Driving In Iraq – A Unique Experience!

Author picture

Moving to a new country every two years

Read more about me

Driving a car on the road or highway in Iraq is nothing short of a unique experience. The main reason it’s so fascinating is because everything and everyone is using the roads to transport themselves or their stuff. There is no subway, tram, train or bicycle lanes and pedestrian areas. Everyone goes everywhere in any way possible, on the highway…

In this post I will share all my experiences and things I’ve seen while I was driving a car in Iraq. Let’s d(r)ive into it!

Table of Contents

Is it safe to drive in Iraq?

Well… let me tell you this! In my experience, so far, luckily, riding on the road has been fine with a few scares every now and then (I’m ok mom!). But I would definitely not categorize the traffic here as safe. There are many things to keep in mind if you are planning to take a car on the road.

Iraq Driving Side · Which side?

In an ideal world, on the right side of the road, but in reality, drivers choose the most convenient route available. Cars will form a queue at a traffic light, but outside of the white lines. It took some time for me to get used to it but eventually you understand how it works.

At a traffic light, cars in the most left lane are almost always making a U-turn. The lane next to it, is turning left and the others are either going straight or to the right, no matter how the white lines on the road are.

So just always look over both shoulders when you are changing lanes. When you arrive at traffic light when you are driving in Iraq of Kurdistan, just think ahead if you want to make a turn or not so you know which lane to pick.

Things to keep in mind when driving a car in Iraq

Before we started to drive with our car here in Iraq, I had a training in a car from the company my wife works at. The first thing they told us is, always keep your eyes on the road. It might sound obvious, but even adjusting your navigation or taking a sip of water can be dangerous because there are a lot of things happening at the same time on the street.

  • It’s wise to make sure you always have water in your car, especially in the summer when it can get around 50 degrees. If you get stuck in traffic or you have a flat tire it’s super important to have plenty of water with you.
  • Keep doors closed and locked. Eventho, Kurdistand is safe (link) it’s better to keep your doors locked. There are adults and also, young children selling stuff near traffic lights. I really had to get used to this as it can be a bit intimidating because they will try to sell you their stuff the whole time that you are waiting for the traffic light to turn green.
  • Make sure there is enough gas in the tank and if there is an extra tire.
  • Bring your sunglasses.
  • Don’t forget a phone charger that you can use in the car.


Eventhough taxis are easy to take and very cheap it can be more convenient to take the car and drive yourself because most of the stores can only be reached by car.

If you want to go to a store, you drive there by car and if you want to go somewhere else you need to get in the car again and drive there, parc in front (literally) of the store and so on.

People Crossing the highway by foot

O..m..g, let’s just start off with one of the most insane things I’ve seen here. Like I mentioned, everything is by car here, so towns are not at all made for walking or cycling. So every now and then people have to cross the street, even highways!

It’s unbelievable but at the same time understandable because there’s no other way to get to the place you want to be if you don’t have a car. Imagine there is a four-lane highway where cars drive around 100 km per hour and some people just cross the street, some run but some just walk.

It reminds me of that old computer game where the frog has to cross the road, so you go back and forward until you have reached the other side, crazy!

People will just cross over unexpectedly, even at night!

U-Turns All The Way in Iraq

I’m not sure if these are common in other countries but for me this was quite new. Since everything is by car, for example in Erbil, there are a lot of U-turns because people need to go to specific places and need to be able to get to the other side of the highway.

It’s different than for example in The Netherlands where you would just take the car to the city, parc in a garage and walk around when you want to shop. That’s not the case here!

There are these huge U-turns that people take to turn around and it’s quite intense! Usually there is a long line, and everyone is trying to go first. And when it’s your turn (pun intented) to turn around you need to zip up the highway between the other cars.

Also when you take a U-turn there are people in the middle of the U-turn selling lighters or cigarettes. It’s a sad thing to see.

Holes in the road

Tire on the hole! Actually, the roads are pretty well maintained, but every now and then there can be a huge hole in the road and if you see it too late it can mess up your tires.

