The UAE as a Muslim country, operates under Sharia law which prohibits the purchase and consumption of alcohol. Despite this, Non-Muslims are permitted to buy and drink alcohol under certain conditions set out by the government.
We take a look at licensing rules, the minimum drinking age and the venues that serve alcohol in and around Dubai.
Legal Drinking Age
The legal drinking age is 21 in Dubai and the Northern Emirates of Ras al Khaimah, Fujairah, Umm al Quwain and Ajman. In Abu Dhabi, the official drinking age is 18, although a Ministry of Tourism by-law prevents hotels from serving anyone under 21. Keep in mind that in Sharjah drinking alcohol is prohibited completely.
An alcohol licence is required to drink legally in Dubai, whether you are planning to drink inside or outside your home. In order to qualify for a licence, applicants must be aged 21, Non Muslim residents in Dubai and need to earn more than AED 3,000 a month.
On application, residents will need to show a copy of their passport and residence visa, a copy of their labour contract issues by the Ministry of Labour and a tenancy agreement.
The licence you will receive is actually a card with a chip that records every purchase. The total amount you can buy will depend on your salary.
Alcohol licences are only valid in the Emirate of issue, so if you have a licence for Abu Dhabi this will not be accepted in Dubai and vice versa.
Where to Drink
In Dubai, licensing laws require venues serving alcohol to be attached to hotels or private clubs. There are a wide variety of such venues, from bars and clubs to restaurants for every taste, with many located within sports clubs.
Venues are not required to ask for an alcohol licence, so it’s your responsibility to make sure that you are drinking legally. Remember that any independent restaurants will not serve you alcohol with your meal.
Alcohol cannot be purchased in supermarkets, however customers with a valid alcohol licence can buy from off-licences. Two legal liquor stores are MMI (Maritime and Merantile International) and A&E (African & Eastern).
Tourists are allowed to buy alcohol at the airport, however to consume it legally during their stay, they would need an alcohol licence.
Every drink is subject to a 30% municipality tax and a 50% import tax, so drinking can be expensive. Consequently many residents buy from the duty free stores at Dubai’s airports whenever they travel.
If you are caught drinking without a licence you could face a fine and a jail sentence. Penalties also apply for being under the influence of alcohol on the street or in public places.
There is also zero tolerance to drink driving under UAE law. Anyone caught behind the wheel under the influence could face jail time and possible deportation.
Special rules on the sale of alcohol normally come into effect during the holy month of Ramadan; when drinkers have to wait until sundown for Muslims to finish their daily fast.
However, this year Dubai’s department of tourism and commerce marketing informed hotels that alcohol sales would operate under normal rules, with no restricted hours.