One of the great misnomers about travelling in the Middle East is that you will not be allowed to consume alcohol.
While that is true of some countries, most notably Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, it is not of all, particularly those in the United Arab Emirates.
However, that is not to say that there are not stringent laws governing the consumption of alcohol. Many people mistakenly believe that because emirate nations are home to many expatriates, their governments are far more lax in enforcing drinking legislation.
This could not be further from the truth.
These governments are tolerant of alcohol, but only to a point. If they suspect that any trouble has arisen as a result of drinking, law enforcement officers will be extremely quick to throw the book at the perpetrators.
UAE Drinking Rules
Drinking alcohol in the UAE requires a licence as a resident or tourist, provided you are non-Muslim. These can be purchased at bottle shops, but can only be obtained with the prior approval of your employer if you are a UAE resident.
While tourists are also expected to be in possession of a licence, the police are not in the habit of checking each and every person who might be drinking. Again, however, woe betide any individual who gets into trouble and alcohol is involved. If you do not possess a licence, the authorities will be quick to charge you with drinking without a licence.
So, once licences have been obtained, the question is where are you allowed to drink or purchase alcohol in the UAE?
Private and Public Drinking
The key is to understand what is meant by private and public drinking. Alcohol consumption is only permitted in designated areas, such as licensed restaurants and bars attached to hotels. The minute you step out of these areas, you are viewed as being in public and at far greater risk of being cornered by the authorities, even if you are only mildly intoxicated and are not actually in any physical possession of any alcohol.
For non-Muslim residents and tourists, liquor stores are available, but in order to purchase liquor a licence will have to be presented.
For many expats in particular, the best option is to buy duty-free alcohol from one of the emirates’ impressive airports, be it Dubai or Abu Dhabi.
However, it is worth bearing in mind that in Dubai, for example, as a non-Muslim your limit is only two litres of spirits and two litres of wine.