Alcohol in Dubai and the UAE
Alcohol and alcohol license (licence) information and FAQs for Abu Dhabi, Dubai and UAE for tourists, visitors, and resident expats. How to get an alcohol license, what you can and can't do with alcohol in the UAE. Alcohol laws in the UAE, problems with drinking and getting drunk in Dubai.
Despite what some people may think, alcohol is relatively freely available in Dubai (a very stark contrast to Saudi Arabia). Almost all 4 and 5 star hotels have restaurants and or bars where alcohol is served, and many sports clubs have restaurant and bar facilities for example the Aviation Club, the Country Club.
Drinking alcohol in Dubai update 21 December 2013
Arabian Business had a report about alcohol laws in Dubai and the UAE ("Dubai must rethink alcohol law, says top lawyer") which mostly said similar things as previous reports, but did contain a couple of comments which seemed to conflict previous understanding about alcohol laws.
- Under local law, alcohol consumption is only permitted in designated areas such as bars attached to hotels.
This contradicts previous information that residents with an alcohol licence are permitted to buy alcohol at licensed bottle shops and consume it at home.
- Tourists and residents can drink in these locations [bars in hotels] without holding a licence to buy alcohol.
This contradicts many previous reports that both tourists and residents do in fact need an alcohol licence to buy or drink alcohol in the UAE. In particular, the necessity for tourists to obtain an alcohol licence is the focus of some discussion since tourists cannot apply for an alcohol licence in the first place, only legal residents can.
- However, once outside the permitted area they can be arrested if brought to the attention of police if they are found to be drunk and disorderly in a public area or drink-driving.
This bit sounds mostly correct, although it should be noted that technically, any amount of alcohol consumed might be enough to put a person in the "drunk" category according to UAE law. We are not aware of any specific alcohol limit or other boundary that is a legal definition of drunk vs not drunk (but contains alcohol). The limit for drink-driving is zero.
Unknown if the comments reflect any recent change in alcohol laws in the UAE (we are not aware of any), or some sort of misunderstanding of current laws (by us or them or both).
Alcohol licence update 19 October 2013 (or 15 December 2013)
Not really an update with anything new, but another report in The National confirming the confusion with respect to the law and tourists in the UAE drinking alcohol.
- The law says all alcohol drinkers in the UAE need permission to do so - an alcohol licence. This includes tourists and visitors.
- To apply for an alcohol licence, a UAE residence visa is required. Visitors have a visit visa, not a residence visa, so they cannot apply.
- Muslims are not supposed to apply for an alcohol licence (the application form asks what religion you are).
- An anonymous public prosecutor was quoted as saying "The law forgot about the tourist entirely and this is going to affect tourism in Dubai. ... He or she will give a distorted image of Dubai," referring to situations where a tourist gets into trouble in Dubai, which sounds odd. It's not clear what distorted image he is referring to. The undistorted image is that a tourist needs an alcohol licence to drink and could get into trouble if drinking without a licence. The distorted image is that tourists don't need an alcohol licence to drink in the UAE, a perception that many visitors and residents have or had (including us).
- There are no warning signs at alcohol shops, on bottles or cans of alcohol, at airports, or in bars and restaurants or other venues and events where alcohol is sold, in Dubai and the UAE to clarify this common misconception.
- One solution was suggested by Yousif Al Bahar, a lawyer, who said "Perhaps tourists could obtain a licence from the airport along with their visa or when they buy their tickets."
- The article also said that Royaa Al Awadi, an advocate, said neither the law nor Islam, from which the law is derived, banned non-Muslims from drinking alcohol, and questioned why tourists should be treated any differently.
- And also quoted an unnamed judge from Dubai Courts as saying "In terms of principle, the law legalises alcohol licences, so what is the point of allowing residents to have such licences but not tourists?"
- Unknown whether or not discussions and reports such as these will prompt a change or clarification. In the meantime, if you're a tourist, either don't drink or be careful not to annoy anyone when you do. The police don't go around bars randomly checking for tourists without an alcohol licence but they will respond if a complaint is made, or you draw attention to yourself with your behavior.
Alcohol licence update 24 September 2013
24 Sep 2013 (BBC) - more confusion with alcohol licenses and laws in the UAE. The situation is as far as we understand that alcohol licences are required by residents and unavailable to visitors. Hotel bars and rooms are where visitors and tourists are supposed to drink, and residents are supposed to buy alcohol at booze shops and drink it at home. But unlucky visitors can be arrested and convicted for drinking without an alcohol licence (even though they can't get one).
