Many people think that alcohol is completely banned in Dubai and the United Arab Emirates, and therefore importing, buying and / or drinking alcohol are punishable by harsh jail sentences.
I don’t blame people for thinking this as the Western media often reports on cases where this has occurred. Not too long ago a British woman was arrested in Dubai for drinking alcohol on the plane (or so the British tabloids would have you believe). Turned out she was rude to customs officials, started filming them, did not have a valid passport and was secretly running an illegal botox clinic in Dubai. Alcohol was in no way the major issue at hand.
Dubai police tend to “add” the charge of being intoxicated in public when you are being arrested for a more serious crime. This, however, does not mean you should not be careful when drinking and act as if Dubai is the new Magaluf (or Shagaluf, depending on the kind of people you mix with). As a rule of thumb, if you are in a place that permits you to drink then there won’t likely be any issue – just don’t behave in an antisocial way and you’ll be fine.
It is worth noting, though, that some other Emirates are stricter in terms of alcohol than Dubai and apply different rules regarding the sale and consumption of alcohol, please note this if you plan to visit the neighbouring Emirates in addition to Dubai. For example, selling, drinking and even carrying alcohol is fully prohibited in the Emirate of Sharjah without a license.
Importing alcohol (or more simply – carrying it with you when you arrive on a plane) into Dubai is totally fine: per person (adult) you can enter 4 liters of alcoholic beverages. When you are visiting friends of family in Dubai they will often ask you to at least bring a bottle or two as alcohol is expensive and not that easy to get (in the shops at least) in Dubai.
When importing alcohol It does not matter whether it is beer, wine or spirits. You can buy the alcohol at the airport but it is also possible to buy alcohol on arrival at the airport in Dubai in the Duty Free shops which are located next to the baggage claim in the arrival hall.
As mentioned before, it is challenging to buy alcohol in Dubai as it is not available in supermarkets or stores. The only “beer” that is available are the non-alcoholic variants of, among others, Bavaria and Holstein. Expats need to apply for an expensive alcohol licence which allows them to buy alcohol from selected (and often expensive) stores in Dubai.
Alcohol in restaurants and cafes in Dubai
In various restaurants, hotels, clubs and bars alcohol can be served if the location has a permit. Often it is the Western hotels and the large well-known hotel chains that have such a permit. The prices of alcohol are a lot higher in Dubai than we are used to in Europe or the USA.
A normal pint of lager will set you back AED 50 or €12/£11/$13.5 and a glass of wine often costs AED40 or €10/£8.5/$11 and a cocktail can cost anything from AED 50 or €12/£11/$13.5 to AED 100 or €25/£21/$27
When you are planning on taking excursions such as Dhow Cruises, you might be glad to know that there is alcohol available for purchase on these excursions, although a glass of wine or beer will probably set you back more than in a normal pub or club.
Keep in mind that drinking alcohol in public is forbidden and driving under the influence of alcohol is seen as a serious violation with high penalties. Public intoxication is also seen as a criminal offense and is punished with high prison sentences, especially when you start bothering people!