off a resort island.

Islamic law encourages modesty of dress so, nude or topless sunbaking is prohibited everywhere in the Maldives including on resort islands. Bikinis are perfectly fine in the resort areas.

In general, homosexuality is against the law and if you're convicted of this offence you may face lengthy prison sentences, fines or deportation. However, there has been no issues with LGBTQI+ couples checking into the resorts and enjoying a Maldivian holiday.

Be extra respectful during the holy month of Ramadan. People are likely to be sensitive to anything they perceive as a slight during this month and generally speaking, you should take steps to avoid eating, drinking, or smoking in public. Ramadan involves Muslims not eating or drinking from dawn to dusk and it's rude to ignore this custom.

When in the capital Malé or on non-resort islands, they're not as accustomed to the sight of men's legs in board shorts or women's' uncovered shoulders, so dress conservatively. Likewise, public displays of affection, including holding hands and kissing is likely to offend people in the non resort areas of the Maldives whether you are heterosexual or LGBTQI+.

Drug enforcement in the Maldives is strict and penalties severe. They don't have the death penalty for drug offences, but they do have mandatory prison time for anyone caught with even ‘soft' drugs. Possession of minor amounts of can be considered trafficking, with a life sentence in prison attached to it.

Civil Unrest in the Maldives

It is true that there was a terrorist bombing in 2007 that injured twelve foreign tourists, but it's considered an isolated incident, and yes, there was great damage from the 2004 tsunami, but recovery and rehabilitation has come a long way.

Since then there has been a smattering of civil unrest incidents largely isolated to the capital, Male after the arrest of the Maldivian President in February 2015. Most travelers tend to arrive into Male and then travel onwards to the islands. But if you do find yourself in Male and a public demonstration breaks out, stay well clear and listen to media reports for more information.

Most likely dangers in the Maldives are getting sunburnt, grazing yourself on coral while snorkelling and swimming or worst of all, a coconut falling on your head. Sounds funny, but coconuts are very heavy and fall from a great height and that can kill you. Seriously (stop laughing!) don't stand, lie, or sit beneath a coconut tree no matter how relaxing or appealing the idea may be to you.

Island Hopping

Tourists are, generally speaking, discouraged from visiting non-resort islands. This is largely because they want to keep a tight grip on where the tourists dollars are spent and to make sure the non-resort islands are not ‘corrupted' by foreign influences (remember it is a strict Muslim country). To visit the non-resorts islands and outer atolls you will need to organize a guide or licensed tour operator to show you around. It is advised to dress modestly as well.

Transport Safety

Travel to and from the different islands is by either boat or seaplane. Safety standards are often different from what you may expect in a western country. Most of the boats and planes are in fairly good condition, but some of them… well, unless you're a licensed marine or aviation engineer and have brought your coveralls and a flashlight, you'll have to use 'gut feeling'. If it looks leaky or in disrepair, it probably is.

Yacht Arrivals into the Maldives

If you're a yachtie making your own way over the seas to these islands, wherever you anchor you're going to be met by Maldivian immigration and you need to have prior clearance via agents in Malé.

Keep Your Belongings Safe

Crime rates are low but theft of belongings left unattended either on the beach or in hotel rooms does happen. It will probably come as a shock to you, but thieves have worked out the trick of ‘hiding' your money under your towel or in your smelly sandshoe. Use the safe deposit boxes back at the resort.

Sadly, the Maldives is experiencing a growing drug problem amongst its youth, and petty crime has risen as a result - although from a very low base. If it's going to happen it's most likely to be in the capital Male, so move your care factor up a notch (from zero) and know where your wallet is at all times.

Ethical Souvenir Shopping

During your visit you might admire some nifty handicrafts made out of coral or turtle shells. The material used in those bangles or fridge magnets were once a turtle's home. Never, ever purchase souvenirs that are made out of animal products (such as ivory, as well). Also know it's illegal to export them, so you may end up with something you can't take out of the Maldives. Some turtle species are also protected under international conservation law.

