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What To Wear in Saudi Arabia As a Foreign Woman in 2022!

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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.

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 2022?? and what to female expats wear in Saudi Arabia in 2022?

Well, I’m going to help you using my experience in Saudi Arabia as a foreign British woman.

What To Wear in Saudi Arabia As a Woman

what to wear in Saudi Arabia as a woman
Keep Reading for my guide to what to wear in Saudi Arabia as a woman!

What Saudi Women Wear vs Foreigners

The biggest thing to note is that there is a BIG difference between what a woman from Saudi Arabia wears and what a foreign woman in Saudi Arabia wears, and there’s even more of a difference depending on whether the foreign woman is Muslim or non-Muslim.

Since 2019 it is no longer compulsory for women to cover their hair and wear an Abaya in Saudi Arabia which means that foreign women do not need to wear an Abaya or cover their hair.

This change in law is really good for non-Muslim woman visiting Saudi Arabia because it means you are more free to wear what you want.

However, from my 6+ weeks as a tourist in Saudi Arabia, I realised that there is a big difference between the Saudi Arabia laws of what to wear and the Saudi Arabia customs meaning that although I didn’t cover my hair, I felt more comfortable wearing an Abaya in Saudi Arabia and I still wore one every day!

Using my experience, I will help you work out what to pack for Saudi Arabia, what women wear in Saudi Arabia and what to wear in Saudi Arabia as a tourist. Yalla!

Do Tourists need to Wear an Abaya in Saudi Arabia?

Let’s start with the main question around what do women have to wear in Saudi Arabia and what should a woman wear in Saudi Arabia – Abayas!

In late 2019 it was announced that women do no longer need to wear an Abaya in Saudi Arabia. This was at the same time that the tourism e-visa for Saudi Arabia came into place.

I have met foreign women, ex-pats specifically, who stopped wearing an Abaya in Saudi Arabia at that time in Jeddah and Riyadh.

However, from my experience as a foreign woman and tourist in Saudi Arabia, and when thinking about what to wear in Riyadh, which is the city I spent most of my time in, I always wore an Abaya outside of my accommodation.

Related Post: Here is my Riyadh Travel Guide and all the things I wish I had known about Riyadh before arriving!

what to wear in Saudi Arabia, pink abaya
This photo is from Abu Dhabi but I’m wearing a light pink Abaya which I loved and got so many compliments on!

Why have I worn an Abaya in Saudi Arabia?

Personally, I got a lot of stares and looks from people here as a blonde, white, western woman in Saudi Arabia, which is understandable, but I feel that if I was not wearing an Abaya I would get even more looks.

Before I arrived in KSA I thought that an Abaya might make me stand out because it was obvious this is not my usual dress sense, but that is far from what happened.

If you are a foreigner, you will stand out MORE without an Abaya than with one.

If you do not wear an Abaya, legally, no one can tell you off. You may have heard of the religious police in Saudi Arabia, the Religious Police lost a lot of control recently and are no longer around. However, you still need to dress conservatively.

Dressing conservatively and working out what should a woman wear in Saudi Arabia and what do female tourists wear in Saudi Arabia, means that you should have little skin on show and not wear anything that is too tight.

If you do not want to wear an Abaya in Saudi Arabia, I recommend on your Saudi Arabia packing list you include tops that cover your arms, chest, are a bit baggy and are longer to cover your bum.

Long sleeved kimono’s are a great choice instead of an Abaya too, especially in Jeddah where local women tend to wear different styles of Abaya.

Jeans are fine but I would suggest you have a top that covers your bum and hips if they are tight.

Saudi Arabia gets extremely hot in the summer months but that doesn’t mean you can put shorts on or a dress that is revealing.

This is why, in my opinion, it is easier to wear an Abaya as a female in Saudi Arabia because you can’t go wrong. You put it on and you know you’ll be covered!

It is also the local custom to wear an Abaya here. Often when we travel we want to dress like the locals and wear traditional clothes, well here in Saudi Arabia, that means wearing a black Abaya and personally, I enjoyed wearing it.

I didn’t feel oppressed, I actually felt quite glamourous!

Jeddah is the one city you will feel more comfortable in without an Abaya or by wearing an open Abaya, then Riyadh because people in Riyadh are used to ex-pats and foreign workers.

The only time I didn’t wear an Abaya in Riyadh was when I did the Edge of the World Tour and the Red Dunes Tour because pretty much everyone on them were tourists, expats or young Saudi’s who had obviously travelled a lot and the Saudi women weren’t wearing Abaya’s either.

