What to Wear in Saudi Arabia; Dress Code Advice For Tourists

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, known to many as KSA, is an extremely conservative country with a strict dress code despite recent changes to the law. If you plan to visit or move there with your family, it is absolutely crucial that you understand how to dress appropriately for Saudi Arabian culture.

Saudi Arabia What to Wear

You can find our complete family guide to Saudi Arabia here.

What do local women in Saudi Arabia wear?

The way that women dress in Saudi Arabia is changing. This change is occurring more rapidly in some cities, like Jeddah and Damman, than in others, such as Riyadh. This is largely due to the branch of Islam that is predominant in different areas, some such as Wahhabism, being more conservative than others.

Until very recently, all women, whether they were visitors, residents or citizens, were required to cover their heads and wear an abaya (a long, loose-fitting robe) when out in public, and the Committee enforced this for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.  Some local women have now abandoned the black abaya, but most still wear it.

Some Saudi women wear a full-face veil, such as a niqab (eyes are visible) or a burqa (even the eyes are covered); others opt for a chador (the full face is visible, but the hair is tightly covered) or hijab (a looser headscarf).

Image by maradaisy via Depositphotos

Even before the abaya, women wore long black dresses embroidered with multi-coloured emblems and decorated with coins. Women and girls might wear elaborate golden headdresses as well as beautiful necklaces and earrings.

What do local men wear in Saudi Arabia?

Whilst some men have adopted Western fashions, most men still tend to wear traditional Saudi Arabian dress on a daily basis. This compromises of a long flowing robe, which is usually white and a ghutra, a white or red and white checked headdress held in place by a double black cord known as an iqal. Underneath the ghutra men wear a tagiyah, a small white cap which prevents the ghutra from slipping.

On special occasions, men might wear a bisht or mislah, a long cloak trimmed in gold, over their thobe (made rather famous by the placing of this item on Messi at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar).

In the winter months, some men opt to wear a thobe and ghutra in a darker colour, such as beige or grey, and made from a thicket material.

Why do the people of Saudi Arabia dress like this?

What the people of Saudi Arabia wear has been shaped not only by religion but by the practicalities of living in such a hot and sandy country. Head scarves and face coverings were primarily to protect the head and face from the hot desert sun and sandstorms, and the long gowns protected their bodies when walking or riding outdoors.

Saudi Arabia is a big country, and the climate, whilst predominantly desert, does vary. You can expect to be warm to hot throughout the year, although snow has been known to fall on some of the Kingdom’s higher peaks in winter.

To find out more about the climate in KSA click here.

What should female tourists wear in Saudi Arabia?

In 2019, in line with the introduction of new tourist visas, new public decency laws were unveiled, which allowed more Western-style clothing to be worn by foreign ladies visiting or residing in the Kingdom; this does not mean that you should wear what you think you can get away with at any opportunity.

Remember, local people in Saudi Arabia are not accustomed to seeing any female flesh in public places; it would be wise to remain prudent and cover as much skin as possible to avoid gaining unwanted attention and offending local culture and sensibilities.  

Whilst under the published Saudi Arabian dress code, it is no longer compulsory for non-Muslim female visitors to wear an abaya (except when visiting religious sites) or a head scarf or head covering. We would still recommend that you always take a pashmina with you everywhere, as attitudes and laws on this topic don’t always align and it will allow you to cover up if you feel uncomfortable.

A head scarf is no longer compulsory for women in Saudi Arabia, but still recommended in most public settings

Skirts below the knee are technically allowed for tourists, but we would still suggest wearing long skirts, a long dress or loose-fitting trousers. Blouses and tops should also be loose-fitting, with long sleeves and high necklines.

In line with modest clothes, it would be prudent to make sure no underwear is visible. All clothes should be made from opaque materials; anything that you can see light through will show the silhouette of your body, which may unwittingly get you into trouble.

You can wear jeans, but you should ensure that whatever you are wearing on your top half is long enough to cover your bum. This is why, in many ways, it is just easier to wear an abaya or long kaftan over your clothes when out in public spaces.

If you cannot purchase an abaya before you travel, you can find them in any mall and even at the airport in KSA.

Abaya in a shop
Female tourists may still feel comfortable purchasing an abaya for their trip top KSA

It does, of course, get very hot in Saudi Arabia, and you need to dress appropriately for the weather. It’s best to go for cotton, linen and other natural fibres, as these help to keep you cool.

Cotton maxi dresses with sleeves and a high neckline are an ideal choice, teamed up with a scarf that can be used to cover cleavage or your hair if needs be. As it does get sticky and humid at times, cotton cycling shorts or long briefs are a lifesaver when it comes to chafing and can be purchased locally at ‘Nayomi’ and other similar lingerie shops.

