If you are moving to Dubai, here’s everything you need to know about transport, whether you want to buy a car or use public transport.

Public transportation in Dubai is becoming more and more sophisticated, with the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) now running metro and tram services to support the traditional bus and taxi. But many people still choose to buy a car as petrol/ gas prices are so low and car prices are much cheaper than, say, North America or Europe. Car rental is also common and chauffeur services are increasingly popular.

Renting a car

Buying a car

Financing your own car

Registering your car

Car insurance

Driving rules and regulations

Public transport in Dubai

Private chauffeur car services

Luxury cars and limousines

[Related: New to Dubai or the UAE: The ultimate expat guide]

Driving in the UAE

Renting a car

To rent a car, you need a valid driver’s license. If you have an international license and are on a tourist visa, you can use it to rent cars. Once you get your UAE residency stamp in your passport, however, you can no longer drive on any international license and will need to get a UAE driver’s license.

Depending on your nationality, it could be an easy swap or you may have to take driving lessons and a test again. Drivers with licenses and passports from the EU, Canada, US and Canada, Turkey, Australia, South Korea and Singapore can easily get a UAE license issued. For further information on your eligibility to switch driving license, check the Dubai Police website.

Buying a car

If you want to buy a car, check out:

  • Car dealerships: There are plenty of options on car makes, and the paperwork needed to buy and own a car is fairly simple. Car dealers also allow you to buy used cars – and will assist with the car registration processes.
  • Private owners: You can buy a car privately, secondhand. Look for listings in local newspapers such as Khaleej Times and Gulf News, or on many of the car-buying sites such as Dubizzle and Carmudi.ae. [Related: UAE car buying sites compared
  • Car complexes: Complexes such as the Al Aweer Used Car Market in Dubai (Al Awir, also known as Ras Al Kor Used Car Complex and several other names) are a secondhand car goldmine. This site has around 200 car showrooms, along with banks, car insurance companies, testing and inspection centers, car auction services, driving centers and Police Traffic Department registrations facilities for cars.
  • Beware: If buying secondhand, do ask about accidents, flood damage and unusually high mileage. You can call the car dealer to ask for details of a car if you have its license plate number
  • Warranty and service packages: You can potentially renew or even restart its warranty or service package with the dealer if either has run out or expired.
  • Car valuation: Autodata offers a car valuation service for AED 250. Get one at RTA testing centers like Tasjeel; take your Tasjeel testing report to the car valuation certificate counter for a 30-day official and watermarked valuation certificate.
  • Resale: You will get the best resale value buying to GCC specification and automatic, rather than manual, which is much more common in the UAE.

[Compare car deals in the UAECompare car finance in the UAE | Compare Islamic car finance in the UAE]

Financing your car

You can get your car financed by either a bank or the dealership itself. Before taking our a car loan:

  • Compare: Compare rates from different service providers in the market to get yourself a good deal. Do your homework and look at minimum salary and down payment requirements.
  • Fees: Keep an eye out for arrangement and early settlement fees charged by banks and check whether the rates offered are flat or reducing. Sometimes the lowest rate being advertised is not the best option, as differences in flat and reducing rates can add up.
  • Conventional or Islamic: Be aware of whether your car finance is a conventional loan or an Islamic car loan.

The documents required for buying a car are:

  • UAE residence visa and passport
  • Valid UAE driver’s license
  • Salary certificate/ letter from employer confirming work status
  • Bank statements (usually three to six months’ worth)

[Related: Buying a new car: Anything that could go wrong, did!]

Registration process

Car registration can be done at RTA local offices, Eppco petrol stations, and at Shamil or Belhasa Driving Center. The documents required to register your car are:

  • Passport and residency visa
  • Dubai driving license
  • Car insurance documents
  • Original license plates

Car insurance

Car insurance is mandatory in the UAE and there are plenty of service providers to choose from.

To get a good deal on your policy, make sure you shop aroundYour premium will be calculated on the kind of  policy you choose, whether basic or comprehensive (basic is mandatory, comprehensive advisable), and on other factors such as your age, car value and make.

Unlike other countries, the main component of your car insurance price is the car value, which can make insurance much cheaper than many expats are used to in their home country. This also means you can probably allow anyone to drive your car without being a named driver, including guests on eligible international driving licenses – check with your insurance company, though.

