Qatar World Cup: how easy is it to drive from UAE to Doha?

Football fans in the Emirates advised to plan ahead to make seven-hour road trip

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Football fans in the UAE are counting down the days until the start of the Qatar World Cup in November.

Supporters desperate to be part of the global sporting spectacle are already plotting their routes, with nine months still to go.

Some could be priced out of flying into Doha, however.

Average flight prices from Dubai to Doha have surged from around Dh1,200 to Dh5,000 for the month-long tournament – making air travel an expensive option for those using the Emirates as a satellite base.

We are currently drafting a specialist product for this with insurance companies to make it available to World Cup fans who want to drive to Qatar
Soham Shah, SelfDrive UAE

So, could a road trip be a more affordable option?

Those with an adventurous streak and passion for the beautiful game might well consider driving the 695-kilometre desert route from Dubai to Doha or 588km journey from Abu Dhabi.

Check latest Covid-19 rules

Current border restrictions require proof of vaccination and a negative PCR test for both countries, although that could change by November.

Supporters hoping to make their way to the tournament by road are advised to monitor the latest Covid-19 developments.

There's not a lot between the cities, so stop-offs are few and far between.

Planning and preparation can limit potential problems, and visas for Saudi Arabia and Qatar are easy to obtain.

Hamad Mohammed, a photographer in Bahrain who regularly drives to Abu Dhabi and Dubai in his Nissan Patrol, knows the route well.

“The roads are very good, and the route 10 between both borders is often used by supercars without any problems or surprises because it is so good,” said Mr Mohammed.

“Even if there are roadworks or construction, you get well warned in advance.

GCC-wide insurance cover

“It is mostly three lane highway, occasionally two lanes and sometimes there will be four so it is straightforward.

“I’ve done the journey in summer, and it is surprisingly cooler in the desert so even then it is a nice drive.”

With an average speed of 120 kilometres per hour, Mr Mohammed said the journey can be done comfortably within seven hours. He paid about Dh190 for three months of GCC-wide vehicle insurance.

Most of the route, around 400km, is completed in the UAE, with four-lane highways continuing on the E11 towards the border crossing at Ghuwaifat.

Apply in advance for visas

Crossing the border into Saudi Arabia poses the first challenge for football fans choosing to drive, as they must have third-party insurance to cover them for the GCC.

Visas to enter Saudi and Qatar are required, but can be applied for online in advance.

However, one vehicle insurance broker said few companies provide GCC coverage to include third-party for tourists – the minimum requirement to drive in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

“We're still assessing how this would be implemented properly region-wide given the complexity of Covid and GCC country-relations,” one insurer said.

“Hopefully in a few more weeks, we would be in a better position.”

In September 2017, a royal decree in Saudi Arabia granted women the right to drive and obtain driving licences. On June 24, 2018, Saudi women took to the road for the first time in 30 years.

Since then British architect Dawn Wadsworth has made the journey from Dubai to the Qatar border with Saudi Arabia several times for work, most recently just two weeks ago in her Toyota Prado.

“We were driving in Saudi for a couple of weeks so chose to insure the car for the whole year, which only cost an extra Dh500 on our existing insurance,” she said.

“To buy insurance at the border it costs around 200 Saudi Riyal (Dh200) for 15 days, if people are going over just for a couple of days it will be cheaper.

"The border crossing was simple enough, as it was empty but for a couple of cars but it still took almost two hours to get through.

“You wonder if they are prepared for large numbers of people who may drive across the border once the World Cup is on.”

Border inspections at the crossing with Saudi Arabia at Ghuwaifat can take up to two hours on busy days.

Officials require travellers to exit their vehicles to present their passports and visa documents. A full vehicle check is also completed by customs officers.

The process is similar at the border with Qatar in Salwa, around 120km from the UAE crossing.

Few rental firms allow GCC travel but there are options

Another hurdle supporters may have to contend with is the availability of hire cars.

Few rental companies allow vehicles to be driven from the UAE to Qatar, but one that does is SelfDrive UAE.

Soham Shah, chief executive of SelfDrive UAE, said plans were being prepared to make it easier for tourists to hire cars and drive them into Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

“We are currently drafting a specialist product for this with insurance companies to make it available to World Cup fans who want to drive to Qatar,” he said,

"Not all nationalities have the privilege of crossing the land border so it is important people plan ahead.”

SelfDrive can provide a range of vehicles, from budget motors to high end luxury vehicles.

It also has eight-seat SUVs for hire to make it easier for fans looking to travel together.

Mr Shah said his company was working on providing special insurance packages for rentals that will look after passengers as well as the driver in all three countries.

“It can be done, but it largely depends on the nationality of the passport holders and their visa conditions,” he said.

“People don’t want to drive 400km and then get turned away at the border.”

Car rental company Sixt said despite not offering cross-border journeys, the potential high demand for them during the World Cup means they are in talks to make this an option for its customers.

"Currently, neither one-way rentals, with customers renting a vehicle in the UAE and dropping it off in Qatar, nor cross-border journeys from the UAE to Qatar are allowed as part of our terms and conditions," said a spokesperson.

"However, we expect an increasing demand for travel options to the country for the World Cup later in 2022.

"SIXT puts its customers’ wishes at the centre of its actions, therefore we are working with our local partners to include journeys from the UAE to Qatar as part of our offering."

To register a visit to Qatar by road, motorists can visit the Ehteraz government portal.

The portal for arrivals at the land border with Saudi Arabia is the Muqeem site, where arrivals can register their vaccination status.

Updated: March 20, 2022, 5:27 AM