Dubai has strict customs regulations. Like any other destination you may be checked by customs officers on entrance.
Unfortunately Dubai Customs don’t exactly make it easy to find out what you can and can’t bring into Dubai.
Duty Free Rules
Dubai’s duty free regulations are fairly straightforward. At the time of writing (July 2014) the Dubai’s duty free rules can be found in the Passenger Customs Guide (3rd Edition 2014) published by Dubai Customs. This guide is available for download from the publications section of the official Dubai Customs website.
The 2014 Passenger Customs Guide states that visitors to Dubai can bring in the following goods free of duty:
- Gifts with a value of not more than AED 3,000
- 400 cigarettes OR 500 grams of tobacco OR 50 cigars
- Up to 4 litres of alcohol OR 48 cans of beer (each not exceeding 355 ml)
Personal effects are also exempt from duty. The following items are permitted and no duty will be due provided they for personal use:
- Clothes, toiletries, mobile phones, PCs and laptops, radios and CD players, portable musical instruments, sports equipment, cameras and video cameras, telescopes, prams, and jewellery
- Up to 100,000 AED in cash and traveller’s cheques (provided passenger is 18 or over)
The text on the actual website states that the cash limit is 40,000 AED. The limit was raised to 100,000 AED in 2011. It has clearly not been updated on the website. Outdated information is fairly typical of official Dubai websites.
There is no mention of prohibited items in the 2014 Passenger Customs Guide. However, they are listed in the 2009 Travellers Guide. Presumably they have not changed.
Prohibited items on the 2009 list include:
- Narcotic drugs (cocaine, heroin, marijuana, hallucination pills, poppy seeds etc.)
- Products from Israel
- Gambling equipment
- Cooked and homemade food
- Forged currency
- Original prints, lithographs, statues, sculptures
- Books, photographs, and other printed material that are immoral or are against Islamic teachings
Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) were banned subsequent to publication of the 2009 Travellers Guide.
Again the 2014 Passenger Customs Guide does not mention items that must be declared to Dubai Customs on arrival. They are listed in the 2009 Travellers Guide and include:
- Radios (even though they are on the duty free list)
- Cash above AED 40,000 (presumably now AED 100,000)
- Films, books, photographs, DVDs and CDs
- Gifts with a value above AED 3,000
- Medicines of all kinds
- Explosives and fireworks
- Knives and swords
- Weapons and ammunition
- Plants, trees, and soil
- Skins of endangered animals
Statement on medication – website of the Embassy of the UAE in the UK at July 2 2014:
Individuals may bring medicine into the country for their personal use. Up to three months’ supply of a prescription item can be brought into the country by a visitor and 12 months’ supply by a resident if they can produce a doctor’s letter or a copy of the original prescription. Narcotic items can only be brought into the UAE in exceptional cases with prior permission from the director of medicine and pharmacy control. These guidelines relate to medicines brought in by an individual through an airport or border crossing and medicines arriving by post.
Visitors must take care to ensure that medicines and medications prescribed in their home countries are not restricted before travelling to the UAE. The UAE Ministry of Health’s Drug Control Department publishes a list of controlled medicines and medications. Visitors should contact the Ministry of Health drug control department to check whether their medication is on the controlled list, and needs prior permission for importation. The Customer Service Centre of the drug control department can be contacted by emailing email@example.com, by telephone on +971 2 611 7240 or by fax +971 2 632 7644.
The following PDF documents were on the UAE Ministry of Health website:
- Guidelines for Import of Personal Medicines
- List of Restricted and Controlled Drugs
The website of the UAE in Washington DC has copies of what we believe to be the same documents. Visit their ‘Planning a Trip’ page and look in the Related Links section to the right. We suspect they are the old documents that date back to around 2007/08. They could have been updated since. However, until the UAE Ministry of Health actually publishes an updated list on its website we cannot be sure.
Dubai has extremely strict drug laws. People frequently end up in court for offences that would not even warrant arrest in many countries.
Anybody thinking about bringing drugs or restricted medicines into Dubai should read the following articles:
- Fair Trials International – Briton imprisoned for possession of 0.003 g of cannabis
- BBC News article – Various cases
- Gulf News – Codeine requires a prescription
- Gulf News – Woman jailed for traces of codeine in her system
- ArabianBusiness.com – Surge in number of British tourists arrested for drugs in 2007, drugs in bloodstream can count as possession
- Gulf News – Stewardess ends up in jail after calling police to inform them she had been drugged