Moving to Saudi Arabia as a woman

Moving to Saudi Arabia as a woman

Culture shock is a part of daily life for many ex-pats, and that is particularly true for foreign women moving to Saudi Arabia. From getting dressed in the morning to going out at night, things are different here. In fact, life in Saudi Arabia today is different even than it was a handful of years ago.

Particularly since 2019, Saudis and ex-pats alike have been witnessing a seismic cultural change. Laws are becoming more liberal and women have freedoms their grandmothers would have never thought possible. That said, things are still starkly different than life in the western world. 


So, what is life like for foreign women in Saudi Arabia? Let’s look at a few laws and customs that female ex-pats and travellers need to know before arrival.

What to Wear in Saudi Arabia as a Woman

One major change for foreign women visiting Saudi Arabia is that the traditional robe of the country, the abaya, is no longer required. In fact, you are longer required to cover your hair at all. The policy is now to wear modest clothing. This means wearing nothing tight or low cut. It is still essential to cover your shoulders and knees while avoiding clothing with any potential offensive text and images.

That said, while you are not required to do so, many foreign women continue to wear an abaya to blend in better. When you are out in Western gear, you will tend to get a lot of attention. It simply isn’t a common sight for many locals, especially outside of the city. That’s why many women moving to Saudi Arabia opt to bring a blend of Western and Saudi clothes so they can wear whatever feels right for the place and situation.

If you don’t have an abaya before arrival, you will easily find one at virtually any clothing store in the country. You can find them at all price ranges and styles.

Women in Saudi Arabia

Planning Tip: You will also find a gorgeous array of other types of clothes that can make great souvenirs. Before you shop, however, be aware that women can’t undress in public so there will be no dressing rooms.

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How to Pack for Saudi Arabia

As you are packing, it is important to keep in mind that a range of items can’t be imported into the country. While some may seem obvious, it is important to be careful as the fines can be extremely high. If you are travelling and collecting souvenirs, it’s easy to forget about a bottle of wine from France or an artisanal cured meat platter from Spain so do be mindful.

Banned items include anything with pork in it as well as any drug or any form of pornography. Be aware that any device, whether it is a computer, phone, or any other type of electronic, can be reviewed on arrival and departure. You are not allowed to import any alcohol or unprescribed medication. If you have an essential medication, be sure to carry a doctor’s prescription.

A few items that you might not realise are banned include binoculars and religious materials for public use. Be mindful that it is illegal to publicly practice any non-Islam religion. You can, however, practice privately, so a single religious text is allowed. 

If you have two passports, be cautious as well. It is illegal to be a dual citizen in Saudia Arabia. The local authorities can and certainly might confiscate one of your passports. When it’s not necessary to have both passports, leave one at home.

Prescription drugs

Planning Tip: As with all countries, it is advisable to carry a copy of your passport at all times. Ensure that you have your photo page, including the signature page if separate, along with the page showing your emergency contact details.

Travelling as a Couple

Love life in Saudi Arabia today remains different from much of the world. If you are travelling with your partner or spouse, be conscious of not making any public displays of affection. It is easy to mindlessly kiss good-bye or hold hands without a second thought, but this will get a lot of attention in Saudi Arabia. This is doubly true if you are unmarried or in a same-sex couple

If you are moving to Saudi Arabia and living in a compound, you will find the local ex-pats are not too concerned with this. It is common to see public displays of affections in a strictly international crowd, but local culture should be respected if you are in the presence of locals.

Taking Pictures in Saudi Arabia

Like many countries, you are not allowed to take photos of government buildings, military spaces, and royal palaces. If you want to photograph locals, ask them in advance. Many locals are happy to oblige but it is not considered acceptable to snap a shot without asking in advance and this is likely to cause problems.

Travelling during Ramadan

Travelling during the holy time of Ramadan creates unique challenges. During this month, it is forbidden to drink, eat, smoke, or even chew gum from dawn to dusk. The only exception to this rule is for pregnant women and young children. 

Once you are in the confines of your own home, of course you are free to eat and drink, however this does not extend to your vehicle and so this needs to be taken into account whilst you are out and about in public.

It is also advisable to refrain from listening to loud music, dancing or any overt displays of excitement or over exuberants, as this is likely to be frowned upon during the holy month.

While you will find some restaurants open to tourists, (these might be in hotels, and are likely to be screened off so nothing is visible from the outside), the majority will be closed all day. This will apply to a range of other businesses as well, so it is not the best time to plan any travel if you want to sightsee or shop.

Moving to Saudi Arabia as a woman - Ramadan

Learning More about Life in Saudi Arabia Today

So we hope if you are moving to Saudi Arabia as a woman, you found this article helpful. If you want to learn more about life in Saudi Arabia; The new tourism site is a perfect place to familiarise with the country as a whole, and it covers information on the local laws. 

Seriously considering moving? You need our guide to moving to Saudi Arabia.

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