Young Pioneer Tours

Are GCC Countries Safe for Female Travellers?

GCC countries are overall safe for female travellers to visit. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – are located on the Persian Gulf on the Asian continent. While part of the Middle East, GCC countries have their own identity – sometimes contrasting with perceptions of the Middle East. GCC countries have the following characteristics in common – oil rich, high levels of immigration, hot weather and traditional clothing (such as thobes and abayas). 

While the UAE is clearly a popular destination for Westerners, what about the other GCC countries? Are they safe for female travellers?

GCC Countries safe

GCC Countries Crime Statistics

The GCC has very low crime statistics compared to many other countries, according to a world population review. While there are many ways to measure this – and many different crimes that may not necessarily effect a traveller (such as white collar crime), crimes against an individual such as murder and sexual assault have some of the lowest reported statistics in GCC countries compared to the rest of world.

There are many reasons for this. Firstly, the punishments for crime in GCC countries can be quite severe. For example, in Kuwait you could face capital punishment for rape. In Bahrain, there was a case where a man was jailed for three years for stealing a smartphone. It goes without saying that these strict laws can coerce people into becoming law abiding citizens (or at least thinking twice before acting).

General Safety

Secondly, there are large cultural attitudes and norms that mean crimes are very frowned upon and even if you lost something – people usually wouldn’t take it for themselves. A Bedouin man I met in Oman told me the story of how someone had accidentally left an iPhone in the desert and he had found it. He posted pictures of the phone in Whatsapp groups of Omanis, which got shared to other Whatsapp groups, snowballing until a few group chains down the line, the phone was returned to the rightful owner – who lived hours away by car. 

In the UAE, I was with a friend at Dubai Mall pond near the Burj Khalifa. We were sitting on some stairs and decided to leave. We had walked for almost 15 minutes when she realised she had left her handbag with both of her passports where we were sitting, in perhaps the busiest area of Dubai. After running back, we found the bag exactly where she had left it. No one had taken the bag despite the fact that it was sitting there for a long time unattended, with thousands of people passing by (and I will add – it was an expensive bag). We made comments about how if the same situation happened in any of the countries we have lived in, we would have to make a stressful visit to the consulate to beg for a replacement passport.

GCC countries safety

Women’s safety

Cultural and religious beliefs make these countries safe for women to visit. While travelling by yourself may raise some eyebrows (as it is very strange for a woman to be travelling by herself in GCC countries and in the islamic faith) you will be able to walk around most cities at night without much trouble. While no country is free from violence against women, sexual assault and street harrasment – and not all violence is reported – GCC countries are consistantly favoured by women as safe travel destinations.

Contrary to some western thought, women play important roles in GCC society whether it be in the workforce or as home-makers and are very valued and respected. You might find in some countries that the local men may not acknowledge you or meet your gaze. This is an important part of the Islamic faith, where men are expected to lower their gaze at women they are not related to. In some countries like Saudi Arabia, interaction between non married men and women away from the presence of their spouses is frowned upon.

That’s not to say that if you need help you will not find it. I was travelling on a rural road in the Gulf when I had to pull off the road as my rental car had issues. I stepped out to fix the front sensor and in the 5 minutes I was on the side of the road in my abaya trying to clear the sensors, three out of four male drivers that passed stopped to offer genuine assistance.

GCC countries safe

LGBTQI safety

Gulf countries are conservative with public displays of affection, especislly homosexuality. It is absolutely illegal to have public displays of homosexuality, ‘indecent behaviour’ or anti-Islamic acts in Saudi Arabia, as Saudi Arabia is governed by Sharia law. 

Male same-sex activity is impressionable in Kuwait, Qatar and Oman. In Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar it is possible that it could be prosecutable by capital punishment. 

If travelling to Gulf states, it is recommended for all travellers to refrain from acts that may result in officials assuming homosexuality, archiving social media posts related to LGBTQI+, and not bringing items that could be conflated with homosexuality (for example pride stickers, bag tags, etc). This is recommended not from personal opinion, but for travellers’ safety.

Understanding Cultural norms in GCC Countries

One of the most important parts of travelling is trying to understand and respect the cultural norms. In the UAE – you can see people wearing all sorts of clothes – from niqabs to singlets and shorts – however it is always best to copy what the locals wear.

Do I have to wear an abaya?

In other Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and Oman, it is recommended that visitors wear abayas or at least long, loose clothing that is not see-through or tight-fitting. In other places, you may decide to wear an abaya or long loose fitting clothes for your comfort. In rural areas, you may see women covered more modestly compared to metropolitan areas.

Do I have to wear a hijab?

You do not have to wear a hijab in any country by law (except Iran and Afghanistan), however you may choose to for comfort. Although it is mandatory in every mosque that women and men dress modestly and that women cover their hair so we recommend bringing a scarf with you!

female travel safe GCC country

The GCC countries make a great travel destination for women who would like to get a taste of the Middle East. Be sure to brush up on your research about cultural norms before you travel to ensure you have the most comfortable experience!

Do you want to visit GCC countries? Join us in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia or on our full Gulf Trek Tour!

About Post Author