For getting around in Qatar a car is pretty much your only option. Most people own or rent their cars while some get by with having a personal driver take them places. There is a good metered taxi service (Karwa) in Qatar, they mostly pick up from a handful of ranks and outside of the larger shopping complexes, and also a public bus service, which is cheap, but very limited.
I opted to go down the route of buying a car and driving myself around out here because I liked the idea of being free to come and go as I pleased. I also liked the idea of not having to put my life in someone else’s hands; there are some crazy people out on the roads and you really need to be careful. I actually remember reading on some forum about driving in Qatar that pretty much said, ‘just assume everyone else is an idiot’. Great.
If you are a resident of Qatar (have a Residence Permit, RP), you must have a valid Qatari driver’s license in order to legally be able to drive, the license from your home country is not valid. If you come to Qatar without a driver’s license you must, without exception, take the test in this country, which is completely understandable. However, if you already have a license and are from, let’s say the UK or Australia (ie drive on the OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE ROAD as in Qatar!), all you have to do is go down to the Traffic Department with a letter from your employer and your RP, take an eye test and receive a shiny new Qatari license. If you are American, like me, and have spent nearly all of your driving years on the right side of the road, as they do in Qatar, then you will have to take the entire driver’s test over again.
I’d read various accounts of the driving test and these ranged from, ‘this is the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do’ to ‘it is so easy it’s ridiculous’. I also gathered that you needed to do 3 things; Signal (signs) test, Parking test and Road test, and that most people who were going to do this test usually did a driving course beforehand. I opted to just do a direct test 1) because I know how to drive already and 2) even the short driving course was expensive at around 1800 QAR (£400/$600) for 12 lessons. Taking the test costs about 150 QAR so I figured that even if I had to take the test a few times, it’d still work out so much cheaper than a driving course.
I took my test at the Al Rayah driving school, along with about 100 other women. They only test women on certain days and you must go to the driving school beforehand to make an appointment for the test and pay a 50 QAR fee. When I paid, I was able to pick up a little road signs booklet that I dutifully studied the entire week preceding my test, which was scheduled for 5:30am (!) on a Wednesday morning.
Upon arrival I was instructed to go to a desk and pay 100 QAR which I think was for the rental of the car that I was going to be tested in. I was then told to go to the Signal Test counter and get tested there. This was, literally, a woman behind a counter with a laminated sheet of all the signs. My turn came and I cannot even tell you what signs she made me list. I think I got ‘Stop’, ‘Intersection’, maybe ‘No Parking’ and ‘Uneven Road’, it was quite easy, and before I knew it, my forms were marked and kept, and I was told to sit and wait. About 10 minutes later I was called forward with a few other women and we were directed outside for the Parking test. We walked out to the large lot behind the driving school and, one by one, we got into a car, drove it half way around the lot, drove up a hill, reversed down the hill, drove to the other side of the lot, pulled into a narrow parking space, reversed out of the space, drove back to the beginning, got out of the car, and went back into the waiting room in anticipation of the Road test.
The Road test was also easy, but very long and required a lot more waiting. For this portion of the test, 4 buses showed up and we were divided amongst them. Each bus set off behind a Learner car with 2 officials in it. One lady from the bus would get into the car, drive around the quiet back streets around the driving school for a few minutes, pull over, get out and get back on the bus while another lady already on the bus got out, got in the car, drove around for a few minutes, pulled over, etc. This process was repeated until Every. Single. Woman. on the bus had her chance. When it was my turn, I got in the car, made sure my seat belt was fastened, made sure I checked my mirrors, used my indicators, drove around in circles for a few minutes and pulled over when the officials told me to.
Once all of the buses and paperwork were back at the driving school (and we’d waited a fair bit longer), everything was signed and catalogued and names were called, numbers were given, lines were formed, fees were paid and licenses were issued….mine included!