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Self-driving is the preferred option among tourists in Jordan. With a wealth of sights and activities spread over a relatively small area, Jordan makes a great destination for a roadtrip. With its picturesque landscapes and good infrastructure, driving in Jordan is safe and fun.
In this article, I’m going to share with you 10 things you should know about driving in Jordan. Written by a local expert, these tips will help you make the most of your trip.
1. Driving in Jordan is Safe
Let’s start with the most important one. Safety is a huge factor when it comes to deciding between self-driving and joining a guided tour. While many of us wouldn’t dare to drive in some parts of the world, there’s nothing to worry about when it comes to driving in Jordan. In fact, driving in Jordan is very safe, and also great fun!
Jordan has a well developed infrastructure which connects all major cities and points of interest across the country. There are various highways, such as King’s Highway, that run through the country. Whether from north to south or along the Dead Sea, highways in Jordan are incredibly scenic.
In recent years, Jordan has made major investments to further improve its infrastructure. One of those projects was the expansion and renovation of Kings Highway which connects Amman with Petra. Highways are always well-signposted and street signs are in Arabic and English.
However, there are a couple of things that you need to consider when driving in Jordan. While major highways are in good condition, smaller roads aren’t yet. Potholes are pretty common in Jordan. Another very annoying thing that you’ll find on all major roads in Jordan are speed bumps. Many highways cross small villages or have areas with restaurants and shops on the roadside (similar to service areas in Western countries).
Whenever you approach those areas you can expect several speed bumps. What’s so annoying about them is that they are pretty high, so you really need to slow down if you don’t want to fly off.
The general recommendation is not to drive in Jordan in the dark. I partly agree with that. Driving in large cities (Amman, Aqaba or Wadi Musa) is very safe, even in the late evening. Similarly, driving on a main highway such as King’s Highway in the evening isn’t a bad thing. This highway is well frequented and well lid, even after sunset.
Avoid driving on small highways and in rural areas when it’s dark. The main concern is that these streets are not well lid and not well frequented in the evening hours. There might be animals crossing the road or potholes which you won’t see in the dark. My recommendation is that you make any long-distance journeys across the country during daylight hours.
2. Jordanians Drive on the Right-Hand Side
In the UK and most former British colonies such as India, people drive on the left-hand side of the road. Before its independence, Jordan was under British mandate for various decades. So you might wonder on what side of the road Jordanians drive.
Jordanians drive on the right-hand side of the road, same as they do in Europe and the US. Tourists from America and Europe will find driving in Jordan easier, as you’ll be sitting on the same side of the car and driving on the same part of the road as you’re used to.
For British or Indian tourists in Jordan this means some adaptation. Let me tell you about my experience when visiting the UK and India as someone who’s used to right side traffic. From my own experience I can say that the most difficult part about “switching sides” is not the driving part, but sitting on the other side of the car. You’ll suddenly need to use your right hand for changing gears instead of your left hand (or the other way around).
If you don’t have experience driving a car with the steering wheel on the left hand side, I recommend you book an automatic car. These are pretty common in Jordan and will make your driving much easier. Driving on the other side of the road shouldn’t be too challenging as long as you’re comfortable with the car. In fact, when I visited the UK for the first time (and had to drive on the “wrong side on the road”) I found it very easy to get used to.
Since everybody is different, take this point into consideration and decide for yourself whether that’s something you are comfortable with. If you’d rather not self-drive, you can always join a guided tour.
3. Street Names Won’t Help You
Are you used to street names and house numbers to find your way? Well, these won’t be of big help in Jordan. While street names were introduced in Jordan more than a decade ago, most locals (and even taxi drivers) aren’t really familiar with them. Instead, landmarks such as Amman’s old “circles”, important buildings or bridges are used to navigate the city.
If you’re a tourist in Jordan, the best method to find your way is by using Google Maps. I recommend you download the map from Google Maps when you’re connected to WiFi, ideally before your trip. You can then use it offline when in Jordan and won’t need to use any data nor purchase a SIM card. If you don’t know how this works, you can read the instructions in Google’s official documentation.
You can bookmark all sights and activities you’d like to do, any important places such as your hotel, restaurants to visit, your car rental company etc. Be sure to check out the Welcome2Jordan travel guide which includes a full list of coordinates of all major places and sights across Jordan. Simply type them over to your GPS or Google Maps to find your way there.
4. Driving in Jordan with a Foreign Licence is allowed
Driving in Jordan with a full driving license of your country (US, Canada, UK, EU…) is allowed. According to official sources such as the Jordan Tourism Board, your regular national drivers license will be valid in Jordan, provided you’ve held it for at least one year. An international license (which countries can issue on request in addition to your regular national license) isn’t required for Jordan. Note however that your license should be in Latin characters. If that isn’t the case, you need to apply for an international one.
As a tourist and holder of a foreign drivers license, you’re only allowed to drive rental cars. You can recognize rental cars by their green number plates. Consequently, you won’t be allowed to drive cars with a black number plate (local cars). I’m not sure what exactly was the reason for this law but my guess is that the government wants to prevent locals from illegally renting out their cars to tourists.
As a tourist in Jordan, be sure to rent a car from an official car rental company. Your rental car will have green plates. Don’t ever rent a car from a private individual. Not only aren’t you allowed to drive it, but there won’t be insurance coverage in case of an accident.
If you’re relocating to Jordan as an expat, you can apply for a regular Jordanian license. Special rules apply for diplomats of course which have a different type of license plate.
