Dubai is a vast sprawling city and whilst the Metro system connects the main tourist attractions relatively well, it’s certainly not all-encompassing of all the major tourist attractions in Dubai. There are likely going to be points on your trip to Dubai where a set of your own wheels will come in handy.
Taxies and rideshare services can, of course, help with those more difficult to reach places but the best way to get around Dubai if you love your freedom is by hiring your own rental car and self-driving.
Driving In Dubai: The Road Rules
Here are some key things to know about Dubai driving before you consider renting a car in Dubai:
- The road networks are extensive, and roads are wide; freeways are often 8-lanes wide, but this is because you are sharing with trucks, buses, and multiple merging lanes. You do need to be a confident driver in Dubai.
- With the steering wheel on the left, vehicles in Dubai drive on the right side of the road (like the US and much of Europe).
- Speeds are marked in kilometres per hour, your vehicle is likely to only have a speedometer in kms.
- Road signs in Dubai are in both Arabic and English and are clear to understand, but having a driving App such as Google Maps or Waze is highly recommended to assist with navigation and getting in the correct lanes! (Get Waze on Google Play | Apple).
- Traffic in Dubai is fast paced. Speed limits are surprisingly high (and on top of the signed limit, speed cameras will only fine you if you are going more than 20km/hr over the limit!)
- Not keen on driving fast? Get out of the overtaking lanes! When driving a multi-lane freeway in a standard sedan vehicle or SUV, avoid driving in the far right lane(s) as these are designated for trucks or slow-moving vehicles with a lower speed limit; the far left lane(s) are FAST. Try and pick a lane right in the middle to allow faster cars to overtake but avoid dodging massive vehicles and merging traffic.
- There are many large, multi-lane roundabouts! Sometimes roundabouts are up to 4 lanes wide, which confuses many drivers (sadly those who’ve lived here for years don’t get them either!) brush up on your skills if you’re not familiar.
Driving in Dubai: Road Conditions
Generally speaking, the roads in Dubai are in excellent condition, but that doesn’t mean things are always as smooth flowing as they should be. It is, after all, a big city! Here are a few things to consider:
- During morning and evening rush hours in Dubai, roads can resemble more of a parking lot. If sitting in a 6-lane traffic jam is not your idea of fun, try setting out after 10:00 AM, most major attractions do not open until this time anyway. Afternoon peak hour is a bit different, it can get super busy all the way from schools finishing around 2:00 PM through until at least 7:00 PM.
- Rain – although rare in Dubai – can cause havoc. Road surfaces become like a slippery oil slick, and frankly speaking, most drivers here have had no training in how to drive in these conditions. Most rain showers pass fairly quickly; however, if it’s a larger storm that can very occasionally hit, we recommend you stay off the roads. Flash flooding is not unheard of, but it’s more the erratic driving of others you may be concerned about.
- Fog is another seasonal challenge. It can occur at any time of year but more predominantly overnight and early morning in the winter months. Slow down, don’t use your high beams and keep a consistent speed to help your fellow drivers. And please, don’t be one of those drivers who simply puts their hazard lights on!
Driving in Dubai: Tolls, charges and fueling up
- Dubai’s major roads have an automated toll system called Salik. As you pass under a toll barrier, your rental car will be fitted with a small SALIK sticker that will register the charge, which you should expect the rental company to onward charge to you at the conclusion of your rental.
- Speed cameras are everywhere! As we mentioned above, the limits can be a little deceiving due to the 20km/hr buffer, but go over that and expect a stiff penalty as you’ll be charged for going more than 20km/hr over the limit! These fines start from AED 600 (do NOT leave an unpaid fine! If you do, you could run into serious trouble if you come through Dubai again).
- Fuel in Dubai, as you might imagine, is in plentiful supply! Prices were deregulated a few years ago so have risen substantially since the glory days, however, still relatively cheap compared to other parts of the world where fuel is heavily taxed. Expect between AED 2.30 to 2.80 a litre depending on what type of fuel. The price is set at the start of each month. (NB since 2022, this price has crept up closer to 4 AED per litre, ouch!)
