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Julia Charles pictured wearing traditional clothing in Saudi Arabia

What To Wear As A Female Visiting Saudi Arabia?

What To Wear As A Female Visiting Saudi Arabia?

Having experienced first-hand what it’s like to visit Saudi Arabia as a female businesswoman, our managing director, Julia gives us an insight into what to wear as a woman in Saudi Arabia.

Religion is at the cornerstone of KSA society. When visiting Saudi Arabia, you will notice that all shops are required to close to observe prayer times. Therefore, naturally, the way that one dresses in KSA is very important in observing the beliefs of the country.

Both men and women are expected to dress modestly in KSA. It is important to observe this when visiting the country as a show of respect. By western standards, Saudi Arabia can seem very conservative. However, by following simple guidelines it is very easy to dress correctly.

What should a woman wear in KSA?

Saudi Arabia launched vision 2030 a few years ago and this, in turn, has made them re-evaluate the rules on what women have to wear. Therefore, many of the stricter rules on what a woman must wear in Saudi Arabia have been eased.

The general consensus now is that you must just dress modestly. It is not necessary to wear an abaya and cover your hair, although many female tourists do still choose to dress like this. However, if you are visiting a religious site, you will be expected to dress in an Abaya and cover your head.

By modest clothing the general rules are as follows: You must make sure shoulders and knees are covered. Preferably as a woman, you should wear a long-sleeved top or dress, with a high neckline and it should be loose-fitting. Additionally, on your bottom half, you should wear loose, full-length bottoms or skirts. If you are wearing a top it should cover your bottom.

Many women I know who have opted to wear western clothes have worn loose maxi-length, long-sleeved dresses.

The easiest thing if you are still unsure of what to wear is to wear an abaya. Although not necessary, it is often the easiest garment to wear. Additionally, many locals will appreciate you wearing it. Furthermore, you can be a bit more relaxed with what you wear underneath it without the worry of it not being conservative enough.

When visiting Saudi Arabia myself, I felt liberated by wearing an abaya. You do not run the risk of being stared at if you wear an abaya. I met many people throughout my trip who were really grateful of me embracing their culture. Especially as a woman conducting business in Saudi Arabia, I felt it was even more important that I really embrace their culture and preferences.

Western women showing what she is wearing in Saudi Arabia

Top tips for female travellers visiting Saudi Arabia

• Be prepared. Remember that as soon as you step off of the plane you will be surrounded by a completely different culture. Therefore, ensure that you wear appropriate clothes whilst travelling from your start destination. I wore modest clothes to Heathrow. Then as soon as my plane was about to board I went to the toilet to put on a full abaya as this was my preference for what to wear.

• Carry a scarf around on your bag. Although it is not necessary to cover your head in many areas in Saudi Arabia, traditions still stick. You may feel like you want to quickly put one on. By having it on your bag it means it will always be handy.

• Be aware that prayers shut down a lot of the shops and restaurants throughout the day. For example, in Riyadh many of the malls have opening times of 9am-12pm and 4pm-11pm. Keep this in mind too if you are conducting business. Because Saudi Arabia is a predominantly religious country you’ll find that this can dictate the schedule of your day.