Having visited and conducted business regularly in Saudi Arabia, Julia, our Managing Director gives us an insight into the do’s and don’t’s of what to wear when visiting Saudi Arabia as a businesswoman.

Saudi Arabia is a highly religious and proud country. Therefore, as a visitor, respecting this and dressing correctly can make the difference between a highly successful business meeting or conference.

It is important that when visiting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia you adhere to their dress codes. By Western standards, Saudi Arabia can come across as very conservative. Especially when it comes to the rules on how women are expected to dress. However, it is just a simple case of following basic guidelines. Showing respect to Saudi Arabia and its cultural and religious beliefs.

Example of what women should wear when visiting Saudi Arabia

What should female tourists wear in Saudi Arabia?

In 2019 Saudi Arabia eased some of its stricter guidelines on dress code for female tourists and businesswomen. This was done in partnership with the Kingdom opening their country to foreigners with their new visa as part of their 2030 vision.

Although certainly conservative, the guidelines may not be as strict as you think!

Do tourists need to wear an abaya in Saudi Arabia?

It is no longer mandatory for foreign female tourists to wear an abaya. This is the long, (typically black) flowing cloak that has been part of the mandatory dress code for decades. Nor is it mandatory for female visitors to wear head scarves.

That being said, there is a big difference between Saudi Arabia laws and what you can wear, and Saudi Arabia customs and what you may feel more comfortable wearing.

For example, it can come across as much more respectful if you choose to wear an abaya and headscarf as a female tourist, even though it is not mandatory. Therefore, when travelling on business you may want to consider wearing these items in order to put your best foot forward.

Business women wearing headscarf and appropriate clothing for meeting in Saudi Arabia

As a female foreigner in KSA, you are much more likely to stand out and draw attention to yourself from NOT wearing an Abaya and headscarf. Especially in the capital city Riyadh where 99% of the women you see are wearing one.

The religious police in Saudi Arabia lost a lot of control recently, therefore you will not be told off for not wearing an Abaya. However, customs and traditions stick and you may risk offending certain people in Saudi Arabia by not wearing one.

Having said that it is important to note that when you are visiting holy places or the holy city of Medina then an abaya and headscarf should be worn!

What clothes can I wear as a female visitor in Saudi Arabia?

The key is to dress conservatively.

  • DO wear loose-fitting clothes
  • DO wear long sleeves
  • DO ensure that all clothing goes below the knee, preferably to the ankle
  • DO wear tops and dresses with a higher neckline
  • DO NOT have lots on skin on display
  • DO NOT wear visible religious jewellery such as a cross necklace
  • DO NOT have your shoulders or knees uncovered

Trousers and jeans are allowed for women. However, I would suggest that they’re loose and you wear a top that is loose fitting and covers your bum and hips.

Wearing a long-sleeved, loose, and full-length dress can be an easy option.

What clothes should I pack as a businesswoman visiting the Kingdom?

If you are female conducting business in Saudi Arabia I would suggest being additionally conservative in what you wear.

Therefore I would suggest packing an abaya. Although not compulsory you are more likely to create a better impression with potential clients by ensuring you wear one.

Likewise with head scarfs. Although not a compulsory item I would definitely suggest packing one so that you can wear it in meetings and out and about.

A handy tip is to ensure you carry around a shawl or scarf. That way if you are not wearing a headscarf and feel like you’re getting lots of looks you can quickly put it on.

Tips when purchasing an abaya

I would make sure that you purchase your abaya prior to your trip. Although abayas a very easy to get hold of once in Saudi Arabia, it is much better to have one as soon as you land rather than having to spend time sourcing one.

Although you can pick up abayas in different dark colours it is best to purchase a black one.

Saudi women wearing different clothing options including full burqa, abaya and head scarf.

When purchasing an abaya consider material type. Although very hot in summer it does cool down in the winter months. Therefore consider material type and fastenings. Abayas with buttons all the way down can provide a bit of a breeze. Whereas abayas without buttons or with zip fastenings keep the heat in.

There are loads of UK websites that you can browse through to purchase your abaya.

The beauty of wearing an abaya is that you can’t go wrong. By choosing NOT to wear one you have to put a lot more time and consideration into what is and isn’t appropriate. By wearing an abaya you eliminate this worry.

Women wearing different clothing options at Saudi Arabia business event

I hope this has been a helpful guide on what to wear as a female visiting Saudi Arabia.

If you’re interested, we have lots more content from business trips our company has made to Saudi Arabia to more information on the events industry in KSA and the UAE.

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