Plus, walking around at the Edge of the World or up Sand Dunes in an Abaya if you’re not used to it is very tricky! lol.

what to wear in Saudi Arabia, jeddah
what to wear in Saudi Arabia, tourists at the edge of the world
No Abaya’s in sight at the Edge of the World!
what to wear in Saudi Arabia, Masmak Fort
In places like Masmak Fort in Riyadh I felt much more comfortable in an Abaya!

The other cities and towns in Saudi Arabia may find it very strange that you are not wearing one, for example, I went to Abha and I didn’t wear one in a restaurant complex one night and I had a lot of people staring at me! But legally you do not have to, so you cannot get in trouble for not wearing one.

However, places like Abha are a great chance to try on and buy Abayas that are local to the region with bright colours like mine below, and they make for great photos!

What Abaya To Wear in Saudi Arabia?

Although some woman wear Abaya’s that are dark green, dark blue, dark purple and grey, especially in Jeddah.

The most common Abaya colour is Black and as foreign women wondering what Abaya to buy for Saudi Arabia, I suggest a Black Abaya.

Depending on where you live or travel before Saudi Arabia, you may be able to buy an Abaya before you get here. I visited Kuwait before Saudi. I didn’t have to wear an Abaya in Kuwait but they did have plenty on sale in the Souk I visited so I got one and was able to put it on on the plane and wear it when I landed.

This will be the same in Turkey, Bahrain, Oman and the UAE so if you visit any of these Middle Eastern countries first, buy one there so you can put it on when you arrive in Saudi Arabia.

It’s also worth finding Muslim areas near where you live, you’ll probably be surprised how many Abaya’s are about, for example if you’re in London to go Arab areas of London like Whitechapel and you’ll see so many shops to buy an Abaya from!

Websites like Modanisa based in Turkey ship internationally and are reasonably priced so they are good to use to buy Abaya’s and modest clothing, although check shipping times as if your trip is coming up soon they might not arrive on time.

If you can’t get an Abaya before arriving, that’s ok. You are completely fine arriving in Riyadh Airport, or Jeddah Airport with no Abaya, but on your first day, you should go to a Mall and buy one.

Related Post: How To Get a Sim Card in Riyadh Airport! It’s really easy to get a tourist prepaid Saudi Arabia sim card in Riyadh Airport!

All Malls in Saudi Arabia will sell Abayas. Some Abaya shops can be expensive, but if you go to a mall with a local looking market inside it, you will get a cheaper one.

If you buy one in Saudi Arabia you will be able to get a basic Abaya for under 100SAR very easily.

From my experience, you should look for an Abaya that:

Is Black.

Has buttons. Some Abaya’s do not have buttons and are more like a long dress that cover all your chest, they are ok but without buttons, they will be hot to wear. Some have a zip but again, they will be hotter. The buttons give a breeze!

Has buttons all the way down. I have one Abaya with a button just at the top and in the wind, it blows open which is annoying so I prefer my Abaya with buttons all the way down it as I can keep it fully closed or open it more depending on where I am.

Goes all the way to your feet. It doesn’t need to touch the floor but it should be as long as possible.

Is a light material. Saudi Arabia is cold in the winter months and you’ll actually want a thicker Abaya then but outside of winter in the Spring, Summer, and Autumn, you will want an Abaya that is light and not too thick or heavy so that you do not get too hot.

Isn’t too cheap. If you are visiting Saudi Arabia for a short time, you don’t want to spend too much money on an Abaya but be sure that the material is not too cheap as it could make you very hot.

Is no more than 100SAR / £20.00.

Even if you are in Saudi for 2-3 weeks, I’d say you only need 1 Abaya, they are easy to wash and clean and from my experience, they don’t get too dirty so don’t worry about getting more than one.

what to wear in Saudi Arabia, black abaya
I’m so tired here and feeling awkward in the head scarf but happy to be in Madinah!

What to Wear Under an Abaya in Saudi Arabia?

Normal clothes!

Of course, this will depend on the temperature and how well you cope with wearing clothes in the heat, I do not cope well with this!

You can’t wear shorts under an Abaya for example, but you can wear baggy 3/4 length pants or a skirt underneath with a small, lower, part of your leg showing.

You can wear jeans.

