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The Ultimate Expat Woman’s Guide to Dubai

What to expect in one of the world’s most happening cities.

Are you new to Dubai? Excited to discover your new home? Overwhelmed by all the rules and regulations that you need to know? We at The Gaggler have your back! Here are some of the top things to keep in mind as a newly minted Dubai-ite.

1. Make sure to tip.

Dubai is famous for all the wide range of services available, from bee venom facials and underwater fine dining to run-of-the-mill food deliveries – the sky’s the limit. So, it’s not surprising that questions around tipping come up often. We recommend tipping anywhere from 10-15% of the cost of the service (or more if you can afford to and are feeling generous!) depending on the kind of service and its quality.

2. There’s a high chance that your body will change – and that’s okay!

It’s not uncommon for people to gain weight after coming to Dubai, and there can be several reasons for it. In some cases, you might be coming from a country with a more moderate climate where walking is common, whereas here, that may not always be an option. Dubai is also famous for its brunches and wide variety of restaurants. All that combined with the stress of moving to a new city and starting a new job makes for the perfect recipe for gaining weight. If you want to lose the extra pounds, fret not – there are plenty of gyms and experts here that can assist you. On the flip side, you may decide to embrace this new you! Because why not?

3. A quick intro to women’s health will come in handy.

There are several clinics dedicated to women’s health, while most hospitals have a robust OB-GYN department for your health concerns in Dubai. When deciding where to go, it’s always a good idea to ask a friend or colleague who has lived here for a while. If that’s not possible, you can also comb through internet reviews and contact your HR department for advice. It’s also most likely that your OB-GYN will be a female doctor considering the cultural sensitivity in this region.

Contraception is freely available in Dubai. You can easily find condoms in supermarkets, petrol stations, and delivery apps. Birth control pills are also available in pharmacies and can be bought without a prescription or having to show your marital status. Keep in mind, though, that abortion is illegal in Dubai – unless the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life or if the foetus is not viable. 

4. Modesty is sometimes a tricky subject.

There are several misconceptions around how to dress in Dubai. Unlike other countries in this region, like Saudi Arabia for instance, the UAE is more liberal so expat women aren’t expected to completely cover their bodies at all times or wear an abaya or headscarf. That being said, context and location matters. If you’re visiting some of the older regions of Dubai – such as the Spice Souk – or you want to tour a mosque, you will definitely need to dress modestly. This can mean covering your arms and legs (no cleavage!) along with a headscarf if you are visiting a mosque. In comparison, if you are going to the beach (where you are allowed to wear a bikini or one-piece) or places like Downtown Dubai, you can dress more liberally. 

You also have to factor in the weather aspect when deciding what to wear. Summers in Dubai can be brutal, with temperatures ranging from 35-55ºC, so nobody expects you to wear trousers or full sleeves during that time. Ironically, we also recommend carrying a light jacket with you during the summer as most places tend to blast the AC indoors to compensate for the heat outside.

5. If you drink, invest in a liquor license!

All Dubai residents who want to buy and transport alcohol, or wish to drink at home or outside, need to have a liquor license. All you need is your Emirates ID and an NOC from your spouse if you are on their visa. You must also be non-Muslim and 21 or over. It costs AED 270 per year and comes with vouchers and rewards. African + Eastern, MMI, and legalhomedelivery.com are the only stores where you can legally purchase alcohol. Keep in mind that drinking in public and public intoxication is not allowed. 

6. You no longer need to marry to cohabit.

As part of law reforms in November 2020, unmarried couples can now live together and have consensual sex without having to get married for the sake of cohabitation, unlike before.

7. You may experience some hair fall, but plenty of help is available.

Hair loss woes are common among the expat population in the UAE, and many people blame it on the water. However, according to experts, this phenomenon is not linked to the water quality and can instead be explained by other causes – stress, hormones, genetic predisposition, and a poor diet included. Many people resort to shower filters (especially if you’re suspicious of the water), rely on hair loss products, and consult medical professionals and experts to resolve the issue. And have seen success, too! 

8. Cut down on the PDA. 

In order to respect other people’s cultural and religious values (and to not get into trouble with the law!), avoid kissing and being overly affectionate with your partner. Holding hands or light hugs are usually okay, but anything more is likely to turn heads. Of course, familial displays of affection are acceptable.

9. Me time at the salon is practically a rite of passage.

No move to a new city is complete without a new self-love ritual and, here, we swear by the weekly mani-padi and hair blowout. And considering Dubai boasts countless quality salons that won’t break the bank, you’ll always be spoilt for choice.

10. Buttermilk is surprisingly hard to find.

If you enjoy buttermilk, you might be in for a bind as it is not always easy to find buttermilk. The closest thing available would be laban, or Middle Eastern buttermilk, which might taste different from what you’re familiar with, but will definitely get the job done. 

11. Be careful of what you bring in through the airport!

The rules on what is allowed to be bought here can be quite strict. Some things that are not permitted and that travellers might not be aware of include poppy seeds (which might be present in certain bakery products), cannabis products (even if they don’t make you high), and adult toys.

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