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The changing landscape of traveling to Saudi: A woman’s perspective  

Having remained closed doors for many years, Saudi Arabia has finally opened its gateway to travelers worldwide. Being deeply rooted in Arabian culture, the country has strict rules, and traveling can be tricky, especially for women. This resulted in many misconceptions about what to wear, how to get a visa, things to be careful for, and more about female foreign tourists.

In contrast, when two of our female team members attended the LEAP exhibition in Riyadh, they had different experiences in the country. Saudi Arabia is experiencing a rapid change after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced his plan to ease restrictions on women as part of the country’s ambitious Vision 2030 initiative. This article will bust some common travel myths about going to Saudi Arabia as a woman compiled on our team members’ experiences. What might be a better time to discuss the topic during International Women’s Day? Read on. 

As a foreign female, you can do things independently! 

The law does not distinguish between men and women as long as they abide by it and respect the local customs and culture. We’ve made a list of things that a female can do independently in the Kingdom.

  • First thing first. A visa is the most important thing you need when traveling abroad. Can I apply for a Kingdom visa independently, asked one of our female team members. In stark contrast to popular belief, a female traveler can independently apply for a Saudi travel visa without the company of a male chaperone.
  • What more? A female can also book their own hotels without being on guard with a male guardian.
  • Renting a car and driving it on your own is an option for women as long as you have a Saudi driving license or an international driver’s permit.
  • Restaurants are no longer needed to be segregated based on gender. You should, however, ensure that you visit a niche restaurant or cafe where the restrictions have already been relaxed in practice.
  • As a woman in Saudi Arabia, Couchsurfing is legal, if not common. Men can also host women. Nonetheless, it is recommended for solo women to stay with families, women, or men with hosting references from women for safety purposes.

How to dress in Saudi Arabia as a woman 

Most people assume that when you are in Saudi Arabia, you must wear a full black abaya as most Saudi women you will come across will be wearing one. If you are particularly in Jeddah, you can see women wearing different colors of abaya and not only the black one.

However, visitors are exempt from this rule, and they are not required to wear any specific attire. In general, tourists should refrain from wearing clothes that are considered distasteful or morally offensive by the locals. Therefore, Saudi Arabia provides tourists with greater freedom in their clothing choice. 

From our observation, any foreign woman wearing long trousers or long sleeves is acceptable in Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, the locals swim either in their clothes or in a burkini, and women should refrain from wearing one-piece or two-piece swimsuits on public beaches or around strangers. Furthermore, you should wear a black abaya if you choose to wear one. 

Furthermore, unlike many other Muslim countries, the Kingdom does not require foreign travelers to wear a headscarf. Having said that, it is a common courtesy in the country to cover your head when visiting a mosque or a religious site. 

Getting along with Saudi men 

Women in Saudi Arabia do not typically speak to random males, especially with strangers. However, tourists of both genders are welcome to interact with anyone they encounter, regardless of gender. You are allowed to get along with men and women as a female solo tourist in Saudi Arabia to learn about the local people, culture, food, etc., but ensure you don’t participate in anything not permitted by law. 

Here are a few bonus travel tips to remember

  • Women generally don’t shake hands or hug a man while greeting each other, unlike in Western countries. Instead, you can say a ‘Hello’ or ‘Salaam Alaikum.
  • Mosques typically have separate men’s and women’s restrooms. However, women’s facilities will usually be at the back.
  • Local women are rarely seen outside in Saudi Arabia, and most men might not be comfortable talking to you. Keep your expectations low.
  • Snapchat is very popular in Saudi Arabia. However, avoid sharing your Snapchat ID with strangers since it is equivalent to your phone number.

Saudi women have made notable strides in the past couple of years, from securing a place in Forbes’ list of the world’s most influential businesswomen to participating in scientific research programs. Saudi women’s increased status in society has also positively impacted foreign women travelers. It is important to enjoy the country’s stunning beauty without worrying about minor inconveniences that are more or less associated with traveling to any foreign destination.

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