How to Get an Alcohol Trading License in the UAE: A Step-by-Step Guide

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Selling and serving alcohol in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is tightly controlled by state authorities. Businesses in the liquor trade need special alcohol trading licenses. They must renew the licenses each year.
This article will guide you through the application process. It covers eligibility criteria, fees, documents, approval agencies, and more. It is based on 2021 regulations.

Who Can Apply for a UAE Alcohol Trading License?

The UAE only provides alcohol licenses to registered companies. Individuals cannot apply. Even among companies, you need to meet certain standards:

Local Emirati Partner is Mandatory

UAE law mandates that any business with an alcohol trading license must have at least one Emirati owner. The percentage of ownership can vary depending on the specific Emirate.

Office Location in Same Emirate

UAE law mandates that. Any business with an alcohol trading license must have at least one Emirati owner. For instance, to get licensed in Dubai, your office must be based in Dubai.

Minimum Capital Requirement

The minimum capital prerequisite also varies across different Emirates:

  • Dubai: AED 1 million
  • Abu Dhabi: AED 3 million
  • RAK: AED 1 million
  • Sharjah: AED 10 million
  • Ajman: AED 3 million

The funds must be verifiable in a UAE bank account under your company’s name.

Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Licensed

Follow this detailed playbook to successfully obtain an alcohol trading license in the UAE:

Step 1 – Get Initial Approval from State Authority

First, you must get an Initial Approval from the regulatory body overseeing alcohol trade in your Emirate.
For instance, in Dubai, the approving authority is Dubai Municipality. In Abu Dhabi, it is the Department of Culture and Tourism.
Submit all documents. These include office rent agreements, shareholder pacts, and capital certificates. Submit them for verification. Fulfilling all eligibility criteria is vital at this preliminary approval stage.

Step 2 – Apply for Alcohol Trade License

Once you get the Initial Approval, submit it and other paperwork to the Department of Economic Development (DED). You will use them to formally apply for the alcohol trade license.

Some key documents required at this stage include:

  • Initial Approval
  • Business licenses
  • Bank statements
  • Customs Code
  • Municipality approvals

Ensure adherence to exact requirements for your Emirate.

Step 3 – Obtain Final Alcohol Trading Permit

After scrutiny, the DED will issue your final alcohol trading license.

Separate permits may be required for:

  • Beer and wine sales
  • Liquor sales
  • Manufacturing alcohol
  • Transporting alcohol

Check with your local DED to apply for suitable licenses aligned to your planned activities.

Step 4 – Renew Alcohol Trading License Annually

Alcohol licenses in the UAE need to be renewed each year. You must reapply with updated documents within 60 days of your license expiration.

What Activities are Allowed Under the Alcohol License?

The alcohol trading license has strict guidelines regarding permitted and prohibited activities:

Allowed Activities:

  • Importing alcoholic drinks
  • Transporting alcohol between licensed premises
  • Wholesale supply to bars and liquor stores
  • Manufacturing beer, wine, spirits etc.

Prohibited Activities:

  • Selling alcohol directly to unlicensed outlets or individuals
  • Retail sales of alcohol without possessing a liquor store license
  • Distributing free samples to consumers

There are minor differences in trading rules across each Emirate. Verify precise regulations with your local authority before commencing business.

Alcohol License Costs, Renewals and Fines

License and Renewal Costs

While costs vary across Emirates, alcohol license fees typically range from:

  • AED 10,000-20,000 for first-time applications
  • AED 10,000-15,000 for yearly renewals

Fines and Penalties

Violating set regulations can lead to severe consequences:

  • Fines up to AED 500,000
  • Suspension or cancellation of alcohol license
  • Jail sentence in extreme cases

Offenses include selling without a license, distribution irregularities, and improper documentation. They attract hefty penalties.


Can Tourists or Expats Apply for Alcohol Licenses?

No, UAE alcohol trading licenses are restricted only to companies with an Emirati shareholder or sponsor.

Do Bartenders Need Personal Alcohol Licenses?

No, bartenders or other employees serving alcohol do not require personal liquor licenses – only the establishments need one.

How Long is the Alcohol License Valid For?

1 year. Alcohol trade licenses in the UAE must be renewed annually within 60 days of expiration by reapplying with updated documents.

Is the Time and Investment Worthwhile?

Given the tough eligibility criteria and long application process, an alcohol license may seem challenging for expat investors in Dubai.

However, tourists and UAE residents want liquor. This makes selling it profitable. Carefully follow the step-by-step guidelines. Doing so can lead to a profitable, compliant alcohol trading business.
With some regulation and commitment up front, the lifetime value can make up for the AED 1-10 million capital needs.
Hope this detailed guide gives you clarity on securing the coveted alcohol trading license in the UAE! Let me know if you need any other information.

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Pranav Modi

Mr. Pranav Modi, CA is supported by 12+ years of Consulting, Auditing and Accounting practice across diverse sectors.

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