While independent restaurants are not allowed to serve alcohol, hotels, sports clubs and specially designated areas are permitted to serve alcoholic drinks in their bars and restaurants. However, to drink in a bar or restaurant, you need to be more than 21 years of age.
Visitors and residents may not be asked to produce your license at places such as the Dubai Duty Free, as you pass through the airport. But, licence is a must for transporting alcohol and for consuming it outside the licensed premises, such as home.
It is a must to possess a liquor license, as there are two licensed liquor chains operating in Dubai – the African + Eastern (A&E) and the Mercantile Maritime International (MMI). You need to have licence to be able to purchase from these, and they have branches throughout Dubai. Although this works out expensive, given its 30 percent tax, their range and service is excellent.
Alcohol Licence Law
The UAE is a Muslim country, which implements Sharia Law that prohibits purchase and consumption of alcohol. However, the UAE authorities are aware that drinking alcohol is popular among the huge expatriate population there, and for that reason, the UAE establishes rules for purchase and consumption of alcohol.
The law mandates that any non-Muslim intending to purchase alcohol or even have a drink, should be in possession of liquor licence, even when drinking in licensed premises such as restaurants, bars, clubs and sports clubs.
Liquor licences are issued only to non-Muslim persons, whether they are UAE residents or tourists. Hotels are required to obtain licence to offer alcohol, but, it is not a must for them to ask their customers for a liquor license.
Following the letter of law implies that no one, including non-Muslim visitors, may purchase or drink alcohol without a licence.
All UAE nationals are Muslims, and Muslims are not issued alcohol licences. Consumption of alcohol and any other drug or psychotropic substance is strictly prohibited and punishable as per Islamic law. It is also illegal to offer or sell alcoholic drinks to Muslims.
The Federal Law makes it illegal to consume alcohol in the UAE without a licence, irrespective of whether at home or hotels and this is applicable to all residents and tourists in UAE.
The bars and nightclubs in Dubai compare well to most big cities across the world, but, the licensing laws imply that clubs here shut down by 3am.
Drinking in public is strictly illegal, and if caught, will be taken seriously. People who are obviously drunk in public, run the risk of being imprisoned, or deported depending on the scene created under the influence of alcohol in public. Anyone arrested for being drunk in a public place, and found guilty by a court of law, could receive a custodial sentence of not less than two months and not more than one year. They may also be fined up to AED5000. Any other offence or crime committed while drunk (e.g. physical and/or verbal abuse, not paying a taxi driver) will be heard separately.
Dubai follows zero-tolerance policy towards drinking and driving, and the consequences of getting caught are imprisonment for 1 to 3 years, deportation, fine of Dh.20,000 to Dh.30,000, loss of driving license, and no insurance, in case of accidents. Even the smallest dose of alcohol when driving can lead to fine or deportation.
An organization called ‘Saferdriver chauffer service’ can be availed if you have been drinking, although the service is available only for a fee. Their operating hours are 9am to 4am, and can be contacted at +971 4 2688797 or +971 4 2045650.
During Ramadan, restaurants and bars are more subdued. In Dubai although drinking alcohol is still permitted, if expats are caught breaking any drink related laws, they may be thrown in jail until the end of Ramadan, and punishments are stiffer during this period.
Formed in the year 2012, the Special Licence Office is a government entity, which aims to update and regulate all legislative alcohol-related matters.
Please note: Not being aware of the law is not an excuse and there is little protection if one gets into trouble. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Procedure for Alcohol / Liquor Licence
To obtain license, you need to be:
- More than 21 years of age
- Possess a Resident's visa
- Should not be a Muslim
- Should have minimum monthly salary of at least Dh.3000
- Go to your local branch of African + Eastern or MMI, often located at malls, collect forms, and check out about the procedure
- Fill out the form and get it stamped and signed by your employer and return it with necessary documents as detailed below:
- Copy of your passport and copy of resident’s visa page.
- Copy of residential rental or ownership contract.
- Copy of official Ministry of Labour contract in Arabic and English
- Passport size photographs
- Fee payment of Dh.160 or whatever applicable from time-to-time, which the store returns to you in vouchers or credit.
- To fill up the Arabic part of the form, it can usually be done at the licence office. The store will then take your application to the police for processing on your behalf, which would take about 10 days.
- The store would then contact you over phone or text message when your licence is ready and you are all set.
- If you are acquiring license through your company, the application form has to be completed, stamped and signed by the employer and the applicant. If your company is registered in a freezone, you will also require additional approval from the freezone authority. However, you cannot apply for a liquor licence if your company does not approve of its employees consuming alcohol.
