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Alcohol in Dubai: All You Need to Know Explained Easy

    Knowing the rules to follow regarding alcohol in Dubai is crucial for those visiting the city, especially for first-time visitors. As a local expat, I find that some of the most common questions among tourists visiting the UAE are whether you can drink alcohol in Dubai and if you can buy alcohol in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. This is often followed by the inevitable question: okay, good, but… where can you buy alcohol in Dubai? If you’re reading this post, you’re already heading in the right direction. It’s indeed prudent to acquaint yourself with the alcohol laws in Dubai and the other emirates of the UAE.

    This is crucial as these regulations are subject to frequent changes and, despite Dubai being a fairly tolerant city, renowned for its vibrant nightlife and dynamic lifestyle, it’s essential to remember that you’re in a Muslim country, with strict rules that are rigorously enforced. In this guide, you will find an easy and comprehensive explanation of the main dos and don’ts regarding drinking in Dubai, with an overview of the alcohol laws in the UAE. It’s important for a tourist (or a local resident) to be aware of these, so as to avoid ending up in jail for a drink, or a bottle of beer.

    Alcohol in Dubai: An Overview

    Dubai is undoubtedly a city of extravagance. It’s no surprise that in Dubai you can find some of the world’s best cocktails, meticulously crafted by some of the finest bartenders around. Just take a look at the wine lists of high-end restaurants and four and five-star hotels, and you’ll find jaw-dropping wine lists, featuring selections of the finest wines and spirits from around the world. This is true even in places that are distinctly UAE-owned, like the famous Burj Al Arab.

    Several bars in Dubai regularly feature on the list of the World’s 50 Best Bars, and the UAE spirits market was valued at $7.4 billion, growing year after year. Strange for a Muslim country, don’t you think? The explanation is simple: Dubai welcomes at least 15 million tourists a year, in addition to one of the largest international expat communities in the world. Many of these people are not Muslim and may also have a good income.

    Alcohol in Dubai Drinking Rules

    So, you’ve probably already figured out that yes, you can drink in Dubai. Provided that you’re not a Muslim, of course. However, it’s not as straightforward as it seems: there are rules to follow, especially if you want to buy alcohol in a store, and there are places where you can drink and others where it is strictly forbidden. Similar to other Muslim countries, the United Arab Emirates has stringent regulations regarding alcohol consumption, and these regulations may vary significantly from one emirate to another. Non-compliance with these laws can result in severe penalties, including imprisonment.

    While alcohol is not entirely prohibited in Dubai, it is heavily controlled. Non-Muslim residents and tourists are permitted to consume alcohol, but only within designated areas such as licensed hotels, restaurants, and bars. Conversely, consuming alcohol in public places, including beaches, is strictly prohibited and punishable by law. Moreover, Dubai enforces strict regulations against public drunkenness, and these rules are even more severe in other emirates.

    And don’t think about drinking and driving: driving under the influence, or consuming alcohol in non-designated areas, are considered serious offenses. The penalties for such violations can vary, ranging from substantial fines to imprisonment, depending on the severity of the offense. According to the latest laws (Article 363/3 of the UAE’s new Penal Code), you could be facing imprisonment for six months and fines not less than AED 100,000, which is approximately $27,500!

    Heed the advice of the locals: don’t be tempted to have a drink in a prohibited area just because you don’t see a police officer in sight. The police may not be highly visible in public areas, but that doesn’t mean they’re not around. They just don’t go around shouting: hey, I’m the police! They tend to maintain a low profile, often blending in with the crowd in civilian clothes. So, it’s always safer to respect the local laws and customs.

    Can You Drink Alcohol in Dubai?

    Are you wondering if you can drink alcohol in Dubai as a tourist or as a resident? As we just said, tourists can drink alcohol in Dubai and residents can too, as long as they are not Muslim.

    Dubai is well-versed in tourism and embraces an international lifestyle, largely due to the diverse expatriate population who live and work there. As a result, local laws are generally tolerant towards non-Muslim tourists and foreigners who simply want to enjoy a drink or two at one of Dubai’s numerous bars.

    However, this does not negate the need to strictly adhere to the law, as failure to do so could result in serious consequences. Furthermore, if you are not Muslim but have a Muslim name, this may not be in your favor in the event of a check. In such cases, if you are a resident, it is advisable to have an alcohol license, even though it is no longer a requirement in Dubai.

    The basic requirements to consume alcohol in Dubai are:

    • You must be at least 21 years old;
    • You should be drinking in a licensed venue, such as a hotel bar or club.

    Here are the things you must avoid when consuming alcohol in Dubai:

    • Drinking on the street or in any public place is illegal;
    • Being drunk in a public place is illegal;
    • Driving after consuming alcohol is illegal;

    Alcohol and Driving in the UAE

    Drivers must not drink. For drivers, the tolerance for alcohol consumption is zero and is considered a serious criminal offense. Violators risk hefty fines and imprisonment, with terms that are decided on a case-by-case basis by the court, according to the most recent UAE traffic law. Consider that normally, one risks fines around AED 30,000 (approximately $8,200) and a prison sentence of up to 3 years, as also evidenced by recent sentences.

    Be careful: these rules apply in Dubai and are generally also valid in Abu Dhabi and other emirates, with the exception of the emirate of Sharjah. Drinking alcohol in Sharjah is strictly prohibited, and this applies to everyone, including tourists and foreigners. Also, the possession of alcohol is prohibited in Sharjah, so refrain from bringing any bottles of alcohol if you plan to visit this emirate.

