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Last update on 17/06/2022
Georgia Lewis Written by Georgia Lewis

Discover everything you need to know about buying a car in the UAE, including where to find, register, and insure new and old vehicles.

The UAE is a car lover’s paradise, especially for drivers who enjoy luxury models, high-performance sports cars, and SUVs. Indeed, good-quality roads, high speed limits, cheap fuel, and desert dunes for off-road adventures make driving in the UAE an appealing destination for enthusiastic motorists.

That said, buying a car in the UAE can be a little daunting. After all, this is one of the first big purchases for many expats, and with such a wide range of vehicles on offer, you want to make sure you get it right. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the new and used car market to ensure that you pay a fair price for a quality car. But with the right advice, many expats can drive a car that they might not even be able to afford at home.

With this in mind, this article outlines everything you need to know about buying a set of wheels in the UAE, including:

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Buying a car in the UAE

There are many factors to consider when it comes to buying a car in the UAE, including road safety. Indeed, while the country’s roads are generally in good condition, you are still likely to witness some unsafe driving practices along the way, such as speeding on motorways and roundabouts, changing lanes without indicating, and cutting in front of fast-moving cars.

cars driving along the Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai

In fact, in recent years, around a quarter of all deaths in the UAE have been caused by traffic accidents, and this figure continues to rise so much so that the Ministry of the Interior is applying a national road safety strategy to control escalating casualties on the nation’s roads. As a result of this, smart motorists will prioritize safety features when buying a car in the UAE.

The advantages of buying a car in the UAE

Although the UAE boasts a state-of-the-art, efficient, and clean public transport system, driving remains a popular way to get around in the country. Indeed, as of 2021, there are around 3.5 million cars on the road in the UAE; of which 40% are in Dubai, the largest and most populated city in the country.

For many expats, the high, tax-free salaries also mean that they can afford more luxurious cars than they drove at home. Buying a vehicle in the UAE has also become a less bureaucratic process in the past decade, with more administrative processes now being done online.

New versus secondhand cars

Both new and secondhand car dealerships are commonplace in the UAE and cater to a wide range of automotive brands and types of cars. There is also an active online market for used cars, although drivers will have more consumer protection if they buy through the bigger dealerships.

As the UAE is a federation of seven emirates, expats need to register their car in the emirate that matches their visa. Furthermore, there are some differences in the procedures and costs within each emirate, and each one has its own number plates and registration process. However, any car that is three years or older must pass an inspection before it can be registered.

Who can buy a car in the UAE?

Essentially, anyone who is 18 and over (the legal driving age in the UAE) and holds a driving license can buy a car in the UAE. If you learn to drive in the country, you will need to pass a driving test in your emirate of residence to obtain a full license.

an SUV driving through the desert in the UAE

If you come from one of the 43 approved countries for driving license transfers, you can exchange your license for a UAE one without having to pass a local driving test. Otherwise, you must retake your test in your emirate of residence to obtain a license.

As well as having a valid driving license from one of the seven emirates, you will need to present your residency visa, passport copy, and Emirates ID card when buying a car. Notably, the emirate on your residency visa, driving license, car registration, and number plate should all be the same.

Buying a new car in the UAE

Buying a new car is a popular choice for many expats, especially if they are earning more than they were in their home countries. The main advantages of buying a new car in the UAE include the large number of dealerships, the wide range of makes and models available, good deals on ex-demonstrator and end-of-line models, and good guarantee policies, which are useful if you buy a new car that is faulty.

Arranging a car loan

Some car dealerships might offer a discount for paying in cash and some are open to some negotiation on price. Essentially, all you can do is ask and see what happens. However, if you do need to take out a car loan, the large dealerships often have relationships with major banks in the UAE, which makes it easy to organize finance without making separate trips to a bank.

