Your Own Wheels Overseas

Besides getting back & forth to school, the doctor & grocery store, having your own wheels opens up a world of adventures you would otherwise miss out on if you always rely on buses & taxis. Car ownership means you get to avoid the hassle of having to hail a taxi, haggle over the price & find yourself at the mercy of a stranger at the wheel every time you go someplace.

   With the school year just underway, now’s the time to fill you in on the ins-&-outs of buying, owning & driving your own car. In this informative 2-part Article we fill you in on everything you need to know, including how to pick a quality pre-owned car & maintain it, even if you don’t speak the language or have any background in auto mechanics. So, let’s get rollin’ folks. Your adventure awaits!

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6 thoughts on “Your Own Wheels Overseas

  1. In the 15 years I lived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I had more than my share of interactions with the police. Following a fairly nasty accident (in which no one was injured or no other vehicle damaged), the policeman demanded a bribe or else, he said, he’d make me run around for months. As school was reopening in a week, I agreed and a price of around 200 dollars was set. The policeman used that money to pay the judge, the person who stood in for me in court, the fine and his own cut. It was probably the best 200 dollars I have ever spent. Driving abroad is always a challenge and in most places, the local authorities take advantage of expatriates.


  2. We lived in China for two years without a car and loved it. We rode our bikes everywhere and when we wanted to go somewhere, we got a cab or rented a private driver we knew through our school. I did not miss my car one bit. Frankly, I never wanted to try to drive there as it was pretty insane. It was literally a free for all in our city.


  3. We just left Dubai after many years. In that time we witnessed the progress as the roads and construction projects on overpasses, etc., gradually catch up with the number of cars, and felt that the driving was mostly fine. As we chose to live what was initially out of the city, our drive into work was 40 km. It took us – consistently – just under 25 minutes, so not at all bad. We also enjoyed the drive, past desert and sunrises, past the awesome skyline of downtown. We were driving against the traffic each way, however, so others had a far different experience. On our way home it was not unusual to see traffic in the opposite direction stalled for stretches of 10-20 km, I don’t know how those people put up with it day after day.
    It took awhile to purchase a car – even a new one – for some reason. After deciding on a vehicle and getting all the paperwork complete, it will still take about a week for the vehicle to be ready – this was the experience of everyone we knew. When buying used, as the article suggested, most people purchased cars advertised as “expat owned” – there is simply a different standard of upkeep according to culture, not to mention how some drivers abuse their vehicles through their manner of driving. Newbies sometimes get lured into purchasing a very expensive vehicle for a low price, thinking the seller is so rich that they just don’t care, but then discover major issues with the vehicle.
    After living other truly crazy places for driving, for the most part we found the use of cameras kept drivers somewhat sane. There were those crazy drivers who tailgated, yes indeed, so the onus is on the sane driver not to get upset, succumb to road rage, or treat it like a competition. We also bought a SUV just to have equal presence and height on the road, and that was a huge difference in how other drivers treated us than when we rented a small Yaris on different occasions. Keeping it registered was a pretty simple process and required testing that was legitimate; it revealed brake problems that our regularly scheduled maintenance trips didn’t find, so that was useful.
    There were parts of the city where we simply didn’t go due to the traffic. Invited to dinner where? Sorry, we don’t go there anymore. Certainly if I lived in one of those areas, my experience about driving in Dubai would be far more like the above poster, That being said, we drove to the beach often – at least once a week – and always found parking. We could drive our bikes out easily to a parking spot to hit the bike trail, or if ambitious, bike the entire way – biking on roads, however, is mostly impossible if not illegal. Vehicles are a necessity, agreed, unless you want to spend a bit on taxis. Yet many schools – as other places of work – offered bus transportation to and from school in addition to school events, so it wasn’t unusual to have teachers not purchase cars, and in the long run they likely came out ahead financially while behind in terms of convenience.


