Travelling to Kurdistan as a female traveller? Top tips for travel to Erbil

Posted: 27/02/2020

An RPS partnership training team has just returned from Erbil and brings you these tops tips if you are travelling there in the near future. Please do contact us for more advice, support or training on [email protected]

General safety

Women in Erbil feel generally safe during the day as there is very little harassment and verbal abuse against women. Traveling alone as a woman in Erbil is not common and if you have a different skin colour and hair colour to the locals you will draw attention if you are walking around the Citadel areas. (UNESCO world Heritiage site). The Citadel is an interesting place to wander around, perched on the hill and there are some great cafes looking over the square where you can sit and watch the world go by. The town plaza is vibrant and fun, although you may get stared at as not a lot of foreigners wander around. But during the day, there are no security issues in daylight.

There is no restriction regarding the clothing you wear, however it is advisable to impose self-restrictions on your dress. Cover up arms and legs to avoid hassle in the streets. Low cut tops are not appropriate and it is best to wear trousers and tops which are modest and which cover your hips. You do not need to consider wearing a headscarf unless you are meeting conservative leaders or entering a mosque. In the summer temperatures are extremely hot and you will need to wear light clothing applying the same rules as above. Do not expect to wear shorts and revealing summer dresses and have a hassle-free travel experience!

Erbil is a busy city which can be quite quiet at night on the back streets. It is not advised to wander the streets late at night and the Citadel area should be avoided after dark as it is an area frequented by male homosexuals and foreigners are often stopped by the police and questioned. The Souq area is ok to walk around in the evenings.

If you stop to buy things at street stalls on the pavements, you may attract attention and a crowd of men may surround you. If this happens, then keep tight control of your bag and move out of the circle, try to get to the edge of the circle. They are often just curious to see what you are doing, rather than mean any harm, but careful you keep backed away so no one gets the chance to touch you and crowd you. If you are unsure, then ask the street vendor to get them to move away.

Traveling outside Erbil is fine but would suggest keeping an eye on the security situation and try to take a Kurdish speaker with you or get a driver.

Getting around and accommodation

Erbil is based around the Citadel and forms a circle. The city centre is away from the commercial district. Ankawa is the Christian area and where many of the expats have offices. Some of the Embassies are here and it should be noted that hotels close to the Embassy of USA is generally not thought to be a great idea in the current climate. Do not take pictures outside any hotel close to the Embassy as their Kurdish security take exception to this.

Most people stay in hotels and there is an abundance of them. Ensure you check what is either side of you and you don’t find yourself next to a security base. Avoid staying too near to the airport as it will be noisy and the odd rocket has gone over to try to hit the US bases at the airport. We would not recommend staying in Air B and B.

The atmosphere of the city is friendly to foreigners and most of them are diplomatic staff, commerical people or NGOs.

There are various restaurants and western style bars where alcohol is served; although not cheap and a weekend is from Thursday night to Sunday morning.

Transport is usually by private car or taxi, although there are some buses. There is no train system. Ensure you agree a price before the start of the journey and ensure you have your hotel or accommodation written down in Arabic, so you can get back. English is not widely spoken amongst taxi drivers.

According to Iraqi law you must get a visa before you travel, including for travel to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. However as of 2 February 2020 (when RPS travelled there), no entry visa was required for British citizens and it is assumed EU nationals. Other nationalities will need to check.

Although driving in Erbil is easy it is a bit chaotic at rush hour. Driving is fast and it is common to see people driving whilst on their mobile phones.

Language barrier

Arabic is the official language of Iraq and Kurdish being the first language in the north in Kurdistan. Some Kurdish speak Arabic, but often not. English is the common working language with foreigners and a lot of young people will speak English, but older folk not necessarily so.

Health & medical

It is advised to have good medical insurance when visiting Kurdistan as medical costs can be high. However, the medical care is only good in private hospitals and it not recommended to go to state run hospitals.

It is worth speaking to your medical provider and ensure that Erbil is covered as it is classed as Iraq and thus will attract higher fees.

Feminine sanitary and hygiene products are available in Erbil however tampons were not so common.

Please contact us on [email protected] for more support or queries.

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