Is it Safe for Women to Travel to Doha, Qatar?
Is Qatar safe? Particularly for women?
How are you supposed to wear in Doha? What are the local customs?
What about if you’re just travelling to Qatar as a woman… and you’re alone?
I lived in Doha for three months in 2014 for work and travelling there as an extremely sheltered Westerner, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wondered how I was supposed to dress and whether it would be safe.
As it turns out, the city is 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.
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. Which is fair enough. It’s their country and therefore their rules and visitors should do their utmost to follow through on what’s expected of them.
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.
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 a rule of thumb, so long as your shoulders aren’t exposed and knees out of sight, you’d probably be right to step outside.
My “uniform” in Doha considered of jeans, t-shirts, shorter skirts (such as the circle skirts that were in vogue at the time and I still wear) with tights 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 exercise shorts to the gym. Most people didn’t give me a second glance.
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.
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 wear western swimwear at the public beach of Katara, where you’re expected to cover up.
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.
Take this scenario for example – you’re heading out for the night and your shoulders are exposed in the dress that you’re wearing. 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 are 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.
Related: The Best Things to do in Doha, Qatar
Can you go clubbing?
Yes! Expats in Doha seem to love drinking – not that you have to booze it up while you’re there. I didn’t drink whilst I was there, because I wanted to save money for subsequent travelling. That was my choice and you’re free to make your own.
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 stores 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. 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.
What about dating?
Living in Qatar as a single woman is interesting. I know, because I’ve done it myself.
It was hard to meet people at first (the more people you meet, the easier it becomes as the community is quite small), so I turned to Tinder, which was in its infancy stages at the time.
It allowed me to chat to people during a period when I knew hardly anyone, before I made friends at work.
It’s frowned upon for men and women to touch in public, which can seem strange if you’re dating from the perspective of someone from the Western world. It’s what is expected in Doha and must be respected.
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 cute but weird dates), but our actual attraction was short-lived.
What happens during Ramadan?
The entire city shuts down during the holiest month in the Islamic calendar.
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 re-open, you can drink water in public and resume stuffing yourself with chilli dogs every Tuesday at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant once again.
For another perspective, here’s what it’s like to backpack through Pakistan during Ramadan.
Is it safe to walk around the city as a woman?
Doha is a noisy city – people are constantly honking their horns and yelling stuff at each other from their cars, to the street.
As a woman, there was the occasional wolf-whistle while walking. Truth be told, I’ve encountered more harassment in cities like New York and London.
I certainly never felt unsafe walking through the city, even at night time, although it’s not something I’d make a habit of doing anywhere in the world.
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) in a nightclub. They weren’t locals however, they were Western expects! I unleashed hell on them – particularly the Aussie as he was an embarrassment to our country, especially when he threw up on his own shoes shortly afterwards.
All in all, I enjoyed my time in Doha very much. It had a profound impact on me and the way I see the world. I’d encourage anyone to make time to visit this part of the Middle East.
So, it Qatar safe? Probably, so long as you use common sense. Observe and respect the law and enjoy your time there.
Where to Stay
I stayed in two hotels during my time in Doha – the Marriott Hotel in City Center (click here for prices and availability) and the Mövenpick in West Bay (click here for prices and availability). Both were really lovely to stay in – excellent service and ammenities and felt very safe!
Have you travelled to Doha? Would you go? Or consider spending a stint there as an expat?
Thinking about travelling to Doha? Feel free to pin for future reference.