Tips for Driving in Dubai and Abu Dhabi as a Tourist

Last Updated on August 1, 2023

If you’re planning a trip to Dubai or Abu Dhabi and are curious about what it’s like to drive here, you’ve come to the right place. It’s beneficial to have a car when driving in the United Arab Emirates. You’ll be able to do it all, from Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach to the best Instagram spots in Abu Dhabi. Regardless of whether you’re following a Dubai itinerary or Abu Dhabi itinerary (or both), getting your own car is the easiest way to get around.

Tips for Driving in Dubai and Abu Dhabi as a Tourist 1

In this post, we’ll give you an overview of the roads, traffic conditions, and driving culture in both cities. We’ll also share some tips on how to stay safe when driving in these parts of the world. So whether you’re already packing your bags or just doing some research before your trip, keep reading for all you need to know about driving in Dubai and Abu Dhabi!

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Is it Safe to Drive in Dubai and Abu Dhabi?

It’s no secret that the roads in Dubai and Abu Dhabi can be a bit chaotic. With all of the construction, traffic, and pedestrians, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed when behind the wheel. The roads are, as a general rule of thumb, very well-maintained and up to modern standards.

Tips for Driving in Dubai and Abu Dhabi as a Tourist 2

Despite the challenges, driving in Dubai and Abu Dhabi is generally safe. Of course, there are always risks associated with any type of driving, but as long as you use common sense and follow the rules of the road, you should be fine.

Top Ten Tips for Driving in Dubai and Abu Dhabi as a Tourist

In no particular order, these are our top tip for driving in Dubai and Abu Dhabi as tourists that we have accumulated from driving in Dubai and Abu Dhabi over five different trips.

Understand the Unique Rules of the Road

In addition to the increasingly standard rules of the road, such as always wearing your seat belt and not using your cell phone while driving, there are a few things to take note of when driving in the UAE.
First and foremost, despite how frustrated you may get at your fellow drivers, it’s important that you do not yell, use hand gestures, or make any motions to another driver that may be offensive. This is considered public indecency and is punishable by law.

Tips for Driving in Dubai and Abu Dhabi as a Tourist 3

Be sure to keep a safe distance (approximately 3 seconds) from the car in front of you. Tailgating is also a serious offense that could result in hefty fines, although you will see many locals doing it.

It is Okay to Drive Fast, But Safe

The locals like to drive fast, and speed limits are also high. The UAE has the highest posted speed limits in the world with 2 roads (the Abu Dhabi-Al Ain highway and the Sheikh Khalifa highway) having a limit of 160 km/h (99 mph). You may still see people driving faster than the speed limit. That’s because most speed cameras will not ticket you unless you are going more than 20km/h faster than the limit.

The minimum speed limit is just as important as the maximum speed limit. Driving in Dubai and Abu Dhabi means incredible amounts of traffic, and the minimum speed limits are designed to prevent gridlocks or backups.

Police Checkpoints

When driving in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, there are a few things you should know about police checkpoints. First and foremost, always have your driver’s license and rental car papers with you. Secondly, be aware that police may ask to search your vehicle. If this happens, you have the right to decline and ask for a supervisor.

Police checkpoints are not as common as when driving in Jordan, however, so try not to worry too much. Usually, as a tourist, you’ll be waved along and allowed to continue. You may be asked a few simple questions such as the purpose of your trip or where you are driving.

Understand the Salik Toll Roads

Salik is the name of the road toll system in the United Arab Emirates. There are currently eight Salik toll gates in Dubai and four Salik toll gates in Abu Dhabi.

To use the Salik system, motorists must purchase a tag from any of the authorized retailers (gas stations generally sell tags), and attach it to their windshield. The tag is linked to the driver’s credit or debit card, and is used to automatically deduct the toll fee when passing through a Salik gate. If you already have a Salik tag, you can recharge your account online.

Salik Toll Booth in Dubai

Most rental cars from Dubai and Abu Dhabi should already have a Salik tag on the vehicle, however check with the rental car company if there are any additional fees for using it.

There are no barriers or gates at the Salik toll points, and motorists do not need to stop to pay the toll. Instead, sensors mounted on gantries above the road detect the presence of a Salik tag, and deduct the appropriate fee from the associated account.

The main advantage of the Salik system is that it helps to reduce traffic congestion on frequently used roads. By introducing a toll for using certain roads during peak hours, Salik has encouraged motorists to use alternative routes that are less congested. Depending on the time of day you drive, you may have to pay, or there will be no fee!

Parking in Dubai and Abu Dhabi

Parking in Dubai is pretty straightforward. The city has different parking zones established for different uses, usually with different tarifs associated with them. Be sure to pay the right amount at the machine and display the ticket on your dashboard when required.