- At least that's what the story seems to be for Sean Emmett, a British superbike racer, who was reported in the BBC news and other publications as being stranded in Dubai for the past 8 months after his wife died from a hotel balcony fall while they were on a stopover in Dubai in February 2013. They were on their way home from a honeymoon trip to South Africa.
- The BBC report said His passport was confiscated and he was fined 2,000 dirham (£350) for drinking alcohol without a licence.
- He was picked up by the police as a result of reporting to them that his wife had fallen from a hotel balcony and died. According to the report, Dubai Police said they did not believe there were any suspicious circumstances. So it's not clear why Mr Emmett is being prevented from leaving the UAE, although he does say the police have told him "we still have an investigation to do" but he doesn't seem to know what they are investigating (nor do they, or at least they're not saying).
- The British Consulate in Dubai don't sound very helpful despite the story saying Mr Emmett said the British Consulate was helping as much as it could but its hands were tied. The British Foreign Office was quoted in the report as saying "We are providing consular assistance at this difficult time to the individual concerned and family. We cannot interfere in the judicial process of another country, and must respect their systems just as we expect them to respect the UK's laws and legal processes."
- However it's not clear what consular assistance they are (or were) providing, if any (they have not provided a new passport to Mr Emmett, which would be the most obvious consular assistance he seems to require), nor what attempted or potential interference in the UAE judicial procedure they cannot be doing. Asking the police why a passport can't be returned to someone if they are not under investigation, or asking the police what someone is being being investigated for (if they are) doesn't sound like interference in a country's judicial procedure, so who knows what the UK Foreign Office is talking about. And no one knows what the Dubai Police are talking about because they don't seem to know what's happening either (or at least aren't talking to the BBC reporters).
The conclusion from this story seems to be don't drink alcohol in Dubai if you're a visitor or tourist. Many travellers (and residents) would regard this as unrealistic advice, and the way Dubai nightlife, bars, restaurants, and hotels, are marketed would lead many people to believe that it is ok for visitors to drink alcohol. Most of the time most visitors don't have any problems but it does sound like if any visitor ends up encountering the police, it is unpredictable whether or not admitting to having consumed alcohol will get them into trouble or not.
Alcohol License in UAE update November 2011
- The Gulf News reported the arrest of someone (a resident, not a visitor apparently) for drinking in a hotel bar without a licence. He was subsequently fined AED 500 and jailed for a week. His arrest was prompted by him going into the ladies bathroom by mistake and/or fighting with a security guard (depending on who you believe).
- The same report quoted an Emirati lawyer, Dr Shaker Maatouq, saying "Liquor licences are issued only to non-Muslim persons whether they are UAE residents or tourists. Hotels are required to get a licence to offer alcohol but they are not required to ask their customers to provide a liquor licence with their order for an alcoholic drink," which implies that even visitors and tourists must have an alcohol licence to drink booze in the UAE. Confusingly, the lawyer's statement seems to imply that liquor licences can be issued to tourists but this is not possible as far as we understand the situation in the UAE since a resident's visa is required to apply for an alcohol licence in the first place.
- Perhaps the lesson to be learned is not to fight with security guards or go into the wrong bathrooms when drinking in the UAE.
Alcohol related arrest after losing passport - February 2011
- A British tourist in Dubai was arrested in October 2010 after going to the police station to report a lost or stolen passport, according to a report in The National 25 February 2011. He went the morning after visiting a bar but was still suspected of drinking, and admitted he had when asked (the report said But when he arrived at Al Rafaa police station to file the report on October 3, officers at the station suspected he had been drinking because of his odour). A follow-up blood test was positive for alcohol. He was fined AED 1,000.
- The report also quoted a Dubai prosecutor as suggesting tourists (who cannot obtain an alcohol licence) could drink in secret to avoid arrest ... A chief prosecutor at the Dubai Public Prosecution said yesterday that tourists cannot get alcohol licences, making any consumption on their part technically illegal, even though it is sold in the hotels where they stay. "I acknowledge that this is confusing and is a grey area to tourists, but to be on the safe side, they should not drink based on the fact it's an Islamic country," he said. "Tourists should stay away from trouble and not drink at all or drink in secret."
- And a Dubai judge said the law was confusing ... A Dubai court judge who handles alcohol licensing cases said regulations were inconsistent. "The licence and the law are confusing," he said.