Even if you do manage to get this unethically crafted souvenir home, it could be seized on arrival by quarantine in your home country. Better not to buy it in the first place (the turtle will thank you).

For some quick health tips before you travel to the Maldives, read our guide to staying healthy and safe.

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29 Comments

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  • Rodrigo said

    Does the foreign tourists prohibition from visiting non-resort islands extends to Malé?

  • Dawn said

    Those VERY Private overwater bungalows look private, I would want to topless sunbathe, or encourage honeymoon activites with my hubby--- Might go to prison? No thanks. I was sold on the Maldives today, (W hotel is a private island so they say) but still sounds scary to me. no matter how amazing it looks... Guess I will look elsewhere now... What do they expect? They market themselves as a premier honeymoon destination!!

  • dawn said

    One more thing, if we took liquor in our checked bag, (5-6 bottles) to take to the resort, we might get in trouble! I had just made my ,list of what to take, as I know it will not be available at the W Maldives... So sad. I guess we will find somewhere else!

  • Gus said

    are you guys serious??
    Dont believe the rubbish you are reading - Maldives is a beautiful and friendly place.. Heaven on Earth
    We have been to the Maldives twice and stayed on two different resorts. We could not feel any safer than if we were in our own country. My wife had duty free alcohol in her luggage on the way over. It was politely taken from her at the airport and she was given a receipt and it was returned on our way home. Yes its an islamic country but can i tell you.. If you werent told then you would be none the wiser. I wont speak for Male itself but as far as the resorts are concerned then you would be hard pressed to find any semblence of any Islam. We order bacon and eggs for breakfast and wine with our dinner. The Maldivian staff are arguably the most freindliest and hospitable people in the world and we cannot reccomend a more relaxing holiday desination on the planet

  • Azra said

    I really laughed while reading this coz some of the things written here r down-write stupid. Of coz u can hold hands n kiss n do anything u want as long as its not in local islands. N wat is this abt the clothes? Did u see wat Maldivians wear?

  • Aanif said

    Hahah I can't beliEve this I'm a Maldivian im living here since I was born I have always been wearing shorts and as for women exposing there shoulders in my island most peopl expose shoulders and alcohol is available as long as ur in a tourist resort as for kissing aNd hugging do that at the tourist resorts too I laughed when I read sharks at Maldives until this day I have heard no such things that sharks are in Maldives island seas and I thinks in some resorts sharks aRe kept as PEts I have not ncountered a shark in my life it has been 14 years since I go swimming non stop very week end

  • Gloria Mcmillian said

    This was a wonderful place before radical muslims with nasty Islam destroyed it all. I say as a tourist go to all public areas. Go visit locals and offer to talk to them about Muslims and your being Christain if you are. Discuss how your Christianity is important to you. In other words be normal, act normal, act freely. See how far that goes. It won't. There are females who wear that towel and spew how it is great because they don't get cat calls like nadty western females. Ugh. The thing is tourist promote human right abuse if they visit this once wonderful place. Boycott. Period. Stop saying one thing and doing another.

  • Saud said

    That is complete nonsense. The author seems to have never been to the Maldives. I am not a local, but I have been there and been to over 50 countries and I must say, the Maldives is the MOST WELCOMING AND SAFEST COUNTRY I HAVE EVER BEEN TO. In other words, it is perhaps the only country where I can let my kids wander around freely without too much concern. I have been there several times and I'm extremely excited for my upcoming trip in a few weeks.

    Btw, you should expect three types of people in Maldives, (1) Locals, which are very nice and down to earth (2) Tourists, like yourself (3) Scientists from varying fields to study marine life etc. If you are not one of these types of people, then you are probably coming for the wrong reason.

  • Francois said

    What kind of B******* article is this ? Have you ever been to Maldives ? Local islands are open to all tourists and you do not need a permission to visit them . Actually guest houses business is booming in Maldives with more toursists arrivals than resorts .

