Understanding the New Alcohol Laws in the UAE: Key Reforms and Punishments

Is alcohol legal in UAE

Is alcohol legal in UAE? The United Arab Emirates has become a major destination for millions of expatriates from all over the world. People from different backgrounds, cultures, religions, beliefs and lifestyles come to the UAE in search of better opportunities and a higher standard of living. In order to maintain its status as a modern, globalized nation, the UAE has implemented numerous reforms and changes. One of the most significant reforms has been in the area of alcohol consumption.

The UAE government has made significant changes to the country’s laws and regulations related to alcohol consumption. The initial changes were introduced through Federal Decree Law No. 15 of 2020, which amended the previous Penal Code (Federal Law No. 3 of 1987). This was then consolidated and re-affirmed under the new Penal Code, referred to as the Federal Decree Law No. 31 of 2021 On the Issuance of Crimes and Penalties Law.

These changes have had a significant impact on the country’s social and cultural fabric, and have helped to create a more inclusive and harmonious society that embraces diversity and tolerance. By taking such steps, the UAE has established itself as a leading player on the global stage and has become an attractive destination for people from all walks of life.

Here are the key pointers of the revised law concerning alcohol consumption in the UAE

  • The consumption of alcohol is now allowed in certain cases and locations as specified by law, without the need for a license. However, each Emirate is entitled to issue its own laws to regulate the use, circulation, trading and possession of alcohol.
  • Possession, manufacturing, promotion, and selling of alcohol requires a license from the competent authorities, and violating the terms of the license can result in imprisonment and fines of up to AED 500,000.
  • The legal age to drink alcohol is 21 years old. Offering alcohol to someone under 21 or purchasing it for someone under 21 is punishable by imprisonment and fines of up to AED 100,000.
  • Alcohol cannot be consumed in a public place or unauthorized location, and violating this rule or causing public disturbance while drunk is punishable by imprisonment and fines of up to AED 100,000.
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol is strictly prohibited and punishable by imprisonment and a minimum fine of AED 25,000.

Last year, the Federal Criminal Code underwent several amendments with the Federal Decree By Law No. 15 of 2020. Recently, the Union Supreme Court issued a judgment (Federal Supreme Court judgment 1308 of 2020) that sheds light on the use and possession of alcohol. The court stated that if a local law in an Emirate prohibits the consumption of alcohol and has jurisdiction, then that law takes precedence over the Federal Criminal Code. Despite being issued by the UAE’s highest court, the country operates under a civil law system and lacks the concept of binding precedent. Therefore, the position regarding alcohol consumption may change in the future based on future judgments.

Key Amendments to the Federal Decree By Law No. 15 of 2020

Before the amendments, individuals who consumed alcohol, or engaged in the unauthorized possession, acquisition, importation, exportation, or manufacture of alcoholic beverages for personal use or sale to others were subject to detention for a minimum of six months and a fine of ten thousand Dirhams, or either penalty. Similarly, those who possessed, acquired, brought, manufactured, re-exported, promoted, or publicized alcoholic beverages for commercial purposes without proper authorization were liable for detention for a minimum of two years and a fine of fifty thousand Dirhams, or either penalty as prescribed by law.

Article 313 (bis) in the Federal Criminal Code No. 3 of 1987, which was added in 2006, states the following:

  • Non-Muslims are exempt from the Hadd punishment for drinking alcohol.
  • For those who drink alcohol or possess, acquire, import, export, or manufacture alcoholic beverages for personal use or to offer to others, they will face detention for a minimum of six months and a fine of ten thousand Dirhams or either of these two penalties.
  • For those who possess, acquire, bring, manufacture, re-export, promote, or advertise alcoholic beverages for commercial purposes, they will face detention for a minimum of two years and a fine of fifty thousand Dirhams or either of these two penalties.
  • These penalties do not affect any penalties for violating licenses or permits and their conditions.

Article 313 has undergone a radical change, pursuant to Law No. 15 of 2020. An English translation of Article 313 (bis) of the Amended Code reads as follows:

  1. No penalty shall be imposed on drinking, possessing or trading in alcoholic drinks in the cases and at places authorized in accordance with the legislation in force.
  2. Without prejudice to the provision of Clause (1) of this Article, each emirate may issue regulations for the use, circulation and possession of alcoholic drinks or trade therein.
  3. Whoever offers or sells alcoholic drinks to any person under 21 years of age or buys the same for the purpose of offering to such person shall be punished by imprisonment and a fine of no less than one hundred dirhams and not more than five hundred thousand dirhams or any of such penalties. Any of such actions shall not be considered a crime if the perpetrator verifies that the age of the person to which the alcoholic drinks is offered or sold is not less than 21 years, based on his passport or any official document.

As may be seen, consumption of alcohol is no longer considered a criminal offence as matter of UAE Federal law, provided that certain conditions are met such as consuming it in authorized locations in accordance with the legislations in force, with due consideration to the local laws that each Emirate may issue.

Key Takeaways of Laws Governing Alcohol Consumption in the UAE

The legal system of the UAE is a combination of Federal and local laws. Before 1987, each Emirate had its own set of local criminal laws, such as Abu Dhabi’s Law No. 8 of 1976 on alcoholic beverages and Dubai’s Law No. 1972. In 1987, the Federal Criminal Code was established and is now applied in all Emirates, but local criminal laws may still be enforced if they are not in conflict with the Federal Criminal Code or if the Federal Criminal Code does not address the issue.

Previously, the Federal Criminal Code did not prohibit the consumption or possession of alcohol. This was likely due to the existence of a general provision on the implementation of Islamic principles, which included Islamic penalties for alcohol consumption. However, in 2006, article 313 (bis) was added to the Federal Criminal Code, changing the position on alcohol consumption.

The current law aims to remove the need for a license to consume alcohol as long as it is consumed in accordance with the law. It is also expected that the remaining Emirates will revise or abolish their local laws regarding alcohol consumption.

That said, Drink Responsibly!


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