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Figuring out what to wear for a trip to Saudi Arabia is enough to make your head spin.
Not only do you have to take into account the customs and laws, but you also have to consider the harsh desert weather. After living in Saudi Arabia for several years, I’ve learned what clothing works well and what clothing you’ll absolutely want to avoid for a trip to Saudi Arabia.
What to pack for Saudi Arabia – A guide for women
Worried about what to wear and what to bring for a visit to Saudi Arabia? I’ve got you covered. Below I’m sharing the best clothing, shoes, swimwear, and other travel necessities that you’ll absolutely want when you visit Saudi Arabia. I’ve also written several other articles Saudi including information on the visa process for Saudi Arabia (and information that I think tourists should have before they plan a trip) as well as the top bucket list activities to do when in Saudi Arabia.
What are foreign women allowed to wear in Saudi Arabia?
Since Saudi Arabia recently just opened their borders to tourists, they also relaxed their dress code for foreign women. When I lived there, everyone was required to wear the abaya regardless of their nationality or religion. Saudi Arabia no longer requires abayas for foreign visitors, though it does require modest dress.
I’ve seen a few things floating around in the last few weeks stating that women just have to cover their shoulders and knees. IGNORE THAT! (At least for a while). While I’m sure that the government wants visiting women to feel like they have more freedom, this is not at all socially acceptable for women…YET. Give it a year or so before you show that much skin (more details below on exactly what to wear).
Can women wear swimming suits in Saudi Arabia?
This is a bit of a grey area, but I think that the answer is that it depends on where you are and who will see you. When we lived in Saudi Arabia, we went diving and snorkeling all the time since we lived right on the Red Sea (which has some of the best diving in the world). Western swimwear will not be considered acceptable at public beaches (there are not many of those anyway). Plan on wearing swimwear that will cover you pretty well like this swimming suit does. If you don’t want a separate swimming suit, just wear your regular swimming suit with this rashguard on top, and these shorts for swimming.
If you are at a hotel, they will likely have 2 swimming pools separated by gender so wearing your regular swimming suit isn’t a problem there.
If you go to a private beach resort, wearing a one piece swimming suit is not a problem at all, and some are even fine with bikini’s. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, you can do what we usually did and find a remote piece of coastline where no one will be and then you can wear normal swimwear. I always wore a modest one piece swimming suit and always wore shorts on top.
Do foreign women need to wear an abaya in Saudi Arabia?
Even though the government is relaxing their rules on abayas for foreign women, you should probably still have one with you. For decades, it has been the law for women to wear the abaya and you’ll probably feel like you fit in a lot more if you wear one, at least in certain situations, so I recommend taking one just in case. If you get invited into a mosque, you’ll absolutely need one!
I have one similar to this, and it’s actually much cooler than my regular clothes since it’s so flowy. I usually just wear shorts and a t-shirt under mine and slip it off when I’m not in public.
You will also want to take a scarf with you in Saudi. Some places are ultra conservative so you’ll want to wear the abaya AND cover your hair with a scarf. If you notice that all the foreign women around you have their hair covered, it’s a good idea to follow suit and cover yours as well. Take a lightweight scarf that you can just throw in your purse whenever you go out.
What is considered modest dress in Saudi Arabia?
That’s the real question that everyone wants to know. While the government hasn’t come out and outlined what women are and aren’t allowed to wear, I’ll share with you what they’re probably looking for. Never show your knees, and know that you’re going to be upsetting plenty of locals if you go around showing your calves in public. Remember that you don’t want to attract unwanted attention, and it’s important for you to respect local customs. Remember that while other Middle Eastern Countries have modest dress expectations, you need to dress much more conservatively than you would in Jordan or Dubai.
Best womens shirts for Saudi Arabia
For tops, make sure that cleavage is always totally covered, shirts aren’t too tight, and sleeves should extend past your elbows, though all the way to your wrists is best for conservative areas. When you factor in the weather, you’ll want clothing that’s loose fitting and lightweight. I really love these cotton shirts and these loose blouses would be perfect.
Pants or long skirts are always your best option, and the lighter weight the better. Skirts with pockets are always a must have for any women traveler!
