Despite being an Islamic country and contrary to popular belief, the sale of alcohol to non-Muslims is permitted within the UAE under a stringent set of guidelines and consumption limits.
Alcohol is available for sale from specially licensed outlets, which require buyers to hold an alcohol licence. However, the licence is only valid in the emirate it is issued in. It is illegal to buy, transport or store alcohol at home without one. In theory the licence is also required for consumption of alcohol in hotels and restaurants, but inspections are seldom held.
A&E (African & Eastern) and MMI (Maritime Mercantile International) are the two main alcohol retailers in the UAE. They are based beside supermarkets such as Spinneys or throughout the country. Here you can pick up the application form for a licence or alternatively if it is possible, apply for one through your employer.
You must be 21 years of age to apply for a licence. If you are a married woman, only the husband can apply for one. In this instance, the spouse can be named on the husband’s licence. You also have to earn at least Dh2,500 a month to apply for a licence.
The initial cost and the maximum amount of consumption of alcohol per month on the licence is under the discretion of the police. During the application process they will factor in your salary, age, occupation and family status. The limit starts from around Dh500.
Sharjah is the only “dry” emirate in the UAE and the purchase or sale of alcohol within its boundaries is forbidden. However, it is still legal to consume alcohol in your home.
Obtaining an alcohol licence
Two passport-sized photographs with your name written on the back
A completed alcohol licence application form (in Arabic) that is signed by your employer
A residency visa
A letter of no objection from your employer headed "To whom it may concern" attached with a copy of your employment contract, which will state your salary
A charge for administration costs of 20 per cent of the licence value. For example if a licence value is Dh800, then the charge would be Dh160 but this will vary depending on your salary and how much alcohol authorities will allow you to buy
If you are applying for a licence in another emirate, you are required to have a letter from the corresponding authorities to denote that you do not hold a licence in that emirate
A copy of your tenancy agreement
Once completed, you then send the documentation to the following:
For Abu Dhabi:
Khalifa City Police Station
General Directorate of Criminal Investigation
Hotels Security Branch
T: 02 508 8888 / 02 508 8817
Sunday to Thursday 08:00 – 13:00
For Dubai and the northern emirates:
You can drop off an application form into any police station, but you can submit the application to any MMI or A&E store, which will pass on the documents to the police. The process will take 10 working days and the store will contact you when the licence has been processed and returned to the store.
Non-Muslims can purchase alcohol at the airport Duty Free, which is located after passport control without the use of an alcohol licence. Like most countries, there is a limit on the amount of duty free goods you can buy or bring into the UAE.
Beer - 24 cans
Wine - 4 litres
Spirits - 4 litres
Cigarettes - 400 or two cartons
Cigars - 50 cigars
Loose Tobacco - 500g
Cash - Dh40000
Perfume - to the cost of Dh3000
Commerical goods - to the cost of Dh3000
Drinking in public and hotels
To put it simply, do not get drunk or drink in public. It is against the law and you will be fined and receive a custodial sentence if there is any hint of behaving badly while under the influence. If you are caught drunk during a criminal act you will also face a separate hearing for that charge.
During Ramadan the penalties are more severe. Generally the sale and consumption of alcohol continues in most hotel bars, but live and loud music, dancing and other elements are toned down or even stopped altogether.
There is zero tolerance on driving while under the influence of alcohol.Most of the four or five-star hotels in the emirates have bars and restaurants that serve alcoholic beverages. Some hotels adhere to Sharia Law prohibiting alcohol, as well as all hotels in Sharjah. The opening hours and drinking times vary from place to place with a 3am closing time for nightclubs. It is advisable not to loiter around drunk after a night out and proceed on your way home.As it is nearly impossible to differentiate between a tourist and an expatriate, it is hard to enforce the use of an alcohol licence. This means you will find that you are charged with a six per cent tourist tax and a service charge on top of the price of a drink.