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Monday, October 30, 2006

Driving in Qatar: practical information

(Updated 7/11/06)

Which of the road do people drive on?

Supposedly on the right, but generally wherever they feel like. (See Driving: Qatar Style for photo!)

Is it safe?
I reckon I experience an average of three hairy incidents per short journey. (Count on a lot more during rush hour). You will get forced off the road by people driving on the wrong side, screech to a halt to avoid people lunging into your right of way into roundabouts, learn to pause a second before going through a green light because of people shooting the lights... in a word, NO!

So, rush hour is bad?

Yes, and they have four, because many people work split shifts.

Can I use my driving licence in Qatar?

You can use your licence for one week only, and then you have to exchange it for a Qatari driving licence. Alternatively, you can use an international licence for 6 months.

Hang on. I can get a tourist or business visa for two weeks, but only use my driving licence for one week. That doesn't make sense!

Welcome to Qatar!

How do I exchange my licence for a Qatari one?

It depends on your nationality.

Most Westerners can change their licence at the Medinat Khalifat Traffic Department without taking a driving test. You will need your passport or ID card, three photos (these can be obtained at the typists’ offices outside the department), original driving licence and your sponsor’s ID. Your sponsor will have to sign/stamp a form, and may also have to provide a letter. You will have to complete a form in Arabic – there are plenty of typists who will do this for five riyals or so.

If you wear glasses, you must be wearing them in the photo, or you will not be allowed to wear them in the eye test.(They don’t allow you to draw the glasses on, either.)

How long do the licences last?

Five years for residents (ten for Qataris). Expired, damaged and lost passports can be renewed on-line at Qatar E-government.

Where are these typists?

Don’t worry; they’ll jump on you as soon as you get out of your vehicle. They’ll also offer to do all the paperwork. You have the eye test, sign a few forms and leave them to do all the running around. Bargain hard, though.

What about other nationalities?

Sorry guys, you need to do a test. Sometimes you can do the test directly; other times they seem to insist you do a driving course. You’ll have to go to the Traffic Department first and get the driving licence application form completed, signed, signed by your sponsor, stamped by your sponsor, stamped by the traffic department, signed by the traffic deparment and so on (you get the picture), and then give it to the driving school.

How much does a driving course cost?

A full course of 50 lessons costs 1,850 riyals ($500) and a half course costs 1,350 riyals ($370). There's also a 40 lesson course for 1,600 riyals ($440). If you've driven before you might get a 12 lesson course for 600 riyals ($160). A driving test currently costs 50 riyals ($15).

What’s the driving test like?

Even though nobody in Qatar can drive, the test is really difficult. Particularly notorious is the Pocket Parking – manoeuvring your car backwards into a small place. You have to do it in one go, although you can take as long as you want. You can also fail if you stall the car. The theory test is quite easy – the examiner points at a sign and you say what it is.

Can I get finance to buy a car?

With ease. Just ask at your bank.

Where can I buy a car?

Loads of places. There are new car dealers and second hand car dealers. Salwa Road has a lot of second hand dealers, and there are car auctions. Also look in the local newspapers, on supermarket walls (Mega Mart always has a good selection) and on Qatar Living.

Buying second hand cars is always dodgy, though.

Yes, but they have some absolutely brilliant garages here which function purely to test your cars for you. The German Auto Mechanics are especially good. They’ll even tell you how much you should pay for the car.

What sort of price am I talking for a second-hand car?

Of course there’s a huge variation in price but think around 15,000 riyals (about four thousand US dollars) for a half decent second hand car. Double that and you should get a really good car. American cars are a lot cheaper than Japanese cars, but parts are more expensive. We're talking about sedans here, though, four wheel drives are quite a lot more expensive.

Four by fours are probably a safe bet in such a dangerous country.

Maybe, but they overturn easily. If you’re buying one second hand, bear in mind it may have had rough use in the desert.

Do I need car insurance?

Yes, but it is very good value. Incredible, really, considering how many accidents there are. There are insurers outside the traffic department. However, if you buy from a dealer he may be able to get you a better price. Incidentally, your insurance is not valid when you drive in the desert.

Is there anything else I need?

All cars need a road permit. Cars older than three years must first pass an annual inspection of road worthiness - (you'll also need this before you can get your car insured). The inspection can be done at Qatar Technical Inspection Unit in the Industrial area (24th street) for 75 riyals (Tel: 460 4029/460 4086). The centre is open from six in the morning to half past five in the afternoon. You’ll need your expiring Estimara. Many garages will put your car through the test for you, repair anything it fails on and then resubmit it. Having done the test take it the vehicle inspection and registration counter next door along with your insurance to obtain your new Estimara. (See Marhaba Information Guide Issue 34 p.270).

In the event of an accident...

Don’t move, even if you are holding up half of Doha. (You can move if it is a minor accident and both parties agree on the details, but most people prefer not to). Call the police. They will come, and make notes and give you a time to be at a police station. You will have to go to this appointment to obtain a police report. Without this report, you can’t get your car fixed.

Traffic offences

Qatar is committed to reducing traffic offences. It’s certainly increasing the number of speed camera – including on new roads with no visible speed limits. To check if you’ve committed a traffic offence, go to Qatar E-government, and enter your registration number and vehicle type. You can also pay your fine here. (Interest is charged on unpaid fines).

Drinking and driving

There is zero tolerance. As there is Sharia law, Muslim offenders will be lashed. If there is a trial involved, you can’t leave the country until the trial is held. This can be months and months. In the meantime, you may lose your job and accommodation ... basically, it’s not worth taking the risk.

Is it easy to rent a car?

Extremely. There are hundreds of car rental places.

Useful Numbers/addresses

Traffic Department
Tel: 4890644
Location: in Madinat Khalifa (North), off Khalifa Street, close to Al Gharrafa flyover.

Driving schools in Doha

Al Rayah Driving School
PO Box 747 Tel: 4877774

Doha Driving Centre
PO Box 9896 Tel: 4792263

Gulf Driving School (close to the airport)
PO Box 15154 Tel: 4652822

United Driving Co
PO Box 15154 Tel: 4681003

Car Insurance

Al Khaleej Insurance P.O. Box 4414151 Tel: 4414151

Car Breakdown Service

Cedars Motor and Trading Service P.O. Box 23323, Doha; Tel. 4500600


See Driving: Qatar Style

See Books on Qatar

Driving in Tehran

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