We Are All Above Average in Dubai

When it comes to driving, we are all above average in Dubai…… of course, that is not unique to Dubai, according to Dave Barry:

“The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers.”   Dave Barry

Whether that is true or not, I am definitely a better driver in Dubai than I was in the US – because I am extremely careful, NEVER talk on the phone (well, maybe just that once…) and I do not even listen to the radio.  In Atlanta, it seems I spent all of my days driving and talking on the phone simultaneously (enough to put 60,000 miles on my car and who knows how many minutes on my phone last year alone.)

Other than my intense concentration being a “newbie” driver, driving in Dubai is not that different from driving in Atlanta.  We drive on the right hand side of the road here, the same as in the US, and for the most part people stay within the speed limit and obey the rules of the road.  The one difference I will note is that drivers seem to “cut you off” more readily and often than in the US (but some of that might be because I am being so careful…. sort of a double edged sword, I presume!)

My theory is that because enforcement here is so state of the art and automatic, drivers tend to obey the rules for fear of being fined since retribution comes immediately and swiftly.   Here, there are traffic cameras everywhere that will catch you if you speed, run through a red light, take an illegal turn…. and you are fined immediately.  Your phone “dings” right after you have performed your illegal act – the “ding” is a text notifying you of the penalty.  Crazy, huh?  No flashing red lights in your rear view mirror necessary.  I know that there is some automatic enforcement in Atlanta, but it’s not nearly as ubiquitous as it is here.

If you are considering a move to Dubai and thinking about bringing your car, let me tell you about my experience with moving our car here in case it helps you.  We paid to ship our car here and are happy that we did – but you can also, of course, buy or rent a car when you get here.   Leasing rarely makes sense for me because I put so many miles on a car, I did not want to deal with buying a car right away when we arrived, and when I did the math it was actually less expensive for us to ship the car than to sell it in the U.S. and buy a similar one here.  Here are some pointers:

(1) We used a top rated shipping company and therefore paid more than some other companies would have charged us (all in, with fees in the U.S. and customs fees and recovery costs here we spent $5,500 (about 20,200 Dhs).  It took longer than we expected – a total of 75 days (I have a suspicion that they forgot about us at the Savannah Port for about a month) but that turned out just fine since it took me that long to get my Emirates I.D. and driver’s license here.  We were allowed to load up the car as kind of a “shipping container” for some of our belongings that we would not need right away (since the car took several months to get here).

(2) That said, it was still a stressful process in many ways.  I had to proceed with leaps of faith at many turns, but everything was handled professionally and the car was in perfect shape when delivered to us.  So definitely pay more for a better shipping company, and be sure to ask about the company they use on the receiving side (our U.S. company was Schumacher, and the UAE company they used is Pangaea Shipping – overall we were very happy with both).

(3) Things you need to know if you are shipping your car here:

  • you cannot obtain full insurance coverage in Dubai for an imported vehicle.  All that you can get is third party liability insurance.  So be aware, and perhaps think twice before you import a particularly prized or expensive vehicle.
  • you must have insurance on your vehicle BEFORE you register it.  I found that Oman Insurance was particularly helpful and responsive.  They insured my car before it was delivered, and the rates were good (1500 Dhs yearly, or $405).
  • since you cannot drive your car before it is registered, when the car arrives at the port you must have it towed to a registration center.  We had the recovery truck meet us at the  Tasjeel center in Al Barsha.  (NOTE: they do not use the word “tow trucks” are here.  They call it a “recovery truck”.  I am sorry to say that it took me some time to understand when they were telling me that I needed to “recover” my car that they meant I should have it “towed.”)
  • “Tasjeel” is an Arabic word for registration, and they are centers where you can do everything IN ONE PLACE.  Register your car, get license plates, get toll booth stickers, even insurance.  Definitely go to a Tasjeel center!  (There are other sites where you can register your car, but I was so impressed by Tasjeel.  There’s even a cafe where you can drink coffee/eat snacks while you wait).

(4)  Registration is confusing, but not too difficult.  Once you have “recovered” your car to the Tasjeel center, there is a mechanical inspection, and you buy your plates at the same center.  You can even pay for them to attach the plates at Tasjeel (a ten dirham, or $2.75, well spent).  BE SURE THAT YOU HAVE YOUR CUSTOMS CLEARANCE CERTIFICATE with you.  They will take your original, so be sure that you have a copy of it (take a picture of it with your phone).  You can even buy insurance at Tasjeel, but I think it was best to purchase ahead.  It was a total of about 450 Dhs (about $121) in Tasjeel charges for registration and plates.  We spent another 100 Dhs ($27) for the toll booth sticker.

(5) What do you need to bring, other than the customs clearance certificate?  Passport, residency visa, Emirates I.D., proof of insurance, and Dubai driver’s license (foreign or international will not do).  The documents must belong to the person who owns the car.  Bring extra copies of all of these things (in fact, when you go to do anything in Dubai it cannot hurt to have these documents along with extra copies.  Also a certified marriage certificate and passport pictures.)

It is amazing how scared I was of driving in a strange and new land.  I am still a little skittish, but primarily because I know I do not have comprehensive insurance.  But it is easy to drive here.  Roads are well marked.  There is not a lot of cutting across thoroughfares and it is difficult to make left turns except at stoplights because there are medians everywhere.  Therefore, there is a lot of legal u-turning.

The level of automation in Dubai transportation is amazing.  Not only are traffic tickets automated, parking and tolls are as well.  There are no “toll booths”, only sensors that see your car coming through and automatically bill you.  No slow down whatsoever for tolls.  Parking is done through your phone.  The Dubai roads app locates which parking district you are in and you pay by confirming that you are parked in that zone.  (If you are just bringing your car here, download the Dubai “RTA” (for Roads and Transportation Authority) and it is all located there.  You have a ten day grace period is sign up for the Salik toll system, but you can sign up at the registration center.  They definitely make it easy here!)

And I guess it goes without saying that YES, WOMEN DO DRIVE HERE.  While it is a Muslim country, women are allowed to drive and we do not have to “cover up”.  I did have to have a “No Objection Certificate” from my husband stating that he had no objection to me driving or working here, and it is considered polite to be sure your shoulders and knees are covered (and that is not practiced by many if not most non-Muslims in the hot summer months, particularly).  But Dubai is cosmopolitan and progressive… and I do loving being able to drive my own car around to explore!  Just message or email me if I can answer any questions for you about bringing a car here and driving – or any questions at all about a move to Dubai!  I am happy to help.




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