However, while this is a convenient way to arrange a loan, it is still worth shopping around to see if any of the banks offer better finance deals. Although loan terms can vary, 60 months is common, and you can secure this with a deposit.

a couple arranging a bank loan for a car

To arrange a car loan, you usually need to provide a salary certificate or letter from your employer to confirm your salary, as well as bank statements. Some finance companies will ask for three months’ worth of bank statements, but others will require up to six months.

When it comes to actually buying the car, you will need to show your residency visa, passport, and Emirates ID card. The dealership will likely keep copies of these documents. You will also need to arrange insurance before you can drive your new car out of the showroom as it is against the law to drive an uninsured car in the UAE.

Of course, you should be able to take the car for a test drive before making a purchase. Typically, new car dealerships are also able to assist buyers with the registration process.

Where to buy a new car in the UAE

The most common way to buy a new car in the UAE is via a dealership that specializes in one or more brands. Some broker-style dealerships will sell a range of cars but are not affiliated with any brands. However, they usually offer similar finance offers to the brand-affiliated dealerships, assist with registration, and offer similar types of guarantees.

Car dealerships in the UAE

There are a number of official new car dealers in the UAE for the major automotive brands. These include:

Dubai and Abu Dhabi are home to the most car dealerships, but many of them have showrooms in other emirates. Notably, if you live in one emirate, but want to buy a car from a dealership in another emirate, you still have to register the car in your emirate of residence.

Buying a new car online

It has become more common to use the internet to buy a car in the UAE. But as is the case anywhere, if you do find a car online, it is advisable to see a car and take it for a test drive before purchasing it. Most dealership websites will allow you to book a test drive online or make inquiries, but don’t have an online shopping function.

a man searching for cars to buy on his laptop

At the high end of the automotive market, UAE buyers can pre-order a car online for import from anywhere in the world using the manufacturer’s website. However, given the large number of luxury car dealerships in the country, it is generally easier and less bureaucratic to get in touch locally, either by phone, online, or in person, to order a premium automobile.

Buying a used car in the UAE

Buying a used car is popular in the UAE, especially as there are usually plenty of good bargains to be had. The country’s used car market is growing and is expected to be worth AED 112 billion by 2025. Of course, when buying a used car, a test drive is definitely advisable, and you will still need to follow your emirate’s registration procedures.

If you buy a used car through a dealership, they generally make the administration processes easier and less bureaucratic. For instance, the last owner should have provided the previous registration documentation for the vehicle. Many dealerships will also take care of much of the car registration process on your behalf. That said, when you buy a used car via a dealership, you will still need to provide the following documentation:

  • UAE residency visa
  • Emirates ID card
  • Passport copy
  • Car insurance documentation
  • Valid driving license, which should match the emirate where you are registering the car
  • Inspection certificate from an authorized testing centre to demonstrate the car is roadworthy; cars that are more than three years old must pass an inspection

The pros and cons of buying a used car

If you buy a used car through a dealership or established car market, they generally make the administration processes smoother. You will also have greater consumer protections – such as guarantees if there is a problem with the car – than when buying it privately.

Most dealerships have service centers where you can take your used car for repairs, services, and maintenance. If you buy a used car privately, you will have to seek out a service center. Many dealership service centers will work on cars that they have not sold, but it is worth shopping around to find a reliable mechanic.

Land Rover dealership showroom in Dubai

Notably, the same processes for registration apply, regardless of how you buy a used car. Emirates Vehicle Gate offers an online checking service for cars registered in the UAE. This allows you to check if the car has been in any accidents. There are also some online resources to help buyers check average prices for new and used cars in the UAE. For example, the Carswitch Car Value Calculator gives a good indication of how much you should pay for different makes and models. YallaMotor is another good website for making used car price comparisons.

There are several payment options when it comes to buying a used car in the UAE. When buying through a dealership or car market, you can pay by cash, card, cheque, or bank transfer. If you need a car loan, many dealerships can also help you arrange one with a bank, if you prefer not to do this yourself. And if you are buying privately, you can pay by cash, cheque, or bank transfer, or organize a personal loan through a bank.

