Driving in Qatar is a unique experience in some respects and so is getting a driver's license. From entering the country to driving legally the wait could easily be 9 months or more.
Everything I know regarding driving is regurgitated below.
How to get a Driver's License
Obtaining a driver's license is a 6-9 step process depending on a couple factors and it should be done immediately after receiving your QID. See the determining factors below.
Your nationality: Unfortunately Qatar is pretty much officially segregated into 4 groups and this affects governmental processes and societal treatment. Those 4 groups being in order of preferential treatment:
- Qataris and other GCC nationals
- Westerners, especially UK and French nationals in the case of driving
- Other Arab nationals
- East Asians and Africans
- Your company: If your company has "wasta" which means the company owners have connections in Qatar.
Anyways here is the process for obtaining a license.
Step 1: Register your Qatari ID to your Qatari phone number.
Everything in Qatar is tracked and this means you need to have your Qatari ID tied to your phone for any governmental process. To complete this step, either get a new Qatari number or register your existing Qatari number with your national ID number. It likely takes 3-7 weeks for the Qatari ID to be issued so you probably have a phone number at this point.
At the time of my registration, it officially took up to 14 days for the registration to take effect with the Ministry of Interior. And in reality it took 9 days.
Step 2: Obtain the Metrash2 app on your phone.
Once downloaded, the app registration will ask for your phone number and Qatari ID. You will get a text message with a verification code and then you can start using it right away. Here you can report accidents or check traffic violations.
Step 3: Obtain permission from your employer to get a license.
Some say Qatar's "worker" immigration is like slavery with extra steps for some foreign workers (construction people, "tea boys", household workers, drivers, etc).
This means every foreign resident requires permission from their employer for most governmental processes which have any slight affect on the sponsorship employment entity.
If you're reading this from a search engine result I hope your company allows this. Simply contact the HR staff of your company and request this letter, and while you're there ask about Step 4.
Step 4: (Optional) Obtain a special circumstance letter from your employer for expedited service.
If you're lucky your company will tell you about this if they have the powerful "wasta" to do so. This letter will state that you are a super important worker and you need to be able to drive for your work to be done.
In my situation, my former employer did not provide any guidance regarding the license process let alone the letter. I only discovered the existence of this letter after a large swath of newly hired people came to Qatar and one such person whom previously worked in Qatar knew of this secret "wasta" letter.
Step 5: Get your eyes tested.
Qatar does everything through driving schools. Some schools are only for driving instruction, some are for driving classes, and some are for both.
This first actual step can be completed at any driving school before 12PM or after 4PM. No appointment necessary. It cost me 50 Qatari Rial and I doubt the price will increase, so if someone tries to charge you more it's a scam. Make sure to get a receipt, this is very important to have.
I chose the Gulf Driving School and it is a horrible place. If you know of the reputation regarding the US DMV then multiply this by 1000 for a gravity of the situation.
Step 6: Take the "Signal Test".
Qatar refers to road signs as signals. You'll need to take an easy computerized test at a driving school regarding the meaning of these road signs. Reference material can be easily found online for this test.
To start you need to schedule a test date at the school you want to use for the testing - make sure it has a Qatari Traffic Department office. Since your records are placed within the Qatari Ministry of Interior's system you are flexible to go to any school at any point in the process. I chose the Gulf Driving School again because of the location.
Scheduling this test needs to be done at the Traffic Department office for that school. Arrive to make your appointment before 12PM with your Qatari ID and the receipt of your eye test. You really have no choice on when this test happens. You'll likely get something at least 3 weeks away. Mine was 7 weeks of waiting.
When you get to the scheduled day, arrive early. If the timing is 7AM show up at 6:30, the Traffic Police often start processing people early and if you missed your name you'll probably need a new appointment.
Your test results will be available immediately on the computer screen where you took the test.
Step 7: (Possibly Mandatory) Take driving classes.
At this point things can take 3 directions depending on nationality. I won't post a comprehensive list or process here since I was lucky enough to not go through it, but know this:
Qatar makes some nationalities take driving courses if they think their nationality is bad at driving or has a higher chance of never having driven. This includes many countries such as - India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines.
I would not suggest taking courses if it is not mandatory for your nationality, it takes at least 6-8 weeks.
Step 8: (Possibly Mandatory) Take the parking test.
