Many expats want to maintain their independence while living abroad, and luckily, exchanging a foreign driver’s license in the United Arab Emirates can be a straightforward process.
In this article, we outline the requirements for getting a driver’s license, how to get a car, and the process of exchanging a driver’s license in the UAE. It includes the following information:
- An overview of driving in the United Arab Emirates
- Driving licenses in the United Arab Emirates
- Driving with a foreign driver’s license in the United Arab Emirates
- Exchanging a foreign driver’s license in the United Arab Emirates
- Getting a driving license in the United Arab Emirates
- Getting a car in the United Arab Emirates
An overview of driving in the UAE
The UAE has a highly developed road system, so you will see cars racing along the highways and perhaps even a few livestock along some of the quieter backroads. Between these speed demons on the highways and the heavy traffic congestion, driving in the UAE can be an intimidating experience. Fortunately, it’s not as bad as it seems and the benefits of having your own transportation far outweigh the initial hesitation.
People drive on the right throughout the Emirates and, unless you are ready to go far above the speed limit, it is advisable to avoid the left lane on the highway. Legally, you must always have your driver’s license, Emirates ID, and registration with you.
In addition, you must remember to obey the speed limits. Unfortunately, some people are aggressive or reckless drivers, so be sure to always stay alert. Otherwise, driving regulations are similar to what you would expect to find in many Western countries.
Driving licenses in the UAE
The legal driving age in the UAE is 18, but you need to be 21 to rent a car. As in many other situations, your passport determines how easy it is to get a UAE driver’s license. Legally, passport holders who are from key countries (see the full list here), can simply transfer their unexpired driver’s license to a UAE one. Passport holders from all other countries, however, must start from the beginning and obtain a UAE license to legally drive in the country.
Driving with a foreign driver’s license in the UAE
Tourists who hold driver’s licenses from certain countries, such as the US, can use their own licenses to drive. However, it is important to keep in mind that many rental companies also require an International Driving Permit; therefore, it might be a good idea to get one. Essentially, if you have an Emirates ID, you need to get an Emirati driver’s license in order to legally drive.
Exchanging a foreign driver’s license in the UAE
If you are living, working, or studying in the UAE, then you are not considered a tourist. As such, you cannot drive with your home country driver’s license. Therefore, if your country is eligible, you must begin the process of exchanging a foreign driver’s license in the UAE; however, if your country isn’t eligible, you must begin the process of getting a new driver’s license altogether. So, depending on which emirate you live in, you will need to go to your local Service Center with the following documents:
- Original driver’s license, with copies;
- Emirates ID, with copies;
- A No-Objection Certificate (NOC) from your employer – a full list of occupations that do not require a NOC can be found here;
- Passport-sized photos;
- Eye test report (this can be done at any optician);
- Arabic-language translation of your driver’s license (only applies to some countries)
How long will it take?
Fortunately, the process of getting your license shouldn’t take longer than a few weeks, if you have all your documentation ready. Generally speaking, between service center costs and the eye exam, setting aside AED 1,000 for the whole process is a safe bet.
Getting a driving license in the UAE
If you can’t transfer your driver’s license, you will have to apply for a new Emirati driver’s license. Unfortunately, the process is long. You will need to open a traffic file at a registered driving center which requires your passport, Emirates ID, passport-sized photographs, No-Objection Certificate (if you need one), and eye test report. Then, you will need to take all the required driving classes, as well as the theoretical and practical tests. Once you pass, you will get your driver’s license. You can find more detailed information about this on the government website.
Getting a car in the UAE
It is important to bear in mind that gas is cheap and taxi rides mount up in the UAE. Therefore, whether you are planning to rent or buy, having a car is a very good idea if you live there. If you are looking to buy, you will find plenty of dealerships which offer all kinds of cars. Once you have chosen a car, you will be able to discuss finance and payment options. Thankfully, the dealer will handle the insurance and registration and the car is all yours.
If you are in the market for a rental, however, you just need to choose your preferred rental company and provide the relevant documentation. Fortunately, getting a rental car is a fast process and some companies even deliver the car to you.