How to buy a car in Dubai: A complete guide

TransferWise content team
26.12.17
7 minute read

Owning a vehicle as an expatriate isn't optional is Dubai. The nation's limited public transportation system is gradually expanding, but still inconvenient and unsuitable for regular travel, especially for working individuals for whom punctuality is mandatory.

While it’s possible to import your trusty set of wheels from abroad, buying a vehicle in Dubai is, as a general rule, cheaper than importing one. Car showrooms and dealerships are plentiful in this Middle Eastern nation, so foreigners will have little issue locating a reputable venue selling their dream vehicle.

In addition to being generally less expensive than vehicles selling in the USA or the UK, purchasing a car requires less paperwork and approval waiting times, so buyers may find that buying a car in Dubai is a less stressful experience than they’re accustomed to. This guide will walk you through everything you need to know about where to find a car, the buying process, how to register your car, and some of Dubai’s special driving laws.

Should I bring/import my own car to Dubai or should I just buy new in Dubai?

As mentioned, importing a vehicle into Dubai is usually not the most cost-effective option. Cars in Dubai are comparatively less expensive than those in the western hemisphere, so selling your vehicle and repurchasing one locally is more economical than paying numerous shipping costs and importation taxes.

That being said, if you’re set on taking your automobile into the country, you’ll be pleased to discover Dubai’s vehicle import taxes are quite reasonable when compared to similar taxes throughout the world. In addition to fees for insurance and registration, individuals importing cars can expect to only pay a flat tax equal to 5% of the vehicle’s valuation. Dubai bases the vehicle’s valuation on its purchase price, (factoring in depreciation and wear and tear).

To import a vehicle, you’ll need several documents. You must present a bill of sale for your vehicle, valid photo identification, a clear and current title, and proof of UAE residency--yes, you cannot import a vehicle unless you’ve obtained a residency visa. You’ll need to present additional documents, like utility bills bearing your address, proving your residency to obtain insurance and register your vehicle. If your car has the steering wheel on the right hand side, it can’t be registered in the UAE, they only allow cars with the steering wheel on the left hand side to be registered.

Find a reputable shipping company to safely get your vehicle to Dubai. Most will offer assistance with exportation and importation processes, often managing them entirely for your convenience.

How do I buy a car in Dubai?

  1. Research to determine which make and model is best for you.
  2. Obtain a list of dealerships and private sellers offering your selected vehicle. Compare and contrast.
  3. Explore finance options, if necessary.
  4. Purchase vehicle.
  5. Register and insure your vehicle. (You need to be able to present an inspection certificate if you’re buying a used car.)
  6. Enjoy your new ride.

What’s the cost of owning a vehicle in Dubai?

Buying a car in Dubai is cheap in comparison to many other countries (though this is less true for luxury vehicles) so buyers can expect lower up-front and monthly payment costs. Obviously, costs will vary depending on the vehicle’s make and model, but for comparison purposes, a new Toyota Corolla will cost you about $5,100.00 a year, including yearly registration fees, insurance, fuel, and maintenance costs.

As for fuel, Dubai boasts some of the cheapest gas prices in the world at 1.80/gallon on average, so you may travel freely without worry of exorbitant gasoline costs.

Where and how can I find a car?

Finding a car to purchase in Dubai is much like it is elsewhere in the world. After determining which car you’re interested in purchasing, conduct in-depth internet research to discover which car dealerships and individual sellers offer your vehicle of choice. You’ll want to see the merchandise in person and review its most recent inspection certificate as well as look up the vehicle on the Dubai police’s website to ensure the car is free of fines and other outstanding charges.

Dubai law mandates that each car manufacturer is entitled to only one dealership per political territory. If you must buy directly from a manufacturer, locate the dealer nearest to you and buy directly from them; it’s the only available option. Otherwise, browse these sites to kickstart your search for a new or used vehicle today.

The same logic applies to those seeking motorcycles and larger automobiles like vans, trucks, and SUVs.

How can I pay for a car in Dubai?

Make payments related to your new purchase via traditional banking cards or cash payments. Most dealerships in Dubai accept all major credit cards as well as cash payments.