- At the pump, you can choose between E-plus, Special-95, Super-98 and diesel. Check if your hire company has specified what fuel to use – especially if you’ve hired a luxury vehicle. And it should go without saying, only every put diesel in a diesel car!
- Fuel stations used to be full service but this has flipped over the last few years to more becoming self-service, so do be prepared to get out of your car even if it’s 45c out!
Driving in Dubai: Rental Car Rules
It is easy to pick up rental cars in Dubai both from the airport and many locations around the city. It’s a highly competitive car rental market as many residents in Dubai rent their cars on a long term monthly basis. Here are a few things to bear in mind renting your car as a tourist in Dubai.
- You will also need your passport and your tourist visa to hire a car in Dubai.
- To hire a car you will need a license. This does not need to be an international driver’s permit if you are from:
Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Brazil, Canada, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Britain, Greece, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, Malaysia, Netherland, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the USA. With English translation – South Korea, Slovakia, Japan and Quebec.
For these countries, just present a copy of your driver’s license that you’ve held for at least 12 months. If your driver’s license is from any other country, you will need an International Drivers Permit.
- Even though the local driving age is 18, you’ll find for hire car companies, you need to be at least 21 years old, and in some instances, they’ll only hire to those over 25.
- Nearly all cars are automatic transmission but do check this when booking.
- You really get what you pay for in terms of vehicle class/size. If you are just a single/couple you might be happy with a small Nissan Sunny, but when you see the traffic conditions, you may well feel a little safer in a larger vehicle! SUVs and 4WD are by far the norm in Dubai and the UAE, though they really aren’t that economical to run.
- Electric cars do exist in Dubai but their use is still not prevalent. You can look into ekar for on-demand car hire.
Recommended Car Rentals in Dubai: We always start our search using services such as rentalcars.com to find rates and companies. Once you start narrowing things down, you might find with airline loyalty programs and the like you can hire cheaper going direct.
What about borrowing a friend’s car in Dubai? See this article from the National detailing the latest guidance on this matter – it basically comes down to whether the vehicle insurer will allow an international driver under the policy.
Driving in Dubai: Traffic Accidents in Dubai
Should the worst happen and you are involved in an accident there are important steps you should be aware of ahead of time.
Renting a car, you will always have an element of insurance included, and you’ll be given an emergency contact number by the hire car company you need to contact in the event of an accident. Remember, this basic insurance may only cover 3rd party costs. Always check if your travel insurance will cover you for things such as automobile accidents, personal injury or damage to personal property if you’ll be renting a car in Dubai.
There’s no longer a required police attendance for minor collisions. Minor traffic accidents are reported to the police using an app. This is a necessary step for both parties to claim on insurance; there is always a culpable party.
If you cannot find the other party (unfortunately, car park dings and bumps do happen and it’s not always caught on CCTV), then you will have to pay for filing the police report and will be seen “at fault”; this can’t be done with the app as you need to enter details for two vehicles, you’ll need to find the nearest police station (NB – many of the Malls have police stations in the car park!)
Serious collisions involving injury and hospitalisation are a little different. An ambulance and police should be requested immediately by dialling 999.
Not to scare anyone off driving completely, but it can be standard practice in the case of a serious vehicle collision where you are believed to have caused the accident to be sent to jail until such time as the other party is out of the hospital or the police have determined culpability. This is why it’s important to know your Dubai do’s and don’ts.
Driving in Dubai: Drink Driving
Driving with any alcohol in your system in Dubai is strictly prohibited. Whilst alcohol is permitted for consumption in Dubai in licensed venues, stick away from the car, even if you’ve had just one drink.
The traffic police are NOT regularly running random breath tests on the side of the road as you’ll find in many other countries, it’s about what happens if you are in an accident.
If you are caught with alcohol in your system, even if it’s from the night before, you can be fairly certain you’ll earn yourself some jail time and face some pretty serious repercussions.
If you do end up having a drink and don’t want to leave your car stranded somewhere, look for services that will send a driver to come to you and take you and your vehicle safely home. Try:
Just confirm if this is allowed with your rental car company, rules can be strict on who the driver is.
Driving in the UAE: Getting beyond Dubai in your car
Part of the beauty of renting a car for your trip to Dubai is the freedom to enjoy day trips to the other Emirates.
