It never ceases to amaze me how few people consider driving over to Qatar from Riyadh. Yet the journey is extremely easy, the distance is just undert 500kms to the border (and then only 90kms to Doha) and you can make it easily from Riyadh to Doha in around six hours.
I normally leave Riyadh between 5 and 6am and schedule business appointments for the afternoon and the following morning, thus ensuring I can drive in both directions in the daylight.
Head out on the Dammam Road (either from junction 8 or else eastbound on the Makkah-Khoreis Road). Once you reach the junction to Thumamah near the camel souq (stay on the Dammam Road), set your odometer to zero.
The first part of the drive is pretty uneventful. You go through your first check point after about 50kms. As you approach the Sa’ad turnoff (also signposted Se’ed) at 25 08.7’N 47 33.4’E you’ll see gas flaring over to your left.
And about 100kms out of Riyadh the sand dunes turn bright red. Although you can turn off up into the dunes, you’re likely to find this a disappointment as close-up the area is covered in litter. Better to admire them from afar!
The desert has lots of scrub around here and you will normally see very many herds of camels, goats and sheep.
There’s a Sasco petrol station at 131kms (petrol is slightly more expensive here – typically +3halalas) and soon afterwards you start to see quite a few Saudi Aramco oil pipelines. Go through your next check point at 142kms (25 27.14’N, 48 03.54’E)
At 239kms (25 21. 9’N, 49 22.5’E) you take a right turn - signposted to Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Oman – but note you should not drive this section at night as there is no camel fencing from here on. Also there is no petrol for about 100kms. The countryside is much nicer from here on. You'll see plenty of signs for Salwa (the border town in Saudi).
Go through a Check Point at 311kms (25 21.79’N 49 23.73’E) and soon after you will see a number of rock crushing works as well as plenty of Saudi Aramco pipelines. At 327 kms look out for a right turn signposted Qatar, cross over a railway line and pass the turnoff for Ahsa Airport (25 18.0’N 49 29.9’E)
The road thro Khurais and Hofuf is well laid now; two tracks on either side. There is a bypass road on the outskirts of Hofuf, which means you don't have to go through Hofuf's centre any more. You now need to drive close to 120 kms till you reach the Saudi border post at Salwa, but be careful with drifting sand.
Your first sight of the sea is at 464kms and 20kms later (24 45.99’N, 50 44.80’E). You should fill up at the petrol station – the last in KSA before you cross the border at Salwa (24 43.29’N, 50 45.92’E)
Going through the border, you collect a piece of paper at the first control (where they check your car’s istimara papers); the second control is where you get your passport exited from saudi. There is then an 8km journey to the Qatari border post (24 44.92’N, 50 51.05’E) where you can stop for a loo break, café and shop before the next controls if you wish to.
Here you will be relieved of QR100 for a visa – but note you have to pay by credit card as they are not allowed to accept payment in cash. If you don’t have a credit card then you have to go in to the Customs hall to the payment desk on the right hand end and purchase an e-card for QR20 and then charge it in multiples of QR50.
Once that is done and you have had your passport stamped, you go to the customs shed and thence to the insurance kiosk. No matter that you may have arranged car insurance in KSA before you left. You will still be relieved of SR106 for three days, even if you are going for one day only
Finally you hand in your original piece of paper which will have been stamped at each of the control points and you are finally in Qatar. You can drive for about 85 kms in one straight line and you come across only a few intersections and fly overs.
If you didn’t have the foresight to bring your own music, there is very little to listen to on the radio until you’re well into the Eastern province, whence you can pick up two Saudi Aramco stations – Studio 1 on 91.4MHz and Studio 2 on 91.9 and 101.4 MHz. Qatar Broadcasting (QBS) broadcasts in English and French on 97.5MHz. There are also some additional radio stations [AM/FM ] catering to Tamil & Malayalam speakers, streamed out from the UAE on 1152 & 657 Khz, and 89.5 & 91.4 Mhz for English music
* I am grateful to Gopalan Kalpathy for sending updates to this page November 2011 and to Nik Granger for sending updates in March 2012, who added: "Your directions to Doha were very helpful, and we were able to make it in about 6 hours including the border crossing. On the return journey, we decided to take a slightly alternate route, coming back through Khurais before rejoining the Riyadh-Dammam motorway near Sa'ad. This saved about 50km from the journey and was less stressful as the traffic on that road is lighter yet one can go at the same speed given the dual carriageway is just as good as the main motorway.".