Can I wear make-up in Saudi Arabia?

Women can wear make-up, but it should be modest. Avoid using bright colours.

Can I wear a bikini in Saudi Arabia?

If you happen to be staying in a villa with its own private pool, you can wear a bikini. Some private resorts on the Red Sea do allow women to wear bikinis on the beach, but when you’re not in the water, you are expected to cover up.

Regardless of whether it’s legal or not, we would still recommend wearing a one-piece swimming costume and perhaps a rash vest or a burkini anywhere outside of your own private home, including trips to pools in western compounds.

What should male tourists wear in Saudi Arabia?

There is no specific dress code for men in Saudi Arabia, but in line with local standards, visiting men should make sure that their legs and shoulders are completely covered. A long-sleeved shirt is advisable, but shorter-sleeved shirts, polo shirts and t-shirts are allowed.

Shorts and vests or sleeveless shirts are a no-no outside of the pool areas of resort hotels and western compounds. Wearing skinny jeans might also get you some funny looks so it’s best for men to go for some loose chinos in breathable fabrics.

What should children wear in Saudi Arabia?

The rules about what and what not to wear in Saudi Arabia are not so strict for children. Boys can wear shorts, and girls can wear sundresses in line with Western standards. From puberty, girls are expected to dress in the same way as women, and you will see many younger girls wearing headscarves and abayas.

Its a great idea for girls to wear cycling shorts under their dresses to help protect their legs from chaffing in the heat and to prevent any accidental pant-flashing incidents in play parks, etc.

A lightweight cardigan is also useful for covering shoulders and keeping little girls warm in the sometimes-arctic temperatures of air-conditioned malls.

More frequently asked questions about clothing in Saudi Arabia

What sort of footwear do we need in Saudi Arabia?

What sort of footwear you need will depend on the activities that you plan to undertake; if you are trekking in the desert or visiting any of the country’s beautiful archaeological sites, we would recommend cotton socks and sturdy close-toed walking shoes.

If you are visiting religious places, you will need shoes that are easy to remove but are still comfortable and supportive. Strappy sandals, court shoes and heels might be appropriate for ladies attending weddings, formal gatherings or going on shopping sprees, and flip-flops are always handy.  

What is important to remember is that footwear is always worn upon entry to any commercial premises.

Do we need coats and jackets in Saudi Arabia?

If you are travelling between April and November, it is highly unlikely that you will need any sort of jacket. You may like to carry a light-weight fleece or cardigan as sometimes malls and restaurants overcompensate with air conditioning and indoor temperatures can therefore be quite chilly.

Will I need an umbrella in Saudi Arabia?

It is highly unlikely that you will need an umbrella between April and November, however, we would always recommend carrying a small telescopic umbrella in your suitcase; they don’t take up much space, can be used as a parasol and could save you a lot of time and expense should there be an unexpected downpour.

Can I wear jewellery in Saudi Arabia?

Men should avoid wearing too much jewellery. A wedding ring and a watch is fine, but anything more than this is considered immodest.  

Women can wear jewellery but both men and women should avoid wearing jewellery that contains any religious symbols from any faith other than Islam. If you do feel that you need to wear a symbol of your faith keep it tucked away out of sight.

Other important things to remember when dressing for Saudi Arabia:

  • The whole family should avoid wearing t-shirts or sweaters or carrying bags and wallets with any political or religious slogans.
  • Scarves are very useful in protecting you from the sun, but sun hats are also useful for the whole family.
  • Whatever you do, do not forget to bring sunglasses!

Whilst times are changing at a rapid pace in the 2020s, it’s still best for a visitor to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, whether male or female, to cover as much skin as possible and keep to modest clothing choices. You should wear modest, opaque, loose-fitting clothing at all times and have a headscarf and abaya at hand if you plan to visit any religious buildings.

Saudi Arabia is an extremely exciting destination with breathtaking scenery, interesting archaeological sites and a fascinating culture. We are sure that you will have an amazing trip!

Packing List for Saudi Arabia

To help you prepare for a family trip to Saudi Arabia, we’ve prepared this family travel checklist your can download ready for your adventure.

Packing List for Saudi Arabia

Further resources for planning a trip to Saudi Arabia

Planning a trip to Saudi? Check out our complete guide to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia here; plus we have these handy Saudi travel guides to:

Packing for the Middle East

We also have further dress code guides if you are continuing your journey to other Middle East countries:

And don’t forget powerpoints and voltage vary across the Middle East if you are packing electronics!

Take me back to the Saudi Arabia with Kids home page


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Family Travel Middle East
Family Travel Middle East

The Family Travel in the Middle East team of travel writers are all parents based in the Middle East, sharing first hand experiences and reviews from across the region to help you plan your next family adventure.

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