It takes a photograph, a bit of paperwork and a visit to the traffic authority of the emirate you live in and voilá — a plastic card pops out of the inkjet printer: your brand-new UAE driving licence. No theory or practical tests are needed and you can zoom away while the ink is still drying.
However, the service isn’t for everyone. UAE authorities trust certain countries more than others in terms of the validity of an original licence and the rigour of their testing processes. Nationals of 34 countries are eligible to convert their home driving licences into a UAE one: the five other GCC states, European countries including Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Finland, France, Ireland, Norway, the Netherlands, Greece, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the UK, as well as the US, Canada, South Africa, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia.
Documents required are passport, residence visa, driving licence and an eye test certificate for which two passport photos are necessary. In Abu Dhabi, the eye test is done directly at the Traffic and Licensing Department in Mushrif.
For some countries and in certain emirates, more documents are needed: In Dubai, licence holders from Greece, Canada, Cyprus, Poland, Turkey, Japan and South Korea will need a translation of their licence into Arabic or English from their respective consulates. In some emirates it is possible to produce a valid international driving licence in English and/or a translation of the original by an authorised translator in the home country, certified at the respective UAE embassy. Depending on the emirate and your profession, the licensing centre may ask for a non-objection letter from your employer. This is needed in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Abu Dhabi officials additionally ask foreign driving licences be translated into Arabic, regardless of the country issuing it. The fees for the conversion are Dh410 in Dubai and Dh380 in Abu Dhabi (the latter includes eye test fees).
Those who have a foreign licence but are not on the list of accredited countries need not despair. They are given one chance to undergo a knowledge test and road test and if they pass on the first, they will receive a UAE licence. If they fail, however, they will have to undergo at least eight lessons (advanced level training) at a driving school and then come back for the test.