In general, you will have to pay for parking in the city. In fact, all public parking zones in this emirate are paid parking zones. However, free parking is available on Fridays and some holidays.

Tips for Driving in Dubai and Abu Dhabi as a Tourist 4
Tips for Driving in Dubai and Abu Dhabi as a Tourist 5

Abu Dhabi has a parking system call Mawaqif. To use Mawaqif, you’ll need to purchase a card from any of the Mawaqif offices or machines located around the city. You can then use this card to pay for parking at any of the Mawaqif-designated parking spots. To park, simply drive into the spot and insert your card into the machine. The machine will then give you a ticket, which you’ll need to display on your dashboard.

When you’re ready to leave, simply insert your card into the machine again and pay the amount of time you’ve parked for.

If you’re looking for free parking, most malls in both Emirates offer free parking for the first 3 hours.

Familiarize Yourself with UAE Road Signs

Thankfully, there aren’t many differences between the road signs in the United States and the United Arab Emirates. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are both incredibly popular tourist cities, so you can put your mind at ease knowing that signs here will likely be in both Arabic and English.

If you venture outside of city limits, however, you’ll find that in rural areas the signs may only be in Arabic.

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How to Get Gas for Your Rental Car in Dubai and Abu Dhabi

Refueling in the Emirates couldn’t be more simple. Simply pull up to the gas station, of which there are plenty scattered throughout both cities, roll down your window, and let the attendant know which type and how much gas you’d like. Most gas stations in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi are full service, though occasionally you may stumble across one which is self-serve.

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Tips for Driving in Dubai and Abu Dhabi as a Tourist 8

To make things even easier, nearly all gas stations accept credit cards. If you are driving out through rural areas, this may not be the case, so you’ll have to be sure to keep some cash on you just in case.

Driving in Dubai

The roads are expansive and often very busy, with a mix of luxury cars and huge trucks traveling at high speeds. However, most drivers are fairly respectful and follow the rules of the road.

There is a dense amount of traffic in a relatively small area, with a ton of lanes to navigate. Drivers in the UAE generally don’t abide by the ‘pass on the left’ rule of thumb, and you’ll often find vehicles going too slow in the left lanes or find yourself getting passed on the right.

Another thing to keep in mind is that some highways have separate lanes for buses and taxis. It’s important to stay out of these lanes, as it is illegal for non-commercial vehicles to drive in them.

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You will also find a lot of on-ramps, off-ramps, and side-streets and sometimes Google Maps can get confused, or not provide you with enough time to change lanes before it is too late. It’s best to have a passenger that can help with navigation.

It’s also important to note that there are very strict laws against drinking and driving in Dubai. The legal blood alcohol limit is zero, so it’s best to avoid any alcohol if you plan on driving.

Driving in Abu Dhabi

As a tourist in Abu Dhabi, driving can be both exciting and intimidating. The roads are well-maintained and there are multiple lanes for smooth flow of traffic, but drivers tend to change lanes quickly and often without signalling.

Furthermore, it is crucial to familiarize yourself with traffic laws before hitting the road. Some notable rules include no drinking and driving, always giving way to emergency vehicles, and not using cell phones while driving unless hands-free.

Abu Dhabi is much more spread out as a city in relation to Dubai, and having your own vehicle here is much more useful.

Overall, driving in Abu Dhabi can be a thrilling experience as long as visitors exercise caution and follow the rules.

Do Not Drive Drunk

In the United Arab Emirates, it is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over 0.00%. This is lower than the BAC limit in many other countries, including the United States (0.08%). This means that even if you have one drink and don’t wait long enough before getting behind the wheel, you could be looking at some serious consequences should you get pulled over.

It is important to note that drinking alcohol and driving may result in severe penalties, including jail time and large fines.

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If you plan on consuming alcohol, it is best to use a designated driver or alternative transportation options such as taxis or ride-sharing services. Stay safe and follow the law while visiting or living in the UAE.

Driving from Dubai to Abu Dhabi

The best option when driving from Dubai to Abu Dhabi or vice versa is to go through Sheikh Zayed Road, also known as E11. This highway connects both cities and offers stunning views of Dubai’s skyscrapers and Abu Dhabi’s skyline. This is the most direct route and the fastest.

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Another good route to take when driving from Dubai to Abu Dhabi is through Al Ain, known as the Garden City. However, this should only be done if you have the time to spare, as it brings you completely out of the way. Still, Al Ain is a great, lesser-known destination in the UAE. Along the way, you can stop and visit the historic Al Jahili Fort or the picturesque Hili Archaeological Park.

The distance between the two cities is approximately 140 km (87 miles) and it typically takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes to reach Abu Dhabi without traffic.

Driving to Oman from Dubai

A good route to take when driving from Oman to Dubai is through the Dubai-Hatta Road. Along this route, there are various points of interest such as the Hatta Heritage Village and historical forts, with an optional detour to check out the Hajar mountains.

The distance from Muscat, Oman to Dubai is approximately 450 km (280 miles) and can take 4.5 hours of driving time without stops. It is recommended to not have the smallest economy car as for parts of this journey there is hilly and mountainous terrain.

Additionally, travelers should be aware of rules and regulations regarding crossing borders between Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Don’t forget to let your rental car agency know that you’ll be crossing the border – they will provide everything you need in order to do so safely and efficiently.

Overall, taking this route allows for an adventurous and culturally enriching road trip experience while making the journey from Oman to Dubai. It is possible to drive to Oman with a rental car, however you will need to have permission from your rental car company. Make it clear to them that you intend to drive to Oman and they will provide you with the required papers.

Tips for Renting a Car in Dubai and Abu Dhabi

Renting a car in Dubai and Abu Dhabi can be a convenient way to explore the cities and other remote parts of the country, but there are some important things to keep in mind before signing a rental contract.

First, it is important to make sure you have a valid driver’s license from your home country as well as an international driver’s permit.

Additionally, most car rental companies will require that you are at least 21 years old and have had your license for at least one year.

Make sure to thoroughly read the terms and conditions of your rental contract, as some companies may have different policies regarding insurance coverage or additional drivers. Be absolutely sure to take photos of your car before and after your rental dates to serve as proof of condition. The last thing you want is to be held responsible for any dings or dents that were there prior to your possession of the car!

Finally, be aware of any cultural sensitivities, such as avoiding drinking and driving or wearing appropriate clothing when driving in more conservative areas. By keeping these tips in mind, renting a car in Dubai and Abu Dhabi can be a smooth and enjoyable experience.

What Vehicle Should I Rent in the UAE?

When choosing a rental car, consider what type of terrain you will be primarily driving on. For city driving or paved roads, a sedan or small car may suffice. However, if you plan on venturing off-road into deserts or mountains, a four-wheel drive vehicle may be helpful.

It is also important to consider the size of the car and number of passengers. If you are traveling with a large group or plan on packing heavy, a larger vehicle such as a van may be more suitable. Thankfully, when driving in the UAE, you don’t have to worry about competing with narrow parking spaces and roads, as everything here is quite spacious, similar to North America.

Desert Safari Tour Abu Dhabi

Lastly, determine what amenities you may need in your rental car, such as GPS navigation or additional insurance coverage. Most rental vehicles come equipped with a GPS navigation system. Be sure to research and compare prices from different rental companies to ensure you get the best deal for your needs.

What Documents Do I Need to Rent a Car in the UAE?

In order to rent a car in the UAE, you will need to have a valid driver’s license from your home country as well as an international driving permit. You will also need to present a credit card in your name for deposit purposes.

Some companies may ask to make a copy of your passport as well, which is pretty standard.

Additionally, it is important to note that individuals under the age of 21 are not able to rent cars in the UAE and some rental companies may have additional age restrictions.

Driving in Abu Dhabi and Dubai Frequently Asked Questions

We have answers to some of the most popular frequently asked questions about driving in Dubai as a tourist, as well as Abu Dhabi!

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Is it safe for tourists to drive in Dubai and Abu Dhabi?

Yes! Driving as a tourist in Dubai and Abu Dhabi isn’t less safe than driving virtually anywhere else in the world, it just takes some getting used to. First, both cities have strict traffic laws that must be followed at all times. This includes the use of seat belts, not using cellphones while driving, and adhering to speed limits. Additionally, drivers must have a valid international driver’s license or local UAE license in order to operate a vehicle.
It is also important to note that Dubai and Abu Dhabi have high rates of traffic accidents, so it is crucial to exercise caution while on the roads. In addition, road conditions can vary greatly and sudden sandstorms are not unusual in these desert cities.
Overall, while driving may be an efficient way to get around in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, it is always wise to exercise caution and familiarize yourself with local laws and road conditions before hitting the roads.

Can I drive in Dubai with an American license?

Driving in Dubai with an American license is possible, as long as it is valid. However, it is important to note that some car rental companies may not allow renters to use only their American license. It is strongly recommended to obtain an International Driving Permit before traveling to Dubai.
The easiest way to get an IDP in the USA is through your local AAA.
Additionally, traffic laws and road rules in Dubai are slightly different than those in the United States (and generally have stricter enforcement), so it is important for visitors to familiarize themselves with these regulations before driving.

