Drinking Alcohol in the UAE: Why intoxication is a serious crime
By Atty. Barney Almazar
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Alcohol intoxication is a serious offense in Muslim jurisdictions as evidenced by the gravity of penalty associated to it. A person guilty of illicit sexual relation will be given 100 lashes while alcohol drinking warrants 80 lashes. This is because drinking is considered a crime against the rights of God.
Different Penalties for Muslims and Non-Muslims
The UAE Penal Code, particularly Article 313 of Book 2, Part 5 on Crimes against Religious Faith and Rites provides the penalties for alcohol consumption:
- The Hadd punishment for drinking alcohol shall not apply to non-Muslim.
- Subject to conditions allowed for the non-Muslims, anyone who drinks alcohol shall be sentenced to detention for not less than one month and not more than six months and a fine of not less than one thousand Dirhams and not more than two thousand Dirhams (or with one of these two penalties).
Hadd is a specific punishment prescribed in the Quran such as amputation of the hand for theft, death by stoning or one hundred lashes for illicit sexual relations, and death or banishment for highway robbery. Muslims are prohibited from consuming intoxicants and if caught, the punishment fixed by Quran is eighty lashes. Although Hadd punishment is rarely applied, it is still written in statute books and can be ordered by a judge.
On the other hand, non-Muslims are allowed to consume alcohol only if they hold an alcohol license. If caught drinking without a license, a jail term from 1 to 6 months and/or fine not exceeding AED2,000 can be imposed. In certain instances, a deportation order is also given especially if the crime was committed during Ramadan.
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Non-Muslims must have a valid liquor license to consume alcohol, even if done in the privacy of their homes. To apply for a license, the applicant must be non-Muslim, UAE resident, at least 21 years old and earning not less than AED3,000 a month. The documentary requirements are the following:
- Passport and residence visa
- Ejari-registered tenancy contract or proof of ownership of residence. If the contract is not under the name of the applicant, he must get a no objection certificate (NOC) from the registered tenant
- 2 Passport-sized photos
- Copy of employer’s establishment card
- Proof of income such as salary certificate and employment contract – the monthly limit of alcohol purchases depends on the applicant’s salary
- AED160 application fee
Those working in the free zone will need to secure NOC from the free zone authority allowing the employee to get a liquor license.
Application forms are available from any MMI or A+E stores. The completed form stamped by the employer, and together with the other requirements, can be submitted to any MMI or A+E stores. Processing time may take about a month and notification will be sent to the applicant by SMS when the license is ready.
The license is renewable annually.
Duty Free Limits
Alcohol is subject to 30% tax. The Dubai Customs allows arriving passengers to bring in up to 4 liters of alcoholic beverages or 2 cartons of beer (each consisting of 24 cans, not exceeding 355 ml for each can or its equivalent) without paying customs duty.
The alcohol license gives the holder permission to transport reasonable quantity of alcohol purchased from an authorized dealer to his residence using a private vehicle. The license holder can share alcohol to family members aged 21 years and above.
Carrying alcohol in public transportation is illegal. Do not transport alcohol using Dubai Metro. According to Section 2.4 of the Dubai Code of Conduct, alcohol buyers must “respect the local culture by carrying alcohol in paper bags such that it cannot be seen.”
It is recommended to buy alcohol in the emirate which issued the liquor license as the rules on transporting alcohol to another emirate are prone to different interpretations. Moreover, each emirate has its own rules regarding alcohol. Sharjah, for example, being a dry emirate does not allow selling of alcohol (except at the Sharjah Wanderers Club and Sharjah International Airport). Residents of Sharjah with alcohol licenses are permitted to buy alcohol in another emirate and transport it back to their homes.
Being Drunk in Public, Drinking and Driving
Possession of an alcohol license enables the holder to purchase alcohol, but does carry with it the right to drink it in public places or to be drunk in public areas. Section 2.2 of the Code states that alcohol consumption shall be confined to designated areas (i.e. at home, licensed restaurants, and venues where alcohol is authorized to be served). Being caught under the effect of alcohol, even in light doses, outside these places can lead to a fine or jail term.
The UAE has adopted a zero-tolerance policy in terms of driving under the influence of alcohol. Anyone found driving with even the smallest dose of booze will face fine, incarceration or deportation (Section 2.3). Drunk drivers involved in accidents run the risk of losing their driving license and loss of insurance coverage. Deportation is a possibility, especially in serious accidents resulting to injuries or death.
Whether heading to happy hour, a birthday, a wedding, or a party, do not overindulge. Getting an alcohol license and drinking in moderation are the most effective ways to sip your spirits without spending some R&R time with the jail warden the following morning. Avoiding alcohol, however, will not only save you from police trouble but is also the best prevention for hangovers.