Medicine and the United Arabs Emirates

Sep 8, 2009

by Douglas B. Stevenson, Esq.
Director, Center for Seafarers' Rights
The Seamen's Church Institute

In a previous article, I wrote about how seafarers can become victims of illegal drug smuggling. Despite the well-known risks of severe penalties in most countries around the world for trafficking or possessing illegal drugs, some seafarers have been tempted by drug smugglers’ promises of easy money. Unfortunately for some, instead of receiving “big money” for helping smuggle drugs, they were arrested, convicted and sentenced to many years of imprisonment.

The vast majority of seafarers knows about the risks of getting involved with illegal drugs such as heroin, marijuana, LSD, ecstasy, cocaine, opium and hashish and keeps well clear of them. They may not, however, consider that possessing common medications might be illegal in some countries.

For example, a seafarer who joined his ship in Dubai, was arrested when he entered the United Arab Emirates with a large quantity of medicine that his doctor had prescribed for him. He did not know that the United Arab Emirates has very strict drug laws and is facing severe penalties.

The United Arab Emirates is one of several countries with very strict drug laws. A variety of drugs normally taken under a doctor's supervision in many countries are classified as narcotics in the UAE. Even poppy seeds, that are commonly used for cooking in many countries, are illegal there. Persons possessing even small quantities of illegal drugs may be given lengthy prison terms of up to 15 years. Convicted drug traffickers can be sentenced to death.

VERY STRICT DRUG LAWS

A doctor's prescription should be carried along with any medication that is brought into the country

Drug Penalties Travelers are subject to the laws of the country in which they are traveling. Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and fines. The use of the mild stimulant "qat" is legal and common in Yemen, but it is considered an illegal substance in many other countries, including neighboring Arab countries and the United States.

Criminal Penalties While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Qatari laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Qatar are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Penalties for drunk driving and other alcohol-related offenses are treated with severity in Qatar and may result in heavy fines, imprisonment, or expulsion from the country.

Local Law and Prohibited Practices U.S. citizens are subject to the laws of the country in which they are traveling. Alcohol, pork products, and pornography are illegal in Kuwait. Penalties for importation, possession, use, manufacture or sale of illegal drugs, alcohol, or pornography are severe, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and fines. Religious proselytizing is not permitted. Kuwaitis and non-Kuwaitis, including Americans, charged with criminal offenses or placed under investigation, or involved in financial disputes with local business partners, are subject to travel bans. These bans, which are rigidly enforced, prevent the individual from leaving Kuwait for any reason until the matter is resolved. In purely financial disputes, it may be possible to depart the country if a local sponsor authorizes funds equal to the amount in dispute.

Prescription medications Make sure you have enough to last during your trip, as well as a copy of the prescription(s).

Country-wide traffic laws impose stringent penalties for certain violations, particularly driving under the influence of alcohol. Penalties may include hefty jail sentences and fines, and, for Muslims, lashings. Persons involved in an accident in which another party is injured automatically go to jail until the injured person is released from the hospital. Should a person die in a traffic accident, the driver of the other car is liable for payment of compensation for the death (known as "dhiyya"), usually the equivalent of $41,000 U.S. Even relatively minor accidents may result in lengthy proceedings, during which both drivers may be prohibited from leaving the country.

Customs Regulations UAE customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from UAE of items such as firearms, including fireworks, pornographic materials, medications, religious materials, and communication equipment. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of UAE in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements.

UAE customs authorities impose additional requirements for the importation of pets into the country. Prior permission in the form of a permit from the UAE Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries must be secured before the pet's travel. To obtain the permit, the following items will need to be submitted to the UAE Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries at P.O. Box 213, Abu Dhabi, UAE, telephone 971-2-662-781 or 971-2-485-438:

Criminal Penalties While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens are subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating the UAE laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. The penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal substances are strict in the UAE, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Legislation enacted in January 1996 imposes the death sentence for convicted drug traffickers. A variety of drugs normally taken under a doctor's supervision in the United States are classified as narcotics in the UAE. A doctor's prescription should be carried along with any medication that is brought into the country.

