Alcohol in the UAE: Laws You Need to Know About

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UAE is under Sharia law, but that doesn't mean you are completely banned from drinking in the country. Find out where and when you can drink with these tips.


A martini with the backdrop of Dubai Photo © iStock/franckreporter

The reputation of Dubai being a party city with fantastic boozy brunches precedes it. So much so, that many travelers completely forget that they are still in the Middle East, that the UAE operates under Sharia law, and that alcohol is basically illegal. But fret not, the brunches are boozy, and there are plenty of bars where you can work your way through the cocktail menu, you just have to bear in mind a few rules.

License to drink in UAE

For visitors to most of the emirates, it has been possible to drink in bars and restaurants for years. Non-Muslim expat residents needed to get a licence to buy alcohol from specific shops for consumption at home and, legally speaking, were required to carry that licence if they wanted to drink in establishments outside of their own home.

However, each emirate, despite being governed under the overall laws of the UAE, operates under slightly different rules. This means that, for example, the emirate of Sharjah has always been and still is a ‘dry’ emirate, with no alcohol served even in international hotels. However, in the emirate of Ajman, expatriates have never needed a permit to buy alcohol. That said, if you lived in Dubai, for example, and bought alcohol in Ajman, it would have strictly forbidden to drive with the alcohol back through Sharjah.  

New attitudes and laws in UAE

Apart from Sharjah remaining an alcohol-free emirate, under recent widespread reforms, the UAE laws have been amended. In early 2022, many of the previously deemed draconian laws were relaxed and updated, from those concerning drugs to those previously forbidding cohabitation of unmarried couples, to the attitude to drinking alcohol.

Under the new laws, expats are no longer required to obtain a licence to drink in hotels, nor do they need a licence to buy it from stores. However, you do need to be at least 21 to drink. Tourists, who previously needed to obtain a temporary licence to buy alcohol, can now visit any of the alcohol stores, such as Maritime and Mercantile International, and African & Eastern in the UAE, just showing their passport. But they do need to drink in their residence.

What is illegal in UAE?

While it is legal to drink alcohol in your home, and in bars and restaurants, these need to be licenced bars and restaurants, and those are mostly found in hotels. If you are, for example, caught drinking on a non-hotel beach or in a park, despite having been allowed to buy the alcohol, that is illegal. Walking outside, drink in hand, is not allowed, nor is being drunk in public. While most taxi drivers are used to ferrying intoxicated visitors around after brunch, or at night, it is best to dry and be on your best behavior, as some taxi drivers have been known to report very drunk revellers to the police.

There is still a distinct disapproval of underage drinking, including strict rules about the distribution of alcohol to those under the age of 21.

The UAE has an absolute zero-tolerance approach to drink – and drug – driving, and not even the consumption of a single liqueur chocolate is acceptable. Penalties are huge, a minimum of Dhs20,000 (roughly US$5,500/ AU$7,800), and imprisonment is highly likely.

It is fair to say that for the average traveler, there will be no problem when it comes to drinking in the UAE. While you might not be able to get a cocktail in the kebab shop next to the hotel, you can drink the pricey alcohol in hotel bars and restaurants. There are also good deals for brunches and there are happy hours.

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  • Janine Bartlett said

    while in Dubai, I was fined for drinking alcohol without a license. I was not aware that I had to have this liscence.

    I got fined and paid my fine

    Will I now have a criminal record in Dubai?

    I am in the process of applying to go abroad. Will this be a criminal offense. will I need police clearance - if I paid my fine?

    Thank you kindly


  • kally said

    My brother was arrested for smuggling/possession of alcohol in Deira in May,, he kold weekly till July 22nd which was wen we last heard from him, he said he was to go to court on the 20th but for some reason he didnt. Its been over a month and there has been no word from him. Pls what do we do?

  • Andy said

    What a load of nonsense. While the article may technically be correct in terms of what the law is, it's a FAR cry from the reality of the UAE.

    I lived and worked in the UAE for five years and got smashed in Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah more times than I can count. Dubai is party-central, the place is DESIGNED for people to go out and get hammered. Think night clubs, unlimited drink tickets for brunches. Prostitution is also absolutely RIFE.