Like the step above this is only needed for certain nationalities and I can't detail the process since I didn't need to do it. Every country that needs the driving classes also needs this test, but some countries like Jordan don't require classes but they do require this test.
Once again this can involve a large wait time.
Step 9: Take the driving test or print your Qatari license.
There are a few nationalities which can directly print their licenses after step 6 with no need for a road test. These countries are only special because Qatar has a nice political relationship with them and their road rules are similar, such as the UK and France.
Additionally if you come from working in another GCC country that is not blockading Qatar (Kuwait and Oman), you can convert your license from that country to Qatari.
My nationality (US) is not exempt from the driving test. After Step 6 I decided to get an appointment at Gulf Driving School, this was a mistake but not irreversible. The test date from there was over 5 months away. For this reason I decided to shop around at the other schools to get a closer date. When a new test date is scheduled it overwrites the old appointment.
I chose the automatic transmission test and scheduled at Doha Driving Academy:
After visiting all the schools I can say this one is by far the best. On the day of the test you'll be grouped with 2 other test takers and an likely unhappy Traffic Police officer. The test is on the actual road surrounding the school. Each tester drives for maybe 5 minutes and takes direction from the officer in the passenger seat.
After arriving back at the school you'll wait for an inordinate amount of time for your hopefully positive result to be posted on a screen, after which you can immediately print your license.
If you fail this test a new appointment must be made which of course can take many moons to arrive again.
Driving without a License
Let's say for whatever reason you decide you cannot wait to drive. There are ways in which you can operate without a Qatari license, but your driving must be careful because an accident will be a stop this.
Technically once someone has a Qatari ID they can only drive with Qatari license. The airport rental companies will allow up to 30 days of driving with your passport but of course this will not cover the entirety of the time you will wait for a Qatari license.
During your possibility long wait you could find a rental company which will accept you without a Qatari ID and license. They exist and you need to call every rental agency to find them.
Getting into an Accident
There is a high chance of receiving some vehicular damage in Qatar but at least there is a simple process for processing accidents. All registered cars also have insurance because registration and insurance are intertwined. Renewing the yearly registration also renews insurance.
Option 1: Use the Metrash2 app for minor accidents. The accident reporting feature will ask for: pictures, the QID details of the other party, a few questions, and khalas all done.
Option 2: For minor accidents if you would rather do things in person, drive with the other party to the nearest Traffic Police Station. They are everywhere.
Option 3: For major accidents, you need to involve the Traffic Police at the site of the accident.
In the case of all options, you will eventually receive a text message detailing any payment you may need to make.
If you want to repair damage from an accident you need to provide a police report to the repair shop. They won't do any work involving paint if this is not provided. Even if you are renting you need to get a police report by registering the accident.
Buying and Renting a Car
I would not recommend buying at all. The community in Qatar is not interested or equipped to purchase anything that is not a high-end vehicle. I bought a used 2012 4x4 Jeep Cherokee for off-roading to beach areas but it was an extreme pain to sell.
Usual rental prices at the time of writing this can vary from 1600 - 3200 depending on the expected rental duration and vehicle but everything is negotiable and they don't usually do contracts just word of mouth. My 3 suggestions for rental car providers:
A good one word description for Qatari driving conditions - aggressive. Three things to know:
- Qatar has cameras everywhere including speed cameras that will automatically fine you. Obey the speed limit but know there is a 10km margin of error baked into the speed cameras, meaning you can driving about 109km in a 100km zone.
- The Qatari national vehicle of choice is the Toyota Land Cruiser. If you see this thing in your rear-view mirror you can likely expect the driver to flash their lights, honk their horn, and almost kiss your bumper until you move.
- Driving is not super safe. I've seen terrible displays of driving all over the GCC. For example imagine someone going 200+ km/hr on the breakdown lane not caring if they side swipe people, or someone deciding to go full speed in reverse on a major expressway just because they missed their exit.
Overall driving in Qatar can be stressful, but they have some nice new roads in many parts of the city. Rumor has it Qatar wants to pave all streets in a blue anti-heat resistant material.
I'll end this thing here. It's illegal to take a picture of someone else's accident in Qatar. Say you see a ridiculous accident which is bound to happen, don't snap a picture to share on social media especially in view of the police or they will hassle you.