- The lesson here seems to be to make sure you are sober before going to the police station (for whatever reason) - and have a shower and brush your teeth first.
Alcohol Licence requirement in UAE update January 2011
Whether or not a resident of, or visitor to, the UAE requires an alcohol licence to drink alcohol has been a common subject of conversation and confusion in the UAE. As far as we knew, the situation was as follows:
- An alcohol licence is permission to drink alcohol rather than permission to buy alcohol (similar to a driving licence).
- Tourists and visitors to the UAE do not might (depending on who you listen to) need an alcohol licence to drink alcohol in bars, restaurants, and other licenced establishments in the UAE - they cannot obtain one anyway since a UAE residence visa is a requirement to obtain an alcohol licence. Update November 2011: There are reports that visitors do need an alcohol licence to drink legally in Dubai. But it's still not possible for visitors to obtain one (which is a typical case of Irony in Dubai).
- Visitors drinking alcohol in private homes was always a grey area - no one really knows if that is (or was) legal or not (update: apparently it's illegal - see below).
- Expat residents of the UAE need an alcohol licence to be allowed to drink alcohol, whether in hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs; or at home; or at private houses belonging to friends and acquaintances. Update: A number of sources state that it is not necessary for UAE residents to have an alcohol licence to drink in bars in Dubai and the UAE. In our opinion (which is only an opinion), this might be misleading. We still think it is a legal requirement for UAE residents to have an alcohol licence no matter where they drink, even if bars do not ask to see one before serving you (and no, we've never heard of anyone being asked to produce their licence when visiting a bar in the UAE).
- The question of UAE citizens requiring an alcohol licence is moot since all UAE citizens are Muslims, and Muslims are not issued alcohol licences.
The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office website (www.fco.gov.uk) has a statement on their website section for British nationals living in the UAE (ukinuae.fco.gov.uk) that says it is a punishable offence to "purchase and consume alcohol if holding a residence permit but not a liquor licence."
A report in The National on 27 December 2010 clarified the confusion (or confused the clarification) by saying Federal law makes it illegal to consume alcohol in the UAE without a licence - whether at home or in a hotel, and this applies to both residents and tourists, according to the Abu Dhabi-based lawyer Khalid Mustafa.
- The lawyer gave as an example a situation where a taxi has an accident, and the passengers had consumed alcohol: "The police would take them to the police station and test them, if they are shown to have drunk alcohol, they would be held on suspicion of drinking alcohol."
- Thus reinforcing the Land-of-Irony image of the UAE - how can a tourist drink alcohol legally in the UAE if they cannot obtain a licence? The answer (as with many other irony-clad situations in the UAE) is that you can't but don't worry about it unless you're very unlucky or very stupid.
- An unnamed judge in Dubai in the same report confirmed the confusion by saying "The licence and the law are confusing,"
- A 24 January 2011 report in The National clarified things even further by reporting an unnamed CID official as saying "If I walk into a hotel or bar and I can see that the people drinking are Muslims, as a security official, I do not have the right to arrest them."
And also reporting that Even if a someone were walking in the street and was clearly drunk but did not have the alcohol with him and was not causing problems, police would not arrest him, the officer said. Which seems to contradict many anecdotal, and media, reports of people who have in fact been arrested while appearing to be drunk in public, and in some cases not appearing to be drunk but suspected of having had a drink. Be careful out there.
- However, the report did start off by saying Police will not arrest anyone for alcohol violations unless some other crime has been committed, despite unambiguous laws on the books, according to a top police official in the capital. Which by and large seems to sum up the situation in the UAE. Drinking alcohol per se won't get you in to trouble, but if you do something else to attract the attention of the authorities, or you are blatantly drinking or drunk in public, then you will probably suffer an alcohol related penalty involving a fine (up to AED 5,000?), and/or jail (up to 5 years reportedly), and/or deportation.
Minimum drinking age in Dubai and UAE
- Minimum drinking age in bars, nightclubs, restaurants, and other locations where alcohol is served is 21 years old in Dubai and the UAE except for ...
- ... Abu Dhabi minimum drinking age is 18 (not confirmed)?
- Unknown if minimum drinking age applies at private functions or at home.
Nightlife in Dubai
Restaurants, bars and nightclubs in Dubai have improved significantly since around 2000 and compare well to most big cities around the world although licensing laws mean that clubs close at 3 am. It's not quite Ibiza, London, Amsterdam, New York, or Berlin, but does attract top DJs on a regular basis. Paul Oakenfold did a New Year bash at the end of 2006 for example. Tiesto has been a few times, also David Guetta, Armin van Helden, Armen van Buuren, ect.
- Arriving tourists (and expats) can buy alcohol at Dubai Duty Free after passport control. There are the usual limits but it seems that customs are relatively tolerant as long as what you bring is not excessive.
- Expat residents of Dubai and the UAE should probably have a licence but it seems it's never asked for at customs.
- Muslims are not supposed to bring alcohol in to the country.
- Don't bring drugs to Dubai, and check your medicine bag for banned substances (people have ended up in jail for bringing in codeine for example).
- Here's a more detailed list of Dubai duty free allowances.
Where to buy alcohol in Dubai and the UAE
A&E (African & Eastern) and MMI (Maritime Mecantile International) are the two companies in Dubai with bottle shops. Usually next to Spinneys or Choithrams/Choitrams supermarkets. Window displays do not exist. You will have to present your alcohol license (or possibly one from your spouse - check with the shop first on the procedure for making that possible) to buy alcohol. Using a friend's license is no longer possible. The Dubai shops usually stay open during Ramadan but check with the shop for opening hours - may vary between branches.
- There's an MMI shop next to the Dubai Carrefour at Mall of the Emirates.
- A&E and MMI also have shops in other emirates including Abu Dhabi, Ras Al Khaimah and Al Ain.
- Umm Al Quwain also has a couple more shops in town, next to hotels.
- Ajman has a bottle shop ("hole in the wall") near the Kempinksi Hotel where you can also make alcohol purchases. Closer to Dubai but range and prices not as good as Barracuda.
- The Sharjah booze souk has been closed since 1996.
- Abu Dhabi Spinneys have several alcohol shops.
The Barracuda Umm Al Quwain
- The Barracuda (not baracuda) Beach Resort next to Dreamland Water Park on the main coastal road to Ras Al Khaimah after the Um Al Quwain turnoff is a well known liquor store where you can purchase alcohol. It's possible, and common, but illegal to buy alcohol there without a license.
- Main shop is open 0800 to midnight, there is also a 24 hour window around the back. Closed during Ramadan (closes a day or two before Ramadan starts) - and is very busy in the week before Ramadan.
- Good range of wines and spirits including a fine selection of single malt whisky from Scotland.
- To get there, drive up the new Emirates Road towards RAK, take the Dreamland (signposted) exit, turn right when you get to the coast road T-junction, do a U-turn when you get to Dreamland (just after the Umm Al Quwain airstrip - a large white plane is permanently parked there).
- If doing a booze run from Dubai, drive back on the 611 Road to avoid driving through Sharjah with a boot full of bootleg alcohol. The road still runs through Sharjah but is less congested than other routes.
- The Khaleej Times reported 22 April 2009 that Umm Al Quwain bars and nightclubs would be closing, but did not include the Barracuda bottle shop.
- Contact telephone +971-6-7681124? Or Barracuda Beach Resort tel +971-6-7681555.
Barracuda car accident hijacking alcohol blackmail scam or con
Since around 2006, there have been reports of Barracuda and Ajman alcohol customers on their way home being encouraged to stop by strangers after their alcohol purchase, and had payment demanded in return for not being reported to the police with illegal alcohol.
- Usually this method of blackmail starts with an unknown car having a minor (deliberate) accident with you, forcing you to stop. Or alternatively just waving at you to stop.
- This normally happens in Sharjah because it is more restrictive with regard to laws related to alcohol.
- The other car might have followed your car, or possibly a lookout or sentry at the Barracuda phones ahead to a mate in Sharjah with a description of your car.
- Unless the alcohol purchaser has used their alcohol licence at the Barracuda, and lives in Sharjah, they are probably breaking the law.
- It would be unusual for police called to the scence of an accident in the UAE to start searching the vehicles, unless they had good reason to. Of course, in their eyes, a good reason might be one of the parties involved in the accident claiming that the other party was drunk and/or was transporting alcohol illegally.
- The extortion attempts seem to be in the range of AED 2,000 to 10,000, and might depend on how expensive the vehicle looks.
- To avoid this scenario, the obvious option is not to buy your alcohol illegally. But if you do, and are returning to Dubai or Abu Dhabi, you could use the 611 Dubai Bypass Road. It still crosses the emirate of Sharjah but the hijackers don't seem to be as prevalent there, and it's harder to deliberately have a minor accident on the road or flag someone down.