You can drive on a perfectly fine asphalt road and then suddenly you need to turn the wheel quite fast to not get one of your tires in an endless pit of nothingness. But it’s not as bad as in Belgium 😉

Mario Kart In Real Life

Everyone goes everywhere in any way possible on the highway.

Like I mentioned, you need a car to be able to reach anything in Iraq, and people need to earn money and transport equipment, materials and so on. There are these small trucks that workers use to transport stuff. But sometimes the truck is too small for the amount of stuff they need to move.

Taxis in Iraq

Talking about crazy drivers… always be careful of taxis! The thing is, there isn’t any form of public transport here, except the bus but it’s not very convenient. There is no subway, train or tram. So, the only kind of public transport there is, are taxis. They will go in front of you, cut you off or take an exit at the very last second.

Nevertheless, they are super friendly and will sure likely be interested to ask where you’re from and welcome you to Iraq.

When you are taking a taxi in Iraq or Kurdistan, sit in the front seat. They will appreciate it and start a conversation about all that is happening in the country.

Parking in a parking garage in Iraq

There are many malls and most of them have parking garages. It’s usually pretty straightforward to find a parking spot and most of the time there will be people helping you in finding a spot or to let you know that the floor is full, and you need to go to a lower, or higher level.

However, there is one thing that surprised me. When you’re outside with your car there usually is short line in front of the entrance. There will be two guards that will check the trunks of all cars. You need to unlock the doors and they will open the trunk to see whatever you have in there just to check it for safety.

This is one of those things that reminds you that you’re in a country with a turbulent history and is surrounded by countries with governments that are not the most pleasant. Nevertheless, the guard that will check your trunk will be super friendly and give you a big smile as you can pass through.

Heavy Rains in Iraq

You wouldn’t expect this in Iraq but there can be some heavy showers after summertime. The rain can be substantial enough to flood the streets. We went to a mall and when we came out after an hour the whole area was flooded.

There isn’t a well designed drainage system in the city of Erbil so when it rains the water has nowhere to go but on the streets.

Luckily we have a big car so we didn’t get any wet feet.


I’m not sure how this is in most countries but in my experience when you’re driving on a roundabout you have priority. I thought I was able to just ride on the roundabout and the people coming from the road had to wait until there was a spot. I was really used to this!

That is not the case in Iraq! Driving on a roundabout has let to some tricky situations. Apparently, the people view it as just a road going in a circle and the cars coming from the ingoing roads are approaching from the right, so they get priority!

It’s funny how to see things that you are so used to in a different way, it made me think, yeah actually it makes sense! They are coming from the right, so they have priority, got it!

Drive By Supermarket

You were in a hurry and forgot to buy roses for your love? Don’t worry, they sell them at a lot of traffic lights right on the road! You can not only buy flowers, but also water, tissues, lighters, toys, and other items.

We frequently buy flowers to assist them, and it’s nice to have some at home!

Obviously, hanging out on the highway all day is not a healthy environment, and it is a common sight to see children trying to sell items to make money.

It was something I had to get used to during the first few weeks, and it is still a sad sight to see.

Bicycle Pitstop

Like I said, everyone goes everywhere in any way possible on the highway! And if you want to keep up with everyone you better make sure you have enough air in your tires.


Driving a car or any vehicle in Iraq is a unique experience. Because there is so much going on when your on the road, even the most simple journey like going to get groceries may seem like a whole new experience.

It’s all part of living in Iraq being surrounded by this fascinating culture and people.

It’s intriguing to observe how everyday things, like roundabouts, may be interpreted differently depending on where you are in the world. Different countries have different driving customs and regulations.

Nevertheless, take a taxi! 😉

A man standing on top of a sand dune with his arms outstretched.

About the author

Chris Oberman is the founder and author of Moving Jack and has been traveling the world for over 20 years to 40+ countries.

He lives in a different country every two years which allows him to gain unique in-depth insights and experiences in new places abroad.

Quoted on Gritdaily.com, NRC Newspaper, Vice,and Feedspot.

Read more about the author.

This post was about:
And things like: , ,
Share This Story:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *