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With plans for major expansion in place, getting around in Abu Dhabi is set to get easier. The government has put a lot of effort into improving buses in the emirate, and a metro service is expected to launch in the near future.
In the meantime, most expats in Abu Dhabi drive themselves or take a taxi. Efforts are being made to ease congestion, but there is often heavy traffic during morning and evening rush hours.
A bicycle-sharing scheme is available but is mainly used for leisure purposes. Given the way the city is spread out and the summer heat, Abu Dhabi isn’t known for being very pedestrian-friendly.
The Abu Dhabi government operates an online portal known as DARBI which has information on all forms of transport, divided into air, land and sea.
Public transport in Abu Dhabi
Buses in Abu Dhabi are the most economical form of transport. The Abu Dhabi Department of Transport operates local routes on Abu Dhabi Island as well as various regional and intercity services.
Abu Dhabi's buses are modern, fully equipped and operate 24 hours a day. Most local city buses and some regional buses are wheelchair friendly. It is also worth noting that the front seats of buses are reserved for women.
An automated card system called Hafilat has vending machines installed at the main stations in Abu Dhabi. Under the system, the reloadable cards have largely replaced cash and the Orja card as means of paying for bus rides.
No metro network exists yet in Abu Dhabi, but the planned metro will be 131 km and is due to open in 2030. It will provide optimal connectivity between Abu Dhabi island and its suburbs and the communities of Saadiyat Island, Yas Island and Al Raha Beach.
Driving in Abu Dhabi
Expats often have their own set of wheels in Abu Dhabi, and usually buy a new or used car instead of renting because vehicle prices in the UAE are rather cheap.
Expats who have residence status and want to drive in the emirate will need to get a valid UAE driver’s licence. Those with a licence from a list of countries, including the UK, USA, Canada, Ireland, Australia and South Africa, can apply to replace their foreign licence with a local one. They’ll need to undergo an eye test and provide various documents. Details can be found on the official UAE government website.
Driving in Abu Dhabi is best done with care. The authorities have zero tolerance for drinking and driving, and the smallest level of alcohol in a person's bloodstream can result in jail time. Expats who have committed road offences will also be unable to leave the UAE before they have paid their traffic fines.
Even though expats are likely to see other drivers ignore red lights and speed limits, there are cameras at many intersections and fines are high. Unfortunately, despite having excellent road infrastructure, car accidents are among the leading causes of deaths in the UAE.
Taxis in Abu Dhabi
Expats who aren’t keen to buy or rent a car in Abu Dhabi and don't want to brave the emirate’s roads alone often get around by taxi. Taxis can be flagged on the street or ordered ahead by telephone. Most taxis in Abu Dhabi are silver and are easily spotted. Taxis are usually metered and are relatively affordable.
Ride-hailing services are also available, and expats can download their choice of Uber, Lyft or Careem, among others, as an app on their phone, which makes communication with drivers and payment much simpler.
►See Lifestyle in Abu Dhabi for an overview of culture and entertainment in the emirate
►See Accommodation in Abu Dhabi for more about finding a place to call home
"Abu Dhabi has buses that will take you almost anywhere. On the other hand, renting a car is very affordable and the petrol is extremely cheap. So, most people end up renting or buying a car." Read more from South African expat Marike.
"Taxis are readily available and are very cheap. They are very convenient if you want to go out in the town and don’t want to drive. We do own a car and are in the process of getting a second one." US expat Eddie shares more in his interview.
Are you an expat living in Abu Dhabi?
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