Michelle Silva Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Life is good when you get your UAE residency stamped in your passport, but then begins the dreaded saga of getting your driver’s licence.

A nightmare for some, smooth as butter for others — the horrendous stories beginners hear about getting a licence begin to unfold into reality as they prepare for the road test. It drains them of their confidence and morale and can take a serious toll on their bank accounts.

I share the sentiments of the many who have worked towards obtaining their licences and spoke to some who have their own take on the perils of getting it in Dubai.

Tedious task

Indian expatriate Chris Fernando found using public transport difficult with a baby and mounting taxi expenses. He took 13 tests in two separate phases. “When I spoke to people I knew back in 2005, I heard horror stories about getting a licence in Dubai. Some said go for the licence to drive manual transmission, others said go for automatic. Some said getting a licence depends on the examiner’s mood, — no matter how you drive,” he says.

Fernando first tried to pass the manual test, but soon gave up, disheartened. “I started my second phase of trials in 2012 when my baby was born and took the automatic route. Getting a driver’s licence in Dubai was not a pleasant experience for me at all. I relived my university final exam fever for three years and 13 tries!”

A common refrain is that tests are more rigid for people of certain nationalities — something Syrian expatraite Bushra Hamwi agrees with. She’d been a driver in her home country for 18 years before moving to Dubai. Yet, she failed the test three times before she got her UAE driver’s licence.

Rigid for some

Hamwi says, “It is unfair that experienced drivers have to take the same number of classes as beginners. More importantly, we are being judged at the same level as beginners.

“I failed in my first attempt for not looking at the right-hand mirror. I thought it would have been appropriate that the person taking my test was aware that I am an experienced driver and it was difficult for me to drive like a beginner when taking a test.”

But there are surprise stories as well. Hazem Sesham Abed, an Egyptian expatriate in the UAE, got his licence in the very first try. But that was in 2006 when those holding Egyptian driver’s licences were allowed to skip classes and go straight to the test.

Things have changed for Egyptians since then and whether they are experienced or not, they must take driving classes.This can become very expensive when you consider the number of times people have to take tests. Hazem’s pet peeve is the mandatory sponsor approval required while applying for the licence. What purpose does it serve, he asks.

Personal account

With an excellent public transport system in Mumbai, India, I never found the need to learn how to drive. But driving my own car in Dubai seemed more a necessity than a luxury.

I went through the nightmare of failing the test eight times in a span of one-and-a-half years, from mid-2007 until the end of 2008, before I finally got the coveted little gold card on my ninth attempt. Not paying too much attention to my fast-depleting bank account, I was focused on gaining my freedom to move around where I wanted, when I wanted.

Each time, the lead-in to the actual test was unnerving and filled with tension. I walked nearly three kilometres to the test venue and waited endlessly, with mounting nervousness, before it was my chance to take the test.

I would invariably face unfriendly evaluators who never told me why I failed. I also wondered how your driving skills could be evaluated in less than four minutes with zero tolerance.

Thankfully, it is all in the past. But it will never be forgotten.