An expat shares her experience.
If you are a recently arrived expat in Dubai, chances are that high up on your to-do list is to obtain a driver’s license to be able to drive around the UAE. And by now you’ve probably heard the horror stories of rigorous tests, multiple failures and the money-making tactics employed by most driving institutes in Dubai, where it’s common to fail 5 or 6 times.
Forget everything you’ve heard, because in the end getting your driver’s license on your first try is not that hard and very possible. Ultimately it boils down to these key factors:
1. Be prepared
2. Be focused
3. Practise, Practise and Practise!
When I arrived in Dubai, I already knew how to drive (as many expats do). Unfortunately my American driver’s license had expired, and because I had not lived in the United States for so long, I could not renew it online either. As it turns out, learning how to drive on the streets of Houston alongside Texan cowboys was still going to prove handy when facing the streets of Dubai!
In addition, since I held an Italian passport, alongside my (expired) American driver’s license, I was asked to apply for a new license and go through the theory test, classes and road driving test. Did I mention I was also 6 months pregnant at the time, and expecting my second baby? I was thus on a very strict timeline, with no time to fail!
So from one expat to another, read on below for some important tips and tricks to getting that driver’s license on your first attempt. The whole process from start to finish took me exactly 4 weeks and was relatively pain-free.
CONVERTING YOUR LICENSE:
First the good news: if you already hold a valid driver’s license from any of the following countries, you are able to convert your license to a local UAE fairly quickly. As per RTA (Road and Transport Authority) guidelines, countries given an automatic conversion are: GCC countries, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada*, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Kuwait, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States.
Canada*: A letter from the Canadian Consulate in Dubai to verify that the license is genuine is required, before transferring your license.
Driver’s license holders from Greece, Canada, Cyprus, Poland, Turkey, Japan & South Korea will require a translation of their driving license from their respective consulates.
Fees and Documents Required:
- Passport for residents (original and copy)
- Residence permit copy
- Current Driver’s License (original and copy)
- 1 Passport sized photo
- Eye test certificate
The total cost is AED 410.
You simply go to the Dubai Traffic Department driving license section along with all your documentation to apply. You will be photographed thereafter and your UAE license will be given to you, upon payment of the fees.
OBTAINING A NEW LICENSE:
If you hold either an expired license from a country above as I did, or one from a country not listed above, you will need to apply for a new driver’s license, but do not despair. You must do the following preparation work:
1. Choose a driving school:
Al Ahli Driving School: 04-3411500 (10 branches)
Belhasa Driving School : 04-3243535 (18 branches)
Dubai Driving Center: 04-3455855 (13 branches)
Emirates Driving Institute: 04-2631100 (53 branches/mall counters)
Galadari Driving School: 04-2676166 (14 branches)
2. Prepare the necessary paperwork:
- Passport, original copy
- No objection certificate from your sponsor
- 8 passport sized photographs
- Eye test certificate, which can be done at the driving school that you choose.
3. Sit through lectures and pass the RTA theory test:
You must attend 8 hours of lectures (2 sessions each) which takes you through the RTA handbook after which you are eligible to sit for the theory exam. This is really simple, and there is even an RTA app that your lecturer will take you through so you can practise sample questions on the test, in advance. You are also able to choose which language you would like to take the test in, with the most popular options being English, Arabic or Urdu. If you practise taking this test a few times before your actual theory test, you will know to expect multiple choice questions. There are 35 questions in 2 sections and you must score 13 out of 18 specific questions and 12 out of 17 common questions. My top tip: attend all the lectures and use the RTA app to ensure smooth sailing through!
I had signed up for the VIP package at Belhasa Driving School since I was short on time (a normal package costs approximately 4000 AED, while an express VIP cost 8000 AED) which meant I could start my lessons right away and didn’t have to wait for a driving instructor to be assigned to me. Since I didn’t have a valid driver’s license, I was required to do the full 40 classes – I viewed it as a chance to familiarize myself with the roads and driving conditions in Dubai. I sailed through these classes pretty fast, and in between, I signed up and passed the various tests – the parking test, the yard test and finally the RTA road test.
Here are some of my tips to sail through the RTA road test on your first try:
- Arrive early for your test and confidently greet your examiner.
- Don’t forget to adjust your seat, check your mirrors, fasten your seatbelt and ask other students sitting behind you to buckle up too. (Road tests are often done with batches of 3 or 4 students, with male examiners for men and female examiners for women).
- Once on the road, be confident, stay calm and trust your instincts.
- Don’t drive too fast or too slow. Don’t be overly cautious either, just drive as you normally would and in a relaxed manner.
- Before changing lanes, always check your blind spot. Examiners love to fail students for not checking their blind spot!
- Apply the two second rule and keep a safe distance from the car in front of you.
- Don’t forget your roundabout rules – always indicate when leaving the roundabout and do not switch lanes within the roundabout. And do not enter a roundabout unless you can see there is no car coming from your left side.
- A favorite ploy that examiners use sometimes is to ask you to switch lanes when there is clearly traffic coming from behind. Use your judgement, give your indicator, check your blind spot and only switch lanes when it is safe to do so. Don’t feel pressured to switch immediately and show you made the right judgement call.
You only have a few minutes to display your driving skills and it will all be over before you know it. And hopefully unless you’ve made a major faux pax, you will be told you have passed!
Out of the car of female drivers I was in, all 4 of us passed on our first tries and everything went smoothly. After handing in some more paperwork, I collected my driver’s license the next day. I will definitely not be letting this one expire!
For more updated information regarding fees and documentation, you can visit the RTA website: www.rta.ae