Libya is an Islamic country, and the majority of its population are devout Muslims. That being said, Libya provides a mild-mannered dose of the Middle Eastern religious culture.
As long as expats remember to remain respectful of the tenets of Islam during their time in Libya, they should find friction rare and easily reconciled.
In fact, the root of the largest source of anxiety and nervousness in expats moving to Libya is the lack of information available to prepare for the move. People are often taken aback on arrival by the presence of shopfronts boasting Western-style clothing, and supermarkets coloured with ripe fresh produce. Though the country has one of the strictest bans on alcohol and drugs in the world, its attachment to other areas of conservative extremes has waned over the past decade.
Women in Libya
Women are now able to drive, though society still remains gender segregated – necessitating that expat women have male companions for many daily activities that would normally be carried out independently in a Western setting. For security reasons, it’s best for a woman to show that she is married or 'protected' by a male when out in public.
Shopping alone is allowed but not common. Most women shop in groups or with male relatives. A woman going alone to a sidewalk cafe is also frowned upon – although women are not banned from doing so, these are generally reserved for men. When eating out, women will go as a group, or better still, with their male relatives.
Dress in Libya
Dress code in Libya is largely dependent on the area of the country – the larger cities nurture more freedom, while the smaller desert towns adhere to a more conservative culture.
In the cities, men are free to wear t-shirts and shorts below the knees. Women are accepted in three-quarter-length pants and skirts, t-shirts and long sleeves, with no need for headscarves. There are even a number of designated expat beaches where Western-style bathing suits are accepted. Nevertheless, women should avoid wearing anything too revealing, as this may attract unwanted male attention.
Once outside city limits, expat numbers decrease and the dress code becomes understandably more modest. Long sleeves and full-length skirts or trousers are recommended for women. Women may also want to always carry a light shawl in anticipation of unexpected situations that require further modesty.
Language barrier in Libya
With Arabic being the official language of Libya, the language barrier can be the cause of a good deal of consternation and confusion. However, expats will find that people do speak some English and are eager to practise their skills.
The majority of all signs and postings are also written in Arabic. So at least learning to read the language is beneficial. Do remember, though, that there are many dialects of Arabic, depending on the region, so it’s best to research this beforehand.
In Tripoli, the Dawa Islamia Centre in Maidan Jazeera holds free language classes. IH-Elite School (in Hai-alandulus) and ALTEC (in Benashur) have classes as well.
Lastly, 50 percent of expats living in Libya speak French as a first language, so knowing some French will make adaptation into social circles much easier. Knowing Italian can also be quite handy.
Ramadan in Libya
Ramadan, the month in which Muslims believe the Quran was revealed, is a period where followers of the Islamic religion abstain from all food, drink and all other sensual pleasure between sunrise and sunset. The fast aims to instil discipline and self-restraint in believers.
As a Muslim country, Libya is accordingly affected. Working hours are adjusted to allow employees to return home and make the necessary arrangements for their daily fast-breaking meal. Businesses and shops remain open for most of the day, close shortly before sunset, and then reopen after evening prayers late into the night.
Most importantly, expats living in Libya should take note that restaurants close during the day and eating in public is largely taboo – even for non-Muslims.
The dates for Ramadan vary every year according to the Islamic lunar calendar. These are usually publicised well ahead of time.
►To learn about the paperwork needed before moving to Libya check out the Visas for Libya page
"Yes, we had culture shock. It takes time to realise that there is no system in place here, at any level; organisation is completely lacking (on the road, in offices, in the government…) and it can make life difficult when you are used to a more structured life, but once the period of adaptation is over you learn to live one day at a time and to always expect the unexpected. Also, there are loads of weapons in Libya and at first it’s unsettling to hear gunfire all the time, and see trucks with anti-aircraft machinery at the back."
Read more about French expat Jameela's experiences in Libya.
Are you an expat living in Libya?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Libya. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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