One of the most frequently asked questions and confusing areas of Islamic Law and customs that visitors to Abu Dhabi need to be aware of is whether it is legal to drink alcohol in Abu Dhabi.
Drinking alcohol is forbidden for Muslims under local laws – Sharia Law. However, accepting of the large non-Muslim expatriate population and tourism into the UAE, drinking alcohol is allowed in Abu Dhabi under certain strict conditions.
UPDATE AS AT SEPTEMBER 2020: Licensing of residents for alcohol purchases looks to have been scrapped completely, as has the explicit ban to Muslims. The only rules reiterated are:
* The consumer must be over 21 years of age,
* Alcohol is for personal consumption only, and
* Must be consumed in private homes or licensed areasPer Department of Culture and Tourism, circular dated 15 September 2020
Federal laws followed suit on 7 November 2020, decriminalising the consumption of alcohol across the country as long as you are over 21 and drinking privately or on licensed premises. You can read the latest guidance for Dubai here.
We have left the original article below regarding licensing and other such Abu Dhabi alcohol-related matters in case you need any clarification.
Can Tourists Drink Alcohol in Abu Dhabi?
- Licensing laws require venues serving alcohol to be attached to hotels or private clubs*.
- It’s illegal to drink in the street or a public place or be under the influence of alcohol in a public space.
- The legal drinking age in Abu Dhabi to buy alcohol and be served in bars/restaurants is 21 years old (though the fine print of the law as we discovered, alcohol can actually be consumed from age 18).
So the basic premise – over 21’s should drink only in licensed venues and behave yourself!
Where can I find licensed premises?
Nearly all hotels in Abu Dhabi serve alcohol from a bar or restaurant. A limited few are designated “dry” or “Family” and will not have a bar on-site – if this is important to you, do check the details before booking a hotel in Abu Dhabi.
Clubs, such as sporting clubs, golf clubs, and purpose-built entertainment venues attached nearby to a hotel or beach club, have alcohol-serving licenses and serve as entertainment hubs around the city. Alcohol purchased must be consumed on the premises.
* UPDATE: Laws changed, again, in July 2021 regarding who could apply for an On-Premises Service and Consumption of Alcoholic Beverages Licence. Far beyond just hotels and sports clubs now, independent outlets can now apply for a license. So, smaller restaurants and tourist camps who apply and pay the hefty fee, can obtain a licence to serve alcohol.
These sweeping changes to the hospitality industry also saw a new category open up for Fermentation Permits – essentially, the ability to brew drinks. These drinks must still be consumed on the premises, as we’ve seen in the first test study case, the opening of CRAFT by Side Hustle on Al Maryah Island.
Drinking Laws in Abu Dhabi for Expatriates
Superseded by 2020 rule changes but left here for reference how it used to work.
Non-Muslim expatriates in the UAE are permitted to purchase alcohol from specialised stores if they purchase an alcohol license.
How do I get an Alcohol license in Abu Dhabi?
If you hold a resident visa, are aged over 21, earn at least 3,000AED per month, and are a non-Muslim, you can apply for an alcohol license, which permits you to buy alcohol from licensed trading stores. These are inconspicuously signed but located all over the city, and they are easy to locate on Google maps.
The license can be applied for at designated shops, including Spinneys, High Spirits, GMP and African & Eastern, or you can apply through the Government portal online. You will need copies of your passport, Visa and Emirates ID (you no longer need a tenancy agreement, labour contract and salary certificate), along with passport photos and an application fee of 270 AED.
The alcohol you can purchase in these stores is quite heavily taxed at 30% on top of what the supplier has already paid in import duty (don’t be surprised if you are visiting friends in Abu Dhabi and they ask you to stock up for them with your duty-free limit!)
Please see the change of law as described above, the payment of an annual alcohol license fee is no longer required.
Other Frequently Asked Questions & Rules to Know about Alcohol in Abu Dhabi
So, let’s set the record straight on several issues surrounding the purchase and consumption of alcohol in Abu Dhabi & the UAE.
Can I take alcohol into Abu Dhabi with me from Duty Free?
Individuals are permitted to import 4 litres of alcohol – see UAE customs guideline here
But I’ve heard of people going to jail for being drunk in Abu Dhabi. Is this true?
