Everything you need to know about Saudi Arabia’s dress code for men and women visiting
17 October 2017| Last updated on 26 November 2018
If you are planning to visit or go and live in Saudi Arabia, don’t stress too much about what to wear while in the Kingdom. Even though they are quite strict, it is very easy to adhere to their dress code as a foreigner in Saudi Arabia. With a couple of extra pieces, you will fit right in without any problems.
Before diving into how to dress in KSA, it is important to note that not all cities are equally strict on dress code. Jeddah and Dammam are for instance a bit more westernised and less strict, but you will have to take extra precautions to make sure you are following all the rules to a T when visiting Riyadh.
Do some research about just how strict the city is that you are going to before departing. It will make your life so much easier being prepared from the get-go than having to talk yourself out of trouble.
The rule of thumb in Saudi Arabia, dress modestly no matter where you are. Where you are heading will determine the level of modesty required, unless you are at home – there you can wear whatever you like!
Saudi Arabia's dress code for women
If you are out in public, you are required to wear at least an abaya over your normal clothes (which too must be modest). An abaya, if you haven’t heard about it by now, is a long, usually black, cloak worn by women to cover their normal clothes and conceal their body shape.
A headscarf, also known as a hijab, is optional – depending who you talk to. Michelle Obama managed to raise quite a number of eyebrows back in 2014 when she visited Riyadh. Even though she was dressed modestly in bright, loose-fitting clothes, she wasn’t wearing a headscarf and locals quickly took to Twitter to voice their disapproval. She did make it back home safely without any issues, but then again, back then she was the first lady of the United States of America. We recommend you rather not try it out for yourself in Riyadh.
Then the question remains: to wear or not to wear a headscarf? The safest option, always when out in public, is make sure to wear a headscarf. Especially if you’re going to Riyadh. There are places where it isn’t required for foreign women to wear a headscarf but we recommend first scoping out the city before becoming too daring and leaving it off. It is, however, good to carry one with you just in case you do run into trouble with someone.
What about shoes? You can wear whatever shoes you like! Women in Saudi often wear open shoes while others are more comfortable in a set of trainers. There are no restrictions on what shoes you are or aren’t allowed to wear in the Kingdom. Just keep in mind that you will be required to take them off when visiting a mosque.
Not wearing an abaya is tolerated in the airport but if you aren’t completely comfortable then rather play it safe than sorry. You are also allowed to wear what you want while in one of the western compounds. Clothes still need to be modest but women at least don’t need to cover up with abayas. The only restrictions in compounds are that you wear shoes when entering the buildings and don’t wear bikini’s at the pools.
Getting down to the nitty gritty details. Here is a checklist for women to follow before heading out:
- You aren’t showing any skin: you are covered up to your wrists and your ankles and your cleavage isn’t visible.
- You aren’t wearing any tight clothes that show off your curves.
- The material of your clothes aren’t see-through and doesn’t stick to your skin.
- If you are wearing make-up, it is very simplistic with no bright colours.
- Your jewellery is tucked away if they have any symbols from other religions.
Saudi Arabia's dress code for men
Deciding what to wear in Saudi Arabia is considerably easier if you are a man. Men don’t have as many restrictions or as strict dress code to adhere to.
Foreign men don’t need to wear the traditional dress that Saudi men wear. But, same as with the ladies, the rule to stick to is to be modestly dressed at all times. When out in public, men need to ensure that their legs and shoulders are covered. We also do advise the guys to stay away from skinny jeans – you most likely don’t want the looks that you will be getting strutting around in them…
Even worse than skinny jeans, don’t wear shorts in public!
In the workplace a dark business suit with a shirt and tie is appropriate for men. It will depend from company to company how formal or casual you need to dress. If the company isn’t very formal, then neat pants, a formal shirt and a tie should do the job.
Other than a wedding ring and wrist watch, men also want to avoid wearing jewellery in the Kingdom. It is seen as immoral wearing any more jewellery items than mentioned above. Men wearing gold jewellery is especially frowned upon.
You might also be interested in…
- Arriving to Saudi Arabia for The First Time
- Life in Saudi Arabia: Myths vs. Realities
- 5 Reasons Why Saudi Arabia is Great for Expats
Lastly, as mentioned above for the ladies, if you are staying in a western compound, you are allowed to wear whatever you like, including shorts. Avoid walking around in the compound without a shirt and make sure that you are wearing shoes when entering the commercial buildings.
Here is a checklist for guys to follow before leaving the house:
- Your shoulders and legs are covered.
- You aren’t wearing skinny jeans
- You aren’t wearing any jewellery other than a wrist watch and your wedding ring
- You smell good, but not like a walking perfume shop (You will fit in better if you do. It is a thing among locals for men to smell good.)