Expat life for women in the UAE

Part of the excitement and experience of moving to another country to live and work, is being able to get immersed in a completely different culture and way of life. It’s good to fully embrace it, mix with the locals and not just the expat community, and integrate into community life.
However, it’s important to be aware of any key cultural differences and attitudes that may affect day-to-day living. This is particularly true for women who are moving to the United Arab Emirates, where societal values towards women can be different to the UK.
The good news is that there are plenty of female expats already calling the Middle East home. In the UAE, 37% of expats are female, which is lower than the global average but still a significant statistic, proving that it is perfectly possible to build a new life in the Middle East.

Women at work

There are good work opportunities too. Many expat women in the UAE will be relocating due to employment that has already been sourced, and many more will be moving there with a partner who has been relocated already living in the Middle East. In any case, the UAE has good careers across a wide range of industries. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2016, the UAE comes fourth for the Middle East and North Africa region. Women in the UAE hold powerful roles in business, have started and run many companies, and fill many essential roles.
However, there are some instances where certain paperwork is required to work in the UAE, which depends on who the sponsor is for residing in the country. For example, a man might get a job in the UAE and be sponsored by his employer to gain a residence visa. He can then sponsor his wife to join him (with some conditions attached, such as minimum earnings and housing provided by the employer), in order to gain her residence visa. If the wife plans to work in the UAE, then she can stay on her husband’s visa, but before taking up employment she would need to present a ‘No Objection Certificate’ from her husband to a new employer. The other alternative is to be sponsored by the new employer instead of her husband, though this may offer less benefits, particularly for families, and make it more difficult to switch jobs in the future if required.
If a woman is moving for a new role in the UAE, then their employer would sponsor their relocation. A wife can also sponsor her husband to come to the UAE with her, as long as she is in a qualified profession and earning a minimum salary.

Daily life

Day-to-day equality for women is assured by law: the Constitution of the UAE guarantees equal rights for both men and women. In general, women are treated with respect and as equal partners.
There are various misconceptions about the UAE, but for women, it’s mostly business as usual. There is no formal dress code, but the general rule is to ensure that shoulders and knees are covered in public places, and bikinis or other revealing outfits should be saved for private locations. In business, normal dark-coloured formal wear is generally worn, usually long skirts or trousers, and a shirt that covers the elbows. There is usually a noticeable difference in attire between expats and local women, the latter of which are more likely to wear a long, black robe called an abaya, which covers from head to toe. The UAE is also an incredibly safe place to life. Violence and crime rates are low. There are some gender privileges for women too, such as ladies-only sections on the metro in Duabi, which are generally less crowded.
So, while there are plenty of differences for expat women living in the UAE coming from the UK, many of these are positive and will add to the overall experience of relocating to the Middle East.
If you are moving to UAE our international expertise at moving your possessions from one country to another is best in class. We have over 40 years’ experience and are precise, secure, knowledgeable, taking special care of your belongings from start to finish. Visit our UAE hub for full details and request a quote.