  • Riche said

    Hi I m planning a vacation to Maldives n staying at one of the resort. Just wanted to bring a few bottles of wines for a romantic escapade with my wife. Is that possible when passing through customs !

    Tks pls advise urgently.

  • Bugis said

    I should think Maldives is a lovely country. Whats weird from what l read, to enjoy holiday, to be romantic....you people just cant do without the damn booze huh??

  • Nancy said

    Due to the increasing conflicts and horror stories we have heard from other people who traveled to Islamic countries, where sharia law exists, we started ruling out ALL countries with sharia law. It is just not worth the risk that I will do or say something wrong, offend someone and end up in prison or much worse. If things go bad there, nobody is going to help you. Not putting me and my family in that situation ever.

    What seems like an innocent thing to me could be punishable by death. Only traveling to free countries with NO sharia law.

  • Steven said

    Herd enough seen enough read enough not to even put my real name to this message

    Simple go at own risk and enjoy the isolation and fear of making it through the time your there
    You won't beet that feeling of making it home

    That's my opinion

  • Robert said

    I have to correct some of these comments as they seem completely fictitious.
    The resorts sell alcohol, some of it being the high end vodka's etc.
    Food has been amazing everywhere we've stayed.
    Topless sunbathing goes un-noticed but most womenhave enough respect and consideration for the culture and dont generally do it.
    Crime in the resorts is non existant, and in the capital is hardly evident, (remember this is a liberal muslim country). You're in more danger walking down any street in London, Spain, France etc.
    There are sharks in the waters, but they're reef sharks and they'll smell you 100ft away and disappear. They have no interest in humans and the coral is more dangerous.
    ......And to the lady who wants to smuggle drink into the country and have 'honeymoon activities' with her new husband on the water bungalow deck; if that's what you want to do on holiday you should stick to Malia, no one who pays to go to the maldives wants to see your bumpy white a*se anyway.

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  • Kyle said

    We just got back and will NEVER EVER go there again. Tho it was beautiful not only did we feel the entire time like we had to tiptoe around which made it heavy going but we felt like all they wanted from us "infidels" was our money --- to continue to finance their mosques and oppressive way of life. We are world travelers but we cannot imagine going back. Anyone who's saying here how great it is must be working for those (expensive) resorts! IT WAS AWFUL. We felt like King Kong was just beyond the confines where they "allowed" us to "vacation." These people are parasiting off of us yet hate everything about our way of life.

  • Durock Hebert said

    After all the reviews and comments it simply doesn't seem worth it. There are too many possibilities of things that could go wrong and if I cannot have my beer in my cooler on the beach and walk around with a cold frothy one then you can certainly keep this locale to yourself. So,so sad that this is an Islamic, Muslim republic because it is soooooo gorgeous, prettier than any beauty queen I have seen.
    I will miss you Republic of the Maldives.😢😢😢😢

  • Kishlette said

    I have to say that some of the comments on here are absolutely disgusting.

    The article isn't accurate, as others have pointed out.

    The Maldives is extremely liberal for a muslim country, you really won't notice any of the things people are talking about when you get there and nothing applies within the resorts, except for your standard hotel rules. Sunbathe all you like. To the person who wants to have 'honeymoon activities' in public, well, that's ridiculous in the first place, other hotel guests won't appreciate it and you'll probably be breaching the hotel's rules...but that would be the case irrespective of what country you're in. There's plenty of alcohol in the resorts too so you can have your stubby on the beach.

    To the person who clearly stayed in a residential area and thought the locals were watching you, well, what do you expect? I've travelled throughout Europe, South America and Asia and, if you stay anywhere that's not a booming tourist area, people look at you because you're different - not in a menacing way, just because they're curious. I mean, I stayed in towns in Italy, Spain and Portugal recently and I was always being looked at - what's the fuss? Just smile at people! If you're used to travelling, you would be used to that and used to people trying to sell things to tourists - that's just travelling. If we're making generalisations, it's nothing like Venice where the locals actually want you out; the Maldivian people are simply lovely, incredibly welcoming, helpful and happy for the tourism.

