Many travelers who visit Dubai and even some residents who live here, find that renting a car in Dubai is a more sensible option than using taxis or public transport; Dubai car hire companies are a dime a dozen here and cater mostly to the business traveler and short-term visitor, although long-term rentals are available from most rent-a-car companies.
Dubai is a city that is best experienced on wheels; the city is designed for cars, most major roads are maintained in excellent condition and the signage, especially in Dubai, is well designed and easy to follow. Apart from the experience of driving on Dubai’s clean, wide roads there are several other benefits to renting a car here:
- Taxis, although cheaper than in most other countries, can still make a dent in your travel budget
- Although, Dubai has several travel options, public transport does not cover all areas of the city and is not always reliable. With the arrival of the Dubai Metro system in 2009, the transportation landscape of Dubai has changed drastically, but the Metro is still being developed to reach some of the more remote areas of the city and is available for travel only within Dubai.
- Hiring a car enables one to visit nearby emirates such as Sharjah and Abu Dhabi with relative ease.
- When driving in an unfamiliar country, the chances of accidents on the road increase dramatically. If you do have an accident while driving a rental car, the hassle of police reports and insurance claims is born by the rental agency (provided you have all the required legal documents and relevant insurance) saving you the headache of having to deal with this.
- Most locals here are passionate about their vehicles and many rent-a-car companies stock luxury vehicles available for hire; if driving a Ferrari or a Rolls-Royce is high on your list of things to do, there is no better place to find one than here in Dubai.
- Off-roading is a popular pastime here and a great way to experience the desert environment of Dubai. Driving in the desert, dune bashing and exploring wadis (river beds) on the outskirts of Dubai require 4-wheel drives, which are readily available at most rental companies.
Driving License Requirements for renting a car
There are many rules and regulations that are relevant to expatriates looking to drive a car in Dubai; unfortunately many official resources and websites sometimes provide contradictory information so I will try to summarize the most current laws as best I can.
- Most first world country passport holders (see the complete list of countries here) as well as those from the Gulf Cooperation Council countries (GCC) including Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, can drive a rental car with their own home country’s driving license.
- If you are from a country other than those listed above, you will need to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP), which is a document that states that your home country’s driving license is valid. The IDP must be issued from the same country in which your license is issued. You must carry both the IDP as well as your home country’s license when you are driving.
- Visitors to the UAE are not allowed to drive a private vehicle; they can only drive rental cars with the proper license and insurance coverage. Visitors from the countries listed above (also known as UAE driving license exchange countries) can apply for a temporary driver’s license that is valid for 6 months and allows them to legally drive a privately owned car (such as that of a friend or relative or their own if from a GCC country). The procedure is relatively quick, and with the proper documents, the exchange license can be obtained on the same day for a small processing fee. However, certain additional rules might apply if you are driving to another emirate or crossing the border into another country.
- Once you obtain a UAE residence visa, you are no longer allowed to drive with an international license and must apply for a UAE Driving license.
There are hundreds of rent-a-car companies available for car hire in Dubai; some of these are larger international companies such as Sixt, Dollar, Avis and Budget rent-a-car, while the majority are smaller, locally owner rental companies. International car hire companies are often more reliable and have a wider variety of cars to choose from. They also have additional services such as car replacement in case of an accident (which can save on the cost of finding and renting a replacement car) and waiver of cancellation fees if you fail to pick up the car at the designated location. They do, however, tend to be a bit more expensive for the same class of car.
Dubai also has several rental companies that deal exclusively with premier exotic cars such as Bentleys, Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Rolls-Royce, to name a few. If you have always dreamt of driving a super luxury car and are lucky enough to be able to afford it, there are several companies that can assist you. A few of the well known agencies are Parklane rent-a-car and VIP luxury car rentals.
Checklist for renting a car
Rental cars can be booked online prior to arrival in the country, and can be picked up from the airport location of the rent-a-car company. This can save you the hassle of finding a taxi to and from your hotel and also makes it convenient to drop off your car and head straight into the airport when you are finished with your business. As in any country, make sure that you have all your documents and that the car has been checked thoroughly before you drive off with it. Below are a few checks you can perform to make your driving experience less stressful:
- Shop around before you rent. There are several on-line comparison tools that will allow you to compare rates from different companies. A compact car, such as a Toyota Yaris (one of the smallest cars on the road here) can range from USD 125 to USD 180 per week, while a mid-size SUV can set you back between USD 430 – USD 615 per week, depending on your rental company as well as the time of year when you are looking to rent.
- Check your insurance papers thoroughly and ask for supplemental insurance as your original policy may not cover rental cars. In Dubai, where people drive at hair-raising speeds, this is particularly important and the extra bit you pay for adequate insurance will give you much peace of mind when driving on the roads in Dubai.
- Check all the functions of your car and bring any scratches or defects to the immediate notice of your rental agent. These should be marked on the rental agreement so that you are not charged for damages not caused by you.
- Check the gas gauge on the car before you drive it away and check whether the car needs to be returned with a full tank of gas.
- Check with your rental agent as to return timings and charges for delays. Many companies will give you an additional allowance of a couple of hours over and above the return time for which you will not be charged extra.
Once you have completed the formalities, the only thing left is to enjoy your ride! Dubai’s roads are a pleasure to drive on (especially if you love speed), which is one of the reasons why the Dubai car hire business is doing so well, despite the variety in choice for customers.