Driving License in UAE for foreign residents

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One of the first priorities for many foreign citizens when moving to another country, is to think about buying/renting a car for a more comfortable way of life and moving around the city at ease. The UAE is no exception, and the most asked question among expats is the possibility of whether or not they can use their existing driving license or if it is still necessary to retake a driving test. In this article we will look at aspects of the process, such as the driving system in the Emirates, how to obtain a new driving license or under what conditions you can use your existing license, and for what category of people this option is available for.

An overview of driving in the UAE

The UAE road system is considered one of the best and most highly developed in the world. According to the Global Competitiveness Report from the World Economic Forum, the UAE ranked seventh in road quality in 2019. Another advantage is the relatively low fuel prices with an average of AED 2.5 per liter. In addition, according to the RTA, statistics show that there are about 540 cars per 1,000 people, making the UAE one of the most car-saturated countries in the world.

In the UAE, the road system is a right-side one. First of all, this means that the driver sits on the right side and the passenger on the left, and on a two-way highway, the driver will move on the right side. Also, you must remember that under UAE law, the driver must always carry documents such as a driver’s license, registration card or relatable data and their Emirates ID. In addition, the following speed limits apply in the UAE: residential areas – 31 mph, urban areas – 50 mph, highways – 75 mph. In general, all traffic regulations are the same as in many western countries.

Note: Fines for speeding violations can range from AED 400 (USD 110) to AED 3,000 (USD 817). The amount of the fine will depend entirely on both the degree of the violation and the Emirate in which it occurred.

The second equally important point includes the fact that it is strictly forbidden to talk on your cell phone while driving (the exception is hands-free). Also, all road users must wear seat belts, children under 10 years old are not allowed to sit in the front seat and must be equipped with a special child seat in the back of the car. Lastly, driving under the influence of alcohol/drugs is punishable by hefty fines, license revocation, or can even result in up to 3 years in prison. The degree of intoxication is absolutely irrelevant, and the fine can be from AED 20,000 (USD 5,500) and above.

What is the black mark system?

If you break traffic rules, the punishment is not just limited to a fine. In the UAE, there is also the so-called “black mark system”, under which points are allocated for violations. The maximum number of such points for 1 person can be 24 and if the limit is exceeded the driver is prohibited to drive any mode of transport for 1 year (in fact it is a deprivation of rights). The number of points depends on the severity of the violation. For instance, if it is intoxication, the driver will get 24 points at once and lose their license for a year. If you drive distracted or talk on your cell phone you may get 4 black marks. All marks are totalled for one year, and if the driver didn’t reach the maximum limit, at the end of the year they will be deleted from the system and everything will start over again.

Driving style of UAE residents

The biggest problem on the roads for any foreign national, especially those from the United States and Europe, is the general driving standards of the local population.

Despite such strict rules, fines, and penalties, many locals do not drive in compliance with them. A second equally important and common issue is driving without turning on/switching off their indicators, as well as driving without headlights on etc.

Tip: No matter how annoying it might be for you – do not fall for such provocations, do not show other drivers any hand gestures or verbal expressions, as they can be perceived as offensive and it will get you in trouble.

Driving licenses

In each of the seven emirates the conditions for obtaining a driving license may differ, so it is recommended to get a license in the same emirate where you plan to reside in the future and where you will be issued a residence visa and an Emirates ID.

In the UAE, you are allowed to drive from the age of 18, but you must be 21 to rent a car. As for applying for a driving license, you will need to do this in advance, at least 6 months before you reach the required age. If you live and work permanently in the Emirates, you will only need a local license and cannot use your country’s driver’s license on a long-term basis.

In many cases, your passport will determine how easy it is to obtain a driving license in the UAE. If you have been issued with a license in one of the 30 relevant countries such as the USA and Canada, you can change it to an Emirati type without the need to take the tests. These lists are frequently updated and detailed information can be found on the official website of the RTA (Roads and Transportation Authority). However, if your country is not on the key list, then you will need to start the process again by taking lessons in order to pass the driving test to obtain a UAE driving license and drive legally in the country.

Note: In order to get some of the transportation and licensing services in Dubai, drivers can install a special RTA app on their smartphone/laptop/tablet. The app has about 136 services specifically designed for drivers in Dubai, including obtaining permits for training or parking in public places, etc.

Driving with a foreign driver’s license

If you come to the UAE for a short period of time, for example, as a tourist or to take care of business matters, you can use your country’s driver’s license. This category may include citizens of the Persian Gulf, Great Britain, Malta, Bulgaria, Canada, and others.

In this case, when renting a car, it is recommended to contact the car rental company in advance to clarify whether they will accept your country’s license or if you will need an international driving license or IDP. Having clarified this nuance beforehand and in the case of the second option, you will then have time to apply for an international driving license in your home country. This document can be issued in 10 different languages and is valid for 1 year and confirms that you actually have a valid license. In addition, an international driver’s license can prove your identity in case you lose your passport or ID card and it should always be carried with you, as should the IDP (if necessary). To obtain an IDP for UAE residents, you can contact the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE (ATCUAE).

Note: Persons holding only tourist visas are not allowed to drive a private car in the UAE. The only exception is if their close relatives own the private car. Basically the rule is connected with the protection and rights of the private car owner, since all possible fines will be registered on the owner, as well as the responsibility for violations.

Exchanging a foreign driver’s license

Nationals of the following countries may exchange their driving license for an Emirati license – USA, Austria, United Kingdom, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and 24 other countries. However, if it was issued from Puerto Rico, North Mariana, Guam Island (USA), Liechtenstein island (Switzerland), Monaco island (France) and Jersey island (Britain) it cannot be replaced.

