Flying To Dubai or Abu Dhabi? Your Medications May Be Illegal!

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A friend of mine is currently planning his first visit to Dubai and he recently pointed out something to me on the British Foreign Office’s website that made me stop and wonder what the UAE is thinking.

I’ve visited the UAE a number of times and have had good experiences on all visits but it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone when I say that some of the rules you’ll find in the UAE aren’t exactly what most of us may be used to.

That’s fair enough. It’s their country so they can make what rules the like and if someone doesn’t like them there’s no one forcing them to visit…..but sometimes I wonder if the UAE actually thinks things through.

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Tourism is a HUGE part of the UAE economy and it’s one of the main focuses as the UAE looks to new sources of revenue for when the oil wells finally dry up….so why does it come out with rules that are going to put visitors off?

It would appear that the UAE is now taking a big interest in what medications are being brought in to the country and here’s what the British Foreign Office says in its section covering travel to the UAE:

If you’re planning to travel with any prescribed or over the counter medicines for personal use, you’ll need to meet the UAE’s specific requirements for your medicine to be allowed into the country.

If you’re entering the country with medication that the UAE classes as narcotic, psychotropic, controlled or semi-controlled, approval is needed from the UAE authorities. A list of medicines where this rule applies, allowed quantities and documents to present can be found on the UAE Ministry of Health website.

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There are two ways to get approval to bring your medications into the UAE:

  1. Apply for approval upon arriving in the UAE – travelers will need to have whatever backup documentation the UAE Ministry of Health website says is required.
  2. Apply for approval in advance of travel using the online application form and associated user guide. The UAE says that a decision is usually
    made within 5 working days.

In my opinion you would have to be certifiable to turn up in the UAE hoping that you have the right documents to get your medications cleared.

As the British Foreign Office site points out:

If you arrive in the UAE without prior approval or the required documentation, the medication will not be allowed into the UAE and you may be prosecuted under UAE law.

Do you really want to risk being prosecuted in the UAE?

Note: I think there may be a typo in that sentence as I think it should read “If you arrive in the UAE without prior approval and the required documentation…” as otherwise there isn’t actually an option to be cleared upon arrival.

All of this may not sound too bad but the reality is that a number of everyday and over-the-counter medications actually fall foul of the UAE’s rules.

At the beginning of this year a UK citizen spent 5 weeks incarcerated in Dubai after being arrested for carrying anti-depressants. The gentleman in question was a cancer sufferer and was stopped at Fujairah seaport where his medications were seized.

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Bottom Line

It looks like the new medication rules came into effect towards the end of October (I must have missed it) and I can’t help but feel that the UAE is being a little dumb here.

There are already a lot of people who refuse to visit the UAE for one reason or another so what are the authorities thinking when they write laws that could see ill-prepared travelers spending time locked up in jail – this is a PR disaster waiting to happen.

Not everyone will have seen this news when it first came out (I missed it) and not everyone reads government warnings on places they’re visiting (especially if they’ve been there numerous times before) so I expect a lot of people to be caught out.

I give it a year (max) before we here the first story of a teen arrested for transporting an anti-acne cream that contravenes UAE laws…or the first nervous flyer jailed for carrying a couple of pills to calm his nerves.

This is not going to do anything but cause trouble for the UAE and it will be trouble that is entirely self inflicted….although I doubt they’ll see it that way.

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  1. Drugs of abuse have many off label uses that quacks prescribe and addicts use to get high under the pretense of some unverifiable medical condition. That’s why 80 people a day die of overdoses in the U.S. As far as the case in question, benzos really should not be used for anxiety, much less 3 different types and god knows how many doses. I hope that the UAE and all the other countries in the world continue to take a hard line stance against these legal drugs of abuse. The US consumes 90% of all the opiates in the world, yet contains 5% of its population.

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