A handy guide to legally imbibing in the Middle East
Dubai is an exciting city to visit, with endless shopping, restaurants and activities – and the largest mall in the world. There are some things, however, that travelers need to bear in mind when spending time in the United Arab Emirates. The laws regarding alcohol consumption and possession are very strict in the UAE because it's a Muslim country, so it's important to know where you can and cannot drink. Anyone traveling in the UAE is subject to its laws, and the punishments can be quite severe. Here's what you need to know.
Q: Can I drink in Dubai?
A: As a tourist visitor to Dubai, it's possible to consume alcohol in certain circumstances. In general, consuming or possessing alcohol without a Ministry of Interior liquor permit is illegal in the UAE and punishable by arrest and/or fines and imprisonment. A resident who wishes to drink in restaurants or bars must have a personal liquor license, which is issued only to non-Muslim residents with a UAE residency permit.
A visitor to Dubai and the UAE, however, is allowed to imbibe in hotels as a guest. Most major hotels serve alcohol in bars and restaurants, which is where the majority of drinking takes place in Dubai.
Q: Is there a drinking age in Dubai?
A: The legal drinking age in the UAE varies from place to place. You must be 21 to drink in Dubai, while Abu Dhabi allows those 18 and older to consume alcohol. There is absolutely no drinking allowed in Sharjah, regardless of age.
Q: Can I buy alcohol in Dubai?
A: You are not permitted to purchase alcohol in Dubai stores without a license. However, travelers can get around this restriction by buying alcohol at the airport in a duty-free shop and bringing it to the hotel room to drink. Those over 21 can apply for a license if staying for an extended period of time.
Q: Are there other restrictions when drinking in Dubai?
A: Public intoxication and driving under the influence are both illegal in the UAE. Unlike in the U.S., there is no legal limit for driving while intoxicated. Any level of blood alcohol content is considered a serious offense. Anyone arrested on alcohol-related offenses can be detained for several days to await a court hearing, and penalties can include jail and fines. Muslims, including those with U.S. citizenship, can even be penalized with lashings.
Drinking in public is not allowed, including on the beaches. Be very mindful when consuming alcohol in Dubai, always careful to drink in moderation. Drink only in licensed bars, restaurants and clubs.
Q: How does Ramadan impact drinking in Dubai?
A: Muslims may not drink alcohol any time of year, but during the holy month of Ramadan, which usually takes place over the summer, there are often additional restrictions to drinking while in Dubai. Because observant Muslims abstain from all food and drink between sunrise and sundown, many restaurants close or change hours during that time. Hotel eateries are usually still open, but may seat Western guests and Muslim guests in separate sections. Be respectful of Muslim customs when visiting Dubai during Ramadan, and check ahead to see whether bars and restaurants will be open.