How Safe is it for Women to Travel to Doha, Qatar?

Is it safe for women to travel to Doha? Yes, if you observe local customs and laws. Here's everything I learned, after living there for three months.

Long skirts are about to become your best friend. Snapped at the Richard Serras sculpture in the Qatari desert.

If you’ve been with this blog from the very beginning (all three of you!) you’ll know that I lived in Doha, Qatar for three months in 2014. If you’re just tuning in – hello! I’m an ex-expat who has lived in London and Doha. They’re two very different places, that’s for sure.

When I mention Doha to any of my friends and acquaintances who haven’t been there themselves, they’re usually like: “Woooah. What on earth was that like? Did you have to wear an abaya? (That’s the long, billowy black garment that women in places like Qatar and the UAE wear). Was it… safe?!”

Well. Yeah. Incredibly safe. I felt like I was in more danger walking through the mean streets of Sydney, than I ever did in Doha.

That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t take certain precautions in travelling and living there. Many are the same as anywhere else in the world, but there are some factors that deserve consideration.

Related: 15 things that happen when you move to Doha

Keep in mind that Qatar is an Islamic country, where Sharia Law is recognised. There are certain rules and regulations that all citizens – whether they be men or women – are expected to observe and respect.

That being said, Doha is far less conservative than say, its neighbouring country of Saudi Arabia. So, it’s all about perspective, really!

I’m sure you have a few burning questions, so I’m going to do my best to answer them. Overall, I do think it’s safe for women to travel to Doha – certainly to live there, like I did. Here’s why.

Be sure to accessorise all your outfits with a small kitten.

What should you wear?

The question on every woman’s lips. What is considered appropriate attire in Doha? Is the abaya a necessary garment?

No. You don’t have to wear the abaya, or even cover up to the extent that you may imagine. As the temperature can get up to the late forties Celsius in the summer months, this is certainly something to be thankful for.

As a rule of thumb, so long as your shoulders aren’t naked and knees out of sight, you’d probably be right to step outside.

My “uniform” in Doha considered of jeans, t-shirts, shorter skirts (like circle skirts) with leggings underneath and three-quarter length leggings with a t-shirt dress. This suited my particular sense of style perfectly fine, but of course you can throw long skirts and maxi-dresses into the mix.

Where do these restrictions apply?

This is generally how women are expected to dress whilst out and about in town, but there’s a few opportunities to bend the rules here and there, which won’t land you in hot water.

I spent my three months in Doha living in a hotel, where I was able to wear whatever I wanted. I could don my bikini to go for a dip in the pool and wear my short shorts to the gym. Most people didn’t give me a second glance, apart from two gentlemen from Kuwait who not very nicely hit on me in the elevator one day, which I don’t rate as my most favourite experience in the city, but it happens.

What about outside city limits? I wore shorts on journeys whenever I headed into the desert, because I was generally with groups of expats who were doing much the same. I didn’t encounter any issues, but remember to do this at your own discretion.

Sunrise (I think) at the Hilton.

If you’re swimming at private beaches that belong to specific hotels, you’ll be fine to wear whatever you want. The same can be said for beaches outside of the city, because odds are there won’t be anyone else there. On the flip side, women aren’t able to strip down at the public beach of Katara. I didn’t go there, because short stints of sunbathing is one of my favourite pleasures in life. BAD, BAD – I know. Remember to slip, slop and slap on that sunscreen, folks!

One item I’d absolutely recommend investing in, is some sort of shawl or scarf. Whilst you are not required to cover your hair, this one item can prove itself invaluable in times of need.

For example, you may want to wear a dress out one night that shows off your shoulders, a seriously under-appreciated part of the human body, I think. Throw your shawl on, wear it outside the house, in the taxi and then stuff it into your bag when you get to the club. Repeat when leaving.

There’s plenty of places that sell them in the souq. Vendors will jack the price up for foreigners, so don’t be afraid to haggle it down to something that’s fair for both parties.

Making new friends in the souq.

Can you go clubbing?

Yes! Expats in Doha loooove drinking – not that you have to booze it up while you’re there. I went on a self-imposed detox, myself. Drinks were pricey and I wanted to save my money for travelling, when I could buy drinks in even more expensive places, like London and Iceland. Because, logic.

You can’t exactly stroll down the street for a bottle of red whenever you fancy it. Residents are entitled to what is effectively a “licence to drink” six months after living in the city. This card allows the holder to purchase alcohol and pork from two stores in the city. These close during Ramadan, so that the lines the week before are of epic proportions.

If you don’t have a card, you can buy drinks at the many hotel bars (I also recommend befriending someone who has a card, as they’ll be a super handy contact to have). You’re also free to wear whatever you want to the clubs on hotel property. I had a bouncer try to throw me out of a club because I wasn’t wearing high heels. Make what you want of that.

Dating in Doha is… tricky.

