Can You Drink Alcohol In Dubai?
This is a question that I was asked by many people when I was living in Dubai. Although the traditional law of an Islamic country (Sharia Law) prevails in Dubai, there are some relaxations for non-Muslims.
But firstly, the answer, if you are a Muslim, is a strict 'no'. Sharia law forbids Muslims from drinking so they are not allowed to buy or drink alcohol in Dubai or the UAE.
However, if you are not a Muslim, then there are laws for Christians and other religions which do permit you to drink alcohol.
Where Can I Drink Alcohol?
As a visitor to Dubai or a resident of Dubai you are allowed to drink alcohol in places that have a licence to serve it. This generally means places where there is accommodation attached to the bar or restaurant i.e. mostly the hotels. Most hotels in Dubai will have a licence to sell alcohol so if you want to have a drink then go to a hotel!
There are other places that also have licences for instance the Meydan racetrack (although I believe this may now have a hotel on the premises so that may well be the reason). Also at specific events like pop concerts and the like, an alcohol licence may be granted to the organisers.
Also, you can drink alcohol in a private home or at a private party as long as the person holding the party has a personal liquor licence. An alcohol licence for an individual can be obtained through the company that the person works for and allows them to buy a limited amount of alcohol (somewhat dependent on the level of their salary) per month. As long as you are not a Muslim it is just a question of filling out the relevant forms and paying the fee.
A liquor licence holder can then go and buy alcohol in the designated shops that are dotted around Dubai. There are a few companies who are allowed to sell alcohol but you cannot buy it in supermarkets.
Buying Alcohol in Duty Free
You can buy alcohol when you travel in to Dubai at the Duty Free shops that are in the arrival terminals. The limits on what you can buy are reasonably generous so if you are travelling to Dubai you can buy alcohol there.
However, as the laws on drinking alcohol are quite strict you just need to be careful where you drink it and not to appear drunk in public.
What About Visitors and Tourists?
If you keep to the letter of the law then in theory anyone visiting Dubai would not actually be able to drink alcohol as they would not have a liquor licence. However, in practice this is not the case.
If you are a visitor or tourist in Dubai and you want to drink alcohol then you can buy it in a hotel bar or other place that has a licence.
The problem comes if you do anything else that might be considered offensive or illegal. Once that happens and if the police are called they may then take exception to the fact that you have been drinking, as well as whatever else may have taken place and if this is the case then you may get into trouble for also drinking alcohol.
So basically it is a very grey area that should not cause any trouble for you unless you do anything else.
Don't Be Drunk On The Street Though!
Dubai is not as strict as some of the neighbouring Middle Eastern countries but you must be sure not to abuse the rules. If you are caught being drunk in a public place then you will be arrested by the police and possibly charged with a likely one month prison spell.
Also, the policy on drink driving in Dubai is zero tolerance. Again if you are caught driving with alcohol on your breath then that is an automatic one month prison sentence with a possible deportation order afterwards.
Many foreigners have been caught out with these kind of rules so you really need to be careful. Also don't forget that there are no public displays of affection allowed in Dubai!
Stories in the Press
There have recently been a few stories in the press where someone has allegedly been arrested just for drinking alcohol.
One such case was where Dr Ellie Holman was arrested and detained in Dubai for supposedly drinking one glass of wine on a flight. However, this was only part of the story (although it seems the only part that some of the UK press seemed to report on). The main issue was that her Iranian passport had an invalid visa and she was pulled over for that. it seemed that she also started shouting abuse at the officials and was also filming them. This would not be tolerated in Dubai (or maybe anywhere else?) and the alcohol issue was only secondary to that.
So you need to take any story in the press with a pinch of salt and try and dig a bit deeper.
Dubai is generally very tolerant to the many millions of visitors that go there each year but you do need to be respectful of its customs.
© 2011 Marian L