Driving in Qatar: Practical Information
All You Need To Know About Getting A Licence, Getting A Car, Driving - And Surviving.
Which side of the road do people drive on?
Supposedly on the right, but generally wherever they feel like.
Is it safe?
Count on an average of three hairy incidents per short car 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!
How can I improve my chances of not having an accident?
Defensive driving . Learn to anticipate. Do not trust indicators. Assume ever parked car is about to pull out into the road without signalling or checking. Assume everyone is an idiot.
Is rush hour bad?
Yes, and they have four, because many people work split shifts. Congestion is getting worse as well, as more people buy cars.
Can I use my driving licence in Qatar?
While all other published information says that you can drive using your (non-Qatari) licence for one week, the police recently stated in the Guf Times that you can now drive for two weeks on your original licence.
(Note that to use your non-Qatari driving licence you must be one of the approved nationalities - check with the Traffic Department for the latest list.)
However, when Qatar Visitor checked at the Traffic Department, the personel insisted that the driving licence was only valid for one week. As it is these police who enforce the law, we reccomend that visitors follow the traffic department's reccomendation until such a time as they are informed about the change in law.
While under the old traffic law drivers could use an International Driving Licence for six months, under the new traffic law drivers can use an International Driving Licence for an indefinite period. However, once again neither the police on the ground or the hire car companies seem aware of this, so for now it is probably worth obtaining a Qatar Driving Licence after the initital six months has worn out.
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.)
UPDATE: Americans can no longer directly exchange their licence for a Qatari licence, but need to take a test first. British and some other nationalities can still exchange their licence directly for a Qatari one.
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 will jump on you as soon as you get out of your vehicle. They will 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 driving test directly; other times they seem to insist you do a driving course. You will have to go to the Traffic Department first and get the drving licence application form completed, signed, signed by your sponsor, stamped by your sponsor, stamped by the traffic department, signed by the traffic department and so on (you get the picture), and then give it to the driving school.
What's the driving test like?
Despite the appalling quality of driving you will encounter onQatar roads, the test is really difficult, and about half of all applicants fail. Particularly notorious is 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. Read The Qatar Driving Test for one woman's perspective on it.
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, and be especially carefully with four by fours. Some of them are really pushed to the limit in the desert. When you buy a second hand car, examint it minutely for any sign of sand. If there is any, its probably worth moving on to te next vehicle.
They do have some absolutely brilliant garages here which function purely to test your cars for you. The German Auto Mechanics are especially good. They will even tell you how much you should pay for the car.
Be careful of going for very old cars. As part of the new traffic regulations here, the Qatar Traffic Department plans to stop registering cars which are older than 15 years old. This is scheduled to start in 2009.
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 extremely rough use in the desert. Lift up the mats and carpets looking for any signs of sand, and make sure you have the engine checked out at the garages on Salwa Road.
Do I need car insurance?
Yes, but it is very good value. Incredible, really, considering how many accidents there are. Incidentally, your insurance is not usually 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 QatarTechnical Inspection Unit in the Industrial area (24th street) for 75 riyals (Tel: 460 4029/460 4086). See our step-by-step guide to getting your car inspected.
In the event of an accident...
It's generally better not to move your car after an accident, although you can now move out of the flow of traffic if neither party is injured. Unless both you and the other driver can agree who is to blame, call the police as soon as possible. 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.
Qatar committed to reducing traffic offences. It's certainly increasing the number of speed camera including on new roads with no visible speed limits. It's also introduced harsh new law - see Traffic Offences. 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 - and you'll need to so before you re-register your car. (An additional fine of 1 riyal a day is levied 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. Some are good, some aren't - we've heard a lot of good things about Al Muftah. Be sure to check that you have comprehensive insurance not all car rental places provide it as standard, potentially leaving you with a bill for thousands of dollars. If you want to book ahead check out Hertz Rent a Car.
What happens when I breakdown?
Umm - call your garage and hope they are not on holiday? There is actually a breakdown service (see number below), although most people seem to rely on their own garage. 2008 is seeing the launch of another breakdown service called Raha, which is 60% owned by the Qatar Technical Inspection Unit - the guys who inspect your car every year.
Driving Schools In Doha
Al Rayah Driving School
Doha Driving Centre
Gulf Driving School (close to the airport)
Al Khaleej Insurance
Car Breakdown Service
Cedars Motor and Trading Service P.O. Box 23323, Doha; Tel. 4500600