Is Dubai Safe for Expat Women?

Pink Taxi in Dubai

Pink Taxi in Dubai

Tracy from Florida, writes in to ask:
I am moving to Dubai to work as a nurse in a couple of months. I have never been there but I know many people have great vacations there. My question is, will I be safe as a single female? My family have all put ideas into my head about the chauvinistic society and just being Middle East anyway, so I’m a little worried.


Dubai is safe for single females so long as you respect the local customs. While Dubai is known for it’s more relaxed attitude than other countries in the Middle East, it is still a Muslim country and this must be respected.

Clothes

Dubai might be a world city but that does not mean it will have the same cosmopolitan attitudes as London or New York. It is important to remember Dubai is a non-western culture. This means wearing long shorts or more ideally, Capri or loose linen trousers and long skirts in public.  Shirts and blouses should cover the shoulders.

The majority of the residents are not natives of Dubai. These people are guest-workers, foreign business people, and tourists. Many of the non-locals have never seen women dressed as casually as Western women will often dress and this can lead to misunderstandings. The local women will be dressed many different styles. This will depend on their beliefs.

Many Western women assume that as Dubai is in a Muslim country they will be harassed if on their own. However, if men are caught harassing women they are often arrested and may have their photos published in the local papers.

Dubai offers an excellent opportunity to see a Muslim culture up close and learn that many stereotypes we have of the Muslim world are false. For example, you can join a mosque tour aimed especially at educating Western visitors, with a view to clear up misconceptions about Islam, especially that the religion condones violence.

Social Life

A great idea is for you to join a women’s organisation in Dubai, as they can give you first hand, up to date knowledge of what to expect, tips on the best places for food and entertainment, and provide an opportunity for meeting others and networking. Try the American Womens Club and International Womens Association for starters.

You can go to a restaurant by yourself but some women have reported that going to a bar or nightclub by themselves (i.e. to meet with a friend) they have been mistaken for prostitutes who also go to bars and nightclubs by themselves. There are many prostitutes in Dubai and are not confined to any one area (as with Amsterdam), partly because their existence is ignored, but this means that this behaviour may be confusing for some men non-Western men unused to the independence of Western women.

A word of caution, if you venture to Sharjah or Abu Dhabi, these cities are more strict than Dubai, so it is advisable to check with others about appropriate dress and behaviour.

Taxis

Dubai Taxis own the Pink Taxis which are for women only, as well as for mothers with small children. The pink taxis really are pink and they have female drivers.  The rates are the same as the regular taxi’s.

If you choose to use a regular taxi, sit in the back seat, be assertive with the driver, and do not engage in small talk as this may be misinterpreted as over-friendliness or even propositioning by some men. Do not accept free lifts from strangers, male or female.

If you remember that Dubai is not Western and that the native population (as well as many of the non-native residents) have different cultural expectations and you respect those expectations, then you will enjoy a safe, interesting time working in Dubai.

Comments

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10 Responses to “Is Dubai Safe for Expat Women?”

  1. sara
    March 31, 2010 at 8:21 pm #

    I live in Ecuador and it is a wonderful country. Its people are so nice and kind, they will give you the most warming welcome. I have put together a helpful fact sheet, and also an article on Ecuadorian manners and customs.

  2. Amr
    November 8, 2011 at 11:20 am #

    I would advise tracy to try to get intouch with expats living already in Dubai to get her familiar with the city in case she needs any help in finding her way.

  3. TB
    March 23, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

    Men may be punished for making cat calls, but if they go so far as to rape you, nothing will happen to them and you can and probably will be imprisoned for pre-marital or extra-marital sex. In short, why would they stop at mere harassment when they can go the distance and be fully confident that they will not be reported and even if they are, will not be punished. Really scary how these tourism websites always seem to skip over the most important details.

  4. Lucía
    April 17, 2012 at 5:36 pm #

    Hello,

    I am reading all these comments and I am surprised about some of things mentioned… I come from Spain (very liberal country) and I have been in Dubai 3 years now. Dubai is the most open city in the UAE and in the entire Gulf region… Of course, it is not Europe but you can still have a total normal life. We are thousands and thousands of foreigners living here and not only Arabs and Indians but also Europeans, Americans, Australians, Southafricans and many from Southeast Asia too.

    In addition, it is the most safe country I have lived in (I have lived in several Europeans countries)so do not worry it is very unlikely that you are going to get harmed in any way… I am also a female and came here by myself. I wear the same clothes as back home and my friends as well… Of course, you have to be sensible and depending on the area you try to dress appropriately (shopping malls, government buildings, etc).But if you go to the beach, bars, clubs you can wear your mini-dress like in any western country and nobody will look at you. Also, you are not allowed to drink alcohol in the streets but there is a vast range of clubs, restaurants, lounges and bars where you can do so.
    On top of that, you don´t have taxes so you can enjoy your salary fully ;)

    The Dubai´s justice system might not be the same as in Europe but as long as you respect the local culture and rules it is ok. I have never experienced any problems myself.