What about dating?

I was single when I was living in Doha. It was my first extended stint abroad and well… I was beyond ready to meet boys who weren’t Australian.

It was hard to meet people at first (the more people you meet, the easier it becomes), so I turned to Tinder. If you’re curious about how that went down, click on the link below to read what is currently the most popular article on my blog.

Related: Dating in Doha: Using Tinder in the Middle East

It’s frowned upon for men and women to touch in public, which makes dating really, really weird. I’m a touchy-feely person myself and it was odd to go on several dates with people and not be allowed to make any contact with them (apart from covert games of footsies under the table).

In a way, it was a rather good litmus test for the two possible relationships I could have had. I ran out of conversation with one fellow that I had good chemistry with, where we were left smoking shisha in awkward silence in the souq one night. The other and I could talk for hours over cups of tea, board games and cheese plates (we had weird dates), but our actual attraction was short-lived.

I love culture appropriate road signs.

What happens during Ramadan?

The entire city shuts down. I kid you not.

There are a lot of things to do in Doha that actually made it quite a fun city to live in, but none of them were around during Ramadan. All-you-can-eat chilli hot dogs on Tuesday nights at Gordon Ramsay’s Opal Restaurant was cancelled. The clubs are closed. My hotel’s cafe stopped serving their weekly special Lamb Kofta, which was my FAVOURITE DISH. The alcohol store boards up for the month. My hotel put its daily chocolate “happy hour” on hold (this was where they brought out trays of chocolate at 5 o’clock every day that you could eat for free. It was the best thing ever).

Being a Muslim country, the rules of Ramadan apply to all citizens, whether or not they’re fasting. Yes, you can still eat and drink water, but you can’t do it in public. The conservative dress-code is enforced. Most expats tread lightly, putting their heads down and working their way through the month.

Once Eid has been and gone, the city explodes back into life. The clubs open, you can drink water in public and resume stuffing yourself with chilli dogs every Tuesday once again.

I’m not sure of what to put here, so a camel will have to do.

What about street harassment?

If you’re a woman, there is one fact you’ll have to face up to. There’s a 99% chance you’re going to get harassed in the street and there’s nothing you can do about it.

I’m all about feminism myself, but getting angry and yelling won’t do anything but ruin your day. Doha is considered progressive as far as this region of the world goes, but this is still a patriarchal society. Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say.

Truth be told, the harassment I encountered was fairly low key. There were wolf whistles from men on the street. Others drove past in their cars, beeping their horns and yelling stuff that I fortunately didn’t understand, as it was in different languages.

The worst I encountered were those aforementioned fellows in the lift – that scared me, as it happened in my hotel, which I considered a sanctuary from that kind of behaviour. The only time anyone touched me was when I had my bottom groped by both a Polish boy and an Australian (not on the same night, thank goodness). I unleashed hell on them – particularly the Aussie as he was an embarrassment to our country, particularly when he threw up on his own shoes shortly afterwards.

Weirdly, it eventually becomes background noise and you grow used to it (except for the groping). Just another aspect of life in the sandpit.

Have you travelled to Doha? Would you go? Or consider spending a stint there as an expat?

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22 Responses to How Safe is it for Women to Travel to Doha, Qatar?

  1. Rhiannon January 12, 2017 at 11:18 am #

    This was super interesting to read! Although I’ve got some friends from UAE and Qatar who’ve already told me “it’s not like living in fun-free zone 24/7” it was super interesting to read an expat’s perspective. I think a lot of us (us being those who’ve never visited/lived in the region) have this warped idea of the Middle East, heavily influenced by what we see on TV and read in the news. When in reality it’s so, so different! I love the sound of chocolate hour too! My kind of place haha.

    • LC January 12, 2017 at 11:26 am #

      OMG, chocolate hour was amaaaaaazing. Three years on and I still miss it every day.
      A lot of my fellow expat friends have mixed feelings about the city, which I think is because they stayed way past the expiry date on a place like Doha. I however, loved it. It’s the kind of place that is what you make of it. Although there are a lot of aspects of it I don’t agree with (such as the treatment of migrant workers and lack of animal welfare), it’s still a very interesting city, that’s just going to continue gaining momentum as it inches its way further and further onto the world stage. And the food is undeniably good.

      • Rhiannon January 16, 2017 at 11:13 pm #

        Aw in a way it’s great that you got out before you got sick of it! Totally agree with you about the migrant workers/lack of animal welfare. I have a lot of Indian friends who are actually a lot more qualified than me for certain jobs, and they always tell me how if we were to both move to the Middle East, I’d probably get paid twice as much for doing the same job. If they even got a chance at the same job.

        • LC January 17, 2017 at 3:25 am #

          I’m glad too! Yeah, I will say that I really don’t think much of the treatment of certain groups of people there. A lot of the taxi drivers were engineers, doctors, but had zero chance of getting a similar job there… hence the taxi driving. When it comes to racism, every country is guilty in some way or another.