I am a big fan of wearing lightweight adventure pants since they’re so versatile. I always found jeans to be too hot to wear in Saudi, though if you are in Riyadh in the winter they will probably be just fine. These pants are another great travel pant option if you want something that’s really comfortable and versatile.
You should also consider taking a light jacket or a sweater when you visit Saudi Arabia. Even though it’s in the desert, the evenings can get cooler (especially in winter), but you’ll especially want it indoors where locals are known to blast the A/C like crazy. I always travel with a packable rain jacket since it’s so versatile. On the Red Sea coast, temperatures rarely get below 70 degrees F even at night, though Riyadh can get into the 40’s at night and Tabuk gets snow in the winter (so make sure to take this with you), so do your homework on where you’ll be visiting in Saudi Arabia.
Best shoes for traveling in Saudi Arabia
Shoes in Saudi don’t need to be complicated, but they do need to meet a few requirements.
1. They need to slip on and off easily. It’s considered rude to wear shoes indoors or in any mosque. Slip on shoes like these will be your best friend.
2. They need to let sand out well. No matter where you are in Saudi Arabia, you’re going to get a decent amount of sand in your shoes. I wore these sandals almost every day while we lived in Saudi as they’re fashionable, yet offer great support and comfort.
3. They need to be well ventilated since it gets HOT! Also, having shoes that cover your feet for when you venture out into the desert is a good idea too, since the sand can get really HOT! I’m loving these lightweight shoes that work well just about anywhere and are great for running as well.
What can young girls wear in Saudi Arabia
Thankfully for all the young girls out there, there isn’t a strict dress code for young girls in Saudi Arabia. T-shirts and shorts are perfectly fine, as are 1 piece swimming suits. Girls are expected to start covering up more when they hit puberty (or when they start looking more mature). Since the weather is very hot, my daughter usually wore athletic clothing since it kept her feeling cooler than most other outfits did.
Best water bottles for the Middle East
In most places in Saudi Arabia, the water isn’t safe to drink (though some compounds and hotels do have drinkable tap water so just ask), and even when the water is safe to drink, the taste can be a bit strange since all the water is desalinized there. While bottled water is a good option (especially if you buy giant jugs), also consider getting a filtered water bottle if you’ll be moving around a lot. As you’ll quickly notice, Saudi Arabia has a serious trash problem, so please avoid single use water bottles whenever possible.
Grayl water bottles are the most popular filtering water bottle and are great because it only takes about 15 seconds to filter the entire bottle of water, though they come with a high price tag. For a more affordable option, Lifestraw makes one that I know plenty of travelers rely on. If you want an even more affordable option, consider this water bottle.
What electronics to take to Saudi Arabia
In Saudi, there is no set plug socket, though typically you’ll find three prong British plugs or circular 2- prong European plugs. All power is 220V so only bring appliances that work with that. Many hair styling tools are dual voltage, as are most electronics (iphone, laptops, and our #1 travel electronic the kindle fire). To save your sanity and your electronics, get a universal plug adaptor WITH a surge protector (power surges are common in Saudi). I like this one because it’s got all of those options AND you can charge 4 USB devices as well as the plug.
What feminine hygiene products to pack for Saudi Arabia
If you’re a pad wearer, you’ll have no problem finding pads in Saudi Arabia, but tampons can be harder to come by, and are quite pricey (so much so that I would always bring several boxes back with me from the US whenever we’d visit).
My best suggestion to you is to start using a menstrual cup, this one is my fave! They’re amazing all the time, but especially for travel. It does take a few cycles to figure it out, so plan to start using one a few months before your trip.
What NOT to take to Saudi Arabia
There are many items that are strictly prohibited in Saudi Arabia, and being found with them can result in deportation or prison (yes, they’re VERY serious about these).
Alcohol is the biggest prohibited item, but visitors are often surprised that this includes vanilla and some cold medicines. Pork is also prohibited so make sure to get your fill of bacon before you come into the country. Drugs are a big no-no, and pornography (either printed or digitally) is also illegal. Some prescription drugs are also prohibited, so if you have medicaitons, make sure to bring a doctors prescription with you so you don’t run into problems.