Whether you’re just visiting or newly adapting to expat life, one of the most challenging parts of being in a foreign country can be learning the local road rules.
You can easily find yourself driving on the opposite side of the road and trying to navigate road signs displayed in a different language. There may also be road hazards you’re unfamiliar with and harsh fines or punishments for breaking rules you’re not used to.
If you’re planning to travel or buy property in Dubai to make the move here, there are some things you need to know before driving a vehicle that are unique to the UAE.
Dubai has a wonderful network of roadways, and having your own vehicle allows you the freedom to explore the hidden gems beyond the reach of the city’s public transport along with driving to the other emirates within the UAE.
While Dubai may offer a well built public transport system, there are many benefits for tourists to rent a vehicle or for expats to lease a vehicle. If you do plan to drive, be sure to check out this guide to driving in Dubai to ensure you’ll stay on the right side of the law and stay safe on the roads.
Guide to Driving in Dubai
Renting a Vehicle in Dubai
Renting a vehicle opens up a whole new side to Dubai and thanks to it being a competitive industry here, you can easily find affordable rentals here.
It’s also one of the top destinations in the world where you can readily rent luxury cars like a Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, or Rolls Royce thanks to car rental companies like https://evolve.ae/type/luxury.
Pro tip: While you are allowed to drive at 18 here, you will need to be 21 to rent a car in Dubai. Some companies may even require you to be 25 years of age to rent special vehicles such as a luxury supercar.
There is no problem with women renting vehicles in Dubai. This is a common question women have when traveling to the Middle East, but even women in Saudi Arabia are now allowed to drive thanks to the long overdue decision finally being made in 2018.
Tourists and expats from a number of countries including the U.S., U.K., and Australia aren’t required to obtain an international driving license since your normal home country license will be valid.
You’ll simply need to show your normal license, passport, and valid travel visa when renting a vehicle. Visitors from some nations may be required to carry their original license, along with a translated license if it’s not in Arabic or English, and an international driving license.
As an expat, you will be allowed to drive using your home country issued license until you receive your residence permit and then you can get a local UAE driver’s license.
The UAE allows expats from a number of countries including the U.S., U.K., and Australia to transfer their home country license to a UAE license.
Cost of Fuel in Dubai
Although the UAE somewhat recently deregulated fuel prices which saw prices increase, fuel prices within the country remain among the world’s lowest. The reason for this is of course the fact the UAE is one of the world’s largest oil producers.
Currently, fuel prices in Dubai are around the 2.30 AED per liter mark. This equates to about .49 Euro/liter or .60 USD/ liter.
Convert this to gallons and it becomes roughly $2.25 USD per gallon which even beats low American fuel prices. Visitors and expats from Europe and Australia will really notice the savings on fuel.
Look for fuel choices including E Plus, Special-95, Super-98, and diesel. When renting a vehicle in Dubai, be sure to make note of what fuel type your vehicle takes, especially when renting a luxury supercar or 4WD.
And in case you were wondering, the push to deregulate fuel prices was in an effort to encourage the use of public transport and fuel-efficient vehicles, reduce carbon emissions, and preserve natural resources.
Road Rules in Dubai
Like in the U.S., drivers in Dubai drive on the right side of the road. The use of seatbelts is mandatory and using a mobile while driving is prohibited. Children under 12 should ride in the back seats.
The UAE has some of the fastest highways in the world, allowing drivers to go upwards of 120kph. Despite this fact, local drivers in their flashy supercars often reach speeds of 200kph.
For this reason, always stick to the right slow lanes and avoid the far-left fast lane unless you wish to speed yourself or get headlights flashed at you from behind in anger from other drivers.
Dubai has a large number of traffic cameras which will catch you out for speeding, using phones, and other traffic violations, so drive cautiously at all times.
Road Rage in Dubai
There is little patience from other drivers in Dubai, and as I just mentioned previously, you will often get headlights flashed at you if you’re going too slow.
Drivers also tend to not leave much space between vehicles, driving right up to your bumper in some cases.