  4. It definitely depends on where you are. The original author seems addicted to cars, as are to many Americans. When you have a good to great public transit system, cars are a waste. We lived for 12 years in Japan, the first 3 years we shared a car with another teacher as we had 2 boys and the trains were more expensive when buying 4 tickets to go out of the city than driving. Once the boys graduated the price for 2 tickets out of town was essentially the same as driving when all costs were considered. Plus you knew exactly when you would arrive, the trains were never late, the buses seldom late unless an auto accident slowed traffic. You could get anywhere in Japan by train and bus, and once in a while a taxi. In town a car was useless. Trains and an occasional bus went everywhere you needed to go, always on time, and much faster unless you were driving after midnight. Locally we used bicycles for all shopping, to school and back, and for exercise on the great bike paths through out the city.

    I also biked to and from school in Romania, weather permitting. We used the trains for many trips out of Bucharest, but also drove at times. One needs to be flexible and look at all the alternatives. That said, even as an experienced biker I did not bike in Puna, India, as the traffic was way to chaotic. In Sweden I biked, weather permitting, took the great trains and busses when it did not permit. Bike lanes were separate from the traffic most of the way to anywhere. One day I rode 45 Km out of Gottenburg, and was on the street with traffic about 5 of those Kms. A good shoulder for all 5 Km. So look at all the modes of transportation before thinking a car is essential. Friends in the Netherlands biked everywhere.


  5. Some of the worst and most aggressive drivers I’ve encountered were in Romania. During the communist regime the upper party members were permitted to cross over into the lane of opposing traffic and move to the front of their line at a red light. Oncoming traffic was expected to all move to their right and make way. After the dictator was disposed of many party members still thought they had this right. Walking home from school one day I saw a large car swing out of line at a red light and into on coming traffic. The approaching small car refused to move over to the right to let this car pass. I big guy got out of the big car. Two guys jumped out of the small car with short baseball bats in hand. They broke all the windows out of the big car, smashed the hood and drove away.
    Many drivers carry bats under their seats so it’s best to just mind your own business.

    I was involved in a minor accident in Romania. I applied the brakes on a slippery road and gently slid into the back of a taxi. He got out of the cab and started walking towards me. When he saw I was an American he all of sudden developed a limp and a pain in his back that doubled him over. He Insisted on money. Right now. I told him to follow me to my embassy. He walked away.

    As the article points out. Driving over seas is an experience. I find it exhilarating and find driving in the States boring now.


  6. I live in Dubai, where driving is a contact sport. There are people from 200 different countries and almost none of them adhere to the official rules. Accidents occur constantly, especially during Ramadan. This year there were more than 500 accidents on the first day of Ramadan, in Dubai alone. Add in the other Emirates and they numbered in the thousands. Drivers fell asleep at the wheel, because they were tired from fasting. The main culprits are the locals that drive like they own the road and could care less if they kill you. They mostly drive big, white SUV’s like Nissan Patrol or Chevy Tahoe and they know full well that most people will go to great lengths to avoid getting hit by them. They will intimidate you, tailgate you and drive within inches of your back bumper, even at 140kph or 90mph. If you are in the left lane and they want to go faster, you had best get out of the way. If you don’t, they will hit you on purpose, pass you on the shoulder, then cut you off and slam on the brakes, just to get back at you, or ride your back bumper with the high beams on. And they honestly believe they are doing nothing wrong. It’s all your fault for getting in their way. And WHEN, not if, you have an accident, if it is with a local Emirati, or any wealthy Arab, the police will blame you. They will try to intimidate you into taking responsibility. This was done to me. Only because I knew the laws was I able to call the policeman’s bluff and put him in his place.

    Another problem there is that drivers are beyond selfish and will do anything to cut you off and get in front of you, just to save a few seconds. They will wait until the very last second and exit from the left lane, cut across 6 lanes and nearly cause a pile up, again because they didn’t want to move to the right lane earlier and wait. Or if there is a traffic light ahead, rather than wait in line to make the turn, they will go around everyone and then force their way in front of you, because they don’t want to wait in line. These people are responsible for most of the traffic jams in Dubai too. These people are rude and impatient. They will cut in front of you at every opportunity, but don’t you try to do it to them. If you want to change lanes, they will speed up to block you from getting in front of them. People also change lanes constantly in traffic, making the situation ever worse. If they would just stay in one lane, everyone would get there faster. There is almost no such thing as courtesy or regard for safety when driving, especially the safety of others. It’s ME ME ME ME. Everyone else can go to Hell.

