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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 outside of their homes wear 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 and I felt totally fine in Saudi Arabia not covering my hair (except for Medina). 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.

Can I wear anything in Saudi Arabia?

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.

What should I wear to Saudi Airport?

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.

What Abaya should I wear in Saudi?

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!

FAQ about what to wear in Saudi Arabia:

What do tourists wear in Saudi Arabia?

Tourists do not need to wear the same clothing as local Saudi’s wear but both women and men must wear clothing that doesn’t show too much skin. Not only are you being respectful by doing this, you will also feel more comfortable.

Can I wear anything in Saudi Arabia?

No. Although there is much more flexibility and openness on what men and women who are tourists in Saudi Arabia can wear, you must still wear clothes that look respectful and cover most of your skin, especially your legs for both men and women.

What do men wear in Saudi Arabia?

You’ll see most men in Saudi wearing a white thobe, also known in the Middle East as a Kandura. As a male tourist in Saudi, you do not need to wear one of these (although they are extremely comfortable and light to wear so you should try it at least once!), instead you can wear any type of long trousers, t-shirt, shirt, jumper etc.

Can I wear shorts in Saudi?

In many countries, especially in Muslim countries, it’s best to do as the locals do and in Saudi Arabia, men do not wear shorts outside their house. This means that as a tourist in Saudi Arabia you should avoid wearing shorts too so you respect the local custom and don’t make yourself stand out. This applies to women too, even under an Abaya, unless you definitely can’t see you legs, it is not a good idea to wear shorts in Saudi Arabia because it isn’t what most people are used to seeing and you will get more stares.

Can I wear ripped jeans in Saudi?

The fashion in Saudi Arabia is changing dramatically. Whilst once you might get told off for wearing ripped jeans in Saudi, this is definitely not the case now, but also, it’s not really common for local Saudi men or women to wear ripped jeans as they do look messy. Small rips are ok but don’t take your biggest ripped jeans on a trip to Saudi Arabia!!

What happens if you break the dress code in Saudi?

As a tourist in Saudi, nothing happens if you break the dress code. There is no one there to officially tell you off so please do not worry about that. If you dress definitely to the locals you will get more stares as they are not used to seeing this and you may get denied access into mosques or some religious places if not properly covered but no-one should actually tell you off.

What do Women in Saudi wear?

Many of the Muslim women in Saudi Arabia outside of their homes wear 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.

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!


 

Cheryl

Friday 30th of September 2022

Hello The WanderingQuinn - Thank you for all the details, so helpful!! I may be traveling to KSA in November. Can you tell me what did you wear under your Abaya?

TheWanderingQuinn

Tuesday 4th of October 2022

Hi Cheryl, I'm so glad and so happy you are going in November. I just wear normal clothes under the Abay. You could wear jeans but with the heat, gym leggings or light trousers will be best. With the top, you can easily wear a t-shirt, blouse or even some kind of strappy vest top if it's too hot for you. The beauty of the abaya is that you can wear more comfortable and cooling clothes underneath but the abaya keeps you covered in the right places and keeps you modest when needed :)

Michelle

Sunday 14th of August 2022

Thank you, I found your content really helpful! I am traveling to Dammam soon for a 2 week work trip and have prepared myself with 2 black abayas which can be worn over my business attire. Can I wear sandals or does it have to be a closed shoe and if sandals or open-toe shoes are acceptable- are painted nails and toenails acceptable too? As my abayas do not close in the front or button up, I was wondering how much 'chest' is too much? I have business shirts that whilst are not revealing in anyway, do show some neck and upper chest. Do I need to be worried about pinning my abaya closed at the throat? I would really appreciate your thoughts. Thank you.

TheWanderingQuinn

Monday 15th of August 2022

Hi Michelle, I'm glad my post has helped you and you have Abaya's ready! You can definitely wear sandals for a casual (and cooler) look with your abaya and painted nails is not a problem. No I think you'll be totally fine with the open abaya's as the tops under as you say are not really low. I think if the work tops underneath are work appropriate at home they will be fine there too with the abaya on top for sure! Saudi has become so much more open with clothing recently I think it will surprise you so don't worry too much about the little things but if you are there for work with Saudi's then it's definitely nice to respect the culture and local dress in an Abaya at least as you are! Enjoy it!

Siobhan

Friday 1st of July 2022

Is it necessary to wear anything at all under the Abayah? How would anyone know? I hate the heat, but really want to visit the KSA, and I just assumed I'd be ok in an abaya with just underwear underneath!

hp

Saturday 3rd of September 2022

@TheWanderingQuinn,

I did just this strip off many years ago (2004) as a journalist visiting KSA on an official diplomatic visit. It was mid-May and unseasonably hot at 100 degrees F and all my male colleagues looked cool as cucumbers in what they wanted to wear while I was forced into this awful black abaya that was a massive nylon sweatbox. I decided to go out with just in-house pants underneath it and a bra. But then I was mortified when I sat down with Prince X who tried to insist I remove my abaya because he didn't believe women should have to wear one, but the truth was I had nothing underneath so could not! What I mean to say is, this is a bit of a risk... Just wear something like a petticoat at least.

TheWanderingQuinn

Sunday 3rd of July 2022

I guess in some ways you could, it depends on whether the abaya zips up or buttons up and how high in the neck it is. Wearing leggings and a top under is a bit more practical really I'd say :)

Roma

Friday 1st of July 2022

Hi,

Thank you for all of this information. I'm travelling to Dammam and Riyadh soon on a 4 day work trip. I have hair extensions in my hair. Is this ok and allowed? Thank you in advance for your help.

TheWanderingQuinn

Sunday 3rd of July 2022

Yes that's definitely not a problem at all! :)

Sam

Thursday 30th of June 2022

Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge! I seems i haven't even scratched the surface but my husband has been offered a post in Dammam so I am keen to be well prepped if the move goes ahead. I am 37 and am not concerned about wearing an abaya, they look beautiful on all women however, it was interesting to read what to wear/not to wear underneath considering technically no one should be seeing what's under there! Looking good forward to reading more of your content! ?

TheWanderingQuinn

Sunday 3rd of July 2022

That's great to hear! Yes, I was intrigued about what to wear under an abaya too. Generally it's just normal clothes, a long dress looks nice under one especially with the abaya open or you can wear jeans and a top or leggings and a top. I know of expats in Saudi who love the abaya as they can just wear comfy gym clothes underneath but with a nice abaya on they look glam straight away lol. :)