- If you are self-employed, you need to produce a copy of your trade license.
- In the case of married couples seeking liquor licence, only the husband can apply. The wife will be permitted to apply with written agreement (No Objection Letter) from her husband, if and only if both husband and wife are non-Muslims. In case she is married to a Muslim, she will require a written authorisation from him to apply. In case of married couples, wife’s details will be uploaded in the card chip upon request by the husband. Once the application has been approved, the wife will be permitted to purchase alcohol without her husband’s presence. A wife can also request for permission to purchase alcohol on her husband’s license by sending a letter to a licenced outlet, which will them be signed and stamped and returned in three days. Single women may apply for their own liquor license. The license so issued will have a validity period of one year
- Your liquor licence is not transferrable and cannot be used by other people.
- For Abu Dhabi visa holders seeking a liquor licence in Dubai, a No Objection Certificate (NOC) should be produced from the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA)
After receiving your licence, you will also receive monthly allowance, which is based on your salary, age, job title and family size. This is usually enough for personal home use during the month. If you are planning dinner parties or bigger celebrations, you can stock up for a few months beforehand.
Obtaining a liquor license not only keeps you out of trouble, but has many other benefits, like for instance, some licensed liquor chains run offers at bars and restaurants across town or you can join the wine club. You will be notified of any special events like new product launches, and will get regular updates on latest offers too.
Liquor Licence Application Form
Liquor licence application form can be obtained from various alcohol outlets throughout the UAE, including MMI (www.mmidubai.com), Spinneys (www.spinneys.com), A&E (www.africaneastern.com) and you can apply online to the Special License Office (www.auhsl.ae).
Applications for Liquor License in Dubai and Abu Dhabi can be submitted to:
Khalifa City Police Station
General Directorate of Criminal Investigation
Hotels Security Branch
Tel: 02 508 8888 / 02 508 8817
Sunday to Thursday 08:00 – 13:00
In Dubai, applications for a liquor licence should be submitted via one of the alcohol outlets or to:
CID at Police Headquarters
Deira - Beside Al Mulla Plaza
Tel.: 04 292 2222
Liquor Licence Validity and Fee
- Your liquor licence holds a validity of one year.
- You will have to reproduce the required documents for renewal thereafter.
- At present, the annual cost of liquor licence and renewal are Dh.160 each.
- An additional 30% Municipality tax is added to purchase price of alcohol drinks in the shops.
Liquor Licence Facilities
Al Karama – Tel: 04 3348056 / 3351722
Al Wasl – Tel: 04 3942672 / 3940351
Arabian Ranches – Tel: 04 3606620
Bur Dubai – Tel: 04 3934361/ 04 352 4521
Deira – Tel: 04 2940390 / 04 2222666
Green Community – Tel: 04 885 4550
Jumeirah – Tel: 04 3490246
Ibn Battuta Mall – Tel: 04 3685626
Marina – Tel: 04 3683981
Mall of Emirates – Tel: 04341 0371
Mirdif – Tel: 04 2882715
Sheikh Zayed Road – Tel: 04 321 1223
Ras Al Khaimah – Tel: 07 236 334
Silicon Oasis – Tel: 04 326 4583
Trade Centre Road – Tel: 04 352 3091
Cellar Saver (MMI) – Tel: 07 2447403
A&E (African & Eastern) – Tel: 04 4344500 or visit www.africaneastern.com.
MMI (Maritime & Mercantile International) – Tel: 04 424 5000 or visit www.mmidubai.com for store locations.
Transporting Alcohol in Dubai
Obviously, if you purchase alcohol at an A&E or MMI shop in Dubai, you will have to trolley it home somehow. Your alcohol licence will permit you to do that, but, it is advisable to transport it in your own private vehicle. The alcohol licence only permits you to transport your purchase from shop to your home. If caught transporting a large quantity (over your license limit) the alcohol and vehicle will be seized and the person or persons will face punishment as per Sharia law.
Alcohol transport is not permitted on the Dubai Metro, or in any other form of public transport.
However problems may occur if your taxi or private car is involved in an accident, and the alcohol in the vehicle becomes obvious. Dubai Transport phone number is +971 4 208 0808 to order a taxi.
Renewing Liquor Licence
Renewal is essentially the same as the initial application, and the fee is payable again. When renewing, it is necessary to carry along with you, residence visa, passport, tenancy contract, and a ‘no objection’ letter from your new sponsor, if you have changed sponsorship.
To conclude, a note worth remembering:-The ill-effects of alcohol on health are well-known. Hence, it is best to abstain from alcoholic drinks as much as possible. But, if unavoidable, enjoy drinking legally and only in minimal quantities.