Moving to Abu Dhabi: How to get a driving licence and how much does it cost?

A step-by-step guide to applying for a licence for the first time

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Receiving your driver's licence is a milestone of independence for most people.

In many countries, you can learn to drive without the help of a professional instructor. In the US, for example, your best friend, uncle, brother, or grandfather can offer you driving lessons.

But in the UAE only a certified instructor can teach you and the entire process may seem a bit complicated if you are new to the country.

For some residents, it is a simple case of transferring your home country licence to one valid in the Emirates and continuing as normal. But others have to pass a driving test.

Here is a detailed step-by-step guide to walk you through the entire process — whether it is applying for a licence for the first time or simply converting your home licence to a UAE one.

How old do you need to be to apply for a driving licence?

This really depends on the type of vehicle you are planning to drive.

You must be at least 18 before taking your car test. But you can start learning at 17 years and six months.

To ride a motorcycle, or operate a vehicle equipped for people with special needs, the age restriction is slightly lower at 17.

You must be 20 years old if you are hoping to obtain a licence for heavy vehicles or tractors, while a licence for buses requires applicants to be at least 21.

Do I need to take driving lessons if I am qualified to drive in another country?

You might not need to have driving lessons, or even take another test, if you have a licence issued by some countries.

It depends on where your licence was issued.

Driving licence holders from 32 approved countries are automatically eligible for a UAE licence. These include the US, UK, Germany, France, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and China.

However, if your licence was issued by a country that is not on the approved list then you must start from scratch in the UAE.

That includes drivers from countries such as the Philippines, India and Pakistan.

What is a golden chance driving licence?

If you have a driving licence that is not eligible for automatic conversion, you are given one “golden chance” to take the written test and the practical test, before taking any classes. If you pass, you are given your UAE driving licence. If you fail you must attend classes and take the tests again.

In order to apply for a golden chance driving licence, you need to have the Arabic translation of your home country driving licence along with the required documents such as passport copy, Emirates ID, visa copy, no objection letter from your sponsor, two passport-sized photos and an eye test report.

How do I open a file to start taking classes?

If you are a first-time driving licence applicant, you will have to open a file on the Tamm app, which is the official portal for Abu Dhabi Government services, or through the Abu Dhabi Police app.

After this, you will have to take an eye test at either Yateem or Al Jaber opticians. A copy of your Emirates ID and the eye test report should be uploaded on the Tamm app. Applicants need to pay Dh200 ($54), a customer service executive at Tamm told The National.

If you are a new driver or aged under 21, the driving licence is first valid for two years. After renewal, it is valid for five years for residents and for 10 years for UAE and GCC nationals.

You should also have the UAE Pass app on your phone, as that will be needed to access Tamm. Once all this is done, wait for the approval, after which you will be asked to go to Emirates Driving Company.

On March 1, it was announced that the Integrated Transport Centre was to take over management of licencing services.

"The centre has assured that all vehicle and driver licensing services will continue to be available and accessible through current licensing centres and digital channels until the process of transferring the licensing authorities to the Integrated Transport Centre is fully complete," Abu Dhabi Media Office stated.

How many lessons do I need and how much does it cost?

New drivers and those from countries who cannot transfer their home country licence to a valid Abu Dhabi one will have to take theory and practical classes and then take the driving test.

After you open the file, the next step is to register with a driving school and these are the documents you will need:

  • Copy of passport
  • Original Emirates ID plus a copy
  • Two photographs
  • The file number opened on Tamm app
  • Letter of no objection from your sponsor
  • If an applicant is 18 years old, they will need their documents and those of their guardian and a no objection letter from them

Emirates Driving Company offers several options. The fee excludes the 5 per cent VAT that will be levied on the total cost but a one-time exam fee is included.

For theory lessons, you can choose from the following options:

  • Regular: Course duration - four days; eight theory classes (two a day) for a fee of Dh830
  • Intensive: Course duration - two days; eight theory classes (four a day) for a fee of Dh1,050
  • VIP Silver: Course duration - one day; two theory classes for a fee of Dh1,530

Practical classes

The beginner level is for new drivers and people who do not hold a driving licence from their home country or any other part of the world. Learners are given 18 lessons.

  • Regular: Course duration - 16 days; one lesson a day for a fee of Dh2,750
  • Intensive: Course duration - eight days; two lessons a day for a fee of Dh2,905
  • VIP Silver: Course duration - six days; three lessons a day for a fee of Dh3,705

The intermediate level is for people who hold a driver's licence from their home country with one to five years of experience. Learners are given 15 lessons.

  • Regular: Course duration - 13 days; one lesson a day for a fee of Dh2,145
  • Intensive: Course duration - seven days; two lessons a day for a fee of Dh2,345
  • VIP Silver: Course duration - five days; three lessons a day for a fee of Dh3,145

The upper intermediate level is for people who hold a driving licence from their home country with experience of five years or more. Learners are given 12 lessons.

  • Regular: Course duration - 10 days; one lesson a day for a fee of Dh1,755
  • Intensive: Course duration - five days; two lessons a day for a fee of Dh1,955
  • VIP Silver: Course duration - four days; three lessons a day for a fee of Dh2,755

What if you fail the test?

If you fail the test, you will have to take more lessons. According to an executive at Emirates Driving Company, if a learner fails the theory test, they will have to take two extra lessons that will cost Dh315 and then resit the test.

If the learner fails the practical test, they will have to take an extra one-hour lesson at the school, which will cost Dh205. After this, they will be allocated a private instructor who will train them for another six hours. Each class can cost anything from Dh80 to Dh120, depending on what the instructor charges.

Residents from some countries have to pass a driving test to receive a UAE licence. Christopher Pike / The National

How much do you need to pay to get the licence?

According to The Ministry of Interior, this is what you need to pay to get a licence issued:

  • A driving licence with one-year validity costs Dh100 and is given to people under the age of 21
  • People above 21 years, can pay Dh300 for a licence that is valid for five years

How do I convert my home driving licence to a UAE one?

Drivers should first check if their licence is from an accredited country and is still valid before submitting a request to convert it.

The first step is to take an eye test at an optician accredited by Abu Dhabi Police. You will need a valid original foreign licence, a legal Arabic translation of the foreign licence — if it is not already in Arabic — a copy of your passport and Emirates ID, and two personal photos with a white background.

The person must be an Abu Dhabi resident to apply. Applications can be made online through Tamm or Abu Dhabi Police website or app.

You can also visit one of Tamm's customer service centres or the Traffic Licensing Department at Abu Dhabi Police to apply in person.

The cost of converting a driving licence is Dh600 ($163). For inquires, call Awnak on 8003333.

Updated: March 03, 2023, 12:27 PM