Blood money is an element of car insurance unfamiliar to those from non-Islamic countries – this is cover for money to be paid out to any victims’ families in the case of severe injury or death in an accident you cause. Check what coverage is provided before you buy your insurance.

Ask for quotes from at least three service providers before making a final decision.

If you want to add extras to your policy, insurance providers will do so for an additional cost. For example, if you want to try dune bashing, adding off-road cover is a good idea.

Remember that if you have an accident, you cannot move the car from the scene at all and instead must call Dubai Police, who will come to make a report and decide liability. You will need this to claim on insurance.

[Compare car insurance in the UAE | Related: What makes a good car insurance policy?The little extras that come with your car insurance policy | Emergency phone numbers in UAE]

Salik road toll

After your car registration is complete, ensure you have purchased your Salik Tag if you live in Dubai. Salik is a road toll system around Dubai, especially on Sheikh Zayed Road. You don’t have to stop at these gates as drivers instead stick a tag on their windscreen which is then read through radio frequency and the account charged accordingly. Each time you pass a Salik toll gate, you are charged AED 4.

You will be fined for driving through any gate without Salik. If you drive through a gate with zero balance, you have five days to recharge or you will be fined.

Buy the Salik kit from a petrol station such as Eppco, Emarat or Adnoc. The kit is a one-time purchase, and you can recharge your tag by purchasing Salik cards from petrol stations or on the Salik site.

Driving rules and regulations

There are certain rules and regulations drivers must follow in the UAE.

There is zero tolerance in the UAE for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs; the driver will be arrested and most likely have to serve jail time. Insurance policies will not cover accidents where the driver is intoxicated.

Poor driving that causes a serious accident or death can lead to a large fine for the driver at fault, and there is the possibility of jail time or deportation. In the event of someone’s death in road accident, a blood money fine is imposed.

If you are out and about for the evening it’s safest to leave your car at home and take public transport. One alternative, if you have your car with you and it turns into a big night, is Safer Driver, which will send someone to drive you home in your own car.

Public transport in Dubai and the UAE

The public transportation system in Dubai consists of bus, taxi, Dubai metro, tram, water bus, water taxi, Dubai ferry and abra. Currently, Dubai is the only emirate in the UAE with a metro system; it currently has two lines, Red and Green, and runs from Jebel Ali to Rashidiya.

You can use the same NOL card to pay for metro, bus and tram rides around Dubai. [Related: Dubai metro and tram prices and packages | Can the Dubai tram beat a car in a race?All about Dubai tram]

Taxi services in the UAE

Here’s a list of taxi companies across the UAE:

Company Contact Emirate
Dubai Taxi Corporation 04-208 0808 Dubai
National Taxi 600 535353 Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Western Region
Sharjah Taxi 06 568 8444 Sharjah
Emirates Taxi 06 539 6666 Sharjah
Union Taxi 06-532 5555 Sharjah
Citi Taxi 600 52 52 52 Sharjah
Al Hamra 800 1700 Ras Al Khaimah
Ajman Taxi 06-7408000 Ajman

There are also specific taxis for the following needs –  these will need to be requested when booking.

  • Airport taxi
  • Special needs taxi
  • Taxi to Hatta (Oman border)
  • Ladies’ taxi (pink and women drivers – you must have a woman in your group to take one)

Note – you will pay for Salik road tolls as part of your fare when driving through a gate on Sheikh Zayed Road. There are occasional other surcharges, such as if you have a booking for a taxi or a pick-up from the airport

Alternatives to taxis – chauffeur cars

For a more personalized experience, you can hire chauffeur car services. These private cars charge more than taxis but are still very competitively priced, as well as being comfortable and reliable. You can even request them through mobile apps for that company, which will automatically be linked to your account and charge your credit card, so you don’t need to carry cash.

Fares vary depending on demand. If you live somewhere remote or are trying to take a cab at a busy time of day it can be particularly useful to be able to order this way and you can normally see via the app how close a cat is before you order.

[Related: The Souqalmal.com Amazing Race: Did the Dubai tram win?]

Examples include: 

Private car hire

You can hire a private luxury car or even a limousine for a day out quite cheaply in Dubai. Generally there is an hourly charge and prices range from anywhere between AED 80 to AED 1,400 per hour. Keep in mind, these prices are based on the type of luxury car being hired and the number of hours. Hire companies include: