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Working out what to wear in Saudi Arabia as a tourist is a bit difficult as you may have heard and seen that the women in Saudi Arabia cover themselves in an Abaya, Head Scarf and Niqab to cover their faces. And in many cases a full Saudi Arabia Burqa.
However, you may have also heard and read that the rules in Saudi Arabia for what women can wear have changed a lot recently, like the fact that it is not compulsory for women to cover their hair and wear an Abaya in Saudi Arabia anymore.
This is true but from my 6+ weeks as a tourist in Saudi Arabia, I have realised that there is a big difference between the Saudi Arabia laws of what to wear and the Saudi Arabia customs.
So in this Saudi Arabia travel blog, 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.
What Do Tourists Wear in Saudi Arabia?
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, that 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 have spent most of my time in, I have always worn 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!
Why have I worn an Abaya?
Personally, I get a lot of stares and looks from people here as a blonde, white, western woman in Saudi Arabia, which is understandable and 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 code, but that is far from what happened, even 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 as 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 have enjoyed wearing it.
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. But legally you do not have to, so you cannot get in trouble for not wearing one.
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 where I didn’t have to wear an Abaya 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.
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:
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 Under an Abaya in Saudi Arabia?
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 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.
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 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. 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 as when it comes to what do women wear in Saudi Arabia, most women here do cover their hair, and face, in public.
To SEE my time in Riyadh, have a look at this YouTube video and the others on my channel:
I hope this helps you work out what Saudi Arabia dress for females is like and what do tourists wear in Saudi Arabia.
To help you with the rest of your trip to KSA, check out my other blog posts: