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Life for Women in the UAE

Teach Away has successfully placed hundreds of female teachers in schools across the UAE over the past 10 years. Although our candidates are always excited to teach in the UAE, many do have concerns about safety and cultural differences in this diverse Middle Eastern region.

In reality, the UAE is often considered the safest region of the Middle East and is home to thriving expat communities, drawn to its unrivalled career opportunities and laid back lifestyle. The aim of this post is to give female teachers hoping to work in the UAE an insight into what to expect, and to dispel some of the common myths surrounding life in this incredible region of the world.

How safe is the UAE for women?

The UAE is a safe, peaceful, and very welcoming region in the Middle East. In fact, it has some of the lowest crime rates in the world. Violence or harassment towards tourists or foreign residents is highly unusual. In recent years, there have been several high profile cases of women being attacked and then blamed, or even prosecuted, for their own assault. Just like back home, such incidents are very rare. Dangerous situations can often be avoided by being responsible about your personal safety and being aware of what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour.

As one of the richest states in the world, the quality of life and general living standards are exceptional in the UAE, for both men and women. There are no rules restricting women on where they can go or what they can do, although men and women are expected to take part in some activities separately, such as schooling and prayer. Locals are extremely friendly and have a reputation for showing warm hospitality towards expats.

Rules on dress

The biggest misconception about the UAE is the belief that women need to cover themselves in a headdress or long veil at all times. The UAE is a liberal Muslim nation, and although many religious sites, such as mosques and temples, will require you to cover your hair in order to enter, this is not necessary in most public spaces, events, malls, restaurants or bars. Dubai City is the most relaxed about dress and it is considered acceptable to wear shorts and tank tops around the city, and swimwear revealing the arms and legs on the beach or at a communal pool.

You will be expected to dress modestly in the classroom and in public. This means keeping your shoulders and knees covered, and in some places, your wrists and ankles too. Although the weather will make you desperate to reach for your cami tops and short summer dresses, these are generally no nos, unfortunately. Although these rules are hardly enforced, they should be adhered to out of cultural respect. Dressing inappropriately is also likely to attract negative attention.

Rules on relationships

The UAE is a family-orientated country where husbands and wives are actively encouraged to enjoy each others’ company and spend time with their children. It’s true that it is illegal to live or stay with a non-related member of the opposite sex, if you’re not married or related through marriage. Although the police rarely take action to enforce this, it is always best to fully observe local laws and customs to avoid issues.

If you’re a single lady, dating is definitely possible and fairly accessible in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, although there are some considerations to be taken into account. Public displays of affection such as kissing or hugging are frowned upon and in some suburban towns, locals consider it suspicious if a woman is in the company of an unrelated male who is also not her husband.

Going out

Single women and groups of women are welcome to socialize everywhere. The cities in Abu Dhabi and Dubai have lively nightlife scenes, with plenty of venue choices from relaxed pubs to luxury champagne lounges. You’ll also find some of the world’s most extravagant restaurants here. The Islamic faith does not permit the consumption of alcohol, but tourism has resulted in beer, wines and spirits being widely available. Similarly to most countries, you can drink in licensed clubs or bars and in your own home, but never in public as it’s illegal.

The beautiful, sunny climate enjoyed by the UAE makes it an excellent location to take advantage of the outdoors all year round. There are no shortages of social sports clubs, including everything from tennis, to horse-riding to ice-skating (yes, ice-skating), which are great places to make friends while keeping fit. It’s also traditional for women in the UAE to socialize without men over an activity such as arts, crafts or cookery classes, which are all excellent ways to meet and connect with both expats and locals.

Living arrangements

Almost all of the teaching programs Teach Away recruit on behalf of in the UAE offer comfortable private accommodation as part of the employment package. It is perfectly safe for women to live alone and apartments provided are nearly always located in a secure, highly-maintained, expat district. There may be the option to share accommodation with a same-sex housemate after your arrival, if you would prefer.

Teach Away’s top tips for women moving to the UAE:

  • Chat with someone who is already living and teaching abroad in the UAE to find out about their experiences. If you don’t know anyone directly, online forums such as the Teach Away discussion boards are good places to connect with people for information and advice.

  • Invest in a new wardrobe! Do your research on the expectations of the area you’ll be living in and start picking up clothes which cover your shoulders and knees. Light coloured, loose fitting shirts, kimono or kaftan style tops and maxi dresses are great options.

  • Prepare a list of emergency and essential contacts for when you arrive, for example, for medical care, your national embassy and your employer, as well as the details for your bank, doctor and relatives back home.

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