criminal law

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August 08, 2011

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Source: Expat Echo - Alcohol and Licensing in Dubai

Know your rights: 5 criminal laws every Dubai expat should know.

With the aim to provide updated legal advice in a clear and readable way for expats living in Dubai and the Middle East, here we set out your rights when it comes to alcohol and licensing. It is important to note that the penalties for breaching any of the following licensing laws is a jail term and can be combined with deportation in some cases.

  1. If you are a Muslim expatriate, drinking alcohol is strictly forbidden in any circumstance.

  2. If you are non-Muslim, you may only consume alcohol if you personally hold an alcohol license. You should keep this license with you at all times. The license is granted by the police licensing authorities in the Emirate in which you live. The alcohol license will allow you to purchase alcohol up to a percentage of your monthly salary.

  3. Even if you hold an alcohol license, you should only drink alcohol in your own home or a licensed restaurant or bar. It is against the law to consume alcohol or have alcohol in your system if you are not in your own home or in a licensed venue. Whilst this law is usually only enforced in conjunction with another crime, expatriates should still be careful, considerate and courteous whilst traveling from venue to venue on an evening out.

  4. Alcohol should only be purchased in the Emirate in which the expatriate holds an alcohol license. It is therefore against the law for an expatriate residing in Dubai to purchase alcohol from liquor suppliers in Ras Al Khaimah.

  5. There is zero tolerance laws for expatriates drink driving in the UAE. This means that you may have no alcohol in your system whilst driving. Alcohol can take up to 48 hours to leave your system. Take this into account when driving the day after a night out.


New Update:

Before the changes affected by Federal Decree-Law No. 15/2020 and subsequently by Federal Decree-Law No. 31/2021 on the Issuance of the Crimes and Penalties Law (the UAE Penal Code), it was illegal to consume alcohol without a valid permit.

According to Article 363, no punishment may be imposed for drinking, possessing, or trading in alcohol in the cases and locations permitted according to applicable legislation. Each Emirate shall have the right to regulate the use, circulation, trading in, and possession of alcoholic beverages.

For the emirate of Dubai, the following rules apply:

  • The consumption of alcohol is no longer a criminal offense;
  • The legal age for consumption of alcohol is determined to be twenty-one (21);
  • Alcohol cannot be consumed in public places that are not licensed to sell alcohol; however, it can be consumed in private places as well as licensed restaurants and bars.

Abu Dhabi's Culture and Tourism Department has announced it has revoked its licensing system for buying alcohol.

  • They have issued a Circular to this effect. It states that the alcoholic beverages license for individuals has been revoked, as residents and tourists in the Emirate will be allowed to buy and possess alcoholic beverages, and are allowed to drink within tourism and hotel establishments, clubs, and independent outlets.
  • Under the Circular, customers have to be at least 21, and the purchase should be for personal use and not for resale.
  • Alcohol should also only be consumed in private homes or licensed areas.

It is also critical to understand that the new changes in the right context, especially, that each emirate has its own rules, and if there is a local law of a given emirate that prohibits the consumption of alcohol then, the said local laws would apply instead of the Federal laws in such instances. For instance, the emirate of Sharjah, has local laws in place that have been in effect for decades which specifically criminalizes the consumption of alcohol in the said emirate and have not been revoked yet.

Federal Decree-Law No. 31/2021 introduces significant changes to fines and penalties related to alcohol-related offenses.

  • Unlicensed Activities: Engaging in activities related to alcoholic beverages without proper licenses or violating licensing terms is prohibited. Offenders can face imprisonment and a fine of up to AED 500,000 or either of these penalties.
  • Public Consumption and Intoxication: Consuming alcoholic beverages in public places or unauthorized locations is prohibited. Being publicly intoxicated or causing disturbances while intoxicated can lead to imprisonment of up to 6 months and a fine of up to AED 100,000 or either of these penalties.
  • Minors and Alcohol: Providing alcoholic beverages to individuals under 21 years of age or encouraging their consumption is prohibited. Purchasing alcohol for minors for the purpose of providing it to them is also prohibited. Offenders can face imprisonment of up to 1 year and a fine of up to AED 100,000 or either of these penalties. Exceptions exist if the age of the person is verified to be 21 or older based on official documents.
  • Consequences of Offenses: Conviction can lead to the confiscation of alcoholic beverages, proceeds, production/transfer equipment, and materials. The location where the offense occurred can be closed. Foreign offenders may be expelled from the country.

In accordance with the recent amendment to Article 49(6) of Federal Law No. 21/1995 (Traffic Law)

  • Driving or attempting to drive a vehicle on the road while under the influence of alcoholic drinks, anaesthetic substances, or similar intoxicants is now subject to stricter penalties. Offenders could face a fine of at least 20,000 AED and/or imprisonment. This aligns with the updated provisions of Article 49(6) of Federal Law No. 21/1995.
  • Additionally, under the newly revised Article 59(3), driving a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, narcotics, or similar substances that impair one's ability to control the vehicle is explicitly prohibited.

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