Home Middle East What To Wear in Saudi Arabia As a Foreign Woman in 2021!

What To Wear in Saudi Arabia As a Foreign Woman in 2021!

by TheWanderingQuinn

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

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!

Remember You’ll Need Travel Insurance for this trip!

SafetyWing is who I am insured with and after 11 years of travel, they are the company I really recommend to you!

With SafeytWing you choose the exact dates you are away for whether that’s 3 days or 2 weeks, and if you are going on a long trip you can get the insurance that renews every 4 weeks and can be cancelled whenever so you can be really flexible!

Purchase your insurance here whilst you think of it! It’s a small price to pay to know you are fully covered for medical and travel insurance!

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 as a woman, ellie quinn at masmak fort in Riyadh in an abaya
Wearing my black Abaya in Riyadh outside Masmak Fort

Why have I worn an Abaya in Saudi Arabia?

Personally, I get 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.

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 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.

what to wear in Saudi Arabia as a woman, ellie quinn foreign female tourist in black abaya
I still choose to wear my Abaya in Jeddah in Al Balad!

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!

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.

Alternatively, to be prepared, you could order an Abaya online,  so you do not have to spend your first day in Saudi Arabia shopping (although visiting the malls is a very local thing to do here!)

what to wear in Saudi Arabia as a woman, ellie quinn foreign female tourist in Jeddah in black abaya
In Jeddah I did wear my Abaya more open than in other places in Saudi!

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!

what to wear in Saudi Arabia as a woman, ellie quinn foreign female tourist in Riyadh in black abaya
This was in Winter in Saudi so I have jeans underneath and a jumper.

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!


Remember You’ll Need Travel Insurance for this trip!

SafetyWing is who I am insured with and after 11 years of travel, they are the company I really recommend to you!

With SafeytWing you choose the exact dates you are away for whether that’s 3 days or 2 weeks, and if you are going on a long trip you can get the insurance that renews every 4 weeks and can be cancelled whenever so you can be really flexible!

Purchase your insurance here whilst you think of it! It’s a small price to pay to know you are fully covered for medical and travel insurance!

 

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8 comments

Rita June 10, 2021 - 6:54 am

Thank you so much for your honesty and too the point advice on Riyadh. I am an older lady living in Qatar but from the Uk. We are on the move to Saudi and have been worrying what to wear on the plane etc. Many website give you no help at all, but yours is awesome. I am now going to look for your YouTube channel. 🙂

Reply
TheWanderingQuinn June 10, 2021 - 11:54 am

Hello, I’m really pleased it helped you Rita. As a foreigner, I don’t think you’ll find it tooo much different from Qatar, except clothes generally being much darker! I hope the move goes well 🙂

Reply
Alicia July 26, 2021 - 6:31 pm

Thanks for all of your helpful advice here! I’m hoping to visit Saudi soon from the US. Did you find sneakers to be the best option for shoes? I’m also traveling with my young kids. From what I understand, kids can really dress like they do in the US?

Reply
TheWanderingQuinn July 27, 2021 - 12:08 pm

Hello! So glad you found the post useful and great you are hoping to go soon! Yes, sneakers will be totally fine, any shoes are fine really, even if you had sandals on showing more skin on your feet, this will be ok! And yes, children can dress as they would at home no problem, because even in Islam, there are no requirements for how children need to dress 🙂

Reply
Bijal Sheth August 6, 2021 - 7:57 am

Hello, Hope you are keeping well and safe.
I’m 31-year-old girl living in Mumbai and my boyfriend has his business set up in Jeddah, which requires him to go juggle between India and Saudi and I was looking at being there with him at some point, and Saudi is totally new territory for me so it could be of great help if you can share your experience on how to go about in settling there.
Can we connect on email or instagram and you can help me, i would be very grateful.
Thank you

Reply
TheWanderingQuinn August 7, 2021 - 10:19 pm

Hello, I visited Saudi as a tourist only so I’m afraid I can’t help with settling there, but I wish you luck.

Reply
Jitka August 7, 2021 - 10:14 pm

Thank you for your article. I flew to Riyadh in early 2020 to attend the richest horse race in the world.
I went by myself, as a woman, stayed in a downtown Riyadh hotel and I used Uber to get around.
I went prepared with head scarf and conservative pants and sweatshirt.
I don’t think I was stared at but definitely felt out of place.
Everybody was very welcoming, I struck conversations at the race track and the hospitality was amazing!
The Saudi do love their horses!

Reply
TheWanderingQuinn August 7, 2021 - 10:18 pm

This sounds like an amazing experience!! And I’m glad you got to experience good conversations and hospitality! 🙂

Reply

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