- Unknown what happens if you call their bluff and tell them to call the police, or call them yourself. Some reports say the hijackers run away.
- A possible counter-bluff is to claim you live in Sharjah, and have an alcohol licence. If that's true, then you shouldn't be in trouble with the police if they're called (but we wouldn't like to test that theory). If that's not true, and the blackmailers decide to call your bluff, then you might be in trouble once the police arrive, probably depending on their mood more than anything else.
- If it appears that one way or another the police are going to be called, it's probably better that you call them yourself from your own phone. That at least lessens the risk that the hijackers might be calling a police official that they have on their side already (through wasta or bribery), or an impersonator (we've not heard of a case like that but it could be possible - police have been impersonated in the UAE in other situations).
- A Gulf News report said An official at Ajman Police told Gulf News that non-Muslims can buy alcohol for personal use only from outlets in Umm Al Quwain, Ajman, Dubai and Abu Dhabi if they have a liquor licence. He added that non-Muslims who have legally bought alcohol are allowed to transport it for personal use only in their vehicles through any emirate, although they must not be under the influence of alcohol behind the wheel.
- The statement that non-Muslims can transport alcohol through any emirate if they have an alcohol licence seems to contradict our understanding that an alcohol license only gives the holder permission to transport alcohol within the emirate in which they live (read the fine print in your licence carefully), with the exception of Sharjah residents who are permitted to transport alcohol from another emirate. It is not uncommon for newspapers to obtain statements from various officials that seem to contradict each other, especially in different emirates. Be wary of assuming that what a policeman says in Ajman is applicable in Sharjah or Dubai. And of course, rules can and do change. And of course, they can be applied inconsistently resulting in having to go through a court case to straighten things out. Or not if you're unlucky.
Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) bottle shops and alcohol stores
Mixed reports about whether an alcohol licence is needed at Ras Al Khaimah booze shops, and whether taxes are paid. Might be the same as UAQ - you pay tax if you show a licence, you don't if you don't (but then become an illegal alcohol purchaser or trader if caught).
- Al Hamra Cellar (The Cellar) RAK, operated by MMI, next to Spinneys Al Hamra, on main Dubai-RAK coast road (turn left at the RAK end of Emirates Road if coming from Dubai). Tel +971-7-2447403. Next to Al Hamra Golf Club, near Al Hamra Fort Hotel, open 1000-2100 seven days per week.
- Bin Majid Hotel?
- Centaurus International - website www.centaurusint.biz (www.centaurusint.net given in some sources appears to be incorrect, www.centaurusint.com forwards to www.centaurusint.biz). Online ordering, delivery? Might be a question mark about legality of delivery to customers in emirates other than RAK.
- RAK Hotel?
- Saqr Port bottle shop - near the Hilton Beach Club, and the power station.
Transporting alcohol in Dubai
- Obviously if you buy alcohol at an A&E or MMI shop in Dubai, then you are going to have to trolley it home somehow. Your alcohol licence gives you permission to do that but it would be advisable to do so with your own private vehicle. The alcohol license only permits you to transport your purchase from the shop to your home.
- Alcohol transport on the Dubai Metro is not permitted and you should probably assume that it's the same for other forms of public transport.
- If going by Dubai taxi to a function which involves bringing alcohol, it's hardly likely that the taxi driver is going to ask you what you're carrying but on the assumption that you're not supposed to do so, don't make it obvious - put it in a bag.
- Problems can occur if the taxi, or private car, is involved in an accident, and the alcohol in the vehicle becomes obvious.
Transporting alcohol in Abu Dhabi, Ras Al Khaimah, and other emirates except Sharjah
- Similar rules apply as for Dubai i.e. if you have an alcohol licence, then you are permitted to transport your purchase from the bottle shop in the emirate in which you live, to your home.
Transporting alcohol between emirates
- As you are supposed to only buy alcohol in the emirate which issued you with a liquor licence, the question of transporting alcohol to a different emirate should be moot.
- However, it is well known that many expats from Dubai and other emirates buy alcohol at the Barracuda in Umm Al Quwain and the booze shop in Ajman without a licence. Since the purchase is made without a licence, they'll be in trouble if caught with alcohol no matter where they are.