    Good luck with your new job! I´m sure you´ll have a great experience in Dubai :)

  5. sc
    May 21, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

    Thanks a lot Lucia. Your comments were highly helpful. Appreciate this post aswell.

  6. James
    June 4, 2012 at 1:19 am #

    Yes indeed. What strange comments, especially by TB above. Complete and utter nonsense! Dubai is one of the most advanced cities in the region if not the world. Financially, socially and legally. I believe what you refer to is the high numbers of laborers that are in the country as it develops its infrastructure for people like you and me to enjoy on its fantastic roads for example.

    Never have I heard something so ridiculous as a legal system that allows people to get away with a crime as serious as rape! And in Dubai?? Where the Head of Police is as serious as he is? I don’t think so TB. I believe either you do not live in Dubai or perhaps tied with the new recruits of spin doctors hired recently out of London to protect and encourage people to fornicate in the back of taxis after getting completely inebriated!

    Either way, Dubai is a wonderful place to live and experience. A lot of people come here for a visit and end up staying for good.

    All the best and good luck!

  7. alison
    June 18, 2012 at 10:24 pm #

    I am a single canadian girl,who would like to work in a foreign country. I was offered employment in a hospital.. Question is do I take offer, because they are directly hiring.. Or do I go through an agent.. And hopefully I would have better protection.I here stories of woman getting raped,used as slaves,work me for nothing.. But on-line I am getting diferrent feed back,saying how they are getting the best training,and jobs,and great experience.that’s what I would like.. What to do???

  8. L-Dubai
    June 19, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

    I’m a British female and live in Dubai. I thought I’d stay for a year, it’s been four now! I’m from London and love how safe Dubai is, it really is – it’s one of the things I love the most about it.

    It is an Islamic country that tolerates alcohol in licensed hotels, for example but it doesn’t tolerate people wandering around drunk on the streets. Fair enough, I say. Respect and common courtesy dictates that women shouldn’t show their shoulders or too much of their legs, especially in malls, which is the centre of family life here, as they house cinemas, food outlets, ice rinks, you name it! These guidelines are broken frequently, yet besides a few stares from locals, nothing untoward happens.

    Now and then guys of all nationalities can be ‘flirtatious’, taxi drivers can occasionally ask one too many questions about your personal life, but nothing to worry about. There are bars and clubs where people dress skimpier, nobody bats an eyelid because most locals don’t tend to drink alcohol or go to bars. It all depends where you are!

    RE TB’s point – there have been cases reported whereby a woman has reported rape, the defendant has claimed it was consensual – the judge agreed and both have been convicted for sex outside of marriage.

    Don’t swear at anyone, kiss or be overly affectionate in public, get an alcohol license and make friends with expats and locals, and you’ll have a wonderful time.
    Nowhere is perfect, just keep your wits about you and make your experience a positive one.

    When I moved here, someone I met gave me the best tip ever…she told me if an Arabic guy whistled, or called out something innappropriate shout “Hurrum”as loudly as possible, it means something along the lines of ‘you’re disrespecting your religion to speak like that, shame on you’ – it really does work, even the very young, flirty guys look very embarrassed and don’t look or say another word!

  9. Raquel
    January 29, 2013 at 3:16 am #

    To L-Dubai above, I think the word is “Haram’, meaning unacceptable (in a religious way) or unclean. Yes, that is a great tip your friend gave you. It will work.

    It’s always better to be safe than sorry. If any person is unsure how much they need to cover up, remember that wearing a light scarf to cover your head or even a baseball cap can do wonders.

    Remember- most of the guys in Dubai come from poor countries. They are decent people who just want to make money and care for their families. They work hard and sometimes get lonely. Most want a wife and family, not just a casual fling. If you are not interested, don’t get friendly and do be firm, but there is no need to be rude; they will get the hint. The rest of the Middle East/ Asia is another story…

    I live in Sri Lanka, and it makes me empathize with zoo animals, the way I get stared at like an albino circus freak. I’ve had men try to pull my arm to them, pull my braid, etc. stupid stuff. Some of my fellow crackers say, ‘just ignore it’, but it’s really hard for me to ‘just ignore’ stuff. So I wear a full abaya and hijab just like the minority Muslims here. Yes, I felt a little ridiculous at first, but the feeling of anonymity for the first time in months was liberating. My pale skin still shows on my hands, which is why my problems are never totally over. When I caught a guy on the bus recording me with his cameraphone the other day, I grabbed it and deleted the recording, starting some s*** but oh well.

    I advise any lady to buy an abaya and hijab from amazon before travelling to these places. Who knows, you may decide to never use it. But at least you will have the option.

  10. j mccauliff
    December 24, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    II have lived in dubai. If u think ur safe from arab law ur crazy! Women esp! If u want to look over ur shoulder and worry u maybe arrested for someminor offense then go to dubai! There is no freedom in dubai!!

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