Newbie Tuesdays: Learning to drive in Qatar

Trucks in Doha

The driving conditions in Qatar are infamous, and rightly so. In fact, you are more likely to die in a vehicle accident in Qatar than from a stroke, according to a study published in 2014, which is the highest ratio in the world.

So, that’s scary. And made more so by the fact that many expats are used to driving on the left hand side of the road in compact cars. In Qatar, you drive on the right hand side, ideally in the biggest, safest car you can afford. Getting used to the new driving conditions and feeling confident took me about 3 months. I practiced a lot before I felt comfortable enough to share the road with all the texting, one-hand-driving speed addicts.

It’s daunting, and I’ve had many conversations with Doha newbies, especially women, asking for tips on how to just get started. So here’s the advice that I usually give.

BYO license

If you come from a country that has a reciprocal licence agreement with Qatar (e.g. United Kingdom, Australia), make sure you have a valid driver’s license BEFORE you move to Qatar. Even if you don’t drive in your home country, it’s highly likely you’ll want to drive in Doha. If you don’t have a valid driver’s license you’ll have to go through Qatar’s licensing process, which includes up to 15 hours of theory classes and 35 hours of driving lessons. And often driving lessons take place at about 5.30 am.

Yep. That’s a lot of early mornings.

Fridays are your friend

The best time to practice driving is early on a Friday morning. Many people are at the mosque and the roads are nearly deserted. Perfect.

Nail your routes

When you first start driving, practice the commute from your home to your workplace until you feel comfortable. This is your essential destination so you need to be able to get there without any drama. And back!

Shop around

The second destination you need to nail is your closest mall or supermarket. When I started driving, my closest mall was Villaggio. I must have driven that route on a dozen Friday mornings before I could take on a Saturday. 

Parking practice makes perfect

Practice parking! There’s nothing worse than being under pressure with a line of cars waiting for you to reverse into a parking spot, only for you to mess it up. Find an empty car park and practice parking from every angle. Lots.

When I moved to Doha I swapped my Australian Toyota Starlet for a Mitsubishi Pajero. There’s a big difference (pun intended) between the size of those cars so I found parking really difficult. So, I’d drive to work on a Friday and just practice parking all over the staff car park. Forwards, backwards, spots with sun shades, spots without. I wouldn’t say I ever got perfect at it but that’s the great thing about driving in Doha – close enough is good enough!


Image from here.

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