What are the Punishments for Minors Caught Drinking Alcohol and Illegally Selling Alcohol in the UAE?

criminal law


February 13, 2022



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Before the new changes that were affected by the Federal Decree By-Law No. 15 of 2020, and subsequently, by the 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.

The permits were issued by the respective authorities in each emirate and were subject to the provisions of the law on alcoholic beverage control issued in 1972. Thus, under the said law it was illegal to import, export, manufacture, acquire, drink, supply, sell or offer alcoholic drinks to any person who does not possess a valid alcohol license, issued by the appropriate licensing authority on an emirate level.

Violation of the said rules would have invited a penalty equivalent to six months imprisonment and a fine of five thousand dirhams.

New Changes:

With the recent changes effected in the federal laws, the consumption of alcohol has been legalized in the UAE, subject to the restrictions imposed by each emirate.

For the Emirate of Dubai, the following rules apply:

  • The consumption of alcohol is no longer a criminal offence;
  • There is no requirement to hold a valid alcohol license, as was the case before the new changes;
  • 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.

Consumption of Alcohol by Minors:

In terms of alcohol consumption, a minor would be any person who is below the age of twenty-one (21) and further, it is a punishable offence for any person to sell alcoholic beverages to a minor (‘minor’ as within the purview of this law).

Article 363 of the UAE Penal Code Reads as Follows:

  1. 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.

  2. Any person who possesses manufactures, brings, promotes, or sells alcoholic beverages or who arranges or prepares a place for drinking alcoholic beverages or who exercises any related activity without a licence from the competent authorities or in violation of the licensing terms, or in other than the cases and locations authorised according to the applicable legislation, shall be liable to a jail sentence and a fine not exceeding AED five hundred thousand (500,000) or either one of these two penalties.

  3. Any person who drinks alcoholic beverages in a public place or in other than the locations authorised according to applicable legislation, or who is found in a state of intoxication in a public place, or who causes trouble or annoyance to a third party, or causes a public disturbance, while in a state of intoxication, shall be liable to a jail sentence for a period not exceeding six (6) months and a fine not exceeding AED one hundred thousand (100,000) or either one of these two penalties.

  4. Any person who offers alcoholic beverages to a person under the age of twenty-one (21) years or who incites such drinking or who purchases the same to provide them to the said person, shall be liable to a jail sentence for a period not exceeding one (1) year and a fine not exceeding AED one hundred thousand (100,000) or either one of these two penalties. There is no crime if any of the acts are committed when the perpetrator verifies that the age of the person for whom the alcoholic beverages are offered or sold, is not less than twenty-one years, based on his passport or any other official document.

In all cases, a judgment shall be issued for the confiscation of the alcoholic beverages, the seized proceeds obtained, and the equipment, materials, and means used in their production or transfer, in addition to the closure of the place or location in which the crime is committed, and the court may expel the foreigner from the State.

It is 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 criminalize the consumption of alcohol in the said emirate and have not been revoked yet.

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