- It is more likely to be a serious problem in Sharjah. You're unlikely to be stopped for a booze check but if you have an accident and the police happen to see alcohol in the car, it might result in fines and/or jail. Even if you have an alcohol licence from an emirate other than Sharjah.
Transporting alcohol for Sharjah residents
- As Sharjah does not have any alcohol shops, Sharjah residents are permitted to buy alcohol in another emirate and transport it home, if they have an alcohol licence issued by the Sharjah authorities, as far as we know. But Sharjah rules can be flaky enough at the best of times so drive carefully.
Drinking and Being Drunk in Public
Don't. It's illegal and if you get caught it's taken fairly seriously. Having said that, beer with your BBQ down on the beach seems to be ok if imbibed discretely. However, there are signs on most beaches saying that fires are not permitted - you may or may not get away with having a BBQ depending on how busy the beach is and how far out of Dubai you are.
People who are obviously drunk in public run the risk of being escorted to alternative accommodation for the rest of the evening by the local constabulary. It doesn't end there either. Prison sentences and deportation are available for those wobbling about under the influence in public. If you do get sloshed and pour yourself into a taxicab, be polite to your taxi driver - it has been known for argumentative passengers to find themselves ferried to the Police Station by understandably annoyed taxi drivers.
Even if you're not obviously drunk, don't hang around too much - there are stories around of people randomly being picked up by the police in the early hours outside bars/hotels for being drunk. One drink is probably enough to put you in that category under UAE laws.
Some press reports of people with alcohol related trouble in the UAE
- 19 Sep 2010: Craig Moore, a previous captain of the Socceroos, the Australian football team, had an argument with a taxi driver about a 50 dirham fare which resulted in the police being called.
- He was reportedly drunk, and the police arrested him after he "shoved one of the officers," according to The National newspaper.
- Mr Moore was released on bail after a brief period of R&R at the local penitentiary.
- He was fined AED 1,000 for consuming alcohol according to a Gulf News report 26 September 2010, an odd sounding outcome given that consuming alcohol is permitted in the UAE, unless the charge was for being drunk in public, which is in fact illegal in the UAE. Judge Abdullah Khulaif Abu Zaid handed out the verdict in the Dubai Misdemeanours Court.
- The report also quoted Chief Prosecutor Sami Al Shamsi as saying "He was facing primary charges of consuming liquor, assaulting a government employee and refusing to pay taxi fares. ... The policeman, who was assaulted, and the taxi driver waived their personal rights and dropped their complaints against the former Australian captain. He also paid the taxi fares and the charges were dropped"
- 30 Apr 2008: Gulf News reported that alcohol purchases in Ajman by those without a licence would stop, quoting an unnamed official saying "People must be non-Muslims, aged over 21 years and must show their liquor licence to buy alcohol,"
- 18 Feb 2008 report: A Briton was charged with consuming alcohol, and attempted rape of a Dutch woman. Police were called to her apartment where the two of them had gone after meeting each other for the first time by a swimming pool (Gulf News).
- 31 Jan 2008 report: The Dubai Court of First Instance sentenced several people with jail and deportation for alcohol and sex related charges (Gulf News). It was not clear from the report why the word "rape" was not used in place of "having sex against her will", or what the difference is between the two activities if there is a difference.
- Saudi male 1 - 6 months in jail for having sex (with a woman against her will, while under the influence of alcohol?).
- Egyptian female - 6 months in jail for having sex (even though it appeared to be against her will based on convictions for the other participants, unknown if there was an alcohol related conviction).
- Saudi male 2 - 13 months in jail for beating and having sex with the woman against her will, while under the influence of alcohol (unknown if the alcohol meant a shorter or longer sentence).
- Saudi male 3 - same as #2.
- Nov 2006: A Briton was acquitted by the Dubai Court of First Instance of the charge of drinking alcohol in a pub in Bur Dubai (name unknown). Police officer said permit only allowed him to drink at home. The court accepted the defense that his alcohol permit allowed him to consume liquor in the pub (Gulf News).
- Jul 2006: An Indian was fined 3000 dhs for drinking alcohol in public in Ras Al Khaimah. Police arrested him after a phoned in complaint (Gulf News).
- Jul 2006: reports of conmen following people who bought alcohol in Ajman and stopping them in Sharjah, then demanding money (several thousand dhs) to avoid being reported to police. Ajman police said to the Gulf News that non-Muslims with a liquor license could buy alcohol in Ajman, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, UAQ, and transport it through other emirates to their home, if it was for personal use (Gulf News).