  2. Josie January 12, 2017 at 9:09 pm #

    I’ve done a transfer through Doha, and I made sure I had plenty of time between flights so we could do the free city tour that Qatar Airways offers. It was enough to put Doha on our list for a proper visit when we travel through the Middle East this year.
    Josie recently posted…How Bookcrossing Influences my TravelMy Profile

    • LC January 15, 2017 at 7:09 am #

      It’s a city worth exploring. I’ve not been for three years and am sure it’s become unrecognisable in my absence.

  3. Only By Land January 16, 2017 at 10:46 pm #

    Interesting article, as a man I had never considered Doha to be at all unsafe, so it’s interesting to read a woman’s perspective. I am going to Doha for a day in March and I’m planning on wearing the traditional male clothing for my photographs! I agree with you that is made sense not to buy expensive drinks and use the money to visit Iceland.

    • LC January 18, 2017 at 10:44 am #

      I bought my brother some of that clothing as a souvenir! Yep, don’t regret that decision in the slightest. Enjoy your day there!

  4. kathy (from walkaboutwanderer.com) January 17, 2017 at 2:05 am #

    I haven’t travelled to Doha but I would go there. Thank you for your post. I think it is very informative and can change peoples preconceived ideas.
    I travelled during Ramadan in Morocco and found just as your said, everywhere closes down.
    kathy (from walkaboutwanderer.com) recently posted…Korean-sation – getting to know the localsMy Profile

    • LC January 17, 2017 at 3:19 am #

      Yeah, it’s weird being somewhere during Ramadan. A really interesting experience as an expat, but from a traveller’s perspective, I probably wouldn’t want to travel anywhere Islamic during that period of time again – just because it limits what you can see and do, even as a non-Muslim.

  5. Mel I TravelingMel January 17, 2017 at 7:43 am #

    Such an interesting perspective. I always imagined it would be hard to be a feminist woman in the middle east, but of course, it is different in different places. I like to cover up in the sun anyway — for sun protection, not modesty — so that part wouldn’t be too hard. Especially if you have a private pool or beach to swim in.

    • LC January 18, 2017 at 10:43 am #

      You have to bite your tongue a lot… the sun over there is vicious, so I didn’t felt too bad about covering up, either.

  6. Katie January 17, 2017 at 1:15 pm #

    My partner and I want to visit Doha in the next few years so these tips are really helpful! What was it liking living over there? Did you find you had lots to do? I am a primary teacher and there are lots of international school jobs with amazing pay over there so I am tempted but not sure what it is like to live!

    • LC January 18, 2017 at 10:41 am #

      Oh yeah, you can earn insane amounts of money. I worked a lot… but my days off were filled with desert adventures and many social outings. I had a ball, really. It was a special time.

  7. Bhushavali January 17, 2017 at 2:20 pm #

    I read every word of this post. Though I don’t have immediate plans to visit middle east, I’m mostly a solo woman traveler, so thanks for the guidance! My only connection with Doha was when I had transit there, while traveling from France to India!
    Bhushavali recently posted…Why is Israel in my wishlist?!My Profile

    • LC January 18, 2017 at 10:41 am #

      Lots of people seem to pass on through! I think it’s fine for solo travels, much in the same league as Dubai.

  8. Tracy January 17, 2017 at 2:48 pm #

    It must be challenging to live in a country that totally different with where you are from. I lived in different country in Asia before and my first year was quite frustrating. There were many things that I needed to adapt and so on. Phew, I can’t imagine if I were to live in Doha ~ But I would love to go there one day. 🙂

    • LC January 18, 2017 at 10:40 am #

      It made London seem like a walk in the park, that’s for sure!

  9. Fiona Mai January 17, 2017 at 5:16 pm #

    I’m quite concerned when reading the “street harassment” part. I didn’t expect it to happen in such a Muslim country, as I’d always imagined Muslim people to behave more seriously and conservatively… Anyhow, thanks for your detailed account of your experience in Doha. I’ve only been to the Doha airport but the country seems quite interesting to me now 🙂
    Fiona Mai recently posted…London budget trip: Reviews of 14 free attractions in LondonMy Profile

    • LC January 18, 2017 at 10:39 am #

      No neither, but there’s a range of people from all over the world, so it’s not just Muslim people who will whistle at you in the street… it’s still a very interesting place, worth visiting.

  10. Leah January 17, 2017 at 9:37 pm #

    This was such an interesting read! I’ve never traveled to this part of the world before, but I’d love to in the future and have always wondered about what is appropriate for travelers to wear! So interesting about the concept of having a “license to drink”, had never heard of that before!

    • LC January 18, 2017 at 10:37 am #

      The only other place I’ve heard of it is in Longyearbyen in Svalbard, as an old mining tradition!

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