You can wear a jumper, t-shirt, or if it’s hot, you can wear a tank top which will keep you cooler. Just be careful not too show too much chest skin if you wear less clothes underneath.

I really like H&M for long dresses to wear under an Abaya or 3/4 bags trousers. Click here to have a look at options!

Do Tourists need to Cover their Hair in Saudi Arabia?

This law also changed recently but before the Abaya law. Covering your hair in Saudi Arabia and wearing a Hijab in Saudi Arabia is not needed unless you go inside a Mosque and unlike the Abaya culture and law, you will feel fine with you hair out in public as a tourist and non-Muslim in Saudi Arabia.

The only place I covered my hair in public was in the holy city of Medina.

It is a good idea to have a shawl or scarf on you most of the time, just in case, or just in case you feel like you’re being stared at a lot and you can put it on because when it comes to what do women wear in Saudi Arabia, most women here do cover their hair, and face, in public.

what to wear in Saudi Arabia as a woman Ellie quinn in Medina Saudi Arabia
I only wore a headscarf/hijab like this in Madinah!

I hope this helps you work out what Saudi Arabia dress for females is like and what do tourists wear in Saudi Arabia.


To SEE my time in Saudi Arabia, have a look at this YouTube video and the others on my channel!


 

Michelle

Wednesday 22nd of June 2022

Thanks for this article. I don't know if I'll ever get to visit Saudi Arabia, but it's on my list of places to visit if I ever get the chance.

I do have one question. Why do you recommend that foreign women get a black abaya? Is it to fit in more with the traditional colour of abaya, which I know that women used to have to wear before the laws changed? For me, it seems like it'd be a rather hot colour for the hot season. I'm not a person who does well in the heat at all. I'm not thinking that I'd get a white one, but a lighter coloured one.

I was just wondering the reason(s) behind you suggesting a black abaya. If you explained this in the article, I'm sorry that I missed it. I skimmed through but will read it in more detail later.

Again, thanks so much for the informative article. :)

TheWanderingQuinn

Thursday 23rd of June 2022

Hello, Thanks for reading and your comment. Yes, its because all the Saudi women generally wear black so it does feel nice to fit in more although these days women do wear more colours. Black is hot you're right, but it is very elegant too! If you go then you can wear a lighter colour no problem :)

Sana

Friday 27th of May 2022

Thank you for this post, i'm planning on moving to Saudi Arabia soon for a teaching job and this post was very helpful. I'll be moving to Jeddah and I really like the pink abaya you have. Can you share where it's from? Thank you!

Anita

Tuesday 26th of April 2022

I am from Holland and have blond hair. I think it is not a good idea to walk there on the streets with my haircolour without a hijab of niqab. I am thinking about wearing a niqab tho. A woman with a black niqab is pretty modest in my opinion. Did you wear a niqab? And what do you think if I wear it? Is it smart to do?

TheWanderingQuinn

Wednesday 4th of May 2022

Hello, I think these days you will be totally fine. There are many western expats with blonde hair living in Saudi who do not cover and more tourists coming too. I only wore hijab in Madinah because its a religious site and I didn't wear a niqab at all. Because of covid, you could wear a covid mask which will cover your face if you wanted to and then a scarf but I don't think it's needed, especially in bigger cities like Riyahd, Jeddah and Dammam :)

Simone

Sunday 24th of April 2022

Hello, are tourists Muslim women forced to cover their head in Jeddah even if they usually live in Europe and they don’t cover their head?

Its not clear from your article.

Thank you very much :)

TheWanderingQuinn

Sunday 24th of April 2022

Hello, no, no women are forced to cover their hair in Jeddah or anywhere in Saudi even if they live there and are not there only as tourists :)

Sarah MW

Tuesday 8th of February 2022

Many thanks for your blog which I found really helpful while planning a six week trip to Riyadh. I purchased a black abaya at the Taibah markets for SAR100 and it has done me well.

Riyadh society is more open than I expected and I've had no issues travelling alone around the city (50 year old female). Quite often I wore jeans and a long sleeved top down to my bum, and it was fine. I've only worn an abaya when wearing a tshirt, or gym pants. The people are incredibly welcoming and I have never felt anyone was looking at me or judging me.

Thanks, and happy travels!

TheWanderingQuinn

Thursday 10th of February 2022

Hi Sarah! Thank you so so much for letting me know your experience, I'm so happy you had a great time and felt so welcomed too. Also really good to know that you got an Abaya but didn't feel like you always needed in! Thank you! Happy travels too!