Burj Khalifa, Dubai

If you’re thinking of driving in Dubai then be aware that it can be a challenge for those used to UK roads. For that reason, many short-term visitors find it’s better to stick to taxis, while many ex-pats even hire a full-time driver (more on which below).

However, if you’re an experienced driver and can keep a cool head in hectic road conditions, then the good news is that, as a former British colony, many aspects of driving in Dubai and the rest of the UAE will seem familiar. Dubai drives on the right, however, street signs are all in English and the Highway Code – though frequently ignored – is very similar to that of the UK.

Driving Basics

You need to be 18 to drive in Dubai, and will usually need to be at least 23 if you want to hire a car. You will need to carry your driving licence plus an International Driving Permit with you at all times, and as in most countries it’s a good idea also to carry your passport and insurance documents.

If you are living in the country as an ex-pat rather than just visiting, you’ll need to convert your UK licence to a UAE one – click the link for information about how to convert your licence.

Seatbelts and Speed Limits

Both driver and passengers must wear a seatbelt at all times, with the penalty for non-compliance a fine of 400 AED (£85 approx) plus four points on your licence. Children under the age of 12 must be given a suitable booster/safety seat; if they’re travelling in the front this must be rear-facing, and you must disable the passenger side airbag.

Speed limits can vary considerably, but average around 50km/h (31mph approx) in built-up areas, 80km/h (50mph approx) in the desert and 120km/h (75mph approx) on motorways.

Mobile Phones and Drink Driving

Using a mobile without a hands-free kit while driving is subject to a fine of up to 800 AED (£165 approx) and four points on your licence. And drink-driving is, of course, a no-no: the acceptable blood alcohol limit is 0.00%, and if you’re caught you can face a fine of up to 20,000 AED (£4,120 approx) and 23 points on your licence; plus, you will have your vehicle impounded for 60 days, and you could be looking at jail time. So don’t do it!

Road Conditions

One plus side of driving in Dubai is that its motorways, and roads in towns and cities are as well-maintained as any you’ll find anywhere in the world – though road quality can deteriorate in more remote areas.

You will need to take extra care when driving in the wet, though. It does rain in Dubai, just not that often – which means locals aren’t used to wet conditions and will often fail to adjust their driving appropriately.

Local Driving Habits

This will be the biggest challenge to European or US drivers: the general standard of road manners in Dubai is very different from what you may be used to at home. You will see many drivers without seatbelts, on their mobile phones and most commonly of all speeding, though a recent clampdown plus lowered limits have helped to reduce that latter problem somewhat in recent years.

Other bad behaviour that’s common on Dubai roads includes undertaking, turning or changing lanes without indicating, tailgating, driving without lights, driving on the hard shoulder, and swerving from the fast lane to a motorway junction at the last minute – again without prior indication! Of course, these are things you should look out for at home too, but the frequency you encounter them in Dubai may be higher. So keep your wits about you and your eyes on the road, and always use your side mirrors.

Be aware, too, that if someone comes up behind you flashing their headlights, they expect you to get out of their way. It’s generally best to do so as soon as possible – and in fact, visitors would be well advised to give the fast lane a miss completely.

Just to make matters worse, venting your frustration at such bad behaviour can often get you into trouble. There are penalties for swearing or making obscene hand gestures in public, and given that the meaning of hand signals can vary widely from country to country, it’s as well to keep your hands on the wheel and bite your tongue. This goes double if you do happen to encounter the local traffic police!

Hiring a Driver

Because of all the above, many ex-pats choose to hire a full-time driver instead. This will usually cost around 3,000-4,000 AED (£620-£820 approx) per month.

Driving in Dubai certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted. But this cloud does have one silver lining, and that’s petrol prices: unleaded costs just 1.75 AED (36p approx) per litre, so that’s one thing you don’t have to worry about!

If you’re planning on shipping your car from the UK to Dubai, check out our services here or get a free quote.