A busy road at night in Abu Dhabi UAE

Driving in Abu Dhabi – Need To Know Information For Tourists

by Abu Dhabi Travel Planner Team

Abu Dhabi is a sprawling city spread over a number of islands. Whilst there is a public bus system and taxis are relatively easy to find in the capital, if you want to get out and explore and don’t want to risk waiting in the hot sun, hiring a car might be the best way for you to get around.

Driving In Abu Dhabi: The Road Rules

Here are some key things to know about Abu Dhabi driving before you consider renting a car in Abu Dhabi:

  • The road networks are extensive, and roads are wide; freeways are often 6 lanes wide, but this is because you share with trucks, buses, and multiple merging lanes. Whilst not quite as hectic as Dubai, you need to be a confident driver in Abu Dhabi.
  • With the steering wheel on the left, vehicles in Abu Dhabi drive on the right side of the road (like the US and much of Europe). Almost all standard cars have automatic transmissions.
  • Speeds are marked in kilometres per hour; your vehicle is likely to only have a speedometer in kms.
  • Road signs in Abu Dhabi are in both Arabic and English. They are clear to understand, but having a driving App such as Google Maps or Waze is highly recommended to assist with navigation and getting in the correct lanes! (Get Waze on Google Play | Apple).
  • Traffic in Abu Dhabi is fast-paced. Speed limits are surprisingly high, with the freeway limit set at 140 km/hr (some roads outside of the city are even 160 km/hr). However, if you drive above this speed, you will be fired.
  • Fines in Abu Dhabi start from AED 300 for going more than 10km/hr over the limit.
  • On some roads, you may even be fined for driving below the speed limit, so it’s important to drive at the pace of the traffic and observe land markings for slower-moving traffic.
  • Not keen on driving fast? Get out of the overtaking lanes! When driving a multi-lane freeway in a standard sedan vehicle or SUV, avoid driving in the far right lane(s) as these are designated for trucks or slow-moving vehicles with a lower speed limit; the far left lane(s) are FAST. Try and pick a lane right in the middle to allow faster cars to overtake but avoid dodging massive vehicles and merging traffic.
  • Whilst most roundabouts are being replaced with traffic lights, there are still many large, multi-lane roundabouts in Abu Dhabi. Sometimes roundabouts are up to 4 lanes wide, which confuses many drivers (sadly, those who’ve lived here for years don’t get them either!); brush up on your skills if you’re not familiar.

Driving in Abu Dhabi: Road Conditions

Generally speaking, the roads in Abu Dhabi are in excellent condition, but that doesn’t mean things are always as smooth flowing as they should be. It is, after all, a big city! Here are a few things to consider:

  • During morning and evening rush hours in the city, roads can resemble a parking lot. If sitting in a 6-lane traffic jam is not your idea of fun, try setting out after 10:00 AM; most major attractions do not open until this time anyway. Afternoon peak hour is a bit different; it can get super busy all the way from schools finishing around 2:00 PM through until at least 7:00 PM.
  • Rain – although rare in Abu Dhabi – can cause havoc. Road surfaces become like a slippery oil slick, and frankly speaking, most drivers here have had no training in how to drive in these conditions. Most rain showers pass reasonably quickly; however, if a larger storm can occasionally hit, we recommend you stay off the roads. Flash flooding is not unheard of, but it’s more the erratic driving of others you may be concerned about.
  • Fog is another seasonal challenge. It can occur at any time of year but more predominantly overnight and early morning in the winter months. Slow down, don’t use your high beams and keep a consistent speed to help your fellow drivers. And please, don’t be one of those drivers who simply puts their hazard lights on!
an empty desert road through the desert in Abu Dhabi UAE

Driving in Abu Dhabi: Tolls, Charges and Fueling Up

  • The major freeways leading onto Abu Dhabi island have toll gates in operation during peak driving hours. Unlike the Salik system in Dubai, there’s no sticker on your car or audible beep, not any toll booth to pass by and pay cash. The DARB toll gate system uses number plate recognition. If you travel under one of these toll gates at the designated times, it will be charged back to your hire car company.
  • Speed cameras are everywhere! (do NOT leave an unpaid fine! If you do, you could run into serious trouble if you come through Abu Dhabi again). You will likely have an admin fee to pay your rental company too.
  • Fuel in Abu Dhabi, as you might imagine, is in plentiful supply! Prices were deregulated a few years ago, so they have risen substantially since the glory days; however, fuel is still relatively cheap compared to other parts of the world where fuel is heavily taxed. Expect between AED 2.90 to 3.50 a litre, depending on what type of fuel. The price is set at the start of each month.
  • You can choose between E-plus, Special-95, Super-98 and diesel at the pump. Check if your hire company has specified what fuel to use – especially if you’ve hired a luxury vehicle. And it should go without saying, only every put diesel in a diesel car!
  • Fuel stations are usually full-service in Abu Dhabi, which means that somebody will fill your car for you. You can pay by cash or card without leaving your vehicle. Tipping in cash is optional.
a speed camera on an open stretch of hihway in Abu Dhabi united arab emirates
One of the prominent types of speed cameras you’ll find on Abu Dhabi roads; you’ll be fined as soon as you break the speed limit, unlike other emirates that have a “buffer”

