After being shut off to foreigners for many years, Saudi Arabia has recently opened its doors to tourism. In addition to its distinct nature (just look at Elephant Rock in Al Ula!) and big buzzing metropolises, the country has a fascinating culture.
Although many intrepid travelers are interested in visiting, many have reservations about the do’s and don’ts, cultural etiquette, and generally what to do.
No worries, that’s where this blog post comes in. If you’re planning to travel to Saudi Arabia (don’t forget your Saudi Arabia eVisa) but don’t know where to start or how to prepare, be sure to keep reading. You’ll find out the most important do’s and don’ts, how to dress, everyday manners, and other useful travel tips.
The first and foremost thing to keep in mind before planning a trip to Saudi Arabia is the dates of the most important holiday in Islam: Ramadan.
When planning a trip to Saudi Arabia, be sure to research the start and end date of Ramadan to properly have a better idea of your trip. For some people, it’s a chance to see how locals live (like how I visited Dubai during Ramadan), while for others it may be a plausibility to choose other dates.
During this month-long holiday, there are special rules to follow. For example, Saudi Arabian locals (and Muslims worldwide) typically fast from sunrise to sunset. This means that they cannot eat or drink for hours on end. Visitors should not eat or drink in public so as to not offend the locals. However, restaurants and cafes are open during normal business hours, and there are special closed booths where non-practicing Muslims may eat and drink.
A proper dress code is a very important part of traveling, and Saudi Arabia is no different.
Similar to neighboring countries, those visiting Saudi Arabia should pack clothing that is modest and covers the elbows and knees. Besides being culturally sensitive, this dress code is very practical: long, loose fabrics will protect you from the scorching sun (which is shining in Saudi Arabia nearly the entire year.)
Likewise, there are a few nuances to keep in mind. Men are not advised to wear shorts, t-shirts with short sleeves, and tight pants in public. Instead, it is better to choose light, breezy clothing that you can easily move in.
Women should avoid wearing miniskirts, short dresses, off-the-shoulder tops, and clothing with cutouts, as showing excessive skin is considered impolite. The best option for ladies would be to purchase an abaya, which is a long loose dress with long sleeves. Besides being very comfortable and protective from the sun, there are hundreds of stores around Saudi Arabia that sell super stylish and beautiful abayas in a variety of different colors, fabrics, and prints.
Saudi Arabia’s everyday life
Once you’re in Saudi Arabia, be sure to keep the following tips in mind while navigating everyday life.
First, let’s talk about food and drink. Since Saudi Arabia is a ‘dry country,’ this means that buying, selling, and drinking alcohol is strictly prohibited. This applies to tourists as well, and there’s an interesting rule for those en route to the country: if travelers are found to be intoxicated while crossing the Saudi border, they may be punished. There are no nightclubs or bars in the country either.
On a similar note, pork and pork-based products are also banned in Saudi Arabia, although there are plenty of other delicious meats freely available, like chicken, beef, sheep, and so on.
The next set of travel tips are things to keep in mind in public places. For example, in cafes, restaurants, and other food establishments, there may be separate seating areas for men and women. Although gender segregation was abolished in 2019, some establishments may still offer this option.
Be careful about taking these items with you…
Saudi Arabia has very strict rules regarding religion, which include a list of banned items.
Any symbols and references to religions except Islam are prohibited in the country. For example, it is better to leave religious paraphernalia, such as a necklace with a cross, Bibles, statues of Buddha, and similar items at home.
Communicating with locals
Last but certainly not least, there are a few special etiquette rules to follow when mingling with locals.
When communicating, it is better to avoid topics related to politics and religion.
Likewise, it is rude to point fingers at other people — instead, Saudi locals use their chin to point in the general direction of what they want to draw attention to. It is also better to avoid using the left hand (either when speaking or eating), as it is considered to be unclean.
Finally, in Saudi Arabia, it is best to avoid PDA (public displays of affection).
By following these travel tips and rules of etiquette, you can have a fun and stress-free trip to Saudi Arabia. Bon voyage!