Can I drive in Dubai with a UK license?

It is possible to drive in Dubai with a valid UK license, as the UAE recognizes international driving permits. However, it is important to note that motorists must be at least 21 years old and should have had their license for a minimum of 1 year in order to rent a car. 
It is required to obtain an International Driving Permit in addition to your UK license before traveling to Dubai. This can easily be obtained through the AA or RAC in the UK.
Be sure to heed all traffic laws and rules of the road in the UAE, as enforcement is strict.

Do I need an International Driving License for Dubai UAE?

While not every rental car agency will require you to have an IDP to rent a car, we have heard some wild rumours of obscene fines for drivers not having one and getting pulled over. This question is a subject of much contention, although on the UK official travel site, it is stated that you need an IDP for driving in the UAE. In addition to an IDP, it is important to note that the license must be valid in the country of issue, and must correspond to the type of vehicle being driven (i.e. a motorcycle license will not suffice for driving a car).
It is also important to keep in mind that visitors and tourists are only able to drive vehicles rented under their own name. Driving a privately owned or company-owned vehicle requires obtaining a temporary local license.
Overall, while there may not always be a strict enforcement of the international driving license requirement in Dubai, it is highly recommended to obtain one for peace of mind in avoiding any potential issues or fines during your stay. Better safe than sorry!

Do they drive on the left or right in Dubai?

Despite the United Arab Emirates’ historical ties with the UK, Dubai follows a right hand drive system with the steering wheel on the left of the car. 
Overall, drivers in Dubai should be aware and cautious of both right and left hand drive vehicles on the road.  It is also worth mentioning that traffic can be heavy in certain areas, especially during rush hour. Following all local laws and driving safely are crucial for a smooth experience on Dubai’s roads.

Can women drive in Dubai and Abu Dhabi?

In Dubai and Abu Dhabi, women are allowed to drive just like men. In fact, Emirati women have been able to obtain driver’s licenses since the 1970s.  However, there are still some restrictions in place for women living in the UAE.  For example, they must have a local sponsor (typically their husband or father) who can vouch for them and give permission before they can apply for a license.
Overall, women in Dubai and Abu Dhabi enjoy equal rights when it comes to driving and owning cars. The UAE has made efforts to promote gender equality, including appointing female ministers and ambassadors and implementing laws against workplace discrimination. Nevertheless, there may still be cultural barriers and prejudice that foreign women may encounter when driving in the UAE. It is important to respect local customs and dress modestly while operating a vehicle.  Ultimately, it is advised for foreign women to exercise caution and research the regulations before driving in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Is it safe to drive at Night in Dubai and Abu Dhabi?

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Driving at night in Dubai and Abu Dhabi can be generally safe, as long as drivers exercise caution and adhere to traffic laws. However, there are some important precautions to keep in mind.
Firstly, it is important to make sure that all car lights are functioning properly and are turned on during the night time hours. Additionally, the roads can become particularly busy during peak times such as Fridays and holidays, so it is crucial to pay attention to other cars on the road and maintain a safe distance between vehicles.
It is also important to avoid any distractions while driving at night, such as using a cell phone or adjusting music or GPS devices. Additionally, it may be safer to avoid driving alone at night, especially for women or expatriates who may not be familiar with the roads.
Overall, as long as drivers exercise caution and adhere to traffic laws, driving at night in Dubai and Abu Dhabi can be safe. However, it is always important to remain vigilant and take necessary precautions for a safe and enjoyable driving experience.

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Are You Ready to Go Driving in Dubai and Abu Dhabi?

Now that you know all there is to know about driving in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, what are you waiting for? Go out and explore all that these amazing cities have to offer! But keep our tips in mind so that you don’t get into any trouble while behind the wheel. Have you driven in the UAE before? What did you think of the experience? Let us know in the comments below!

Driving in Dubai and Abu Dhabi
Tips for Driving in Dubai and Abu Dhabi


  1. In the upcoming month, I am planning to travel to Dubai and secure a rental car. I am curious if there exists an application that displays accessible parking locations throughout the city? Currently residing in Slovakia, our cities often employ blue markers to indicate public parking spaces as opposed to private ones. Is there a similar system in place within Dubai?

    • Hi Mattea, thanks for your comment! There is the RTA Dubai app which helps with parking, using public transit, etc. However, we didn’t find the need to use it. All attractions and main areas have large official parking garages or parking lots, and most we encountered were also free, so we never had to park on the street. Dubai is made for the car, so you shouldn’t need to worry about finding parking anywhere.

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