Driving in Abu Dhabi: Rental Car Rules

It is easy to pick up rental cars in Abu Dhabi both from the AUH International Airport and many locations around the city. It’s a highly competitive car rental market, as many residents in Abu Dhabi rent their vehicles monthly. Here are a few things to bear in mind renting your car as a tourist in Abu Dhabi.

  • To hire a car, you will need a driver’s license. This does not need to be an international driver’s permit if you are from:

Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Brazil, Canada, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Britain, Greece, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, Malaysia, Netherland, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the USA. With English translation – South Korea, Slovakia, Japan and Quebec.

For these countries, just present a copy of your driver’s license that you’ve held for at least 12 months. If your driver’s license is from any other country, you will need an International Driver’s Permit.

  • You will also need your passport and your tourist visa to hire a car in Abu Dhabi.
  • Even though the local driving age is 18, you’ll find for hire car companies, you need to be at least 21 years old, and in some instances, they’ll only hire to those over 25.
  • Nearly all cars are automatic transmissions but do check this when booking.
  • You really get what you pay for in terms of vehicle class/size. If you are just a single/couple you might be happy with a small Nissan Sunny, but when you see the traffic conditions, you may well feel a little safer in a larger vehicle! SUVs and 4WD are by far the norm in the UAE, though they really aren’t that economical to run.
  • Electric cars do exist in Abu Dhabi, but their use is still not prevalent. You can look into ekar for on-demand car hire.

Recommended Car Rentals in Abu Dhabi: We always start our search using services such as discovercars.com to find rates and companies. Once you start narrowing things down, you might find with airline loyalty programs, and the like, you can hire cheaper going direct.

What about borrowing a friend’s car in Abu Dhabi? See this article from the National detailing the latest guidance on this matter – it basically comes down to whether the vehicle insurer will allow an international driver under the policy.

Driving in Abu Dhabi: Traffic Accidents in Abu Dhabi

Should the worst happen and you are involved in an accident, there are essential steps you should be aware of ahead of time.

  • Renting a car, you will always have an element of insurance included, and you’ll be given an emergency contact number by the hire car company you need to contact in the event of an accident. Remember, this basic insurance may only cover 3rd party costs.
  • Always check if your travel insurance will cover you for things such as automobile accidents, personal injury or damage to personal property if you’ll be renting a car in Abu Dhabi.
  • All accidents must be reported to the police. If you are in an emergency situation and people require medical attention, you should phone 999.
  • Minor traffic collisions should be reported to the non-emergency police (known as the Saeed) by phoning 901. The police will advise you what to do while you wait for them to arrive at the scene. The police will make a report and decide who is to blame. This is a necessary step for both parties to claim insurance. Note that there is always a culpable party.

If you cannot find the other party (unfortunately, car park dings and bumps do happen, and it’s not always caught on CCTV), then you will have to pay for filing the police report and will be seen as “at fault”.

Not to scare anyone off driving altogether, but it can be standard practice in the case of a severe vehicle collision where you are believed to have caused the accident to be sent to jail until such time as the other party is out of the hospital or the police have determined culpability.

traffic on the main highway to and from Abu Dhabi and Dubai

Driving in Abu Dhabi: Drink Driving

Driving with any alcohol in your system in Abu Dhabi is strictly prohibited. Whilst alcohol is permitted for consumption in licensed venues, stick away from the car, even if you’ve had just one drink.

The traffic police are NOT regularly running random breath tests on the side of the road as you’ll find in many other countries; it’s about what happens if you are in an accident.

If you are caught with alcohol in your system, even from the night before, you can be fairly certain you’ll earn jail time and face some serious repercussions.

If you do end up having a drink and don’t want to leave your car stranded somewhere, look for services that will send a driver to come to you and take you and your vehicle safely home. Try:

  • thedriver.ae
  • Pikmycar.com (Dubai-based but covers Abu Dhabi)
  • Zofeur (Recently expanded their services in the Capital)

Just confirm if this is allowed with your rental car company; rules can be strict on who the driver is.

Driving in the UAE: Getting Beyond Abu Dhabi in Your Car

Part of the beauty of renting a car for your trip to Dubai is the freedom to enjoy day trips to the other Emirates.

The road rules are broadly the same wherever you go in the UAE, and there’s no problem taking a hire car from one Emirate to another.

