In 2017, the Saudi Arabia tourism sector accounted for 9.4% of the kingdom’s GDP. However, with the introduction of the electronic tourist visa in 2019, the country is all set to grow the contribution of this sector, welcoming foreign tourists from all across the world. In an attempt to push tourism, the Saudi Arabian dress code for foreigners, particularly for women, has been relaxed to some extent.
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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, known to many as KSA, is an extremely conservative country with a strict dress code despite recent changes to the law. If you plan to visit or move there with your family, it is absolutely crucial that you understand how to appropriately dress.
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Working out what to wear in Saudi Arabia as a woman, and what to wear in Saudi Arabia as a tourist and foreigner is a bit difficult as you may have heard, seen, and can imagine.
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Many of the Muslim women in Saudi Arabia cover themselves in an Abaya to cover their body, a Head Scarf to cover their hair, often a Niqab to cover their face, and in many cases, a full Saudi Arabia Burqa covering everything but their eyes, which I know as a tourist and foreigner to Saudi Arabia doesn’t seem that appealing.
So I bet you are thinking – what do female tourists wear in Saudi Arabia?? and what do female expats wear in Saudi Arabia?
Here’s what you need to know about how to dress in public in the KSA.
Even before the abaya women wore long black dresses, embroidered with multi-coloured emblems and decorated with coins. Women and girls might wear elaborate golden headdresses as well as beautiful necklaces and earrings.
What should tourist women wear in Saudi Arabia?
In 2019, in line with the introduction of new tourist visas, new public decency laws were unveiled which allowed more western style clothing to be worn by visitors to the Kingdom; this does not mean that you should wear what you think you can get away with. Most people are not accustomed to seeing any flesh in public and it is prudent to cover as much skin as possible to avoid gaining unwanted attention and offending local sensibilities.
It is no longer compulsory for female tourists to wear an abaya (except when visiting religious sites) or a headscarf, although we would still recommend that you do always take a pashmina with you everywhere (laws and attitudes on this topis still don’t always align).
Women run during an Women’s Day in Old Jeddah on March 8, 2018. (REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser)
Skirts below the knee are technically allowed for tourists, but we would still suggest wearing a long skirt or loose-fitting trousers. Blouses and tops should also be loose-fitting, with longer sleeves and high necklines. No underwear should be visible. All clothes should be made from opaque materials; anything that you can see light through will show the silhouette of your body which may get you into trouble.
You can wear jeans but you should ensure that whatever you are wearing on your top half is long enough to cover your bum. This is why, in many ways, it is just easier to wear an abaya or long kaftan over your clothes when out in public. If you cannot purchase an abaya before you travel, you can find them in any mall and even at the airport in KSA.
Jaloud is one of only a handful of women who have abandoned the abaya in recent months.Source:AFP
Can Foreign Woman wears make-up in Saudi Arabia?
Women can wear make-up, but it should be modest. Avoid using bright colors.
Can Foreign Woman wears a bikini in Saudi Arabia?
If you happen to be staying in a villa with its own private pool you can wear a bikini. Some private resorts on the Red Sea do allow women to wear bikinis on the beach but when you’re not in the water, you are expected to cover up. Regardless of whether it’s legal or not, we would still recommend wearing a one-piece swimming costume and perhaps a rash vest or a burkini anywhere outside of your own private home and that includes trips to pools in western compounds.
OTHER IMPORTANT THINGS TO REMEMBER DRESSING FOR SAUDI ARABIA:
The whole family should avoid wearing t-shirts or sweaters or carrying bags and wallets with any political or religious slogans.
Scarves are very useful in protecting you from the sun, but sun hats are also useful for the whole family.
Whatever you do, do not forget to bring sunglasses!
Whilst times are changing, it’s still best as a visitor to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, whether male or female, to cover as much skin as possible. You should wear modest opaque loose-fitting clothing at all times and have a headscarf and abaya at hand if you (are female and) plan to visit any religious buildings.
Saudi Arabia is an extremely exciting destination with breath taking scenery, interesting archaeological sites and a fascinating culture. We will sure that you will have an amazing trip!