The road rules are broadly the same wherever you go in the UAE and there’s no problem taking a hire car from one Emirate to another.
Heading to the northern Emirates, you will not even notice the change (though some have a slightly different “buffer” how far over the speed limit you can drive). The only difference you may see is a change in road surface!
- There has been a hard border put in place since COVID. This may require all passengers in your vehicle to have evidence they are Vaccinated and COVID-free via the Alhosn app or a recent PCR test result. You can learn whether border restrictions are currently in place here.
- The marked speed limits work differently! The freeways as you enter jump to 140 km/hr but anything over this, you will be fined, the “Dubai buffer” of 20 km/hr does not exist! Fines here start from AED 300 for going more than 10km/hr over the limit.
- The major freeways leading onto Abu Dhabi island have toll gates in operation during peak driving hours. Unlike the Salik system in Dubai, there’s no sticker on your car or audible beep, not any toll booth to pass by and pay cash. The DARB toll gate system uses number plate recognition. If you travel under one of these toll gate at the designated times, it will be charged back to your hire car company.
Driving in the Dubai Desert
With an off-road vehicle, it is possible to do your own dune bashing in the Dubai desert IF it is allowed with your rental car policy. Here are some desert driving tips to be aware of:
- Never hit the desert dunes without other experienced drivers around you and the correct safety gear in your car. For obvious safety reasons, it’s easy to get stuck out in the dunes and even flip your vehicle if you don’t know what you’re doing.
- Some easier parts of the Dubai desert you can hit that will still work in 2WD include the Al Marmoom Desert Conservation Reserve, where you’ll find Al Qudra Lakes and the famous Love Lakes.
- Yes, you may well encounter camels! Drive slowly and give them the right of way (though note, even in some of the Northern Emirates, we’ve encountered camels randomly walking along the roads, nowhere near the desert! Slow down, take some snaps and let them go about their business).
- If you’re after the bigger thrills and spills though, this is the one part of your trip where we thoroughly recommend you let the professionals take over. Part of your Dubai desert tour package will include a hotel pick up in an air-conditioned 4WD and a highly experienced desert dunes driver – please let them do the hard work!
Driving to Oman from Dubai
It is possible to drive into parts of Oman from Dubai, fun and exciting addition to your Dubai trip. The Musandam Peninsula exclave is the easiest to reach or head south to the mountains.
You DO need permission or your rental car company to do this as ownership papers are required at the border crossing points, as is insurance for driving in Oman (and in the current climate, PCR test/Vaccine evidence).
Certainly not the simplest of experiences as it sued to be! But still doable. See a detailed guide here on how to drive from Dubai to Oman.
More frequently asked questions about driving in Dubai
It depends on what country you hold a driver’s license from. If you are from one of the permitted countries (we list these above) then your foreign license will be sufficient for hiring a car in Dubai.
We certainly wouldn’t recommend driving in Dubai as a tourist unless you are a confident driver. The traffic is fast-paced and the freeways can be large and convoluted with multiple users from fast cars to huge trucks.
You need to be conscious at all times of the traffic conditions around you and drive in a safe and courtesy manner, even if this is not being displayed correctly at all times by your fellow road users!
Yes, if the idea of driving in Dubai has you feeling nervous then ride share services are quite accessible. Try Uber or Careem, or Hala Taxi (RTA public taxis) of all different shapes, sizes and luxuriousness can also be booked through the Careem app.
Before you go… More important things you should know when planning a trip to Dubai
- Pop into our essential planning information page, it includes everything you need to know about getting around Dubai, a handy guide on what to pack, and top tips for first-timers on the do’s and don’ts, laws, and customs to be aware of.
- Check out this incredible list of 150+ places you should visit when you’re in Dubai.
- Pick up a Dubai Pass from iVenture or a Go City Dubai Pass to save up to 50% on top Dubai attractions.
- Don’t forget to pack your travel insurance!!!
- Discover the best areas to stay in Dubai, or bag a bargain on your accommodation here:
Please note we are not a travel agency. This site is a travel blog to help newcomers to the UAE and transit passengers self plan their trip, we cannot book your flights, hotels, visas or connections for you. We may make a small commission if you click on any of our recommendation links.Dubai Travel Planner