- Mar 2006: An Estonian was arrested at Sharjah airport for consuming alcohol and harrassing a female police officer. He said he was in transit, got drunk, didn't know he wasn't allowed to drink during transit, was tired, went looking for the toilet, entered the wrong room by mistake. She said she was sleeping and woke up to find a man touching her. Outcome unknown (Khaleej Times 19 March 2006).
- Nov 2005: An Indian was sentenced to jail for a month (followed by deportation) by the Dubai Court of First Instance for possesion of 95 bottles of whisky and 80 cans of beer. Police nabbed him because they were tipped off that he was selling bootleg booze.
Drinking and Driving
Don't. The limit is 0 (of whatever units you care to use) and the consequences of being caught are jail time, deportation, loss of driving licence, and no insurance if you've crashed your car. If you've injured a passenger or pedestrian then you probably won't be getting a sun tan for a long time.
During 2004-2006 there were rumours and press reports of the Dubai police introducing random breath testing and you'll sometimes hear stories of actual checkpoints appearing outside popular drinking establishments, but at present, a sentence seems to depend more usually on a blood test taken after an accident.
Penalties for drink driving were revised in March 2008 to driving licence confiscation for at least one year, jail sentence between 1 month and 3 years, and/or a fine of AED 20,000-30,000. Deportation (of non-UAE nationals) is a possibility, especially in serious accident cases. Drunk drivers who injure someone in a crash can be jailed up to 2 years, and if someone is killed as a result of a drink driving incident, jail sentence is 1-3 years plus a fine.
- In 2010 from 01 January to 13 May, the Dubai Traffic Public Prosecution (TPP) referred 394 drivers to the traffic court for driving under the influence of alcohol according to Salah Bu Farousha, head of the Dubai TPP (Gulf News report 16 May 2010).
- In 2009, there were 1,188 traffic related incidents involving people driving under the influence of alcohol, according to Salah Bu Farousha, Head of Dubai Traffic Public Prosecution. About 0.5% of them were female drivers. Drunk drivers caused 422 accidents resulting in 147 injuries and 16 deaths. From an Xpress report 18 February 2010.
- In 2007, 1,042 drinking drivers were prosecuted.
- In 2006, 934 drunken drivers were prosecuted.
Safedrive (Saferdrive, Safedriver, Saferdriver) chauffer service
Saferdriver is an organisation that will come and pick up you and your car if you've been out drinking, and bring both items home, for a fee of course, but cheaper than a fine and avoids the unpleasantness of jail. Safer Driver started operations in January 2007. You phone them after getting boozed up, a motorcycle comes with a spare driver who drives you home in your own car. The motorcycle then takes the chauffer to find another plastered expat.
- Telephone +971-4-2688797 or mobile +971-50-4888181.
- Fees about 100-200 dhs in Dubai and Sharjah.
- Operating hours 9am-4am (might be 24 hours after May 2007).
- Service can be utilised by non-drinkers also.
SaferDriver is the correct name of the Drive-the-Drinker-Home organisation, and is different from SafeDrive, which is an international organisation that promotes safe driving techniques. SafeDrive have an office in Dubai, tel +971-4-2045650, but as far as we know, they don't offer a chauffer service for drinkers.
Ramadan in the UAE and alcohol
- During Ramadan, bars and restaurants are more subdued. In Dubai you can still drink alcohol but dancing, loud music and live music are forbidden so night clubs usually close and all the bands go on holiday.
- If you're caught breaking any drink related laws, you might be thrown in jail until the end of Ramadan at which time it all gets sorted out. Expect stiffer punishments than for the same offence outside Ramadan.
Other Emirates - Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujeirah, Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al Quwain
- Much the same applies in the other Emirates regarding drinking although expect less tolerance than in Dubai if you are skating close to the edge of the law with any drinking related activities, especially in Sharjah.
- Alcohol availability might vary in other Emirates also - Ras Al Khaimah and Abu Dhabi will still serve alcohol mostly. And in RAK bands might even continue to play as usual.
- Sharjah is a dry emirate meaning you cannot buy alcohol anywhere with two exceptions - the Sharjah Wanderers Club and Sharjah International Airport. The airport sells alcohol at Duty Free and also in a business class lounge after passport control on departure (not during Ramadan though). You are permitted to have alcohol at home if you have an alcohol licence - which allows you to buy alcohol in another emirate and transport it back to your house.