Where to buy a used car in the UAE

Car dealerships and markets

As mentioned, big-name car dealerships sell used cars as well as new cars. As such, they can be good in terms of making the process less bureaucratic; although you may need to pay a premium for this extra level of service. Some of these dealerships include Al-Futtaim Motors, Al Tayer Motors, Al Fahim/Emirates Motor Company, Al Nabooda Automobiles, and Al Habtoor Motors.

Used car markets, which are known as souqs, are another option. These might have hundreds or even thousands of cars for sale at any time, so there is plenty of choice for buyers seeking a good deal. The main souqs are Al Aweer Auto Market in Dubai, Motor World in Abu Dhabi, and Souq al Haraj in Sharjah, the largest car marketplace of its type in the Middle East and North Africa region. Notably, Al Aweer Auto Market doesn’t have a website, but you can make inquiries by calling +971 55 156 7637.

Buying a car from a private owner

It is not uncommon to buy a car from a private owner in the UAE, and this has become much easier with the rise of the internet and social media. Long-term expats might remember the days of buying a newspaper, such as Gulf News or Khaleej Times, for classified car sale advertisements. However, these days, classified advertisements have moved online. For instance, Khaleej Times now runs its classified ads for used cars via its Buzz On website.

Dubizzle is the most popular website for buying and selling used cars from private owners. It first launched as a Dubai-focused website but now covers all seven emirates. Other websites for buying cars from private owners include UAEclass, Open Sooq, and Kargal. You can also find used cars for private sale on expat forum websites such as ExpatWoman, ExpatExchange, and Expat Forum.

As well as relying on word of mouth among your friends and colleagues, social media – particularly Facebook – has become a popular way to privately buy and sell cars. People often post about cars they are selling on their personal Facebook pages as well as in groups for buying and selling used cars. Facebook’s search function allows you to easily find these groups.

It is important to be aware that when you buy from a private owner, you won’t get the same guarantee as when you buy from a dealership or car market. Therefore, you should ask for the car’s full service history, check on the Emirates Vehicle Gate website to see if it has been in any accidents, and test-drive it.

You will need to arrange the same paperwork for the roadworthiness inspection, registration, and insurance as you would if you were buying a car through a dealership or car market. You will also have to arrange this yourself. And if you cannot pay outright by cash, cheque, or bank transfer, you will need to organize a personal loan.

Car registration and other paperwork

When buying a car in the UAE, the registration process is the same, whether it is new or used. Cars are registered annually and must be registered in your emirate of residence.

These are the following steps you need to take to register a car in the UAE:

  • If the vehicle is at least three years old, it needs to be inspected at an authorized inspection center
  • Ensure the car is insured and you have all policy documents
  • You will have to pay any outstanding traffic fines
  • Apply to register you car by visiting a registration center in person or via one of the available online channels. These include the Ministry of Interior website, Emirates Vehicle Gate website, RTA website for Dubai residents, and Abu Dhabi Police for Abu Dhabi residents.
  • Pay registration fees vary between emirates; for example, it is AED 420 in Dubai and AED 400 in Abu Dhabi
  • Collect the emirate’s relevant registration papers
  • Collect a new registration plate if it is a new car. Used car buyers will receive a transferred registration. A sticker with the registration expiry date goes on the number plate.

Car costs in the UAE

Once you have bought and registered your car, there are some vehicle ownership costs to consider, such as:

Car insurance

Car insurance costs depend on the type of car, if it is for work or leisure, personal risks such as age and driving history, and previous claims. Many insurance companies operate in the UAE, including international brands. It is worth shopping around to get multiple quotes as costs can vary considerably between insurers. However, you can expect to pay between AED 3,000 and AED 4,000 for comprehensive car insurance for a car that costs AED 70,000.

Maintenance

Maintenance costs vary depending on the type of car and where you take it for servicing and repairs. A service plan might be included when buying through a dealership. Notably, paid-for services at major dealership workshops can cost more than small, independent mechanics. A basic service can cost anywhere between AED 150 to AED 1,500, excluding additional work.

Petrol costs

UAE petrol prices have increased in recent years, but are still cheap compared to many other countries. The government sets prices. Super 98 petrol currently costs AED 2.94 per liter and Special 95 is AED 2.82 per liter. Diesel cars are uncommon.

Road tolls

In Dubai, tollgates are known as Salik gates. There are no toll booths or barriers. An AED 4 toll is paid when your Salik windscreen tag is scanned at the gates. Anyone who drives in Dubai should register with the Salik website to buy a tag and top it up with credit so they can pay. Alternatively, you can purchase a tag in person at an RTA customer service center. It costs AED 100 to purchase a Salik tag; this includes the AED 50 fee for the tag itself, plus AED 50 credit. Delivery for online orders is AED 20.

Off-roading equipment

Many expats buy SUVs when they move to the UAE. As well as being cheaper to run than in many other countries, desert driving is a popular recreational activity. Therefore, equipment such as a tow rope and desert shovel is useful. Just remember to always go into the desert with a minimum of three cars, keep mobile phones charged, and ensure that there are at least one or two experienced desert drivers in your group.

Importing a car into the UAE

It is not uncommon for expats to import cars into the UAE, instead of buying one, especially if they are coming from nearby countries. However, it is important to be aware of the costs and documentation involved.

In order to import a car, you need to have a valid UAE residency visa, a UAE driving license, and be over the age of 18. The car also needs to be a left-hand drive model and be no older than ten years. That said, in Dubai, owners of older cars, especially classics, can apply for an exemption with the Roads & Transport Authority.

new imported cars in rows stored at port Rashid in Dubai

Customs, duties, and taxes are paid when the car arrives in the UAE. Car registration authorities will also issue a clearance certificate and conduct a roadworthiness test. The car can then be registered and insured. If the car is for personal use, it will be exempt from a 5% customs tax. The vehicle inspection for roadworthiness costs AED 500.

You need the following documents to import a car into the UAE:

  • Proof of ownership of the car from the country you are importing it from
  • Certificate of Origin to prove where the car was manufactured
  • The bill of lading; shipping companies issue this when they receive the car
  • Copies of your passport, UAE residency visa, and UAE driving license
  • A written list of the imported goods, in case you are transporting additional items in the car
  • Vehicle insurance certificate
  • Vehicle clearance certificate, which costs AED 4,700

Selling a car in the UAE

In the UAE, you can sell a car privately or through a dealership, a used car market (known as a souq), or a buy-and-sell website. Dealerships that sell secondhand cars can make it easier to find a buyer and take care of the paperwork, saving you from doing the admin yourself.

When advertising a car for sale through word of mouth, social media, or websites, on the other hand, you will need to field calls from prospective buyers and organize inspections yourself.

The used car souqs might have hundreds or even thousands of cars for sale at any time. As previously mentioned, the main souqs are Al Aweer Auto Market in Dubai, Motor World in Abu Dhabi, and Souq al Haraj in Sharjah.

When registration is transferred, you must provide the following paperwork:

  • Registration documentation
  • Copies of your passport, residency visa, and UAE driving license
  • Emirates ID card
  • Proof that bank loans are paid off
  • A technical inspection certificate to demonstrate the car’s roadworthiness

Service fees for the inspection vary but usually start at AED 350. Before you sell your car, you also need to pay any outstanding fines, such as parking tickets or speeding fines.

Equipment your car needs to have in the UAE

Legally, all your car needs to have when driving in the UAE are the following:

  • A numberplate that matches the emirate where you live
  • The registration expiry date sticker
  • Car insurance is mandatory, so keep a policy copy in your car in case you have an accident
  • You need to carry a valid driving license when you drive anywhere in the UAE
  • Children up to the age of four must be in a safety seat

Useful resources