5. The Minimum Age for Driving is 18 (but you better be 21)
The legal age to drive in Jordan is 18. While some countries issue driving licenses for people under legal age, they won’t allow you to legally drive in Jordan. Please keep in mind that most rental companies however have their own rules when it comes to age requirements. For most rental companies, the minimum age is 21 years old. An additional fee may apply for drivers under 25.
6. Do not ever Drink and Drive in Jordan
Depending on your country of residence, you would probably assume that having a beer or two isn’t a big deal when driving. While that holds true in many countries, it doesn’t in Jordan.
Alcohol itself is legal in Jordan and available in most large hotels and international restaurants. However, there is a strict zero alcohol-level-limit for drivers. Even if you only had one glass of beer or wine and don’t feel any different, I encourage you not to drive.
The penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol are tough. That’s even more true if you are found guilty of drunk driving when being involved in an accident. The same applies to all kinds of drugs. Note that unlike alcohol, drugs are strictly forbidden in Jordan.
7. Speed Limits in Jordan
Jordan has various types of roads, which can be broadly divided into three categories: cities, rural areas and highways. You’ll find signs with speed limits (white/red signs) along most streets, typically before and after an intersection.
Keep in mind that Jordan uses the metric system, same as Europe. Speed is always indicated in kilometers per hour (not in miles per hour as in the UK).
The speed limits in Jordan are as follows:
- Cities: 60 km/h (equal to 37 mph)
- Rural areas: 80 km/h (equal to 50 mph)
- Highways: 120 km/h (equal to 75 mph)
So far the theory. In reality you’ll most likely drive far slower than the speed limits – at least in most places. In terms of traffic, Jordan’s capital city Amman is the busiest. That’s especially true during rush hour in the morning and in the afternoon. If you are planning to drive in Amman, it’s best to avoid rush hour traffic.
By the way, I don’t recommend getting around in Amman by car (for sightseeing purposes). It’s best to book your rental car for the day that you’re heading out of Amman, either to Jerash, Petra or other places in the country. Be sure to explore Amman by foot. If you need to get a little further away in the city, a taxi will take you there for just a few bucks. Feel free to check out my full article on Amman for more information on how to get around in Amman.
When it comes to rural areas and highways, there’s much less traffic than in Amman. Traffic jams on Jordanian highways are very rare. Like I said, in many parts of the country, you won’t get close to the speed limit. Thanks to intensive construction work in recent years, many of Jordan’s highways have improved drastically.
Kings Highway has large parts that are very straight (sometimes straight and downhill) so you can easily reach the speed limit. Be sure not to overdo it, as there are mobile speed cameras along the highway. Speeding in Jordan isn’t very expensive when compared to other parts of the world, but you certainly don’t want to increase your holiday budget for speeding tickets.
8. Taking your Rental Car abroad is NOT allowed
Combining Jerusalem and Petra into one trip is popular among travelers. It makes sense to do so, especially when you’re coming from far away and would like to see the highlights of the region.
However, you won’t be able to drive to Jerusalem (or any other city abroad) with your Jordanian rental car. Even though there are several land border crossings to Jordan’s neighboring countries, taking your rental car abroad isn’t allowed. Note that local Jordanian cars can cross land borders, but tourists aren’t allowed to drive those (see point 4 on licenses). Rental cars (green plates) must not be taken abroad, regardless of the car rental company and the country.
When it comes to foreign cars, there are restrictions too. Cars from Israel aren’t allowed to drive on Jordanian territory, regardless if they are rental cars or privately owned vehicles. Cars from other countries (e.g. UAE) can be taken to Jordan (with the necessary paperwork).
9. Don’t Worry about Police Checks
Depending on your country, you might not be used to seeing a lot of police. And if you happen to get pulled over by the police, it might not be a good sign (think of speeding).
In Jordan, police checkpoints are quite common. You’ll see police along the road every now and then, mostly along major highways. That said, it’s quite usual to be pulled over by police and it doesn’t mean that you did something wrong. Of course, police officers know the difference between black license plates (local cars) and green license plates (rental cars). In my experience, cars with green plates get pulled over less than local cars.
If you happen to encounter a police check, you might get some curious questions, like where you are from, where you’re heading and how you’re liking it in Jordan. Although Jordan is increasingly popular with tourists, locals are still very curious about foreigners. Other than that, you might have to show your driving license, passport and vehicle papers (they are provided by the car rental company).
10. Pick the Right Rental Car
Renting a car is the most convenient way for a roundtrip in Jordan. Most visitors opt for one of the international, well-reputed rental companies in Jordan. That’s certainly the most reliable and less risky option and what I would recommend you to do. There are several international car rental companies in Jordan, such as Hertz, Avis or Thrifty.
As mentioned above, you should always rent a car from an official rental company and never from a private person. One of the reasons is that as a tourist (holding a foreign license) you are only allowed to drive Jordanian cars with a green license plate, not the black ones (local cars).
When it comes to rental cars, there are several other factors that play a role. For a roundtrip in Jordan, my advice is to opt for a mid-range car, not a small one. That’s because Jordan is quite hilly and it’s much easier to drive in a car that has some power rather than the smallest car that there is.
In Jordan, many cars are automatic (not manual gear). That’s pretty comfortable, especially when driving in the city. It also makes driving much easier if you’re from a country where right-hand steering is the norm. Adapting to a car with a left-hand steer is much easier when driving an automatic car.
I’ve plenty of advice for you when it comes to renting a car in Jordan, so I dedicated an article to that topic. Be sure to check out my full article on all you need to know when renting a car in Jordan.
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