    On the other side of the coin, you have the idiot drivers that have no clue or are just terrified to drive over 80kph. They will drive in the left lane, or slam on their brakes whenever merging with traffic, changing lanes or exiting the highway, or for seemingly no apparent reason, and they cause many of the accidents by driving way too slow. Most of these guys are the Indians and Pakistani drivers and they do not care that they are causing problems. If you honk your horn at them, they will stare straight ahead, pretend they can’t see you, and continue to drive slow. I am a New Yorker and have driven in crazy conditions my whole life, but Dubai, and the UAE, takes the cake on dangerous drivers. Unfortunately, it is not a place where you can really get much done if you don’t have a car, unless you’re ready to spend hours on buses or a small fortune on taxis. So you really do need a car there.

    I came to hate driving in Dubai, because every time I got in the car and drove somewhere, I was taking my life in my hands. Even on short trips I almost got killed multiple times by crazy or stupid drivers. Driving was just no fun, because I was always nervous and in fear. Then there are the fines. You get fined for the silliest things and there are cameras everywhere. Most are on the highways to catch you if you speed, but there are cameras at the traffic lights too. They have them because the traffic lights are so long that people don’t want to wait the 4 or 5 minutes for the light to cycle and would go through the red lights. It’s not uncommon to spend two thirds of your driving time sitting at these long red lights. It can take you 20 minutes or longer, just to go down the street and make a U-turn. Sometimes walking is much faster. If you do go through a light, and are caught, the fine is massive and they impound your car for up to a month. Unless you can pay another very high fee to avoid impound. If you do get a speeding ticket, even if you had a very good reason for speeding up a little, you cannot fight them. Rarely can you appeal. They want you to just shut up and pay. The radar camera takes a picture of your license plate. Even if someone else was driving the car, you get the fine.

    Another major thing to consider is car insurance. The laws and rules are very different than other countries. If you are in an accident and the car needs repairs, the insurance companies rarely pay fully for them. If your car is less than 2 years old, they will probably allow you to have it fixed properly, with quality parts, by the dealer. But if your car is more than two years old, they will expect you to take it to a shop that does cheap, low quality work and doesn’t correctly fix the car. Trust me, the stuff these “mechanics” do will blow your mind. Taping wires together, gluing parts together and misaligned parts. They also will only pay for used or junk yard parts. If you take it to your own shop, where you know they will do good work, they will not pay the full amount for the repairs. If your car is a total loss, they will depreciate your car by 5% every month you have owned it and pay far less than you paid or for what it costs to replace it.

    I had a car for 8 months and it was totaled out in an accident caused by a crazy local driver. They depreciated it 20%. Imagine losing that much money after only having a car for 8 months! If they do agree to pay the repairs, you will not get a check from them for at least three months. It can often take much longer. If the shop fixes the car, the insurance company takes at least 6 months to pay them. It takes forever to get your money and they don’t care that you need your car, or that it’s costing you to rent a car while yours id being fixed. They do this because they want to hold on to the money and keep it in their bank accounts to gain interest as long as possible. It does not matter that this costs you even more. And you can forget about talking to anyone on the phone. They simply don’t answer. You have to go in person, or nothing gets done. What is really shocking is that the government does nothing to stop this or protect the consumer. These companies can do whatever they want and you have no legal recourse for compensation. The government of the UAE always says they have no taxes, but they get even more money out of you in a million other ways, with endless fees for everything. Some days I just shook my head at the absurdity of it all. I really hope this helps anyone that is thinking about moving to the UAE and reads this. Keep all of this in mind if you want to come to Dubai and drive. Best of luck to you all.


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