In addition, the UAE's tough anti-narcotics program also includes poppy seeds, widely used in other cultures (including the U.S.) for culinary purposes, on its list of controlled substances. The importation and possession of poppy seeds in any and all forms is strictly prohibited. Persons found to possess even very small quantities of the controlled substances listed by the UAE are subject to prosecution by the authorities and may be given lengthy prison terms of up to 15 years. Travelers with questions regarding the items on the list of controlled substances should contact the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi or the U.S. Consulate General in Dubai.

If suspected of being under the influence of drugs, individuals may be required to submit to blood and/or urine tests so that local authorities may make a determination as to usage. UAE authorities have been known to arrest travelers upon their arrival into the UAE and, based on recent prior drug use, to prosecute these travelers.

Crimes of fraud, including passing bad checks and non-payment of bills (including hotel bills), are regarded seriously in the UAE and can result in imprisonment as well as fines. Penalties are generally assessed according to religious law. If imprisoned, bail is generally not available to non-residents of the UAE.

Drinking or possession of alcohol without a Ministry of Interior liquor permit is illegal and could result in arrest and/or fines and imprisonment. Alcohol is served at bars in most major hotels; however, this alcoholic beverage service is for those persons who are staying at the hotel. Persons not staying at the hotel who come in to use the facility's bar technically are required to have their own personal liquor license. Liquor licenses are obtainable only by non-Muslim persons who possess UAE residency permits. Drinking and driving is considered a serious offense.

Special Circumstances American citizens may become involved in disputes of a commercial nature involving the withholding of the American citizen's passport by the local firm or courts. Travel bans may also be enforced on American citizens involved in financial disputes with a local sponsor or firm. These bans, which are rigidly enforced, prevent the individual from leaving the UAE for any reason until the matter is resolved. Although it is customary for a local sponsor to hold an employee's passport, it is not required under UAE law. Most contractual/labor disputes can be avoided by clearly establishing all terms and conditions of employment or sponsorship in the labor contract at the beginning of any employment. Should a dispute still arise, the UAE Ministry of Labor has established a special department to review and arbitrate labor claims. A list of local attorneys capable of representing Americans in such matters is available from the Consular and Commercial sections of the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the U.S. Consulate General in Dubai.

Travelers intending to reside and work in the UAE should have their academic and occupational certificates duly authenticated by the Department of State's Office of Authentication in Washington, DC before traveling to the UAE. UAE labor law requires local sponsors to produce employees' academic and/or professional certificates duly authenticated by the Foreign Ministry of the individual's country before a work permit can be issued. Travelers intending to bring their families to reside with them in the UAE will also need to have their marriage certificates and children's birth certificates duly authenticated by the State Department in Washington, DC.

Customs Regulations Singapore Customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Singapore of items such as firearms, illegal drugs, certain religious materials, chewing gum, videotapes, CDs, and software (for censorship or pirating reasons). It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Singapore in Washington, DC, for specific information regarding customs requirements.

Singapore Customs officials encourage the use of an ATA (Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission) Carnet for the temporary admission of professional equipment, commercial samples, and/or goods for exhibitions and fair purposes. ATA Carnet Headquarters, located at the U.S. Council for International Business, 1212 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036, issues and guarantees the ATA Carnet in the United States. For additional information, please call (212) 354-4480, send e-mail to atacarnet@uscib.org or visit www.uscib.org for details.

Criminal Penalties While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Singaporean laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.

Visitors should be aware of Singapore's strict laws and penalties for a variety of actions that might not be illegal or might be considered minor offenses in the United States, including jaywalking, littering and spitting, as well as the importation and sale of chewing gum. Singapore has a mandatory caning sentence for vandalism offenses. Caning may also be imposed for immigration violations and other offenses.

Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and fines. Singapore has a mandatory death penalty for many narcotics offenses. Commercial disputes that may be handled as civil suits in the United States can escalate to criminal cases in Singapore and result in heavy fines and prison sentences. There are no jury trials in Singapore. Judges hear cases and decide sentencing. The Government of Singapore does not provide legal assistance except in capital cases.