My First Month Living in Maldives: 10 Survival Tips

living in Maldives


The first couple of weeks living in Maldives was difficult- just small things that end up feeling like big things when you’re all alone in a foreign country. My first night I had no internet connection, I arrived during a half-term holiday so hardly any expats were around, my first nights dinner was a pathetic plate of peanut butter sandwiches, my air-con remote ran out of batteries and my sheets were drenched in sweat, my apartment had an ant infestation and I was bitten throughout the night by god knows what was in my bed. There’s not a huge amount of info on the net about life in Male’ for an expat, so I’m going to give some tips about important stuff I’ve learnt so far.
Male’ – the 5th most densely populated island in the world





Maldives capital city is Male’ (pronounced Mah-leh or at least I do anyway) which is the nucleus of Maldives, hence it’s translation: “Islands of Male’”. At first it can feel far bigger than what you imagined, with all the hidden side streets and gazillion motorbikes and it taking forever to get anywhere because some Maldivian’s walk so slowly, but now I’ve come to realise it really is small. Small, congested, overcrowded and humid- but I love it. I’ve lived in Asia before so most things don’t bother me, things like the spitting in the street, the non-existence of bins, paths only so wide you almost always bash shoulders with someone going the opposite way, the complete absence of motorbike helmets or suitable clothing, etc, but then as the weeks past I started to adapt (the most important thing when you move abroad!) and the initial culture shock began to fade. Mostly I think I was just lonely.

1. Majedhee Magu:

  • the main road that’ll help get you from A to Z. It boasts a range of shops selling items such as clothes, shoes, mobile phones, kitchen utensils etc, as well as general hardware stores and a couple of supermarkets. This road really seems to have been built around the tourist, since shop windows advertise “great deals” next to fake branded items. I find the better shops and restaurants etc are further away which I’ve heard is because all new businesses start off on Majedhee Magu until they move further out to make room for new businesses. 

2. The artificial beach

  • The most picturesque part of the city. I have sat here reading books and watching the sun set, but don’t expect to sunbathe here. Bikini’s are strictly forbidden and will get you arrested. You can have a swim of course but cover up- I’ve seen women in full dress burka’s having a swim but you can just wear knee length shorts or leggings and a top that covers your shoulders and stomach. I believe men are free to swim topless and in trunks- no comment.



3. Travel

  • Easy enough once you know where you’re going. I find the app Foursquare very helpful for finding known destinations such as restaurants or supermarkets, or google maps for making your way back home. I travel everywhere on foot but I have friends who cycle or even ride a motorbike (there’s a little driving school you can learn in) however I’m far too wimpy right now, plus it’s my excuse for not taking those morning runs that I said I would.
  •  There’s quite a few taxi’s around, just lift an arm out until one stops. They have a fixed charge of 25 Rufiyaa (approx $2/£1.30) wherever it takes you. Bare in mind that cars have to travel extremely slowly to dodge all the motorcyclists and pedestrians that just walk into the road without looking, so don’t take a taxi in a hurry. I was really surprised that there aren’t any motorbike taxis, I used to take them all the time in Vietnam.
  • Crossing the road: Hesitation kills. Decide you are going to cross and just go for it. Careful crossing side roads because bikes can come out of nowhere way too fast.


4. You fly into Hulhumale’ (the island to the right of the blue dot on Male”)

  • a 20 minute jetty ride/ 5 minute speedboat from Male’. At the airport there was a really long wait at the Work Visa desk, from this moment onwards you will need to learn patience. I quote my American friend, “here the customer is always wrong”- remember this whenever you’re in a bank, or trying to set up internet, or anything that involves customer service of any kind. From Male’ to various other islands you’ll travel by sea but there are also sea planes, although I have yet to ride one.
  • Hulhumale’ is in stark contrast to Male’. It’s quiet and peaceful. The roads are massive and the few cars and bikes drive very slowly. There’s a beautiful beach too- but remember, no bikinis as this island is “inhabited”.


5. Currency:

  • I made the mistake of changing my GBP to USD before leaving England and taking just USD with me (plus a £1 for a trolley at the airport). I did this because the internet suggested that everyone accepted USD so it wasn’t a problem. It is a problem. It’s a problem because the exchange rate local shops and businesses will give is 1 USD to 15.4 MVR which means you’ll be paying more for everything. I managed to change my USD at a money exchange place I found which was actually just some Sri Lankan guys apartment… and he gave me a rate of 16.2 but I’ve heard you can get 16.5 – 17 on the black market.
  • I don’t know much about the whole thing but it seems everyone wants the dollar. Rufiyaa are worthless once outside of the country so do NOT take home with you. I’m currently looking into how I’m going to get money into my British bank account to avoid the accumulation of too much Rufiyaa and the best bet seems to be using Money Gram (as oppose to facing the charges of using Western Union or bank transfers from a Maldivian bank account), but I haven’t used it yet as I haven’t been paid yet- will let you know!



Notes made up 500, 100, 50, 20 (which I didn’t have for the pic sorry), 10, and 5. Small change 2 and 1 Rufiyaa, 50, 25, and 5 laari (there is 100 larri in 1 Ruffiya).


6. Maldivian Law = Islamic Law 

Last week I heard this from someone thinking of moving to Male’: “Is it all Muslim or are there parts that aren’t?”. The easiest way to describe it would be to say that to be Maldivian is to be Muslim, no arguments, or face complete shame and ultimately, deportation. Male’ is one of the hundreds of “inhabited islands” where Islamic Law applies universally. The laws, norms and values that apply to inhabited islands do not apply to foreigners in uninhabited islands (I.e resorts), but do certainly for Maldivian’s.

  1. Consumption of alcohol or pork is strictly prohibited. On one of the children’s worksheets I had to teach the word “bacon”. You should have seen their faces. I believe it’s something to do with them believing pigs are dirty and disgusting, which makes sense.
  2. Hulhamale’ International Hotel (HIH) has a licence to serve non-Maldivian’s alcohol and is only a 5/10 minute jetty ride from Male’. The hotel provides the ride free of charge I guess to make up for the extortionate prices. I tend to go for the bucket of beer: buy 3 cans of Lion get 1 free. The cans will come out already open to ensure you don’t try and smuggle them into Male’. The atmosphere is nice on the terrace and about 6pm we have a great view of the sun setting. They also have a pool with sun loungers (about $20 to spend the day) where bikini’s etc are accepted and drinks are served all day- although the deal on the Lion beer only comes into action at 6pm… hence why we always catch the sunset).

      You can even see all the trash being set on fire in the distance over on Thilafushi!


  3. Don’t go to Male’ drunk. I’m guessing it really isn’t worth whatever trouble you’ll get into.
  4. Anything that goes against Islam is forbidden (e.g pornographic material, The Bible). Best to just stick clear of religion altogether.
  5. Non-Muslims are restricted from becoming citizens and therefore do not have any rights in things like voting etc. Muslims of alternative nationalities to Maldivian tend to practice alone. I’m not really sure why but I am noticing that the expats of Sri Lankan, Indian or Bangladeshi races are rarely treated equally to Maldivian’s or Westerner’s. I think that a large majority of Bangladeshi are working here on wages as little as $200 a month.
  6. Dress code: dress modestly or look like an Idiot Abroad. Seriously though, the amount of tourists I see with mini shorts and strappy vests, you look ridiculous in a country so conservative! I’ve seen a couple Maldivian’s spit at these women.. not nice.. However, even dressing modestly will get the attention of some men and you’ll be stared at quite a lot, mostly in the breast region.
The most embarrassing moment I’ve had so far was bending over to mark a couple of 13 year old boys English work and not realising they all had direct view into my cleavage. If they had told their parents I probably could have got fired or god knows what. Pack your case with that in mind!!

7. Social life: um…..


  1. Get a Facebook account, search “Expats in Maldives” and join the group, post something short and sweet about yourself and you’ll get some friendly replies and ads from other expats. Search also for “Go out and make some memories” which a friend recently created. There are many other groups depending on your interests, e.g photography in the Maldives, Muslims in Maldives (of course), Brits in Maldives, healthy eating in Maldives… etc etc.
  2. Tuesday night expat meal, each week in a different location. Really good opportunity to meet new people while trying out new places to eat. This goes on in a Facebook message which new expats are frequently added into once they join the “Expats in Maldives” group.
  3. Friday boat trip! I’m new to this but I’ve been on two so far and both have been wonderful. From 9am – about 5/5.30pm (leading firectly onto HIH bucket of beer..) is a great escape from the noise and dirty air of Male’. We surf and snorkel in fabulous clear waters and either bring lunch on board or stop off at a local island. Big range of expats come and I’ve made good friends through this. I also saw dolphins for the first time ever!
  4. There’s a couple of decent gyms around. I go to some great evening yoga classes 3 times a week at Empower Fitness for a tiny 550 MVR a month ($35/ £20). Each session focuses on different skills and I really love it. Me and my friend usually go for a snack after or do some grocery shopping… come join! Although, it is held in the “woman’s only” part of the gym- sorry boys!When: Saturday, Monday, Wednesday at 8-9pm

