Drug Laws in the UAE: What Travelers Need to Know

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Use and possession of drugs are serious crimes in the UAE, with very little leniency shown. Here's what you need to know before you go.

Police cars in Dubai Photo © iStock/Francoisjabre

Prescription or over-the-counter medication may be classified as an illegal or controlled substance in the UAE, so it's easy for travelers to make mistakes when carrying prescription medications into the country.

In 1996, the UAE passed legislation allowing for the death penalty for drug trafficking. As far as drugs are concerned, the UAE has a zero-tolerance policy towards drugs in general and this is enforced in a variety of ways.

Drug Laws

The drugs laws are very strict in the UAE, and travellers passing through the UAE with only trace amounts of drugs on them have been imprisoned for up to four years.

This has occurred several times since 2006 and even amounts as low as 0.05 grams or less can lead to a guilty verdict.

Be very aware of this if you are entering into the UAE from a nation where the drug laws are very different. 0.05 grams is a very small amount, and that trace amount could easily be picked up on the bottom of your shoe or other article of clothing and then placed in your bag.

The sale and trafficking of drugs is strictly forbidden and will result in jail time or worse, the death penalty.

Blood and Urine Tests

Presence of illegal drugs detected in blood or urine tests is also counted as possession, and yes, you can be prosecuted, fined, and possibly imprisoned for being under the influence of illegal drugs.

Prescription Medication

In case this isn't clear by now, the drug laws in the UAE are VERY strict. Prescription or over-the-counter medication may be classified as an illegal or controlled substance in the UAE and it may be very easy to make this mistake. In 2005, a British tourist was jailed for having codeine in her system. You know, codeine – commonly found in cough syrup and many over-the-counter pain relief drugs such as Nurofen.

If a traveller arrives with certain prohibited medications without prior approval and appropriate documentation, they will not be allowed entry and may also be prosecuted. So be very sure to check and see if you have any form of headache or pain relief tablets in your luggage or on your person that may contain codeine as it is a very easy mistake to make.

The UAE government has published a guide for travelers about prescription drugs and what can and can't be brought in. Permission must be sought from the UAE Ministry of Health prior to arrival into the country.

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