Dubai is actually two distinct areas: the original city built around the Creek (an inlet from the Arabian Gulf) and 'New Dubai', where the relatively new developments are located.
The original city is reasonably compact, pedestrian-friendly – at least from about October through April when the weather is good – and has fairly reliable and efficient public transport options. Those using private vehicles will quickly discover that traffic is bad and parking is usually difficult to find; options that are available are often expensive – either parking meters or limited multi-storey and ground car parks.
New Dubai, on the other hand, was largely designed for automobiles. Individual developments, such as Dubai Marina, are pedestrian-friendly but, as New Dubai as a whole covers a very large area, getting from one development to another requires transport.
As a general rule, though, most expats own their own car – usually more than one per family – as cars in Dubai are reasonably priced and petrol is exceptionally cheap.
Public transport in Dubai
There is a large and growing bus fleet covering most of the city; a combination of single-deck, double-deck and articulated (meaning they can bend in the middle) buses. All are air-conditioned, well-maintained and clean. They are numbered and their electronic destination panel is in English and Arabic.
There are special feeder buses to the metro stations designated by an "F" before the route number. There are also inter-emirate buses.
Dubai has a fully automated metro system, with trains running from the airport into the city centre, through both Deira and Bur Dubai, then out into New Dubai along Sheikh Zayed Road to Mall of the Emirates, Dubai Marina and Ibn Battuta Mall. Currently the system has two lines, the Red Line and the Green Line, with three further lines planned.
Dubai’s metro is super modern, cheap, easy to use, clean, air-conditioned and fully automated (driverless), with Silver or Gold classes, plus a ladies-only carriage.
Feeder buses, designated with an "F" before their route number, service the metro stations to and from the surrounding area and many stations have a taxi rank outside.
Crossing the Creek
Dubai Creek, an inlet of the Gulf, runs through the centre of the original city, with Deira on one side and Bur Dubai on the other.
Crossing can be done on the traditional, and fun, wooden abras – the small open, timber ferries that carry 20 passengers on benches along the centre of the abra. Alternatively there are air-conditioned water buses.
For drivers, a number of bridges and a tunnel cross the Creek.
Driving in Dubai
Once a residence visa has been secured, expats can legally buy a car in Dubai. Most of the well-known brands from the US, Europe, Japan and Korea are readily available and the dealers have extensive workshops for service and repair.
Buying is not difficult and new-car dealers will arrange the registration on behalf of the buyer. For used cars, the buyer and seller must go to the traffic police to register the transfer. There are used car dealers, private sales and small private repair/service workshops all over the emirate.
Cars must be inspected and registered annually, insurance is according to the usual international system and fuel is cheap.
Vehicles are left-hand drive. Road signage is in English and Arabic, but can be confusing and incomplete. Main locations within Dubai are indicated by green road signs. Blue signs show the directions to other emirates, while brown is used to indicate landmarks, and white is for street names.
The roads are new, good, flat, often have several lanes in both directions, and there are huge intersections on major roads with flyovers and tunnels.
Road deaths have been among the worst in the world but the police are working hard to improve driving standards in Dubai, especially the curbing of speeding. There is an increasing number of fixed and mobile radars, unmarked police cars, red light cameras and a licence black mark system; vehicles can be confiscated in serious cases.
Car crime is rare in Dubai, although normal precautions should be taken, such as locking the car and not leaving valuables in open view.
Taxis in Dubai
Dubai has plenty of taxis, usually in the form of Toyota Corollas. They are well-regulated, metered, air-conditioned and clean with uniformed drivers. Ladies-only taxis are available (with female drivers) and there are a few special taxis for the disabled. There are taxi ranks in various locations, or they can be flagged down on the street or ordered by phone.
Ride-hailing services are also available, and expats can download their choice of Lyft, Careem or Wow, among others, as an app on their phone, which makes communication with drivers and payment much simpler.
►Thinking about purchasing a vehicle? Learn all about Buying a Car in Dubai.
Are you an expat living in Dubai?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Dubai. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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