What you will find is that there is normally another event that has led to the individual being arrested rather than drinking in itself. The police will then seek to add extra charges, such as intoxication or drinking without a license. Simply message, just don’t break the laws in the UAE and don’t get yourself heavily intoxicated.
Is there a drink-driving limit in Abu Dhabi?
Note that Abu Dhabi has a zero-tolerance policy on driving whilst intoxicated; your blood alcohol limit is 0.00. Find further advice for driving in Abu Dhabi and alternatives you may be able to use if you’ve had a few drinks but brought your car.
What is the legal drinking age Abu Dhabi?
This is a curious one, as the legal drinking age in Abu Dhabi is 18 years. This is superseded, however, by Ministry of Tourism bylaws that govern the sale of alcohol, and these laws state that alcohol cannot be served to anyone under the age of 21.
You have to be over 21 years of age to be served in retail outlets, too. So our interpretation is unless you are consuming alcohol in a domestic setting, you’ve got to be over 21 to enjoy a drink in Abu Dhabi.
If you happen to be between 18 and 21 years of age and staying with friends and relatives in a private setting, then we’d say, it’s legal.
Are the rules dor drinking alcohol the same across the UAE?
While there is a federal law that decriminalises alcohol consumption in the United Arab Emirates, the amendments made to the law in 2020 allow each emirate the right to issue legislation regulating the issue. i.e. each Emirate can override the Federal decree.
The only Emirate which completely overrides this law is Sharjah, which remains the only ‘dry’ emirate (though it does appear certain sporting clubs are still able to get licences).
Can I get liquor from a store on a visitor visa?
This is a grey area of the law, as technically, you need a liquor license to drink in the UAE, regardless of what type of visa you are on. But it’s served in bars everywhere, right?
Dubai has recently introduced free tourist alcohol licensing, but the same step has not been taken in Abu Dhabi Emirate (licenses now completely abolished in Abu Dhabi emirate so yes, as a toursit you can buy alcohol from a shop or a bar, no questions asked)
Can you drink on Etihad flights?
Yes, the national carrier Etihad, which flies from its base at Zayed International Airport (AUH) in Abu Dhabi, does serve alcohol complimentary in all cabins.
How much will an alcoholic drink cost me in Dubai?
This is highly variable by venue, but don’t be surprised if a pint of beer sets you back as much as 50AED/$13.50/ €12/£10.5. A small glass of wine costs approximately 40AED/$10.8/ €9.8/£8.4. The classier the venue and the better the view the price will go up.
Alcohol in Abu Dhabi on the whole is pretty expensive as whilst permitted, it’s still discouraged through heavy excise taxes, paid at the importer level.
Where can I find cheaper booze in Abu Dhabi?
It is popular with the expatriate population to head to the Northern Emirates of Umm Al Quwain and Ras al Khaimah, where alcohol is supplied in larger stores without some of the added taxes seen in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
For tourists unable to quickly duck to the other side of the country, keep your eyes peeled for happy hour specials, ladies night deals, and if you are going to be in the country for a bit, consider purchasing a 3-month membership to BB+ by Best Bites UAE. They have superb dining deals in the capital, many including drinks.
But I saw alcohol on sale in the supermarket!
Look closely! What you will find is the “beer “on sale in the supermarket has zero % alcohol – if that’s your thing, then go for it….
Before you go… Important things to consider when planning a trip to Abu Dhabi
- Pop into our essential planning information page; it includes everything you need to know about getting around Abu Dhabi, a handy guide on what to pack and top tips for first-timers on the dos and don’ts, laws, and customs in the UAE.
- Don’t forget to pack your travel insurance!
- Discover the best places to stay in Abu Dhabi, or bag a bargain on your accommodation here:
Please note we are not a travel agency. This site is a travel blog to help newcomers to the UAE self plan their trip, we cannot book your flights, hotels, visas or connections for you. We may make a small commission if you click on any of our hotel or tour recommendation links.Abu Dhabi Travel Planner
Please note, the information on this page is only advisory in nature. You should look to clarify laws for yourself and seek legal advice immediately should you run into any issues while drinking alcohol in Abu Dhabi & the UAE.