By Victoria Scott
Many European and Australian residents are finding it harder to get a driver’s license in Qatar after the government tightened requirements last month.
These expats must now take a driver’s test and/or classes to get a license, according to several embassies that spoke to Doha News.
Previously, they only had to present the license they held in their home countries and take an eye test.
The change took effect on Jan. 1, but was not officially announced.
However, officials from the British, French, Dutch, Australian and German embassies have confirmed to Doha News that the rules for their nationals have changed.
These residents are now required to pass a theory and practical driving test to qualify for a Qatar driving license.
Some expats have also told Doha News that driving schools have recently advised them of changes.
However, the new rules only apply to people who do not yet have Qatar driver’s licenses. Renewals of existing licenses do not appear to be affected.
It is unclear why the rules were tightened, but the move comes amid several other efforts to reduce the number of drivers on Qatar’s roads.
For example, a mandatory driving test was rolled out for US citizens in 2009.
A spokesperson from the British Embassy told Doha News that it was “liaising with local authorities to establish the reasons for the change.”
“We understand the new requirements apply to all nationalities previously able to exchange without a test, however license-holders should check with the Traffic Department.”
In the past, GCC citizens were also able to exchange their licenses without a test in Qatar, and it remains unclear whether this new ruling applies to them.
The UAE Embassy has not yet responded to a request for comment.
Qatar’s population has more than doubled in the past 10 years, putting a strain on its infrastructure and causing traffic congestion at peak hours.
Authorities have tackled this problem in a variety of ways.
For example, the government has barred expats working in some 240 professions from obtaining licenses.
These include pharmacy assistants, accounting technicians, photographer’s assistants, sailors and skilled tradesmen such as plasterers and electricians.
And last year, authorities announced that expats who held licenses issued in other GCC countries would no longer be able to directly exchange them in Qatar.
Also in 2016, the government decided that nationals from many African and Asian countries would now need to take driving lessons before sitting for a driver’s test.
Recently released government statistics show that all of these restrictions may be having some effect.
There were nearly 30 percent fewer new vehicles registered in Qatar in December 2016 than in December 2015.
Meanwhile, transfers of ownership — which reflect the state of the second-hand car market — were down just over 4 percent year-on-year.