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

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.

Like all Muslim countries which follow Sharia Law, the purchase, possession, consumption, and distribution of drugs is strictly prohibited. Despite the UAE being very liberal, with alcohol freely available in hotel restaurants and bars in most emirates, and sold to private persons with permits, until recently, the UAE had a zero-tolerance approach to drug use, and especially trafficking. There have been reported cases of travelers transiting or arriving in the UAE, who got into trouble for simply having a poppy seed on their clothing from eating a sandwich. But while this is not the norm, travelers need to be prepared to have their luggage searched at customs and expect heavy fines if not jail when carrying drugs.

Drug laws

Despite still being very strict, in early 2022 the drugs laws were relaxed somewhat with regards to THC, the main psychoactive ingredient of cannabis. People found carrying food, drinks or other items containing THC will no longer face prison, but will have the substance confiscated, and will at most face a fine. That said, carrying vapes or e-cigarettes spiked with cannabis oil is still strictly prohibited.

Potential jail-sentences for first time offenders have been reduced from two years to three months, and the offenders will also be offered rehabilitation during that time.

But for the use of other, harder, drugs, and for drug trafficking, the law remains stringent, with the fine against offenders for inducing drug use and facilitating narcotics and psychotropics sales in fact having been increased to AED 50,000, and with a prison sentence of five years minimum.

Blood and urine tests

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

Be aware that, if you are thinking about staying in the UAE for work purposes, that you will have to undergo a blood test checking for drug use for certain employment contracts.

Prescription medication

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. If a traveler arrives with certain prohibited medications that are classed as narcotic or psychotropic, and other controlled drugs and medicines of class A or B without prior approval and appropriate documentation, i.e., a preferably translated prescription and letter from their doctor, they may be prosecuted, or forbidden entry.

Travelers can also pre-register their prescription drugs via a government website

The UAE government has an official site as to what items are prohibited to import into the UAE, but it does not detail specific brands of medications. To be safe, complete the online form, and get a letter from your doctor, preferably in Arabic.

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4 Comments

  • Brian Worthington said

    Dear Sirs.

    On the 30th August 2022, I shall be flying from London Gatwick to the Philippines
    but will be in transit in Dubai on the 30th August for 1 hour 35 minutes
    arriving on flight EK010 and departing on EK 334.

    I will be in the Philippines for 7 weeks, departing on flight EK335 and arriving Dubai in transit on the
    19th October.
    I will depart Dubai on flight EK015 to London Gatwick after a transit time of 3 hours 30 minutes.

    I will be bringing prescription drugs - 12 per day - together with my doctor's prescription.

    Is there anything else I need to provide or to be aware of.

    Thanking you in anticipation

    Brian Worthington

  • Ellen Hall said

    Hi Brian,
    It's our understanding that if you are only transiting and not actually entering the country, a prescription from your doctor should be fine. If you have a chance to get that translated into Arabic before you go, it would be a good idea, just to be on the safe side. But it shouldn't be necessary.
    Best,
    World Nomads

  • JP said

    I’m traveling from US to Dubai next Friday. Is my prescription bottle from Walgreens acceptable as a prescription for Dubai customs… I had a little trouble in India on a previous trip, but was able to get it sorted out. Do I need an actual Letter from my doctor? I’ve traveled throughout South America, Africa, Asia & Europe and only brought a letter from my doctor once on an international trip (to China) & it wasn’t even looked at. The only issue I had was at a domestic airport in India… curious how strict customs are about being my prescribed medicines… Adderall, Ambien & my wife will be bringing an antidepressant (Pristiq)… I do not want to get my meds confiscated or get in any trouble at customs.

  • Ellen Hall said

    Hi JP,
    I suggest visiting the official government website below and registering your medications. And if you have time I would get a note from your doctor to be on the safe side. The FAQs here have more details: https://mohap.gov.ae/en/services/issue-of-permit-to-import-medicines-for-personal-use

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