Despite drivers being impatient, you will rarely see rude hand gestures being made. This is because rude gestures and swearing on roadways can actually see you get fined or penalized, so be sure to keep your frustration to yourself if you’re the impatient driver.
Every destination has its road hazards. In Dubai, it’s often other drivers that cause the greatest hazard.
This is largely due to the fact Dubai is made up of residents from all over the world, some not aware of all the road rules and some that just don’t seem to agree with them and therefore dismiss them.
While weather often doesn’t cause too many problems on the roadways, significant rain can occur during January and February which can cause the roads to be slick and catch drivers off guard since they aren’t accustomed to driving on wet roads most of the year.
As you drive outside the city deeper into the desert, keep an eye out for stray camels, sand on the roads, and unmarked speed bumps. You should also stick with a 4WD vehicle if driving on unsealed roads and carry extra water with you in case your vehicle breaks down out in the heat of the desert.
Also worth pointing out is to keep an eye out for pedestrians. Sadly, it is estimated that around 25% of road fatalities are actually pedestrians that have been struck by cars.
Road Signs in Dubai
Road signs in Dubai are pretty easy to navigate since they are modeled after the British road sign system, and major roadway signs are written in both Arabic and English.
Dubai is home to a large number of roundabouts, something Americans may not be quite used to.
There are control signs which include No Entry, Stop, and Yield Signs. Mandatory signs include Right Turn Only, Keep Right, etc, while prohibitory sign examples include No Left Turn, No U-Turn, Do Not Overtake, and Speed Limit Signs.
Drink Driving in Dubai
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a big no-no in Dubai. While there is often a small tolerance when it comes to legal blood alcohol limit while driving throughout Europe, the U.S., and Australia, there is pretty much zero tolerance in the UAE.
If you’re caught driving with any registered alcohol limit, you may be arrested and fined. There isn’t really a defined legally allowed blood alcohol limit in Dubai and if there is any leeway it’s a really miniscule amount.
Some people caught driving with alcohol in their system have waited days in jail while awaiting a court hearing, have been hit with hefty fines, and in some cases deported.
If you’re an expat in Dubai, I believe you even need to obtain an alcohol license to be able to purchase alcohol. Technically, tourists may also be required to obtain a license, however most hotels and restaurants/bars in Dubai won’t ask to see one.
I should also note that if you’re driving to other emirates, they may have differing laws, with Sharjah for example being a completely dry emirate.
Dealing with Vehicle Accidents in Dubai
Traffic accidents are said to be the second leading cause of death in the UAE. In an effort to reduce this statistic, there can be hefty fines and even jail time should you cause an accident and injure or kill someone.
If you cause an accident and someone is injured, you can expect to be sent to jail until the victim is released from hospital. If you happen to kill someone, you may be hit with a minimum fine of $55,000 USD and are likely to be prohibited from leaving the country until litigation is finished.
If you’re involved in a minor traffic accident where there are no injuries, call 999 and talk with the traffic police. In most cases, you will be instructed to move the affected vehicles to the side of the road if safe and possible to do so and then make your way to the nearest police station to fill out appropriate forms.
If the accident is more serious, call 999 and request and ambulance and the police to come. If you are at fault for the accident, your license may be confiscated by police and you may be arrested depending on the circumstances.
Guilty drivers and innocent drivers are each given separate forms by police after an accident, and you must have one of these forms to be able to get repairs done to your vehicle.
These are just some of the main driving laws, regulations, and tips for tourists and expats in Dubai.
I hope I have been able to shed some lights on what it’s like to drive in Dubai and hope you get to experience its roadways for yourself during your next visit.
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Driving in Oman and carefully observing drivers in Qatar gave me a good idea of how things would be in Dubai too, save a bit more road rage with all of those flashy cars. I always drive on the right in the Middle East or anywhere folks usually drive fast. Ditto for riding a motorbike in SE Asia. Get out of the way. Allow folks to pass you if they drive impatiently. Avoid problems with fellow drivers.
Smart tips all around Meg.
Thanks for sharing your experiences Ryan, very similar culture of driving throughout the Middle East for sure, and I do think the concept of ‘get out of the way’ can definitely be applied universally haha!!
Thanks for reading :)