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Alcohol and Licences in Dubai, UAE

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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.

This contradicts previous information that residents with an alcohol licence are permitted to buy alcohol at licensed bottle shops and consume it at home.

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.

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.

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).

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
Alcohol related arrest after losing passport - February 2011
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:

The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office website ( has a statement on their website section for British nationals living in the UAE ( 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.

Minimum drinking age in Dubai and UAE
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.

Duty Free
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.

The Barracuda Umm Al Quwain
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.

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).

Transporting alcohol in Dubai
Transporting alcohol in Abu Dhabi, Ras Al Khaimah, and other emirates except Sharjah
Transporting alcohol between emirates
Transporting alcohol for Sharjah residents
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
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.

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.

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
Other Emirates - Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujeirah, Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al Quwain

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.

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
Tax on Alcohol

There is a 30% tax added to all alcohol purchases made when presenting an alcohol licence (last confirmed June 2006).

  1. 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).
  2. 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
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Abu Dhabi AUH ABD ADB, Ajman AJM, Al Ain AAN, Dubai DXB, Fujairah FUJ, Ras Al Khaimah RAK, Sharjah SHJ, Umm Al Quwain UAQ

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