The Dangers and Dilemmas of Drinking Alcohol Abroad


Summer is over. The days of rest and relaxation are behind us. Life goes back to normal. As we approach what will probably be a long dark winter of chills and endless cups of hot chocolate, I find myself wistfully reminiscing about the poolside cocktails I greedily guzzled on my vacation.

Whether it’s a beer at the beachside bar, a cocktail on the coast of Croatia or a classic English Pimm’s enjoyed over the Wimbledon season, it’s fair to say most of us overindulge on the alcohol when we are on holiday. And why not? We spend the majority of our days working or studying for often ridiculous hours, so a holiday is always a great excuse to release our anxieties and de-stress with a daiquiri.

However, when it comes to delighting in drinks abroad there are a few considerations that potentially tipsy travellers should take into account. Whilst it may be normal to knock back endless sambuca shots in the UK, other countries have strict laws that prohibit or radically restrict the sale, consumption and production of alcohol. The consequences of breaking these local customs can be extremely severe, so it’s time we all informed ourselves about the dangers of drinking abroad.

Credit: Emily Kilmartin.
Credit: Emily Kilmartin.

Firstly, we need to highlight which countries implement alcoholic bans and to what extent the laws are imposed. Take nations like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan, and areas of the UAE, for example. These countries are amongst the most strident in their policies, as they have made it illegal to produce, import or consume alcohol. Most have done this for religious reasons, with Muslim nations citing teachings in the Quran that prohibit alcohol. As tourists, it is our responsibility to abide by these customs and embrace the culture that we find ourselves in. Furthermore, attempts to sideline these laws can have heavy consequences, such as imprisonment (think years not days) and public flogging. Indeed, in some cases foreigners have been known to receive up to 500 lashings for trading and consuming alcohol against the wishes of the Saudi Arabian government. Whether you are motivated by the moral reasons of respecting cultural and religious sovereignty or by the fear of the consequences, it is imperative that visitors abide by the alcohol laws of their destinations.

I know what some of you are thinking. Places like Saudi Arabia and Libya are hardly on your list of top ten vacation destinations. However, restrictions also apply in popular holiday locations that we Brits frequently visit. One example of this is the idyllic beach setting of the Maldives where, despite popular unrest and a state of emergency earlier this year, The Telegraph reports over 32,000 of us chose to go on holiday to during January-March. The white silky sands, the tropical topaz tides and the endless supply of sunshine makes it a dream setting for your summer, but be careful about where you choose to stay if you want to while away the days sipping sangria. Most of us will elect to visit a designated holiday island resort, where alcohol is legally sold to tourists. However, should you choose to venture off the resort you cannot take any alcohol with you, as non-tourist areas often come under Sharia law where alcohol is forbidden.

Credit: Emily Kilmartin.
Credit: Emily Kilmartin.

For example, the capital Malé is a “dry” island where any guests trying to bring in boozy beverages will find their produce confiscated and their wallets considerably lighter on account of the heavy fine they are likely to receive. Similar rules apply on the island of Hulhulé, which is where the airport for most incoming international flights is located. This means you must not attempt to bring alcohol into the country, even if you only plan to drink it on an island resort. India is another increasingly popular destination, particularly for young British travellers who want to explore the enriching environment on their gap years. But caution must be taken, as certain Indian states like Kerala, Gujarat and Nagaland have restrictions, or all-out bans, on liquor.

This article is not meant to intimidate you or prevent you from exploring different countries when on your travels. Immersing yourself in new cultures can be an eye-opening experience and an opportunity to broaden your horizons. Furthermore, there’s nothing to say that booze is a requirement of a brilliant holiday (I mean have you tasted some of the tropical mocktails out there?). However, on the whole, Britons are keen to have a drink or two when on a relaxing break abroad so it is best to prepare yourself. Breaking the law doesn’t only ruin your relaxation by swapping a holiday house for a jailhouse, it also shows a blatant disregard for the host nation. If your holiday isn’t complete without a hangover, it is important you know the areas to avoid and to educate yourself on local customs before you travel.


Third year History student with a passion for journalism. I have a particular interest in minority rights, historical comparisons and current affairs. Unapologetic feminist.

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