Solo Female Traveling and Working In the Middle East: What You Should Expect!Reading Time: 7 minutes
Back in 2010 moving to the Middle East seemed like a crazy and impossible thing, all at once.
Coming from Latin America, those distant dunes seemed further away to reach than any other place I had ever imagined. So, when I finally got a call saying I had been hired by an airline I had never heard of, to go live in a city I had only seen in magazines, I was shocked.
Let me tell you, though… I was shocked; but for some reason, I was not surprised.
I had always felt a pull towards it Dubai, even if solo female traveling was not something that we were accustomed to seeing at the time in my home country, Uruguay.
So that is how a trip that was supposed to last only 6 months, ended up becoming a wonderful ten-year-long adventure and by working in the Middle East; I became a solo female traveler!
And, of course, one of the main reasons for that was: Dubai is a pretty interesting place to live in.
If you’re thinking of moving to the Middle East, and Dubai is your top choice, allow me to tell you about my expatriate life in Dubai (and give you a little insight and info). ✅
Burj Al Arab, Dubai, UAE (one of the safest middle eastern countries) | @ Nahel Abdul Hadi
Life of an Expat Woman in the Middle East: What to expect?
The mix of cultures, along with the opulent skyscrapers and Arabic architecture, makes it flashy and amazingly fascinating. You can imagine having been born in a tiny country in South America and grown up in a small town in New Jersey, your girl was captivated by all those blinding lights!
The culture shock
I definitely experienced culture shock.
There were many things that are done differently there due to the difference in culture and religion:
- Drinking alcohol required a license
- You couldn’t live with someone from the opposite sex unless you were married and
- Public displays of affection were not allowed.
It was all so surreal, but it quickly became part of my everyday life. So much so, that I still feel uncomfortable any time I see two people kissing on the street!
Recent changes in UAE laws for expats
Some of these rules changed.
A month ago, the UAE decided to soften its laws in order to be more accommodating to foreigners. This goes in line with their Year of Tolerance philosophy they have been promoting since 2019.
The pandemic just brought forward something that was already in transition, so that’s great news!
Skyscapers by night in Dubai, United-Arab-Emirates (one of the best middle eastern countries to visit) | @ ZQ Lee
Modern Middle Eastern culture: What’s it like?
Middle Eastern women
One of the first things I remember thinking was how insanely beautiful and flashy Middle Eastern girls and women were.
Emirati girls take their attire and their makeup super seriously, and every time I walked through Dubai Mall, I was mesmerized by how they could turn an all-black tunic into a wonderfully glamorous attire.
Middle Eastern men
Middle Eastern men are also quite interesting. They have this mysterious thing about them. Personally, I found them to be of the most generous people I have ever met.
And that is mainly because Arabic hospitality is no joke! They will roll out the red carpet for you if necessary! These guys are welcoming and kind, and overcome their shyness once you get to know them.
The Middle Eastern culture
Emiratis are warm people and they can also be modest and quiet.
They tend to keep to themselves, but If you do approach them and tell them you want to learn about their religion or customs they are very flattered and are 100% up to the task.
You will try the best food and see the most beautiful places they can show you.
It’s like there is a collective shyness, and a need to be protective of their values and each other, which is quite humbling.
The reality of being a woman alone in Dubai
Something about Dubai a lot of people are always shocked to hear is: it is so safe and such a great place for solo female traveling!
I was very much part of the Dubai Expat culture, I did my own thing and no one ever bothered me. I wore whatever clothes I wanted to wear, did not need to cover my hair, and listened to whatever music I liked.
Can women drive in Dubai?
Yes, people! Women can drive in Dubai. I bought my first car and learned how to drive while working in the Middle East, who would have thought?!
Middle Eastern female living and working in Dubai, United Arab Emirates | @ Katsiaryna Endruszkiewicz
Working Girl: What’s working life for women in the Middle East like?
Working for a global company
Work on the other hand… now that was a ten-year-long rollercoaster of experiences!
I loved it, hated it, loved it again, and hated it to the point where I almost didn’t care anymore about my professional career: I just did my job and went home to focus on other things.
Personally, I don’t think this had anything to do with the Middle East, since it is very cosmopolitan; they know how to work with different cultures.
For me, it had more to do with the fact I was working for a super large company.
Living and working in Dubai, United Arab Emirates | @ Verónica Pereyra
Working with different cultures
When it came to working with certain nationalities, I did experience a few situations in
which men wanted to undermine me (or my authority, when I got to a managerial
position). You could tell that the reason for that was probably cultural.
But coming from a long line of strong, stubborn, and resilient Latin women, I tried to
adapt while always standing my ground.
The funny thing is…I never EVER got in trouble for that!
On the contrary, most men who I confronted seemed surprised and even pleased to talk to someone who spoke their mind.
Of course, there are always exceptions; sexism unfortunately still exists, in every country and every culture.
Visa options and living costs in Dubai
Visa options in Dubai
In order to live and work legally in Dubai: you need a residency visa.
If you are hired by a Dubai company, you will be “sponsored” by them, which means you are their responsibility; their company’s name will be on the visa stamped on your passport.
Last month, there was an announcement about a new visa for digital nomads, which is affordable and easy to get.
The only catch is: if you have your own business, you need to make over US$5000 per month, and have to prove that you’ve had your business for more than a year.
If you work remotely for a company, though, you need a letter from them stating that you are their employee.
Living costs in Dubai
Living costs in Dubai are high compared to other popular expat spots (I used to spend US$200 to US$350 for food per week), and the reason for this is: most goods are imported.
Remember: you’d be living in the desert!
Regarding housing; prices have gone way down after the pandemic.
You can get a one-bedroom or studio apartment for US$10,000 per year, depending on the area where you want to live in. Prices are usually much higher, but the current global situation has obviously affected Dubai’s economy, as it has the entire world’s.
The reason I’m giving you a yearly price is because: apartments are paid per year, you can divide rent in cheques, (some landlords allow for 12 of them, but that is also a collateral effect of the pandemic).
Middle Eastern males with their camels on the beach in Dubai, United Arab Emirates | @ Fredrik Öhlander
Do I recommend living in Dubai as a woman?
Absolutely! Moving to Dubai was one of the best decisions of my life.
Leaving the company I was working for there, however, was probably one of the best things that ended up happening to me as well. An oxymoron at its finest!
I did have my reservations before moving and prejudged in the beginning, but what I take from this insanely wonderful experience is: don’t judge and try things out for yourself! Everyone’s experience is different.
Living in the Middle East as a single, working woman, only brought out skills I didn’t even know I had in me. It made me more patient, empathetic, and appreciative of the beauty of getting to know and interact with different cultures.
What “unthinkable” places in the world would you consider moving to?
Interested in becoming a solo female traveling and working in the Middle East, an expat or a digital nomad?
Check out our ” Become a Digital Nomad” 1:1 Online Course or contact Gurvi Movement.
Veronica is a Digital Marketing Analyst & Social Media Strategist, she runs her own bilingual Digital Marketing Agency – Mindful Nomad. She is currently a digital nomad, spending time in her native Uruguay, Dubai and anywhere else that has good food, beautiful scenery and a high-speed Wi-Fi connection!