    I'm sure these fines occasionally happen, but I don't know anyone who it's happened to. So long as you're only hammered on hotel premises (all nightclubs and beach bars are on hotel premises) you'll be absolutely fine.

  • Richard Mehrer said

    Andy is absolutely right. I lived and worked for more than a decade in MENA and never had, saw or heard of any problem I would not have had in any other European country.
    Common sense is the rule of the day and "draconian" results are so totally rare. Liquor is readily available even in Abu Dhabi at well known establishments. There are liquor stores attached to one of the biggest upscale grocery stores - Spinny's, and others.
    Nomad writers - you should be more careful.

  • rick be said

    I don't drink and saw no signs of drunkenness while I was there.But saw that Dubai seemed to want to become "party central".

  • Marty said

    The thing to be aware of might be fake comments in this thread here, using fear tactics to make you very afraid. Don't believe everything you read online, and in comments sections. Use common sense. Think what can happen anywhere if you're out of control while drunk. Especially in a Muslim teetotaling environment.

  • Matt said

    This article is completely off kilter. All of the comments up until Andy's are clearly fake comments. Andy's comment, while on the far opposite extreme is more accurate than the article's writer. For Ronn, well there is so much historic interest and tolerance in the whole of Dubai, UAE, and Gulf but I guess your eyes weren't open enough to see this. I really thought Nomad was a respectable source of information and insight but if I were a non-knowing traveler and wanting to travel to UAE I would probably be turned off by this article. So you have done your client base no justice in this writing as this is as far from reality as can be.

  • nayana said

    Police caught me at the out side .. that time i was fully drunk .. and they maked for me court case .. please anyone knows how much maybe fine ?

  • Mike said

    Did you all READ the article. It says that alcohol is available either with a license or in the hotel as a guest. So yes Andy, you can get smashed. But like you even said, you need to stay on the hotel premises. Richard, his first sentence clearly states that there are stores that sell liquor.

    Public drunkenness is a crime in MOST cities around the world. The difference in UAE is that they actually enforce their laws about it.

  • Kuban said

    Hello guys, my name is Rashid. I was stopped in the rta bus in Abu Dhabi for a drunk look, I completed the driver twice time when he was driving badly and at this time he called the police. I paid a fine of 2000 dirhams to go out and they tolld me I have a court. The fact I had a alkagol in my bag. Please tell me what it is go no be? It was on 18 of January, court will be 4 of April the sand me massage but I don't have time of court, location, anything they just sanded me Arabik massage Wich is I can not understand. Pls if someone have a experience like this situation, help me. My whatsApp +971561362766

  • tanay said

    Cid catch me in abu dhabi i was carrying alcohol and i drink before day so little smell came frm my mouth they took me in police station after court hearing i pay 5000* dhrm so i need to know later how much i have to pay or no need to pay after court hearing,,,plz let me know,,thanks

  • Gieanne said

    I was accused drunk here in Abu Dhabi somebody reported me to the police a week after I drunk so technically they did not caught me on act that I was drunk they just accused me and now they gave me a fine of 10,000 dirham. Is that really reasonable? I mean I didn't drive while drunk or whatsoever they just accused me. Please someone help me. Thanks..

  • Anthony said

    Gents and ladies; I have been through all the above comments and concerns regarding consumption of Alcohol in UAE. Well, some of them are partly correct. Though, law and punishments in each emirate varies slightly, it is almost the same everywhere in UAE. Yes, you can drink in UAE if you hold a liquor license provided you should drink in your own home /apartment/hotel room. As per law you have no right to leave your apartment or hotel room under the influence of alcohol whatsoever the reason is. You can even drink from hotels, pubs or wherever alcohol is served, however you should have a room of your own from the hotel you are drinking. Normally nothing will happen even if you go out consuming alcohol, but if you get caught you are screwed. Remember, never get involved in a fight or an argument or don't even dare to show an abusive sign if you are drunk.