  5. Make sure you either bring your mobile unlocked or enough cash to buy a phone here and get yourself a Maldivian SIM. I went with Ooredoo and it seems OK- oh, a hint, all of the dozens of shops selling mobile phones actually don’t sell SIM cards which was really weird for me I don’t know about you- but anyway Ooredoo was easy enough to find. DON’T FORGET YOUR PASSPORT. They take down the number I’m not really sure why. I paid 19 MVR for 500 SMS texts to Maldivian numbers and I paid something else for 2GB of data- don’t remember but it was cheap. International texts cost about 1 Rufiyaa which isn’t too bad either. Note: the texts and data expire after 30 days and you must go back in a reload.
  6. I’m still pretty new around here so I’m still figuring it out. DVD shops come in extremely handy, especially when you’re waiting an age for the internet in your apartment to get up and running. I’ve found my favourite DVD shop because it’s close to City Bakery so Saturday morning I can grab a croissant and the next season of something and spend the day recovering from the day/night before. (Oh, the working week is Sunday- Thursday and weekend Friday/Saturday). At most DVD shops you can give them your USB or external hard drive and they just whack it all on there instead of giving you a load of discs (wish I had realised this before accumulating dozens) which is also very handy for those without a disc drive in their laptops.
  7. Apparently there is a cinema? Anyone know about this?
  8. I’ve also heard there is a swimming pool in Trader’s hotel but I’m yet to use it. You can also swim lengths in the sea in tailed off areas in Male’ and Huhamale’ but I’m not sure about that either… any tips?
  9. Usually everyone heads for the resorts on half terms/ long weekends, and some resorts offer a day price to use their facilities… maybe including alcohol? Still figuring this out.There’s a long weekend May 1st and I’m looking forward to a short trip out of Male’… I don’t think you could stay here and enjoy your time if you didn’t indulge now and then. The good news is the majority of resorts offer an expat discount! But this is by showing your work permit card… hopefully your employer will be on that.

8. Compulsory medical examination


  • for the right to work in Maldives (as it is required for your work permit). There are two hospitals, one public and one private I believe. I heard the public one managed to give HIV to a pregnant lady so I went for the other one, called ADK (en route to the Artificial Beach). You go in and pull a ticket, when your number is called you go up to reception. I would speak English a little slower just to save repeating yourself, ask for a Medical Examination and hand over the 200 MVR ($12/£7), which gets your blood pressure taken, an x-ray of your chest (to look for TB I think?), and your blood tested for HIV.
  • 24 hours later (REMEMBERING YOUR PASSPORT AND A PASSPORT SIZED PHOTOGRAPH – or be like me and have to walk to the hospital and back about 3 times in 35 degree heat), you can pick up your results plus a souvenir of your chest x-ray! The experience in all wasn’t really one I would ever like to be repeated. There’s quite a long wait and none of the doctors or nurses converse with you. I hate having my blood taken and I’m used to the nurses being all sweet and giving me pineapple juice to stop me from fainting, but here you’re pretty much invisible. When I got up to leave I said to the nurse “You’ll let me know if I’m dying?” but she didn’t so much as crack a smile.



9. Food and other stuff:


    1. Agora is a great store for general stuff like bottled water (been told not to drink from the taps because it’s basically sea water with things added), milk, fruit juice, cereal etc. It’s also good for kitchen utensils, bedding, cleaning stuff etc. The fruit and veg is very hit-or-miss so don’t rely on it.


      2. Fantasy is a nice clean food store with almost anything, except balsamic vinegar for some reason? They, like everywhere, imports everything so expect to pay more. Supermarkets include the 6% tax or whatever it is in the price but restaurants/ cafes add it on the end (as well as a 10% service charge). I like Fantasy a lot, but once you find other smaller local stores to buy your fruit, veg and meat and start eating a more Maldivian diet (rice, tuna… uh.. spices?) it becomes less necessary.


    1. A brand new supermarket has just opened up this week on Majedhee Magu called Red Wave Mall, right next to Agora. Their opening night they boomed tunes down the main road such as “Where is the Love?” and “Drop it Like it’s Hot” which certainly attracted attention! I had a wander around and I’m very happy! The fruit and vegetables are much nicer than Agora’s, and there’s way more variety of brands etc.

    2. I get my tuna fillets and chicken breast from a little Maldivian store down a tiny side road from Fantasy- It’s called Le Finn- and it’s super cheap- I got 3 big steaks of tuna which I could cut in half, giving me 6 fillets, and a bag of chicken breasts for about 100 Rufiyaa ($6/£3).
    1. Fish market / fruit and vegetable market. I’ve only been once and unfortunately it was too late so the good stuff had gone. The good news is you’re free to haggle, but you might want to make it clear that you live here because they might assume you’re a dumb tourist who’ll pay $10 for a coconut.


