The UAE has an excellent road network, with modern, well-maintained highways linking all the emirates. However, the country has a poor reputation for driving standards, with a high incidence of speeding and relatively high accident rate. For this reason many foreign workers choose not to drive in the UAE. Those that do must be aware that the authorities are very strict on motoring offences. Speeding and other traffic violations carry heavy fines, so stick to the speed limit – usually between 100kph (≈60mph) and 120kph (≈75mph) on main roads. Drink driving is a real taboo – if you are caught driving with any alcohol in your bloodstream, you will be fined, could have your vehicle confiscated and may even face a prison sentence. In the UAE you drive on the right, and tolls are payable on some roads, particularly in Dubai where you will need a Salik card to pay them.
All drivers must have a UAE driving licence. If you are visiting for a short period, you can use a valid licence from another country to obtain a temporary UAE licence. However, if you are a resident you must obtain a permanent licence. Depending on where your original licence was issued, you may need to take a test.
Taxis in the UAE are regulated by the local authorities in each emirate. They can be flagged down on the street or booked by telephone. Most run on meters and with tariffs set centrally, they are cheap and very accessible. Taxis are colour coded according to their operating jurisdiction, and the reputations of some companies is better than others so speak to colleagues or other expats in your area to find out which are the most reliable. Some areas have pink taxis with female drivers which will only carry female passengers and families.
Bus services are very comprehensive in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and are improving across the UAE. As well as city services, there are fairly cheap tickets available between emirates too. Routes and numbers are displayed in both Arabic and English. While some buses require cash payment, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah have introduced payment card systems called Ojra, Nol and Sayer respectively. Be aware that buses in the UAE are segregated, with women sitting at the front and men at the back.
The UAE’s first railway network is currently under construction. With several phases scheduled, the project is expected to bring train services to all seven emirates by 2018 and eventually connect the country to Saudi Arabia in the west and Oman in the east.
Dubai is currently the only emirate to run light rail, but its ultra-modern driverless metro system is genuinely impressive and has really helped to ease congestion in recent years, prompting other cities to investigate the installation of similar systems. Like buses, the metro accepts Nol card payment and has similar gender segregation. For more information about the metro, visit the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority website.
The UAE has several international airports serving all the emirates. Dubai International Airport is among the busiest in the world, serving as a major transfer hub for services between Europe and Australasia. National airlines Etihad and Emirates have been major economic success stories for the UAE in recent years, while budget airlines like Air Arabia and flydubai provide cheaper fares. The small size of the country means that the UAE historically had no commercial domestic routes, but since 2012 various airlines have introduced internal flights on a trial basis. Alternatively, private plane and helicopter routes are available between smaller airfields nationwide.
Other ways to get around
Water transport can be very useful in the UAE. Ferry routes connect the several major mainland ports to the numerous islands off the coast, while Dubai has several water transport options including water taxis, water buses and abras – small wooden boats with diesel motors. However, these modes of transport tend to be more popular with tourists now than commuters.