My life in the United Arab Emirates: Dress Code

Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

I’m excited to introduce a new series on Chic Flavors called “My life in the United Arab Emirates,” where I will answer all of your questions about living in the Middle East. Tom and I moved from Chicago to Abu Dhabi over two and a half years ago and I always receive countless comments and emails about living in Abu Dhabi. Questions likes: “Do you like it?” “Do you have friends?” “Do you have to cover up?” “Can you drive?” “How is it being a latina woman in Abu Dhabi?” These are just some of the questions I receive. A few weeks ago, I posted an outfit post on Instagram and received a comment asking, “Can I wear open toe shoes in Abu Dhabi?” A fair question to ask! First and foremost, here is a quick introduction to a few words you will hear me use a lot.

“U.A.E”: United Arab Emirates

“Expat”: In the UAE Tom and I are expats. An Expat is short for expatriate, a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of their citizenship. The UAE population is over 80% expats.

Abu Dhabi: Capital of the UAE. Slightly more conservative than Dubai, family oriented and an hour and half drive from Dubai.

Dubai: Largest City of the UAE. Busy, glamorous, and fashion forward! Also perhaps the biggest melting pot, I have experienced.

Perhaps the most frequently asked questions are regarding the dress code in the UAE and those are also the trickier questions to answer. Lets get cracking! As an expat woman, I am not required to wear an abaya also known as a burka, cover my head or hair while out in public unless I am visiting a mosque. The dress code in the UAE is considered liberal as compared to other Middle Eastern countries. When I first moved to the UAE, the rule of thumb was to cover my shoulders, knees and avoid extremely tight items (think body con dresses). If I want to wear a spaghetti strap dress, I am definitely able to do so, but I usually carry a shawl with me just in case…

Overall I can say that I am allowed to wear pretty much everything I would as if I was living in the US. I wear a bikini to the beach, I wear open toe shoes, dresses, my Lululemon tights and hi-low dresses. A few things to keep in mind when regarding the dress code in the UAE:

  • When going to the beach, I usually go in a summer dress and then change to my see-through cover-up when I get to the beach. Try to avoid anything see through/sheer in public places such as the mall or gas station
  • Most malls do have a dress code where shoulders and knees need to be covered
  • Yes, I wear dresses. I tried to avoid deep v neck dresses
  • I always have a shawl with me in case I need to cover my shoulders
  • Keep in mind when visiting a mosque there is a strict dress code to obey. Hair needs to be covered, long sleeves, long pants.
  • Avoid crop tops and shorts in public areas
  • All sort of shoes are permitted: I’ve never had issue regarding my shoes. Open toe, wedges, pumps, sandals are allowed

Dubai and Abu Dhabi are extremely fashion forward places where it is understood that people come from everywhere in the world. We should always remember we are guests in their country and to be respectful of their culture and religion. I hope this answer some of your questions and clarifies the dress code in the UAE. If you have any questions about living abroad, moving across the world then leave your questions in the comment section below. Have a great weekend and don’t forget to check my InstaStories where a share a more personal side of my life and travels!