If making payments from overseas accounts, it’s a good idea to use TransferWise instead of paying directly through your bank. When making foreign transfers, traditional banks tack on hidden fees and arbitrarily determine exchange rates that are usually far from reflective of official global rates. TransferWise uses the mid-market rate to convert your money, which is the same one you can find on Google.

You can also open a borderless multi-currency account, with a borderless account you can hold money in 27 currencies, and for euro, USD, GBP and Australian dollars you can even get your own account details, which will allow you to receive payments from third parties as well, without fees. You only pay a small fee when you convert between the supported currencies, or when you want to transfer money out of your borderless account.

How do I register for a car in Dubai?

You cannot operate an automobile in Dubai without current UAE registration. To register your vehicle, pay a visit to the Road and Transportation Authority (RTA). Registering your vehicle is a quick ordeal and can be accomplished in a single business day.

If you're buying your car new, the dealership will have most likely handled registration formalities behind the scenes for you. However, those making secondhand purchases must bring a copy of their car insurance agreement, passport or local ID, their previous registration card, and if applicable, their car inspection certificate. Cars must be re-registered yearly. Failure to do so may result in legal complications.

You may also renew your license and registration on the Dubai police website, the latter of which will cost you 340 AED ($92.00 USD).

What should I know about driving a car in Dubai?

Similar to the USA and Canada, UAE drivers drive on the right hand side of the road. Foreigners from the UK, India, and nations with dissimilar traffic patterns will need to adjust accordingly. When driving, be careful to not make extravagant hand motions towards other drivers; they may be misinterpreted as offensive gestures. Driving a car in Dubai is no different than driving one in most other regions. In fact, there's no shortage of American cars and other foreign vehicles travelling Dubai’s roads as the specification guidelines are quite accommodating.

Be aware that drivers in Dubai regularly use their hazard lights to indicate they intend to slow down and that blinkers are considered optional.

What equipment is compulsory to have in your car in Dubai?

There’s no compulsory equipment you must furnish your vehicle with in Dubai that won't have already been addressed by your vehicle’s manufacturer.

What driving laws should I be aware of?

You must be 18 or older to operate driving machinery. Children 10 and under cannot legally sit in the passenger's seat for safety reasons, and minors under the age of 4 must use booster seats for added protection. Please note that the UAE has a zero tolerance policy for drinking and driving. There’s no set legal limit. Even driving the morning after a night out may have legal repercussions if any amount of alcohol is detected in your system.

Should you need to use your mobile phone while driving, a mobile headset or similar technology is required. Drivers may not handle electronics while operating a vehicle. Dubai is incredibly strict about upholding their traffic laws, having recently expanded them and increased related penalties earlier this year (2017).

What kind of driving licenses are accepted in Dubai?

Residents of one of 33 countries can exchange their licenses for UAE driver’s licenses without undergoing further testing. You must do so if you intend on driving in Dubai for any extended period of time. Approved countries include the USA, Germany, South Africa, and Canada. For a complete list of approved countries, consult the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA). Expatriates from other countries must attend driving classes and pass practical driving tests to drive in Dubai.

Visitors from any of the approved countries who are staying for a limited amount of time don't have to apply for a UAE license; their native cards will suffice. People from other countries don't have to either, but they must obtain an international driver’s permit from their home country before arriving.

Are there any major assistance services?

There are many roadside assistance organizations in Dubai, but one must proactively subscribe to their services before an incident to make use of them in the event of misfortune.These organizations provide lockout, mechanical, and towing services for unexpected situations.

What kind of useful vocabulary is helpful for me?

Car and Driving Vocabulary UAE Definition
Salik tag an attachment that adheres to your windshield to automatically process toll charges on highways. Drivers using highways are required to have SALIK tags.
Road Transportation Authority (RTA) The department responsible for all traffic-related legislation and transportation systems.
New car Any vehicle that's never been sold before.
Preowned car Any vehicle previously owned by another entity
Registration Every car on Dubai’s roads must be registered with the RTA to identify a vehicle as belonging to a specific UAE resident
Mahattat betrol Arabic word for petrol/gas station
RTA Inspection Certificate A certificate certifying a vehicle has been inspected by a licensed expert and deemed safe for driving

Buying a car in Dubai is less of a nightmare than you may think-- and you may even find the process pleasant to deal with.

Good luck buying your new car, and drive safe!

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