    2. Restaurants/ cafe: there’s quite a handful around Male’. Service isn’t usually great, but if you can’t be arsed to cook or wash up then it’s definitely worth it. I’ve been to Seagull Cafe which does a great coffee, the Olive Garden, Breakwater, Shell Beans, a little hole in the wall called Cinnamon Garden for a chicken burger a bit like KFC, City Bakery, City Garden, Jazz Cafe. Note these are all particularly western, which is my own downfall…

I haven’t eaten many authentic Maldivian meals but that’s mainly because I don’t feel overly welcome in the locals, which tend to be full of men who glare at me. I’ve heard if the windows are blacked out then women aren’t allowed in at all. It’s like their equivalent of a Gentleman’s club. I have tried a variety of their ‘short eats’ (savoury snacks) including deep fried fish rolls and a pancake, all involving dried fish and spices in one way or another and they’re surprisingly good and extremely cheap- about 1/2 Rufiyaa each.

                      7. Tips involving food in your apartment:

      1. Buy loads of plastic tupperware to prevent ants/flies getting into your food.
      1. Freeze your rubbish – food waste, fruit peels, tea bags, anything that will attract unwanted guests. When I first moved in I had my rubbish bag on the floor which gave way to a million ants all in a line which was totally gross. After spraying them all to death I invested in a large plastic bin with a lid but then I found when I opened it up a swarm of flies would come at me which was even more gross. Freezing it all in a plastic bag and disposing of it when you throw out all your rubbish is the ultimate win.
      1. Put a clean cloth or something over your kettle. A friend found cockroaches in his.


      2. Tin openers- my worst enemy. Does anyone have any idea how I use this? I managed to get inside eventually but it was some bloody effort. Wish I had brought a normal tin opener from home, haven’t seen any here…

5.  Don’t eat in public with your left hand like I do- they think it’s really gross because they all wash their bits with their left hands using what we like to call a “fanny hose” attached to the loo.


6. The opening/closing times can be annoying. I guess things start opening about 9, but then they shut around 12-2pm because everybody goes on lunch and it’s like has no-one heard of alternate shifts? Guess not. Everything also shuts down between 6-8pm. Best time to shop would be around 9 maybe where the weather is cooler, but the streets become extremely congested. On top of this, shops seem to close throughout the day “for prayer”(….. or for a quick cigarette and a gossip).


10. 20 things to bring from home

    1. Mosquito spray
    2. Bite cream
    3. Diarrhoea tablets
    4. Aloe Vera
    5. Sun-cream
    6. Room spray / perfume something with a nice nostalgic scent to cover up the random and gross smells that arise now and then. I use Hollisters Seacliff Beach and it’s wonderful.
    7. Photos from home/ travels/ friends/ family to decorate the room maybe some posters too. (Getting stuff sent over is SUPER expensive and takes weeks – sometimes months)
    8. Snorkelling equipment or even just a pair of goggles at least. It’s very expensive to buy the stuff over here, over 1000 Rufiyaa for the set.
    9. If you can vacuum pack your bedding or even just a blanket or something I would because it’s crazy expensive, over $100!
    10. Books/magazine or something to keep you occupied if the net breaks (mine took a month to fix. I recommend a sweet collection of travel stories “Better Than Fiction”, based on true story “Into the Wild” and of course Kerouac’s “On the Road”.)
    11. Something you take for granted when you’re home. For me: 240 box of Yorkshire Teabags. Best thing I brought I reckon!
    12. Sports leggings/shorts to wear when swimming on an inhabited island / or when surfing
    13. RUFIYAA!
    14. Waterproof camera. A friend of mine has a “Go Pro” thing on a stick which takes absolutely stunning shots underwater.  
    15. A normal tin opener!
    16. A USB/ external hard drive
    17. Tampons. (Better safe than sorry)
    18. Sea-sickness tablets (if required)
    19. BB cream / creams with foundation rather than heavy make-up, which will just drip off of you.
    20. Ear plugs. Building works, traffic noise, random yelling in the street – you name it- most hours of the night even after the shops close around midnight. Just last night I was woken up at 4.30am by prayer songs blasted through the towns speakers. They also sing at midday. There’s usually loud music at night too. So pretty much 24/7 noise noise noise.

Thank you for reading My First Month Living in Maldives. I hope it satisfied any questions or worries, do get in touch with any feedback or extra info- remember I’m new so advice is really appreciated!


Love Sarah @ Expat of the World


Hi! I'm Sarah. I dropped out of university tired with the mundane life I was living in England. Now I'm an aspiring ex-pat of the world, having already lived and worked in Vietnam, Italy and Maldives. I'm using this blog to document my experiences and hopefully inspire others!

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