The first thing I told my husband when we came to Doha was that I was not going to drive as they drive on the other side of the road! Eventhough I have been driving for about 20 years now, I found it scary and I said to myself I would never do it. You know, the same sort of stuff women usually say they’d never do before becoming a mum and then end up doing afterwards… (blink, blink!)
Before coming to Doha, I heard many stories about the ‘aggressive’ style of driving over here. I must admit that when I first arrived, I felt that way too. My heart missed a few beats each time we were on the road as it is ‘normal’ to witness near misses or even accidents (minor collisions) everyday. Paradoxically though, the more time we spent on the road, the more I got used to the driving style and it is only then that I realised that the driving cannot be compared to the erratic driving I saw in Bombay, some parts of Mauritius, and worst of all, Cairo! It isn’t that bad here after all.
Doha, being the main city of Qatar, roads can indeed be very busy with all sorts of vehicles although the vehicle preference here is big SUVs. So when you are on the road, you feel you form part of a life-size video game where cars are ‘fighting’ to reach their destination (a bit like ‘Taxi’ or ‘Cars’ – you get the picture, right?). You can start to wonder whether it is against the law to indicate when you change lanes or to respect the speed limit! This style of driving is quite hard to understand given that penalty charges are quite high. If you jump a red light you could get a fine of 2000 QR and going over the speed limit has some high penalty charges as well. Doha drivers surely know where the speed cameras are! There is a ‘no phone’ policy but maybe it hasn’t been clearly explained to the drivers as I see many of them with a phone behind the wheels!
Fortunately for drivers, the roads are in excellent conditions and having dual or three-lane carriageways make it easier to drive to your destination. Speed limits are well indicated by signs; within city areas they generally range from 60 Kph to 100 Kph, and on out-of-town roads the limit is 120 Kph. The only catch is that you have very limited route options to go where you want and if you choose the ‘wrong’ time you could get stuck in traffic for hours. Doha is notorious for its traffic jam! If you drive when schools and universities are in full swing, (like now) you will understand why.
Some pieces of advice for drivers who are new to Doha roads:
- Do not be offended if drivers do not indicate when changing lanes; it is what most drivers do here.
- Keeping your lane when driving and at round-abouts is not normal for the majority of drivers.
- Honking is normal for many. Don’t be alarmed.
- Always keep calm and be patient.
- If you are used to driving on the left side of the road, my husband’s advice is:
- when driving on the other side of the road, stick to the line/lane marking closest to you, to avoid crossing to the other lane.
- avoid the fast lane (that’s the left lane, here); better to stay in the middle lane.
- plan your route before you leave for your destination.
- don’t worry about other drivers honking behind you specially at a round about; take your time and only drive when you feel it’s safe to do so.
- If possible, when you first start driving, avoid peak hours.
Getting your Qatari Driving Licence
It can take you a few trips to the Traffic Department if you do not have all your documents with you when you apply for your driving licence. I hope the following information will save you the hassle.
Once your residence visa has been approved and you get your Qatari ID, you can apply for your licence. If you hold a licence from a Gulf country or from one of the following countries, you won’t need to take a driving test and can simply exchange your licence to a Qatari licence. In this case, it is usually issued on the spot.
The countries are: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and Vatican City.
To exchange your licence, you will need to present the following documents at the traffic department:
- Your original licence from one of the countries listed above
- A letter of no objection/permission from your sponsor, written in Arabic
- A copy of your sponsoring company’s trade licence
- A copy of your sponsor’s ID (back and front)
- Passport (original and copies)
- Three passport photos
- Qatari ID card
- Completed Application Form, typed in Arabic and then signed by your sponsor.
- Have an eye test done and the relevant form filled.
- Fee of the driving licence (to be paid by credit card)
The department you should contact is: Madinat Khalifa Traffic Department, Khalifa Street; Contact number: +974 4489 0666; Opening Times: 7:00 to 11:00 a.m and 4:00 to 7:00 p.m.
NOTE: If you don’t have a licence from one of the above listed countries, you will have to take a driving test. You can read here for more information about driving tests and driving schools.
Although the traffic in Qatar seems very daunting at first, you will end up adapting to the style of driving. I haven’t started driving yet but after seeing my husband drive like a Formula-One driver on the other side of the road just after a few weeks, I know that I will be able to do it. Also, not having to sit through the driving test does take a big load off! Till my next post on my next adventure, buckle up and … let’s get driving in the wild wild west…no sorry…on Doha roads!
P.S I’ve finally got that driving licence!