I’m sure you’ve heard some stories, read the news, etc, but I’m setting it straight here – what is it really like living in Dubai as a woman?
I’ve lived in Dubai for the past 7+ years, so everything in this article is coming from my own personal experiences living in Dubai as a woman.
There are several misconceptions about the city of Dubai – and the Middle East in general – and how it’s portrayed, especially in Hollywood movies.
They generally tend to show people who live in tents and travel using camels without any technology. They also usually depict storylines that show women have little or no rights in these countries.
While this might have been true a few hundred years ago, it shows nothing of the current status of local and expat women living in countries like the United Arab Emirates.
So, what is living in Dubai as a woman like? Keep reading to find the answer to this question.
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Why Move to Dubai
Dubai is a very popular destination for tourists worldwide, but there’s also a huge expat community there. In fact, 91% of Dubai’s population are expats!
It’s a big move, but you’ll make friends with different people from all walks of life and from all over the world if you choose to live in Dubai.
The main reason people move to Dubai is because there’s no income tax on your earnings. So whatever you earn, it’s yours!
Aside from a tax-free salary, the pay tends to be higher in Dubai. So it’s a win win! And while the cost of living is considered high, your salary more than makes up for it. In saying that, I pay less rent on my duplex apartment where I live in alone than I did back in Dublin sharing with two others!
The weather is another factor for many. Sure, the summers are crazy hot, but from October to May, it’s incredible weather to be outside in – think beach days, hiking, desert adventures or yacht parties.
The social life… Dubai is a cosmopolitan city and if you’re a social butterfly, it will definitely be the right city for you. Whether it’s partying on a yacht on a Sunday, boozing at Saturday brunch or hitting ladies night midweek
Getting around Dubai is very easy. Most expats live either in the Marina/JLT area or the downtown area – both of which are in close proximity of public transportation in the form of Dubai Metro. If you’re not living near a metro stop, taxis are super cheap in Dubai, so it doesn’t cost much to get around. It’s also pretty inexpensive to rent a car on a monthly basis here.
Your health insurance will be covered as part of your employment and the health insurance in Dubai is top class. There’s no waiting for appointments, procedures or even major surgeries. The majority of hospitals and clinics are 5 star and some feel more like a hotel than a hospital.
Dubai is also a big travel hub – you can hop over to some countries just for the weekend with just a 2-3 hour flight! I’ve visited over 20 new countries in the past 7 years since living here, including Jordan, Bali, Thailand, and even Yemen!
What is Living in Dubai as a Woman Like?
Moving to a new city can be challenging, especially if you’re exploring a new culture like the Middle Eastern culture. And things can be tough for women, who might fear they’d be subjected to special laws and expected to behave in a certain way.
Women’s rights have come a long way and women in Dubai have equal rights as men according to UAE law. As a matter of fact, Dubai currently ranks as one of the best cities for solo female tourists and expat women who choose to work there. More than 98% of single women reported feeling safe to live and work in Dubai, which is the highest percentage in the world.
Despite some discrimination and violations in the past, political reforms have taken place to provide women with equal rights and guarantee their safety in the Middle Eastern city. Knowing they’re safe, local Emirati women and expats find Dubai one of the safest spots to live alone, travel at night, and pretty much do what they would just as in any western country.
Misconceptions About Living in Dubai as a Woman
Hollywood is probably the culprit regarding misconceptions about moving to Middle Eastern cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the UAE and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. People from other countries don’t really know what it’s like to live in this part of the world. So, here are some of the most popular myths about living in Dubai.
It’s not safe
According to the Global Crime Index, Dubai currently ranks as the third safest city in the world. With such a low crime rate, it’s an excellent place to live where women know they’re protected by law. Generally speaking, UAE is one of the safest countries in the world.
So, you’ll be perfectly fine if you want to go out alone to have a cup of coffee, take a walk, or meet up with friends. As a matter of fact, Dubai is one of the best places to go out at night without worrying about being followed.
I’ve walked home from many a night out in the early hours of the morning with zero fear of being intimidated by a man, or anything bad happening.
There’s no gender equality
Gender equality is probably your primary concern if you’re considering moving to the Middle East. While it’s still an issue in some countries, the UAE has come a long way in providing local women and female expats with equal legal rights concerning all aspects of life. Other countries like Saudi Arabia are following the Emirati footsteps with outstanding progress in the past few years.
The UAE government aims to become a leading country in eliminating any gender gap. As a result, there are currently nine female cabinet ministers.
People won’t understand you
Arabic is the official language in the UAE, but most people can communicate in English. Most people have studied English as a second language in primary school, so you’ll be able to interact with everyone in Dubai and Abu Dhabi even if you don’t speak Arabic at all.
This includes dealing with taxi drivers, shop assistants, and all service providers.
You’ll likely pick up a few Arabic phrases if you’re there for any length of time, and it’s great to use these when out and about.
Women have no legal rights
Emirati women and men have equal rights in the UAE. They can travel, rent homes, buy their own property, and do whatever men can do freely.
They also have equal rights in legal matters. Discrimination based on gender is prohibited by law, so working women can rest assured they can get what they deserve in the workplace.