There are a few notable differences driving into Dubai Emirate:

  1. The marked speed limits work differently! While the speed limit appears lower in Dubai (set at 120 km/hr on the freeways) there is a 20 km/hr buffer zone.
  1. Speed limits can be a little deceiving due to the 20km/hr buffer, but go over that and expect a stiff penalty, as you’ll be charged for going more than 20km/hr over the limit! These fines start from AED 600.
  • Dubai’s major roads have an automated toll system called Salik. As you pass under a toll barrier, your rental car will be fitted with a small SALIK sticker that will register the charge, which you should expect the rental company to onward charge to you at the conclusion of your rental. Most hire cars in the UAE are fitted with a SALIK tag.
  • Just as in Abu Dhabi, if you have a road traffic accident in any of the other emirates, you should report it to the police immediately. In Dubai, this can be done using an app and does not require police attendance. You can download the Dubai police App here for Google Play | Apple.

Driving in the Abu Dhabi Desert

With an off-road vehicle, it is possible to do your own dune bashing in the Dubai desert IF it is allowed with your rental car policy. Here are some desert driving tips to be aware of:

desert driving in the Abu Dhabi desert vehicles in convoy
  • Never hit the desert dunes without other experienced drivers around you and the correct safety gear in your car. For obvious safety reasons, getting stuck out in the dunes and even flip your vehicle if you don’t know what you’re doing is easy.
  • Yes, you may well encounter camels! Drive slowly and give them the right of way (though note, even in some of the Northern Emirates, we’ve encountered camels randomly walking along the roads, nowhere near the desert! Slow down, take some snaps and let them go about their business).
  • If you’re after the bigger thrills and spills, though, this is the one part of your trip where we thoroughly recommend you let the professionals take over. Part of your Abu Dhabi desert tour package will include a hotel pick-up in an air-conditioned 4WD and a highly experienced desert dunes driver – please let them do the hard work!

Driving to Oman from Abu Dhabi

Whilst it’s certainly not as simple as it used to be, It is possible to drive to Oman from Abu Dhabi, adding even more adventure to your Abu Dhabi getaway. The closest crossing point to the city of Abu Dhabi can be found at Meyzad Hafeet in the oasis city of Al Ain, about two hours’ drive from downtown Abu Dhabi along the E22 road.

You DO need permission from your rental car company to travel into Oman as ownership papers are required at the border crossing points, as is insurance for driving in Oman. You should ask your car provider for a ‘No Objection Certificate’ when you pick up the car, which will allow you to take the car across the border without too much hassle.

To find out more what you can expect at the border crossing into Oman, click here.

Note that you need to obtain an Omani visa on arrival at the cost of AED 50 per person and pay a AED 35 per person departure tax when leaving the UAE. It is handy to have this money available in cash.

There’s also lots of reliable information about taking a road trip into Oman here, including routes to take and what to expect when you get there. To find out more about driving in Oman in general, click here.

More Frequently Asked Questions About Driving in Dubai

Do I need an International driver’s Permit in Abu Dhabi?

It depends on what country you hold a driver’s license from. If you are from one of the permitted countries (we list these above), then your foreign license will be sufficient for hiring a car in Abu Dhabi.

Is it difficult to drive in Abu Dhabi?

We certainly wouldn’t recommend driving in Abu Dhabi as a tourist unless you are a confident driver. The traffic is fast-paced, and the freeways can be large and convoluted with multiple users, from fast cars to huge trucks.

You need to be conscious at all times of the traffic conditions around you and drive in a safe and courteous manner, even if this is not being displayed correctly at all times by your fellow road users!

Is there Uber in Abu Dhabi?

If the idea of driving in Abu Dhabi makes you nervous, ride-share services are quite accessible. Try Uber or the local equivalent Careem provide cars of all different shapes, sizes and luxuriousness.

For the cheapest taxis in Abu Dhabi, download the Abu Dhabi Taxi App available here.

What are the rules on wearing a seatbelt in Abu Dhabi?

The driver and all passengers, whether in the front or back of the vehicle, must wear seat belts. (You will see many breaching this rule, at their own risk)

Does my child need a car seat in Abu Dhabi?

Children under the age of 12 years cannot ride in the front passenger seat without an appropriate rear-facing car seat. The airbag must also be disabled. Children in the rear of the car must use appropriate car seats and seat belts.

To learn more about transport in Abu Dhabi, including our complete guide to catching a taxi, or how to get yourself a Hafilat (Abu Dhabi Bus Card), then pop over to our transport and getting around home page.

Before you go… Important things to consider planning a trip to Abu Dhabi

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Please note we are not a travel agency. This site is a travel blog to help newcomers to the UAE self plan their trip, we cannot book your flights, hotels, visas or connections for you. We may make a small commission if you click on any of our hotel or tour recommendation links.

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