Ramadan - An Expats Guide


Fraser Clarke

Ramadan, the most holy time in the Islamic year, started last weekend, and it can prove to be quite a shock for expats living in the Middle East. If this is your first year living in an Islamic country, or if you think you might be spending Ramadan 2020 in one, then here’s what to know.

When is it?

Ramadan 2019 began on May 5, and will conclude on Tuesday June 4. During this time Muslims will fast during daylight hours until the first day of Eid Al Fitr.

What does it mean for me if I’m not a Muslim?

If you’re living in an Islamic country during Ramadan then it can have a sizeable impact on your everyday life. This can vary depending on whether or not you’re living in an expat compound in Dubai, or a in the bustling city of Jeddah - however either way there are a few rules you should make sure that you follow in public.

1 - Don’t eat in public

Whilst Ramadan obviously isn’t mandatory for everyone, it’s best that non-Muslims avoid eating in public during the month. This includes using chewing gum, and when driving your car. Many employers will set aside a special room for non-Muslim employees to have lunch in, however if that isn’t available we’d always recommend speaking to senior management before eating at work.

It’s unlikely that you’ll face any issues, as tolerance is heavily preached during the month in most expat locations, however it shows respect for the culture.

2 - Avoid blaring music

Almost everyone knows the rules around eating during Ramadan, however far fewer are aware of the customs surrounding music and dancing. Playing music loudly during daylight hours will be frowned upon, and we’d recommend quietly using headphones to get round the issue.

If you live in a gated compound then playing music around the house won’t be an problem, however if you’re living in a mainly local neighbourhood it’s best to keep the stereo turned off!

3 - Avoid rush hour

Roads in the Middle East can be chaotic at the best of times, however things can get especially hectic during Ramadan. 30 minutes before sunset is generally considered the peak time, with hungry workers frantically trying to make it home to finally break their fast. Having not eaten all day, and with minds turning to food, this can lead to a higher than average rate of accidents, whilst frustration may lead to more aggressive driving techniques being used.

If you can, avoid travelling during this time.

How else will things change?

Ramadan brings far more than just extra rules to the Middle East.

1 - Reduced working hours

Across the region most people will work reduced hours during the holy month, with the UAE imposing a maximum six hour day rule on everyone. This isn’t always the case throughout the region, and some employers may expect non-Muslim employees to work as normal, however most will benefit from earlier closing times.

Make sure that you plan any shopping trips or administrative appointments around the reduced hours - as things can get hectic.

2 - Alive at night

With fasts only allowed to be broken once the sun has set, major cities like Dubai, Riyadh, Doha and Muscat come alive when darkness falls. Restaurants are often booked up well in advance, with families coming together to celebrate the end of the day with a large meal.

Depending on the sunset times this can make the city centre a bustling hive of activity in the early hours of the morning.

Would you be interested in spending Ramadan 2020 in the Gulf? Register on our website today job alerts. A dream move could be closer than you might imagine.