Women can’t drive
Emirati women and foreign visitors can drive without being accompanied by a male companion. If you’re an expat and hold a license from certain countries, you can convert your license to a UAE driving license after paying a fee.
People don’t accept other cultures
Although the UAE is a Muslim country, Dubai’s citizens accept all cultures and religions. This is mainly due to the fact that most of the people who live in Dubai are actually expats who come from different parts of the world.
This is why you’ll find many cultures blended in Dubai, with various restaurants, shops, and even religious organisations supporting people from all walks of life.
Sexual harassment ss a concern
A 2017 survey showed that about 42% of women reported being subjected to some form of sexual harassment in the US. But the rate is significantly lower in the UAE, with a reported rate of 1.5 per 100,000 women.
This is mainly due to the strict punishment against such crimes. Any type of sexual harassment that causes mental or physical harm to the victim is not just frowned upon, but punishable.
People who commit such crimes can face jail time of one or two years and pay fines between 10,000 and 50,000 AED. Expats can also lose their jobs and be subjected to deportation.
Alcohol isn’t allowed
Alcohol is forbidden in Islam, but Dubai is more liberal than other Muslim countries when it comes to alcohol consumption. In fact, I never drank until I moved to Dubai!
As long as you’re consuming alcohol at your house or designated places like restaurants and hotels, you’ll be fine.
Expat women can also get a liquor license that allows them to buy alcohol from alcohol stores. Just note that drinking on the street isn’t allowed.
Unmarried couples can’t live together
Recently, the government overturned the (previously un-enforced) law that unmarried couples couldn’t live together. Which means if you’re moving to Dubai with your other half, you won’t necessarily have to get married beforehand.
Things to Consider Before Moving to Dubai
Women can find so many great job opportunities in Dubai. And moving there might seem like a good decision. But, there are always some things you need to think about before choosing to become an expat professional in Dubai.
Understand the culture
Although the people of Dubai tolerate other cultures, they also respect theirs very much. This is why you should ask around and do your research before you move there. You don’t want to break any local laws or offend the locals.
Society respects elders, so make sure to treat them well. If you can learn a few Arabic words, it will be a big plus.
There’s no strict dress code in Dubai, but you should dress according to the situation and not show too much skin. Generally, dressing modestly is recommended, especially when you’re visiting government buildings, near a mosque or visiting certain malls.
Some shopping malls have specific rules regarding the dress code, so you should at least cover your back, shoulders, and the top of your legs. However, they’re not that strict at applying these rules (especially in places like Dubai Mall).
You can wear freely at the beach, bar, or club. You can wear according to the venue’s dress code, but you should definitely consider a cover-up to wear while traveling to and from your destination. Basically, you can’t go walking around wearing your bikini outside of a beach, even if you live across the road!
If you’re an expat visiting a mosque, you should cover your hair, legs, and shoulders. If you’re heading to the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, they’ll provide you with a black abaya before entering, in case you don’t have anything appropriate to wear.
Respect PDA laws
Public display of affection laws are strict. These laws are enforced to protect the locals’ feelings and society’s guidelines.
Breaking these laws can subject you to paying fines or even serving jail time.
Holding hands is fine, as is hugging, and even the odd kiss here and there. But heavy petting and getting more physical in public places is a definite no-no (to be fair, it’s frowned upon most places).
The locals won’t immediately report you for a kiss, but it’s best to avoid breaking the law.
As an expat woman, you should try to read the room because the rules don’t apply everywhere or always. For example, some PDA can be a little more tolerated in bars and clubs. If unsure, err on the side of caution.
Living with your significant other
If you’re moving to Dubai with a partner, you should understand how the country views extramarital relationships.
If you attempt to rent a place, the landlord won’t ask you about how you and your partner are related.
Although this wasn’t legally allowed in the past, and if your landlord wanted to get you in trouble, they could report you to the authorities, it’s now permitted. However, even back then, people were tolerant as long as you respected others and their culture and didn’t cause any other kind of trouble.
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Should you Move to Dubai as a Woman?
Before considering the move, you should negotiate your salary and look for a decent living spot.
Most expat residents share accommodation when they first move to Dubai until they get things sorted out. You can join online groups and forums and find people looking for roommates.
Moving to Dubai can be an excellent chance to make money and live in a safe city. You might also meet your significant other and start a family in one of the most advanced cities in the world!
Dubai is actually a very forward-looking city and living in Dubai as a woman brings so many opportunities. There are many jobs available across various industries, you can travel on a whim any weekend, and you get to learn so much about different cultures there.
Dubai is very safe for women, and several laws protect them. They also have equal constitutional rights, and the salary gap is less than in other countries.
Here’s my advice if you plan to move to Dubai…
Ignore all the misconceptions you might have heard about in the media. Study the culture to avoid offending the locals or breaking any Dubai laws, and as long as you follow the rules in Dubai, you’ll be perfectly safe.
Vourneen is a travel junkie and chronic illness warrior. Although she was late to game in terms of travelling, she has picked up numerous tips and tricks from the almost 30 countries she has visited in the past 5 years.