My love for cars shouldn’t surprise anyone anymore. If you’re connected with me via social media, you have seen photos and short videos of me driving around. Driving in Bangladesh is extremely stressful and annoying. So whenever I’m abroad, I rent a car to enjoy some soothing drives.
So far, I’ve driven in India, Thailand, Canada, and the United States. Of these countries, I’ve driven six different cars in the US. They are Fiat 500, VW Beetle Convertible, Nissan Versa, Porsche Macan S, Tesla Model 3, and most recently, the BMW X5.
I’m yet to publish the videos and write about them, but if you’re interested, you can subscribe to The Drivehead on YouTube and also check out the car blog, which admittedly requires some new posts. 😛
I tend to extend my official trips to the US (meaning trips to attend company meetups organized by Automattic) so that I can rent a car for a week and drive around while enjoying some scenic and relaxing highways. I also get to check out some cool luxury cars that I wouldn’t even dream of driving in Dhaka.
So it was a no-brainer to get a driving license in the UAE since one could say Dubai is the car capital of the world. No matter what your definition of luxury is, Dubai can top it.
I don’t fancy owning luxury cars, but I do want to drive them. And what better city to do that than Dubai!
Why a license is needed
My driving license from Bangladesh is accepted worldwide. On a tourist visa, I can rent a car nearly anywhere I go. Some countries, like India and Thailand, require the license to be accompanied by something called an International Driving Permit. But many, like the US and Canada, don’t need it. Just the driving license itself is enough.
As a resident, however, you don’t have that freedom. Soon after you become a resident in a country, the local laws mandate that you get a driving license from the country you’re a resident. And that’s why I’m not able to drive in the UAE with my Bangladeshi license.
Getting a driving license in the UAE is a long and difficult process, but without a license, it can be very difficult and expensive to get around. And you know me, I’d get very bored if I don’t have my own transportation in a country that has some of the safest roads (and coolest cars) in the world.
Driving license in the UAE is no joke
It takes an average of three attempts for people to get a driving license in the UAE. Reddit is filled with stories of people who have got it after 7-8 tries. And that’s no joke.
Different emirates (think of emirates as states) have slightly different rules, but the authorities are strict no matter where you apply for your driving license.
It is possible for citizens of some countries to directly convert their home driving license to a UAE driving license, but Bangladesh is not on that list (and for good reason!).
So I had to get into a driving school and start learning to drive from scratch after 7 years of having a driving license (and having driven in multiple countries)!
The lengthy process of a UAE driving license
I plan to write at length about the whole process soon, but here’s a brief:
The process to get a driving license in the UAE varies slightly from one emirate to the next. But it generally involves attending lectures, passing a theory test, multiple yard tests where you have to park your car in different positions without touching lines, an internal assessment test, and a final road test.
The process can be lengthy for a number of factors:
- The dates you get when you apply are pretty further apart. I opened my traffic file on May 1st. My first-yard test date was May 26. I was able to prepone it for a hefty fee to May 6th because slots were available. More on that later.
- Some tests are taken by the school, while others are taken by the traffic department. They are equally difficult, but if you fail the ones taken by the traffic department, you may have to wait for a month or two for the next available date.
- Even if you pass one test, the date for the next test is generally after a month unless earlier dates are available and you’re willing to spend big bucks.
Finally, the biggest reason it takes a long time to get a UAE driving license is that it’s pretty difficult to pass the tests.
It’s not really all about skills, but luck plays a part. Roads in the UAE can be unpredictable in some areas, so you never know when you’ll stress out and make a mistake.
Moreover, it’s not the same as driving by yourself when you have a police officer in the car with you watching your every move. That alone can make people more nervous. It certainly did me.
How the UAE uses tech to make the driving license process easier
I’ve been fascinated by how the UAE government makes the best use of tech to speed things up and eliminate redundancy.
For example, they stopped giving a sticker visa to residents’ passports starting last year. If you have a resident identity card (called an Emirates ID), having a visa attached to your passport is redundant. They sped up the process by eliminating the need for this.
Similarly, residents can go through immigration when entering and exiting the Dubai airport through Smart Gates. All you need is to scan the passport and look at a camera. That’s it. No need to see an officer or get stamps.
So it was no wonder when I saw how advanced some of the things were when it came to the driving license process.
Take this, for example: After I applied on the Ministry of Interior’s website to open a traffic file, I was given a traffic number. I entered this on the driving school’s website, and they pulled all my data, sent me a link for payment, and gave me access to the mandatory theory lectures online after I paid.
I was able to go straight to the driving school after landing at Dubai airport to attend a mandatory in-person lecture and the theory test, which I passed, thankfully.
At the in-person lecture in school, this spins a car completely to demonstrate the importance of wearing a seatbelt when driving. The school also has a simulator, as shown below.
Then there’s the Ministry of Interior’s app, which is used for the majority of citizen services in the UAE. I was originally given May 26 for the yard test. But I noticed on the app that as earlier slots open up, you have the option to prepone the test date.
There’s absolutely no need to go anywhere. If people postpone their dates, those slots open up throughout the day and night, allowing others to prepone their dates.
I was very lucky to get much, much earlier dates in all of my tests. It cost me extra, but it was worth it. I checked at least 100 times daily to see when/if earlier dates opened up.
Oh, and did I say that the MOI app takes payments via Apple Pay? Yeah. I haven’t touched my cards here in the UAE. Apple Pay is widely accepted everywhere, and I was pretty surprised when I was able to do the same on the ministry’s website. (Normally, governments stick to traditional methods.)
After I got incredibly lucky and passed my final road test on the first attempt, it took just a few minutes until the MOI app was updated. I needed to do another eye test since my last one had expired. But as soon as I did that, I was able to apply for the driving license on the app and get the digital license downloaded on my phone.
The next day, I received a message from an Emirates Post bot on WhatsApp. Emirates Post is like the USPS of the UAE. The WhatsApp bot allowed me to easily share my location, choose my preferred delivery date and time, and confirm my apartment number.
Then, today, I finally got my coveted driving license in the UAE. 😀
I’ve been dreading the process for so long! I came here last year hoping to get my license, but I left because everyone said the process could have taken 3-4 months.
This time, I came prepared. And thankfully, with Allah’s grace, I managed to get it all done in just 20 days. It took
So what’s next? Cars are super cheap here compared to Bangladesh with its ridiculous taxes. But I might not buy one yet. I’ll rent some to drive more across the UAE to become more familiar with its roads before I do what I really wanted to do:
Rent a Rolls Royce. 😀