Today I discovered that I’d been breaking the law for the past week. Purely by chance, I discovered that I’m only allowed to use my UAE driving licence for seven days (not three months as previously asserted by my employer), after which I completely forget how to drive in Qatar, my motor insurance ceases to be valid, and if some idiot decides to drive into the back of my rental car when I stop at a red traffic light, I’ll collect some Black Points, a massive fine, and also a very short haircut and some time in Al Slammah.
The actual rules seem to vary, dependent on who you ask. Also the phase of the moon and your grandfather’s inside-leg measurement may have some effect. But in summary:-
- GCC nationals can drive ad infinitum in Qatar with impunity.
Expatriate holders of GCC licences may drive in Qatar for up to either two weeks or three months, depending on who you ask.
Holders of International Driving Permits may drive in Qatar for up to six months.
Holders of various brands of foreign driving licence may drive in Qatar for up to one week.
BUT the moment an expatriate’s visa turns into a ‘Work’ visa, as opposed to a ‘Visit’ or ‘Business’ visa, the said expat has to obtain a Qatar driving licence.
So there I was, happily driving a rental car. But last week my visa was converted from ‘Business’ to ‘Work’ as part of the slow process of obtaining a Residence Permit, and so I came over all driving unlicensed and uninsured. The rental company was indifferent. As far as they were concerned, if I drove without insurance I’d be trapped in the country until I bought them a new car to replace the one I’d pranged. Hardly a responsible attitude, I think.
I made several phone calls and emails, explaining that there was no way I was getting into the car again until I was legal. I do not relish the prospect of attempting to explain from the comfort of a Qatar gaol cell how I’d been misled by my employer. Anyway, ignorantia legis non excusat.
So at 3pm I was given a lift up to the driver and vehicle licensing centre, where an eye-test and QAR150 later I had a temporary Qatar driving licence. Another QR150 for the motorcycle licence, because the nice lady behind the counter seemed incapable of ticking two boxes on the same form. The temporary licence is valid for three months. Once I have my Residence Permit I can upgrade to a full Qatar licence for an additional fee. I think the technical term is ‘tax’.
In summary, the licensing process was easy. But it was fraught with unnecessary concern and risk on my part, all because of the vagaries of the rules and a lackadaisical attitude of others to keeping me on the correct side of the law.