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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 yourOB-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 a tricky subject sometimes.

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 it. 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.

12. Girl’s night out doesn’t have to break the bank.

Dubai is famous for its nightlife, but that doesn’t mean that you have to splurge each time you go out. Ladies’ nights are plenty in Dubai and, if you plan your night out well, you can end up spending very little – and in some cases, even nothing for drinks! We recommend websites like ladiesnightdubai.com and apps like 7Nights to find the best deals.

13. Be careful of where you point your camera.

While Dubai might be one of the most social media-ready cities, there are some rules to keep in mind regarding photography. For security reasons, make sure to not take images of military sites and government buildings. Do not take pictures of others, especially women and children, without their consent. This one might seem like a no-brainer, but it may be easy to forget when clicking away in public, especially when taking selfies as people in the background may not appreciate being included. The same applies to distributing or exhibiting images of others – always get their consent. 

14. WhatsApp calls won’t work, but there are alternatives. 

Certain websites and voice-over-IP services like WhatsApp calls aren’t available in Dubai, so many people use VPNs to circumnavigate these restrictions. VPNs in themselves are not illegal, but using them for illegitimate purposes such as committing fraud or crime is a punishable offense. If you’re looking for free voice and video services, Zoom, Google Meet, and the new app GoChat Messenger are great alternatives!

15. Add a handful of Arabic words to your dictionary.

While people of all nationalities reside in Dubai – and English remains the most widely spoken language – knowing certain Arabic phrases is essential for any resident! Let’s start with the ubiquitous yalla. This is one of the most common Arabic words you’ll hear, and it means ‘let’s go’ or ‘come on’. Mafi mushkila, meaning ‘no problem’, is another common phrase.

Habibi (male) or habibti (female) can mean ‘my beloved’ or ‘my darling’, and is used as an expression of endearment between friends, family, partners etc. Be careful who you use the term with unless you’re sure about your relationship. A few other common greetings include:

  • Shukran means ‘thank you’ and can be responded with afwan
  • As-salamu alaykum can be translated to ‘peace be upon you’ and is often responded with wa-alaikum-salaam, which means ‘and unto you peace’ 
  • Marhaba means ‘welcome’
  • Inshallah means ‘if God wills’ and is used to refer to future events
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Around the World with Eid Al-Fitr

Celebrate the fast, differently

Eid al Fitr and Eid ul Fitr are different spellings of the same Arabic phrase which means “festival of breaking the fast”. “Eid” is the Arabic word for “festival” or “holiday”, and it is used to refer to both Eid ul Fitr and Eid al Adha, another important Islamic holiday that commemorates the willingness of Prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his son, as an act of submission to (PBUH) Allah’s command.

This is a time when Muslims come together to offer prayers, exchange gifts, and share meals with their loved ones. It is also a time to reflect on the values of Islam, such as compassion, generosity, and forgiveness, and to strengthen ties with family, friends, and the community.

Eid’s Global Significance

Eid is one of the most significant and widely celebrated festivals in the world. It is an occasion that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, and is a time of joy, celebration, and giving thanks. The significance of Eid is not just limited to Muslims; it is also recognised and celebrated by people from different cultures and religions around the world.

The significance of Eid varies across cultures and countries. In some countries, such as Egypt, Eid is celebrated for three days, while in others, such as Turkey, it is celebrated for four days. In some countries, such as Indonesia, Eid is known as “Lebaran” and is celebrated with traditional foods, such as Ketupat and Rendang. In other countries, such as Pakistan, Eid is a time for new clothes, henna designs, and special desserts, such as sheer khurma.

One of the most important aspects of Eid is the act of giving. Muslims are encouraged to donate to charity and to give gifts to friends and family members, especially to children. This act of giving is a way of expressing gratitude for the blessings that one has received throughout the year and is an opportunity to share those blessings with others.

Another important aspect of Eid is the gathering of family and friends. Muslims are encouraged to visit their relatives and loved ones during Eid and to strengthen ties with them. In some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, it is customary to visit the graves of loved ones during Eid and to pray for their souls.

Eid is also a time to forgive and seek forgiveness. Muslims are encouraged to forgive those who have wronged them and to seek forgiveness from those whom they have wronged. This act of forgiveness is a way of purifying one’s soul and starting anew.

