Knowing what to wear in Saudi Arabia is even more important than it is in most other destinations. Not only do you have a tricky desert climate to deal with, but also a conservative male-dominated society that has a strict social etiquette as to what can and can’t be worn. But don’t worry, we’ll guide you through the difficult process of knowing what to pack. We also offer other advice on our article about whether Saudi Arabia is safe to travel to. Your trip to Saudi Arabia’s wonders won’t be remembered for all the wrong reasons!
Climate and Weather
In general, Saudi Arabia is hot, and sometimes humid too. Even during the winter months, temperatures hover around 20°C in most of the nation. In other countries, this sort of climate might well call for as few as clothes as possible.
We can’t overstate how improper this would be in Saudi Arabia. While foreign visitors are welcome in the kingdom, there are few special allowances for them, and they are expected to follow the same rules as those born and bred in the country.
To tackle the heat, follow the local lead by wearing flowing, even oversized, items of clothing instead. Avoid anything tight that clings to the contours of your body, both to help keep cool and for reasons of modesty. And read our article on when to visit Saudi Arabia to help beat the heat.
Tips on What to Wear in Saudi Arabia
To avoid offending local sensibilities, or be challenged by the powerful religious police, men and women should cover as much skin as possible. It will also help you blend in as a tourist in a country that is only beginning to welcome foreign travelers. If you’re planning on visiting the newest ancient attraction at Hegra, we provide a guide on travel there.
T-shirts reaching the elbow are generally acceptable. Overall it’s best to wear long baggy tops, long pants/trousers, or loose skirts and dresses that reach to the ankle. The only times you should stray from this rule is in your room, or on beaches clearly designated for swimwear.
Clothes for Women in Saudi Arabia
Women should also wear clothing with high necklines, to prevent any suggestion of cleavage. The good news is that women visiting the country are no longer obligated to wear the abaya. As of 2019, this law has been relaxed for foreign visitors.
That said, many female visitors find that travel in the country is easier when they do wear the abaya. It’s a neck-to-ankle cloak or gown which billows out to hide the body shape of the person wearing it. Likewise, the use of a headscarf is now also down to personal choice, although you will find you stand out if you opt not to wear one.
Shoes are less of an issue, and as long as they are not overly ostentatious or could be seen as sexualized you won’t have any issue. If you’re doing a lot of walking as part of your tour of Saudi Arabia, you’ll probably want to choose a comfortable pair of sneakers/trainers or unpretentious sandals in any case. Jewelry should also be reduced to a minimum, such as a wedding band or stud earrings, and must not contain symbols from religions other than Islam, which is against the law.
Clothes for Men in Saudi Arabia
Knowing what to wear in Saudi Arabia as a man is decidedly simpler than it is for women. Choose items that cover the shoulder, arms, and legs, in muted or natural tones. Avoid wearing jeans that hug your figure, which will be uncomfortable both climatically and culturally.
Men generally do not wear jewelry other than a wristwatch and wedding band, and doing so will be seen as immodest. Just as for women, no item of jewelry or clothing should contain religious iconography that isn’t Islamic.
Mosques and Religious Sites
It is still required for women to wear an abaya at mosques and other religious sites. As is the case the world over, both men and women will have to remove their shoes before entering any such place of worship or pilgrimage.
The Asir Mountains
Even though they are located in one of the world’s hottest countries, if you’re heading to the Asir Mountains at any time of year you should prepare in the same way you would if you were heading to the mountains in a cooler country.
Because temperatures drop as altitude increases, at the very least you will need the warmth of an extra layer. Base layers made from 100% merino wool are great for keeping your body’s own heat in, and take up minimal baggage space, especially when compared to a thick jumper or jacket. You might even want to consider a pair of gloves, and a wooly hat, since snow is an annual event in the Asir.
Modesty is the key when it comes to knowing what to wear in Saudi Arabia. Probably the most conservative nation on Earth, a lot of misunderstandings can be avoided if you cover bare skin. Or wear clothes that hide rather than accentuate your body shape, whether male or female.
Wrapping Up What to Wear
As always, exercise your best judgment. In this new tourist powerhouse, err on the side of caution. When in doubt, wear loose clothing that covers your body.