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Living in the UAE

Getting Ready to Drive in the UAE Step by Step

Are you moving to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, or one of the other emirates and do you want to drive here? Make sure that you know how to make your way through the crazy traffic. Traffic rules, driver’s licenses, and toll roads: you can find all the information you need in our guide!

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At a glance:

  • Which traffic rules should you pay attention to?
  • What exactly is the black points system?
  • What do you need for a safe road trip through the desert?
  • Are there a lot of road accidents in the UAE?
  • Does the UAE have toll roads? And how do you pay for them?
  • How can you exchange your foreign driver’s license?

Keeping an Eye on the Traffic Rules

While taking part in the crazy traffic of the UAE, you have to keep the traffic rules in mind. Like in many countries, the minimum age for driving is 18, and you’re only allowed to drive with a valid driver’s license. Something that’s also good to know is that the traffic moves on the right-hand side of the road and turning right on a red light is forbidden. Make sure you put your phone away, because using it while driving is not allowed — except when using a hands-free system. You should always wear your seat belt; this is mandatory for all people in the car. Children who weigh between 18–36 kg and are less than 145 cm tall should be seated in a booster seat. Children under the age of ten are not allowed to sit in the front seat.

The last — but maybe the most important — traffic rule is that intoxicated or drunk driving is prohibited, regardless of the amount. The penalties for this are very serious — you face between one month and three years in jail and/or a fine of between 20,000 and 30,000 AED. And if that isn’t enough, you also risk losing your driver’s license for a certain amount of time.

Speed limits on the roads in the UAE are as follows:

  • highways: 100–120 kmph
  • urban areas: 40–80 kmph
  • residential areas: 40 kmph

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Beyond Fines: The Black Points System

You won’t only get a fine when you break the traffic rules. The UAE has a black points system, where you receive black points for your traffic violations. The maximum amount of points you’re allowed to have is 24 — if you exceed that limit, you may be banned from driving any type of vehicle for one year. Each traffic violation has a different amount of black points assigned to it. Intoxicated or drunk driving for example will give you 24 points immediately. If you’re caught speeding, you’ll get twelve points and running a red light will get you eight. The black points you receive have a validity of one year. After that, they are deleted from the system and you start out with a blank slate again.

The Declining Number of Road Accidents

Even though the UAE has an excellent road network, the number of road accidents is high. However, that number is steadily decreasing each year, as the government is improving the roads. From 2011 to 2013, the total number of road accidents declined by almost 25% and the number of fatalities dropped by almost 10%. So you can say that driving in the UAE is getting a lot safer.

The main causes for traffic accidents in the UAE are sudden swerving, misjudgment of other road users, speeding, tailgating, and lack of attention. You should therefore be on the lookout for other road users’ unsafe driving practices and remember to employ defensive driving techniques.

One thing to remember when you’re involved in a road accident is to leave your car where it is when someone is injured — when no one’s hurt, you can move it to the side of the road.

Ready for an Adventure? Tips for Desert Driving

It’s not only important to know how to stay safe on the normal roads, but also under special circumstances. When you’re going to make a trip into the desert and you’re going by car, you should take precautions. The safest way of driving is with a 4×4 vehicle. You should make sure that you bring enough water and a phone with good service. And don’t forget to watch out for camels!

There is a big selection of desert driving courses (to choose from) in the UAE. During these courses, you learn how to handle a 4×4 vehicle, about the topography of the desert, and about situations that are likely to happen. It is very important to know how to stay safe and how to keep cool if anything happens. The Emirates Driving Institute has more information on the courses and on how to register.

The One and Only Road Toll System

The only road toll system in the UAE is the Salik system in and around Dubai. Salik has six toll gates, which can be paid for with the Salik tag. You affix the tag to the windshield of your car and it will be recognized by the toll gate. The tag can be purchased at the Roads & Transport Authority (RTA) Customer Service Centers, gas stations, the Emirates National Bank of Dubai, and the Dubai Islamic Bank. When you buy it for the first time, you’ll have to pay 100 AED: 50 AED for the tag and the other 50 AED will be added to your Salik account. You can recharge your account via the website, the Smart Salik App, by mobile payment, by SMS, by using one of the many Salik kiosks, or by calling 800-72545. For most of the methods you can use your credit card, but other options are Salik Recharge cards, e-vouchers, a direct bank transfer, or paying in cash.

Exchanging Your Foreign Driver’s License

Citizens from a number of countries can easily exchange their foreign driver’s license without having to take a driving test or go to a driving school. These countries are as follows:

  • Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France
  • Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, New Zealand
  • Norway, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, South Africa
  • South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States

However, for some countries in the list, there are exceptions. Citizens from Canada, Cyprus, Greece, Japan, Poland, South Korea, and Turkey require a translation of their driver’s license from their respective consulates. Also, citizens from Canada need a letter from the Canadian Consulate in Dubai to verify that their driver’s license is legitimate before they can exchange their license.

You’ll need the following documents to exchange your driver’s license:

  • a passport with a valid residence permit, original and copy
  • a copy of your residence permit
  • your current driver’s license, original and copy
  • a translation of your driver’s license (for the countries listed above)
  • a letter from your consulate (for Canadians)
  • one passport photo
  • an eye test certificate
  • 360 AED for the transfer fee and opening a driving file

Citizens from all other countries will have to take a driving course and pass a driving test before they can get their UAE driver’s license. Please note that if you hold a driver’s license for a country of which you are not a citizen, you will also have to follow this procedure to obtain a driver’s license. If you are between 18 and 21 years old, you can apply for a probationary license. To get your driver’s license, you’ll have to follow these steps:

  1. Go to an optician or your driving school to get an eye test done.
  2. Your driving school will take care of all the paperwork with the RTA. Sometimes the RTA has a counter at the driving school.
  3. You will receive a temporary driver’s license, which you will have to carry with you in the training car.
  4. When you have passed all the internal tests — like garage and parking — your driving school will register you for a theory test, followed by a road test.

When you’ve passed all the tests, you receive an applicant file, signed by the examiner. The file consists of a test pass certificate and a clearance letter from the driving school. You can now apply for your driver’s license at the RTA. You’ll have to pay a fee of 160 AED and show your valid visa and passport. Congratulations, you’re now ready to drive in the UAE!

Updated on: December 11, 2019
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