Renting a car in the UAE: everything you need to know about leasing, short-term and long-term rentals
Figuring out whether to rent or lease – or even pay per kilometre – is enough to make your head spin in the UAE. But for a country where maintenance and servicing costs are higher and more regular thanks to the soaring temperatures, it is often seen as an easier option.
Let us break down all the options for you.
Hertz, Thrifty, Sixt, Dollar, Budget... you have probably dealt with at least one of these while picking up a rental car in a foreign destination on one trip or another, and yes, they do all exist in the UAE, too. You can visit each of their websites for a quote, or better yet, use an aggregation website such as carrentals.com or rentalcars.com (not to be confused with each other) to compare companies. There are also other smaller rental companies specific to the UAE, such as Epic Rent a Car or Carlease.ae, that often offer extremely competitive rates – and can be bartered with, depending on the time of year.
This UAE-based company straddles the line between short-term and long-term renting, and offers motorists an option to pay for how far they travel, rather than billing them for a set period of time.
With PayPerKay, you pay for the kilometres you drive via a mobile app. You buy kilometre bundles as you go and top up as you need. Each month, you are credited with 1,000 free kilometres, and any kilometres left over will be rolled over to the next month.
However, if you don't top up your kilometres in time, when you reach 0km, you will be charged at three times the rate of your monthly plan.
It is a good option for anyone running around Dubai or Abu Dhabi every now and again, but probably not suited to those travelling further afield, or doing the Abu Dhabi-Dubai commute every day.
PayPerKay offers long-term and short-term options, with basic prices from Dh862 for a Kia Picanto on a nine-month lease, before purchasing kilometre bundles.
Again, this is still the realm of Hertz, Thrifty, Sixt, Dollar, Budget et al. While car aggregation sites won't help you as much with negotiating long-term rentals (although some people swear by it), it is helpful to go to talk to a human at the company and see if you can work out a long-term rate. Epic Rent a Car offers some of the most competitive rates we have seen and are open to negotiation. Timing is crucial here, though – if you are trying to barter for a good rate in winter, you might be less successful than in summer, when less people are in the country.
The difference between leasing and renting typically lies in the length of time over which you are paying off the bill. Leasing traditionally means renting a car for at least 12 months, and the longer the contract, the cheaper the monthly price. Some rental companies will even buy a brand-new car (often of your choice) if you agree to a certain length of lease. Many leasing purists believe it is the way to go in the long-term, but this obviously depends on what kind of rental rate you are dealing with. Some even prefer it to owning a car.
But is it really cheaper than buying? According to data from Shift in 2015, leasing was more cost-effective for UAE residents – costing Dh1,770 per month for a four-door saloon over a 12-month period, versus Dh1,946 for a buyer. Hang on to the car for four years and Shift says a leaser will pay Dh1,370 a month during that period, against Dh1,477 for the car owner. These figures apply to car covering a distance of 60,000km a year and factors in insurance, registration, maintenance and loan interest.
Most of the traditional rental companies – the Hertzs, Budgets and Dollars – will offer leasing options, as will the more regionally specific outlets. Their rates start from about Dh1,300 for a 2015 Toyota Yaris, up to about Dh2,800 for a new SUV.
Only need a car for an hour? What about 15 minutes? Regardless of whether you need a car for 10 minutes or 10 hours, the UAE's newest hiring concept has got you covered.
Two companies, ekar and Udrive, are bridging the huge gap between somebody else taking the wheel for you and buying or renting a car to pilot yourself on a permanent basis.
The short-term car-rental apps are a relatively new concept for this country, and one that may take the average motorist a little while to get their head around. The basic equation is pretty simple, though: choose your app, download it, register, then find a car to rent via a GPS-enabled in-app map. The cars are spread out so you will never be far from one should you need it. All you need to do is pull up the app and search for one, which leads us to the main difference between regular car-rental companies and this new generation: other humans are largely not required here.
Once you have instantly reserved your vehicle after locating the nearest car to you, on arrival, you unlock it using the app, then punch in a pre-designated PIN to a keypad in the glovebox, which releases the ignition key. ekar is available only in Dubai and costs 50 fils per minute, which works out at Dh30 per hour, including VAT, while there are also daily rates for various specified cars; Udrive, which is available in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, is 50 fils per minute, which you may have spotted is the exact same as its competitor, although they exclude VAT in this case. Udrive also has daily rates, which vary per city, as do certain excess mileage charges.
Usually, the rental agreement will include:
- Insurance (though, look out for what kind and the excess you are liable to pay should something happen)
- Roadside assistance
- Breakdowns and recovery
- Replacement vehicle
- Servicing and maintenance
So, if you have an accident or the car needs fixing for one reason or another, the rental company will usually sort all that out for you.
The extras costs:
- Fines: Rental companies will often charge you an admin fee if you get a speeding or parking fine, at a rate of 20 per cent or so of your fine's total cost. They also often charge at least an extra dirham on each toll gate you pass through, so instead of paying Dh4 on your Salik, you will pay Dh5 or Dh6
- Mileage: Make sure you also check how many kilometres per year you have agreed to, because many rental companies will put in caveats to charge you for going over that limit
- Personal accident insurance: Some companies ask for a one-time payment of a couple hundred dirhams to cover this
- Cancelling your lease early: Premature termination of your contract will often ping you a fee – sometimes as much as four months of the lease rate
What you will need to provide:
Make sure you have the following:
- Scan of passport
- Scan of passport visa page
- Scan of valid UAE driving licence (front and back)
- Scan of country of origin driving licence, if specified
- Scan of Emirates ID (front and back)
- A deposit, which will be refunded when your lease or rental agreement ends
Time of year: Often, the price you get for a rental car depends on the time of year you are shopping for it. For instance, if you are out scouting around for a vehicle in summer, you will have more luck haggling for a lower price than you would do in winter, when less people are away on seasonal breaks. The widely held belief in the UAE is to wait until Ramadan, if you can, to negotiate a new lease or rental.
Licensing: As soon as you have a residence visa in your passport, you need a UAE driving licence to drive. Visitors to the country can get away with having just an international driver's licence, or their home country's licence (depending on where you are from), but if you are a long-term resident, you need to swap yours over. Rules in Dubai have also changed to allow visitors the ability to drive a friend or family member's car while they are here, instead of having to stick to hiring from a rental company, as long as the owner's insurance company is in agreement.
Visitors from the GCC, Austria, Belgium, Spain, Germany, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Italy, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Greece, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Romania, Poland, Finland, Portugal, Canada, the United States, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa can all drive on their home country's licences. All other nationalities must obtain an international licence, which can either be obtained in the visitor's home country or through Emirates Post in the UAE.