- Anyone caught in violation of drinking laws (driving, drinking in public and/or without a license, etc) should expect to be treated more harshly than for the same offence in another emirate.
Alcohol Licence - obtaining one and why you should have one
An Alcohol Licence (or License) gives expats in Dubai and the UAE permission to drink alcohol - they need a residence visa before applying for an alcohol license. It is shown at off-licences or liquor stores in Dubai when making purchases. In theory it could be asked for at a bar or club but in practice it almost never is. Apparently the law says that only hotel guests may drink at hotel bars but it's unheard of for that to be enforced.
- 14 Nov 2006 news. A court case acquitted a resident for drinking in a bar because he did have an alcohol license, although the police arrested him because they claimed the license only allowed residents to drink alcohol at home.
- Tourists do not need an alcohol licence since they are not in Dubai on a resident's visa. Error or update: apparently tourist do need an alcohol licence to drink in the UAE, but this is useless advice since you need a residence visa to apply for an alcohol permit. Yes it's contradictory and confusing. No, there isn't any way around it unless the law changes, or unless we, and the police, and lawyers, and the court system, have misunderstood the law. That said, most of the time tourists and visitors happily drink in the UAE without a problem, but there are unfortunate exceptions.
- Muslims are not permitted to have an alcohol licence (the application form asks what religion the applicant is).
- Alcohol licenses are a legal requirement when buying alcohol from bottle shops like MMI, and A&E, and Spinneys in Abu Dhabi. How often it is asked for varies depending on emirate. Almost always in Dubai, sometimes not in Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah, and rarely, if ever, in Umm Al Quwain and Ajman.
Alcohol purchases can be made without a licence (illegally) at several establishments in Ajman and Umm Al Quwain. Or you can present your license and buy alcohol legally. Where you're likely to get into trouble is if you have an accident between shop and home, and the alcohol is found in your car. Sharjah especially would be more risky as it is a dry emirate. Checkpoints with car searches are a possibility but very rare. If you do have a license then you are permitted to transport alcohol for personal use between shop and home. However, for those living in Dubai, you would be expected to buy alcohol in Dubai.
On 03 July 2006 there was a report in the Gulf News of alcohol purchasers being followed from Ajman into Sharjah by conmen, made to pull over and threatened with being reported to the police unless a ransom was paid. Figures were reported as being 2,000 dhs to 10,000 dhs. An Ajman police official apparently told the reporter that non-Muslims were allowed to transport legally purchased alcohol through any emirate to their home. Note that you need to present your alcohol license in these 'hole-in-the-wall' establishments in Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, etc to become a legal alcohol purchaser.
The licence shows a monthly limit for purchases which depends on the applicants salary. Usually the limit is somewhere between 500 dhs and 1500 dhs per month.
Alcohol licence in Abu Dhabi
- 01 Jul 2012 - Abu Dhabi licence applications will only be accepted online from today, at website www.auhsl.ae, operated by a new government department, the Special Licence Office. Licences will be in the form of an electronic card and will be delivered to a liquor shop in Abu Dhabi. Annual fees for the licence will no longer be charged apparently. For information, contact tel 800-5353 (toll-free in UAE) from 0800-1600 Sun-Thu. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Documents required for licence application include Emirates ID, passport with residence visa, passport-sized photograph, NOC (letter) from employer with confirmation of monthly salary. Documents need to be scanned and submitted online.
- It appears that applicants need to register first (online) to set up an account before actually applying (we didn't try so good luck).
- Unemployed spouses can apply for an alcohol licence also, they should submit an NOC from their sponsor (spouse) instead of a salary letter from employer.
- Monthly limit for purchases is 20% of basic salary.
- Alcohol licences are only issued to non-Muslims over the age of 21 years.
- Up to 30 Jun 2012, Abu Dhabi alcohol licences were issued by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of Abu Dhabi Police.
Tax on Alcohol
There is a 30% tax added to all alcohol purchases made when presenting an alcohol licence (last confirmed June 2006).
- Your company obtains one for you. There'll be fees of around 200 dhs per year to pay, and you'll need the usual paperwork (passport with residence visa, photos).
- You apply for one yourself. The easiest way to do this is through one of the alcohol shops in Dubai - A & E or MMI. They have the forms and will obtain the license for you (about 200 dhs per year).
Alcoholics and Alcoholism in Dubai, UAE
There are Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) support groups in the UAE. Further information available at these websites:
Last update Tuesday 22-Apr-2014