The document is valid for 1 year for people under the age of 21 and 2 years for individuals aged over 21. You can apply for a license exchange in RTA branches with the required documents:

  • Original driving license of the exception country
  • A legal translation of your license if the original is not in Arabic or English
  • An electronic eye-test
  • Emirates ID

Service fees include:

  • AED 200 (USD 55) for opening a file
  • AED 600 (USD 165) for issuing a license
  • AED 50 (USD 14) for handbook manual
  • AED 20 (USD 6) Knowledge and Innovation fees.

However, if your driving license was not issued in one of the exception countries, you need to start the process from the scratch – apply for classes and take a driving test to obtain an Emirati license.

Getting a driving license

In order to obtain a driving license in the UAE, residents and nationals need to take driving classes and pass all required lessons. To do this you need to go to one of the following registered institutes:

  • Emirates Driving Company – Abu Dhabi
  • Emirates Driving Institute – Dubai
  • Dubai Driving Centre – Dubai
  • Galadari Motor Driving Centre – Dubai
  • Belhasa Driving Centre – Dubai
  • Al Ahli Driving Center – Dubai
  • Sharjah Driving Institute – Sharjah
  • Ras Al Khaimah Driving Academy – Ras Al Khaimah
  • Fujairah National Driving Institute – Fujairah

The age requirements for obtaining a driver’s license are – 17 years old for motorcycles and vehicles for special needs, 18 years old for cars and light vehicles, 20 years old for heavy vehicles and tractors, and 21 years for buses.

The process of getting a license starts with opening a traffic file in one of the above mentioned centers and conducting an eye test in facilities that are approved by the traffic department. After passing the theory and practical driving tests in the UAE, the applicant will receive a new driving license for a period of 2 years regardless of origin and nationality. This document can be extended, withextension up to 10 years for UAE citizens and GCC nationals, and 5 years for residents (expats). In most eEmirates, the renewal procedure of a driving license is available online and, in the case of traffic fines, is only possible after they have been paid in full. In addition, if you delay the process of renewing your driving license for more than 1 month, you will be charged a fine of AED 10 (USD 2.72) per day.

You must provide the following documents to open a traffic file:

  • A copy of your passport and residency visa page
  • Copy and original of your Emirates ID card
  • 2 passport sized photos
  • Medical report of an eye examination
  • Letter of No Objection (NOC) from sponsor (if required)

You also need to pay a fee of AED 200 (USD 55) for testing and AED 20 (USD 5.5) for knowledge and innovation. The number of lessons on theory and practical driving lessons will directly depend on your driving experience in your home country, but if you are a beginner and only just getting your license, the training includes a minimum of 20 lessons (10 x 2 hours).

Examination tests

When you apply for a driver’s license, there are 4 tests you will need to complete:

  • Theory Test. This test is done on the computer before the road rules test. This tests your understanding of driving rules, signals and the risks of driving. It consists mainly of 35 multiple-choice questions and is given at the driving school of your choice.
  • Parking Test. This is administered around the driving school and looks at angled parking, garage parking, parallel parking, emergency stopping, and slope/hill parking.
  • Evaluation Test. The test is a practice test of the final road test and takes just 10 minutes to complete. During this time, you will need to demonstrate all of your skills as much as possible, and then the instructor will help you choose an appointment date to take the road test.
  • Driving Test. This can be just 10-15 minutes or could take more than half an hour, as it is all relevant to the individual. You will be given a date for the test and you will need to have an open file for driving, 2 passport-sized photos and pay all the related fees (or provide cheques for payment if you did it earlier).

After the final test, you will be given your results, and if you fail, you will need to take an additional 7 sessions before you can sign up for a retake. If you are successful, your examiner will give you a document confirming that you passed all stages. Afterwards, you need to present all documents and copies at the registration desk and your driver’s license will be processed and delivered to you immediately.

Getting a car

The cost of the car will depend on the type of model you have bought or intend to buy. Below are the approximate costs for the most popular car types in the UAE – the 2018 Toyota Corolla:

  • Purchase – AED 18,000 (USD 4,900).
  • Car registration and safety tests – AED 550 (USD 150) per year.
  • Insurance – from AED 3,000 (USD 817) to AED 4,000 (USD 1,090) per year.
  • The road toll system SALIK charges AED 4 (USD 2) every time you pass through it.
  • Fuel costs – an average of AED 2.5 (USD 0.7) per litre.

Importing a car

If you decide on importing your car from another country you will have to:

  • Pay 5% customs duties on the value of the vehicle with 1% insurance and cost of shipment.
  • Get a VCC (Vehicle Clearing Certificate) issued by the Traffic & Licensing Department.
  • Have a residence permit.

Note: If your car is a left-hand drive and/or is older than 10 years you will have to check with the RTA if it can be imported. Once your car is imported you need to register it in the RTA.

Summary

  1. The official driving age in the UAE is 18 years old.
  2. An International Driving Permit is required for visitors to rent and travel by car.
  3. If you want to exchange your foreign driver’s license to an Emirati type it has to be issued from one of the 32 countries including USA, Canada, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia or Qatar.
  4. If a license was issued from another country you have to start the process from the scratch – taking classes and passing tests.
  5. A UAE driver’s license is valid for two years.
  6. The cost of the most popular car in the Emirates – 2018 Toyota Corolla is AED 18,000 (USD 4,900).
  7. It is possible to import your car to the UAE.
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