    Everyone should calm down and do a bit of research beyond this rather inaccurate article and the uninformed bigotry and ignorance in the comments.

    The comment section appears to have become about intolerance and bigotry towards Muslim people. It's absolutely disgusting and media-driven, rather than experiential or based on reality or fact.

    But...if you're a bigoted person, I do suggest that you don't go to Bali or the Maldives or whatever your tiny mind can't bear to think about - you should stay in the confines of your little house, be afraid and hate on people. The rest of us will be happier for it.

  • R Dar said

    Dont spread lies unless you have visited it yourself

    Cheers !

  • fasl said

    Maldives's a nice place to visit, I was very happy Maldives

    تور مالدیو

  • Nur said

    LOVE Maldives ! 👍

  • Jem said

    Just read through the comments, seems pretty clear...there are the Muslims, locals and (probably) tour agent employees who claim that Maldives is heaven on earth and this article is completely fake...and there are the tourists who have actually been to Maldives and seen for themselves. Yeah, I live in a Muslim country myself, so I know what the reality is like. I even saw one idiot above say that Maldives is the most friendly and safe country in over 50 countries he's visited? What were the other countries on the list, Afghanistan Iraq and Turkmanistan?

  • Rich said

    Well, a little frightened and a little excited by all the posts. On an American's recommendation that the Maldives was/were absolutely spectacular and the fact that they might be submerged in my lifetime - My wife and I booked an all-expense paid trip for later this year.

    Didn't think much of what the Maldives were or where they were, we just booked it. It wasn't until later when I started researching the political / ethnic "challenges" of the island, i.e. arresting the president, journalist/writer murdered, in the city I'm flying into, for publishing his opinion, etc. So obviously, I became concerned and began reaching out to all media/government outlets I could find. And it appears the Maldives aren't any scarier than other locations. On a scale from 1 - 4 - the Department of State gives it only a 2 which is just an "Exercise increased caution". Not too bad.

    I am too a world traveler, and extremely tolerant of other customs and cultures. After I found out where the Maldives were, my wife wanted to fly to Dubai to hear Morning Prayer call which she finds absolutely amazing. So we are tolerant, open-minded and excited about learning the cultures of others, I just don’t want to get killed.

    So - my point, I'm locked in and will report back when I get back on what true and what is fiction.

    As for the lady who wants to have sex where her husband in public - you're just an idiot and those behaviors are illegal in most countries in the world. Go buy some land where you can enjoy each other’s intimate time together with disrespecting your neighbor.

  • Oliver Reed said

    Maldives is a nice place to visit as there are various exotic places to look after and many wonderful scenes must be seen. If you want to travel to maldives, then you should probably put it down on the top on your bucket list.

  • Heather said

    Well, I must say I have been highly amused by some of the comments I have
    Read.
    No matter where you travel to you should respect the laws and customs of
    that country.
    I am off to the Maldives 6th June I'm planing to have a great time with my bestie.
    Most the young people these days don't have any respect for anyone and clearly not for their selves either.
    Going for a week low budget hotel across from the beach, let you now about the great time I had when I get back. 😎😎🌞🌞🌴🌴🇦🇺🇦🇺

  • Niandra said

    Heather and Reed, would love to know how your stay went!
    Planning to stay for a month in a guesthouse as a solo female traveller. I've lived in Muslim countries and know it's not always easy but with all the contradicting reports I read everywhere I'm having a hard time figuring out what the reality might look like.

  • Kerry said

    I would love to hear from Niranda,Heather or Reed re how the planned trips to Maldives was especially from Niranda and how she found it being a lone traveler .Any
    advice would be greatly appreciated as im also thinking of going on my way back home to Australia

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