I am often asked by others what life is truly like living and working in Dubai as a woman, so I thought it would be useful to share my personal views and experiences.
Whether I am asked by family, friends, ex-colleagues or even on social media, it is a regular question I often find myself answering.
Questions such as;
“Do you have to wear a burka?”
“Can you drive out there?”
“Are you able to drink?”
The list really is endless with the biggest uncertainty from the Western population centred on the culture here in Dubai and how that impacts women. There certainly seems to be big misconceptions around what you can and can’t do in Dubai.
So here are my top tips for any women thinking of relocating to Dubai, whether that be as a result of their own career or supporting their partner’s relocation.
Much to the surprise of a lot of people, women are able to drive in Dubai and the rest of the UAE. International driving licences have to be converted to local licences (for both men and women), but aside from that there are no limitations. Dubai is a modern and cosmopolitan city wherein women are allowed to purchase, rent and drive vehicles. For me this was one of the easiest admin tasks to complete when we arrived in Dubai and I was out on the road immediately.
Although Dubai is considered to be fairly liberal, it forms part of an Islamic country that adheres to traditional values, therefore it is essential that you are respectful to your surroundings.
You will see signs at the entrance to many of the malls reminding visitors to dress modestly. Women are to be covered from their shoulders to their knees with no tight, revealing or see-through clothing. Personally, I usually wear jeans to the mall anyway as it can get quite cool in the air conditioning. If you are anything like me, you will love walking around the malls enjoying the huge selection of local, British and International brands, much to my husband’s frustration.
If you are planning to visit a mosque within the Emirate, the dress code is strictly enforced. Women should wear long sleeve tops, loose clothing and ensure knees are covered. A head scarf should also be worn so it is always best to take one with you. Should your clothing not be deemed suitable, many mosques will loan you an abaya to wear over your own clothing. This was something I experienced when visiting the incredible Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, where all women are provided with the most beautiful abaya, which certainly feels more appropriate when admiring this spectacular building.
When arriving in Dubai, you will be required to visit a number of government buildings to complete your medical examinations for your visa application process along with obtaining your UAE driving licence. It is imperative that you dress appropriately when visiting such buildings and my recommendation would be to cover up, although a head scarf is not necessary. Whilst visiting these government buildings make sure you are very prepared to take a ticket and take a seat, there can be a wait for the relevant documents to be prepared.
Dress code within the work place should not be treated any differently to any other location, dependent upon the role held – your employer should be able to advise on this.
As a mother of three, I am probably not the most equipped to talk about this subject, however I have experienced the occasional ladies’ night and of course the famous Friday brunches.
The party scene in Dubai is largely restricted to hotels as these establishments have licences that allow them to serve alcohol in their bars, lounges and clubs. The crowd is mixed with people from all over the world enjoying the city’s vibrant nightlife. Thursday and Friday nights are the busiest in Dubai given that the weekend here is Friday and Saturday.
As a UAE resident, I would highly recommend that you apply for an alcohol licence if you intend to drink whilst living here. Not only is this the law, but there are benefits to holding a licence such as being able to buy and transport alcohol whilst also enabling you to host a party in your own home where alcohol is being consumed. For a small cost of around AED 270, why wouldn’t you?
Dubai has zero tolerance for drinking and driving. Never get behind the wheel of a car if you have had even one glass, as getting caught will most definitely land you behind bars, something you really don’t want.
As a regular holiday maker to Dubai before relocating, I thought I was more than prepared for the hotter temperatures. However, living life in Dubai during the summer months (doing the school runs, going to work, the weekly grocery shop and more) is very different to sitting by a pool for 2 weeks - something I wasn’t quite prepared for.
That said, waking up to all year-round sunshine is something I feel extremely grateful for, even if it has meant my wardrobe has had to adapt somewhat – not a problem when the world’s biggest mall is on your doorstep.
Due to Dubai’s location within the Northern desert belt, summers are extremely hot and humid with an average temperature of 41 degrees and overnight lows of 30 degrees, summer months can be a little uncomfortable. That said everywhere (malls, offices, taxis, even bus stops) has air conditioning. Winters are cooler with an average high of 23 degrees and overnight lows of 14 degrees.
The sun shines almost every day in Dubai with plenty to keep you busy whether that’s outside at many of the city’s beaches and parks or inside the malls, restaurants and even theme parks. For me this certainly beats the unpredictable climate of the UK.
Expat woman community
One of the most difficult things I experienced when relocating to Dubai was missing my friends and family. Again, nothing could quite prepare me for how tough this would be, trying to find your way socially whilst also adapting to working in a new country with all the challenges that brings. This on top of ensuring the children also settle into their new school environment.
That said, one thing that I have hugely benefited from is the welcoming expat community whether that be from meeting people in social media groups, at coffee mornings, at the school gate or even in the local community.
Dubai has taught me how supportive and welcoming other women can be and If I can take anything from the experience it would be to ensure I replicate this with new expats or employees that are out of their comfort zone and missing the familiarity of home.
So, if you were to ask me if Dubai is a great place to relocate to, my answer would be quite simply YES! I love the life that myself and my family have created here in Dubai.