UAE Eid Al-Fitr Celebrations

Eid al-Fitr is one of the most significant celebrations in the UAE, marking the end of Ramadan and a month-long fast from sunrise to sunset for Muslims. The festival is celebrated with much joy and enthusiasm, with families and friends coming together to share food, exchange gifts, and greetings, and participate in a range of traditions.

The day typically starts with a special Eid prayer, which is held at mosques and prayer grounds across the country. After the prayer, families often visit each other’s homes or gather in public spaces to enjoy traditional foods such as dates, sweets, and other delicacies. Children are often given money or gifts by their elders, and many families dress up in their finest clothes for the occasion.

In the UAE, there are also many events and activities that take place throughout the Eid al-Fitr period. These include traditional markets, food festivals, and cultural performances, as well as fireworks displays and other outdoor activities. Many shopping malls and other venues also hold special events and promotions during this time.

Overall, Eid al-Fitr is a time of joy and celebration in the UAE, with people of all ages and backgrounds coming together to share in the festivities and express their gratitude for the blessings of the past month.

Eid Celebrations Around the World

Eid al-Fitr is celebrated in various ways around the world, often reflecting the local cultural traditions and customs. Here are some examples:

Indonesia: In Indonesia, Eid al-Fitr is known as Lebaran. The celebrations typically last for one week, during which people visit their relatives and friends, and seek forgiveness from one another. Special food is prepared, including ketupat (a type of rice cake), rendang (spicy meat dish), and opor ayam (chicken in coconut milk).

Egypt: In Egypt, Eid al-Fitr is known as Eid el-Fitr. The celebrations last for three days, during which people wear new clothes and visit family and friends. Special dishes are prepared, including fata (a bread and rice dish), kahk (a type of biscuit), and maamoul (a sweet pastry).

Turkey: In Turkey, Eid al-Fitr is known as Şeker Bayramı (Sugar Festival). The celebrations last for three days, during which people visit their relatives and friends, and give candy or small gifts to children. Special dishes are prepared, including baklava (a sweet pastry) and güllaç (a dessert made from thin layers of pastry soaked in milk).

Malaysia: In Malaysia, Eid al-Fitr is known as Hari Raya Aidilfitri (Celebration Day). The celebrations last for one month, during which people visit their relatives and friends, and seek forgiveness from one another. Special dishes are prepared, including lemang (glutinous rice cooked in bamboo), rendang (spicy meat dish), and ketupat (a type of rice cake).

United States: In the United States, Eid al-Fitr is celebrated by Muslim communities across the country. Many communities hold special prayer services, followed by communal meals and other festivities. In some cities, there are even public celebrations, such as parades and street fairs.

Iceland: In Iceland, Eid al-Fitr celebrations are unique, in part, because the Ramadan fast is performed in a way that is not to be seen anywhere else in the world. Iceland’s midnight sun phenomenon means that during Ramadan many Muslims fast for up to 22 hours a day! Muslims in Iceland do have the choice to break their fast based on the timings of sunrise and sunset from the nearest country, or of Saudi Arabia, however many have iftar when the sun breaks above the Icelandic horizon. So when Eid al-Fitr comes around, the celebrations are magical. The capital city of Reykjavik has a few mosques where the joyous merrymaking takes place and guests come laden with food inspired by Indonesian, Egyptian, and Eritrean cuisines to celebrate this holy day.

Morocco: In Morocco, Eid al-Fitr festivities give center stage to the country’s colourful culinary dishes. Where other countries focus on gift-giving and more commercialised displays of celebrations, Moroccans, after their morning prayers, hold low-key foodie affairs with family and friends. Lamb, couscous, and prunes feature prominently in meals throughout the day, followed by traditional cookies and pastries.

These are just a few examples of how Eid al-Fitr is celebrated around the world. Regardless of the specific customs and traditions, the holiday is a time for joy, forgiveness, and a renewed commitment to one’s faith and community.

Eid is a significant festival that is celebrated around the world by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It is a time of joy, celebration, and gratitude and is an opportunity to reflect on the values of Islam, such as compassion, generosity, and forgiveness. It is a time to strengthen ties with family, friends, and the community and to express thanks for the blessings that one has received throughout the year.

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