    Can You Buy Alcohol in Dubai’s Supermarkets or Liquor Stores?

    While it’s easy for a tourist to get a drink in hotels, restaurants, and bars in Dubai, the matter becomes a bit more complex if you’re looking for some cheap booze from the supermarket. Given the exorbitant prices of drinks in Dubai (expect to pay around 45-60 AED, approximately 12-16 USD, for a 33cl beer), you might want to buy alcohol at the supermarket. But here’s the catch: supermarkets in Dubai do not sell alcohol.

    Alcohol sales are strictly regulated in the UAE, and it is exclusively sold in special liquor stores that are licensed and controlled by the government. There are two main brands of liquor stores in Dubai: AFRICAN + EASTERN and MMI. These brands have multiple stores throughout Dubai, and you can easily find the one closest to you using Google Maps.

    To purchase alcohol at a liquor store in Dubai, you’ll need a special license called a Liquor License or Alcohol License. But obtaining one as a tourist is quite easy and quick: you just need to visit one of the stores and show your passport. They will immediately and free of charge provide you with a license valid for 30 days, renewable. This temporary alcohol license, available only for non-Muslim tourists, allows you to purchase a few bottles of beer, wine, or spirits for personal consumption, which you can then enjoy in a place where it’s permitted, such as your home or your hotel room.

    The requirements for obtaining an alcohol license in Dubai for tourists are:

    • You must be at least 21 years old.
    • You should not be a resident of Dubai or anywhere else in the UAE.
    • You are required to present your original passport, along with your entry visa.
    • You need to fill out a brief form and sign an official declaration. This declaration should state that you meet the requirements and will adhere to the UAE’s laws and regulations concerning the consumption and purchase of alcohol.

    Dubai Alcohol License for Residents

    If you’re a non-Muslim living in the UAE (UAE Resident), you will still need an alcohol license to buy alcohol in Dubai, but the process is more complicated. In fact, you won’t be able to apply for a temporary alcohol license like the one issued to tourists; instead, you’ll need to apply for a resident alcohol license.

    Until 2020, the process to obtain an Alcohol License (Liquor License) was lengthy and bureaucratic. You had to provide: a copy of your passport, a passport photo, a valid resident visa, proof of minimum income, and a rental agreement. Additionally, you had to pay a license fee of AED 270 (approximately $74). In 2020, there was a first step towards simplifying the application process by requiring only one document, a copy of your valid Emirates ID.

    Finally, in 2023 the Dubai Government decided to abolish the license fee. So, obtaining an Alcohol License (Liquor License) is now quite straightforward and, most importantly, free. You can apply for the Dubai Alcohol License directly at African + Eastern or MMI stores. It’s important to note that the license is not issued immediately: typically, it takes 2 to 3 weeks as the request is forwarded to the Dubai Police for approval.

    The Dubai Alcohol License for Residents is issued with a validity of one year, after which it can be renewed. The Dubai Police may reject your application for the Alcohol License. This usually happens if they encounter difficulties in verifying your non-Muslim status, or if you have a criminal record or a pending court case in the UAE. You can only apply for a Dubai Alcohol License for Residents if you are a resident of Dubai. If you reside in another emirate (for instance, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, or RAK), you will need to obtain a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the police of your emirate of residence.

    The basic requirements to obtain a Dubai Alcohol License for UAE Residents are:

    • Be at least 21 years old;
    • Submit a copy of your valid Emirates ID;

    Abu Dhabi Alcohol License for Residents

    Starting from the end of September 2020, an alcohol license will no longer be necessary for purchasing alcohol in Abu Dhabi.

    Alcohol License for the Northern Emirates

    There’s a well-kept secret among expats: the Northern Emirates, offer alcohol at generally lower prices and with fewer formalities.We’re talking about the emirates of Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah, and Fujairah, which are home to numerous quality liquor shops that cater to both residents and tourists with a wide selection of beverages.

    In these emirates, purchasing alcohol doesn’t require a license. But be careful: if you buy alcohol here and return to Dubai with it, you still need a valid Dubai Liquor License. However, since 2023, Dubai has abolished the 30% municipal tax on alcohol, easing the financial burden of buying drinks in Dubai’s liquor stores. As a result, the need for trips to other emirates for cheaper alcohol has lessened.

    And keep in mind that the consumption of alcohol is officially banned in the emirate of Sharjah, which you may pass through. Although possession is technically also prohibited, recent federal laws have relaxed these restrictions. Sharjah’s customs typically permit the entry of up to 4 liters of alcoholic beverages (source). So, carrying a bottle with discretion, respect, and common sense should be fine.

    Other Tips for Your Trip to the UAE

    Great, now that you’ve become an expert on shopping for and consuming alcohol in Dubai, you might be interested in discovering more useful tips for your trip to the UAE:

    • You can find a Practical Guide to the UAE and our ultimate guide to the Best Things to Do in Dubai here.
    • If you’re planning your trip to the UAE, you should consider getting comprehensive travel insurance because medical bills in the UAE can be quite expensive in case of emergencies. You can find our guide to UAE Travel Insurance here.
    • If you’re keen to explore Dubai’s amazing surroundings and the other emirates, you might need to rent a car. Discover our guide to Car Rental in Dubai here.
    • And if you want to save up to 60% on Dubai attraction tickets, you should check out our guide to the Dubai Pass, a tourist card that includes free access to many of the city’s main attractions.