    Someone get caught consuming alcohol will be detained under custody for minimum 3 or more days and will be produced to a prosecutor at court after conducting medical test. Mostly, prosecutor will send you on bale if you admit that you are drunk either for an amount of AED.2000 or surrendering your passport. Remember, you are literally under custody and someone else has to come and pay for you to get out of jail. Don't think that everything is over. The real game is on. After few days you will get a call or a message from court to go and collect your date of hearing document. This will happen within a month after you are released on bale. You may get a date for hearing approximately 2 months from the date of receipt of your hearing document. You will have to appear yourself before the court and judge will ask you whether you drink. Just admit it even if you are not drunk and don't try to show your biceps and triceps as it wont work before the court. There is no point in engaging a lawyer as it is a waste of money. Cheers......... Court will give you a judgment date and your fine or imprisonment whatever court decides will be known on the same day. Don't expect a sum lesser than AED. 10,000/- as I don't want any of you get a sudden shock on the day you receive the fine. Pay as fast a you can if you don't want to go to jail again. Note: Try to learn Arabic or take someone knows Arabic as you wont be knowing what is happening there....

  • Robert said

    Girl friend flying from Nigeria to USA stopped in Dubai. Missed flight to USA, drank some alcohol in public and was apparently arrested. No word who told authorities. Understand there must be 2 male witnesses. No work on how many flipped on her. But she was not drunk. They want her to pay 5,000 AED. Looking for recommendations, and is this a fair amount?

  • Anna said


    I agree with Anthony comments, I just been realized from jail after paying 9800 Dirham ..... They want people to came to Dubai but it's not worth it...

  • Emily said

    Lol there are so many fake comments in here from dubai ppl who don't want tourists in their country. Kinda sad..
    A close friend of mine grew up in Dubai, and she went out partying all the time at clubs as a teen. In Dubai. Yes with alcohol. Don't believe all the negative comments. Yes it's stricter in Dubai, but it's not like they fine people left and right for drinking. And send people to court as all these fake comments keep mentioning? LOL.

  • Meme said

    Yes we want you to come to our country but we also want before that a respect to our roles and laws as any other countries in the world. At the end UAE is a Muslim country that has a role for everything and every one should follow. That is why a lot of people feels this country is a safe place to live in. Question! what is the alcohol will add to you as a person ? think about the positive and negative impact and you will get the answer on your question if it is worth to visit UAE or not !

  • peter haslock said

    I have tried on trip advisor to ask questions about the issue of alcohol in Dubai only to be censored !! My understanding is that in 2010 they even banned restaurants from cooking with alcohol!! Dubai is a totally hypocritical country --prostitutes flown in from eastern Europe for those local guys that need them. While Singapore caters also for all such needs the country does not put up the pretense that these matters are illegal and deal with them through their court system --give Dubai a wide berth --there is nothing there except high buildings, fuel gussling cars, laws that don't apply is civilised countries. Let them keep treating women as second class citizens locked up in ridiculous garbs

  • Emmanuel Obarhua said

    It is essential to know the laws of whatever land one is visiting. In this connection, this article is an imperative to travelers to UAE.

  • Steve Randel said

    I played in a golf tournament in Dubai a couple of years ago. Didn't play very well, but enjoyed my stay. The people are friendly and eager to learn about western culture. I was careful to only drink at my hotel and when dining at a restaurant. As a rising country of international importance, the UAE understands that to attract western tourists, certain restrictions regarding alcohol need to be relaxed. That said, traditional customs must be respected. Act in a responsible manner and you'll have no problems. That should be a rule of thumb wherever Americans travel all over the world. Be proud of who you are, but respectful to your host country.

  • Payment Gateway UAE said

    Alcohol is not a bad thing but if you drink before the drive that is illegal or we can say that bad thing. In public drinking says you are not following rules.

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  • Dinah said

    Hi guys, i need your assistance please. My brother was arrested in Dubai for being in possession of alcohol. We have not heard from him for more than a week now. Can someone please advise on what to do? and what is the penalty for such offence like pls?

  • Dionaldo Arano said

    I just want to ask if the bar manager has the right to banned us from entering the bar without any reason ?
    If im not mistaken the people who share the table with us where gay and the kiss in the public but im not sure if thats the reason but anyhow still me and my friends was not involve with that and has no control of what they are doing.

    Any idea how deal with this ? I love the sports bar but I dont know why they banned us from entering Rodeo drive sports bar in dubai.

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