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Everything you need to know about driving in Dubai

If you’re considering moving to Dubai, you may want to drive while you’re there. Many people prefer an air-conditioned car to walking under the hot desert sun, and many attractions and amenities are spread out. Although the city offers a variety of public transport options these can be slow, and with fuel prices in the UAE among the world’s lowest, driving is a popular method of getting around.

This guide will answer some of your most pressing questions about driving in Dubai, as well as offer tips for getting out and about on the road.

Follow the rules

The most important thing to remember when driving in Dubai is to follow the rules: don’t tailgate or overtake dangerously, don’t text or make a call while driving, always wear a seatbelt, and don’t drive on the hard shoulder. The emirate can have very strict consequences for those who disobey the laws of the road, such as imprisonment or deportation.

Can women drive in Dubai?

Women can drive in Dubai and, in fact, the city offers women-only taxis driven by women. Until recently, Saudi Arabia — the UAE’s neighbouring country — was the only nation in the world that had placed a ban on women driving. This was lifted in 2018.

Arabic businesswoman wearing hijab while driving her car Arabic businesswoman wearing hijab while driving her car


Can I drive in Dubai as a tourist?

You can drive as a non-resident, as long as you have an international driving licence. You can hire a car while in Dubai, providing you’re over the age of 21 andhave a valid international driving licence and credit card.

What licence do I need?

If you are moving to Dubai, you can drive using your international driving licence1 until your residence permit is issued, at which point you can apply for a local driving licence. If you are from the one of the following nations, you can transfer your licence to a UAE licence:

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

If you’re transferring a licence from Turkey, Poland, Japan, Greece or South Korea, you will need to have your certificate translated into either Arabic or English.

If you’re transferring a Canadian licence, you will need a letter from the Canadian consulate in the United Arab Emirates.

If your licence is from any other country, you will need to take classes and pass a test in Dubai to be able to obtain a licence.

Which side of the road do you drive on in Dubai?

You drive on the right-hand side of the road in Dubai and the UAE. Vehicles in Dubai have the steering wheel on the left and they drive on the right-hand side of the road.

What is the speed limit in Dubai?

The Dubai speed limit varies depending on the classification and size of the road, just like anywhere else in the world. While speed limits are between 25-40km/h (15-25mph) on residential roads, Dubai also has some of the highest speed limits of anywhere in the world. Both the Abu Dhabi-Al Ain (E22) and Sheikh Zayed (E11) highways have limits of up to 100km/h (62mph)2.

Is driving safe in Dubai?

According to the World Health Organization3 (WHO), the UAE is neither one of the safest nor one of the most dangerous places to drive in the world. On average, 18.1 people per 100,000 die on the road in the UAE. This figure is higher than countries like the UK (3.1 people), the USA (12.4 people), Canada (5.8 people) and France (5.5). However, countries like India and Venezuela have higher statistics, with 22.6 and 33.7 people dying on the road per 100,000 respectively.

Car traffic on Interchange 1, Sheikh Zayed road, in downtown Dubai. Car traffic on Interchange 1, Sheikh Zayed road, in downtown Dubai.


Tips for driving in Dubai

As previously stated, the most important thing when driving in the UAE is to abide by the laws. You may find locals go over the speed limit, don’t keep a safe distance or jump between lanes at what feel like dangerous times — whatever you do, do not join them.

Legal driving age

In the UAE, you have to be 18 years old to drive. However, you must be at least 21 years old to rent a vehicle.

Quiet periods on Dubai’s roads

If you are driving for the first time in Dubai, it might be a good idea to first take to the road on a Friday morning, as this is when the roads are at their quietest. While the government is constantly working to ease congestion4, traffic can be heavy in popular areas of town in the evenings and on the weekends.

Safe driving distance

When driving in Dubai, you may find that not everyone keeps a safe distance between cars. You might find that someone pulls into any space you have left between your car and the car in front. If this happens, it is your responsibility to pull back a bit to ensure you have a safe distance again; it’s advisable to stay three seconds behind the car in front.

Speeding

If someone driving near you is speeding, you should pull over if possible or maintain your speed and let them drive around you. Whatever you do, do not increase your own speed. There are lots5 of speed cameras in operation and police often patrol the main thoroughfares. Remember that Dubai speed limits are set in kilometres and not miles.

Lanes

You may find that people don’t use the appropriate lanes for the speed at which they’re travelling — they might drive slower in the fast lane, and speed in the slow lane. You may also experience people driving on the hard shoulder or suddenly veering from their lane to a junction.

Flashing headlights

When someone flashes their headlights at you in Dubai, they usually want you to move out of the way. Sometimes it may be the police behind you needing to get past, but often it will be an impatient driver who simply wants you to let them pass so they can continue at a higher speed. If you can move then do, but only when it’s safe. Otherwise, to avoid experiencing this behaviour, stay out of the fast lanes.

Hazards

It is important to always be alert when driving in Dubai (as well as in the other emirates) and particularly outside the main city, as you may experience hazards that you are not used to in your home country, such as goats and camels in the road. Camels are heavy animals that can move quickly, so drive around them slowly.

Hand gestures

No matter how annoyed you get with other drivers, do not use hand gestures towards them. This is offensive in the UAE and could get you in trouble with the police. Even if your gesture is not rude6 in your culture, it could be perceived as rude in the emirates.

Drinking and driving

It is illegal to drink and drive in Dubai, no matter how little alcohol you have consumed. Even if you feel sober enough to drive home, do not, as this could lead to imprisonment.

Road signs

You should familiarise yourself with road signs7 in Dubai to ensure you can drive safely. In general, blue signs are a mandatory instruction, circular signs with a red outline show actions driver must not take and triangular signs with a red outline are warnings. Written signs are in English and Arabic.  

Don’t forget, if you are planning on living and working in Dubai, you may want to consider an international health insurance policy.

Smiling man standing near automobile in downtown Dubai Smiling man standing near automobile in downtown Dubai


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