Saudi Arabia is a fascinating country with a rich culture and history, but it is also a place where women face many restrictions and challenges. If you are a female traveller who wants to visit Saudi Arabia, you might have many questions and concerns about what to expect and how to prepare.
In this article, I will share some useful tips and advice based on my own research and experience, as well as some of the best attractions and activities for females to enjoy in Saudi Arabia.
Visa, logistics and entry
Here we have given all about visa, logistics, and entry:
How to get a visa
The good news is that Saudi Arabia has recently launched an e-visa system for tourists from 49 countries, including the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and most of the EU.
You can apply online by filling out a simple form, uploading a photo of your passport, and paying a fee of $120. The processing time is usually quick, but it is advisable to apply at least a week before your trip.
What to bring
Apart from your passport, visa, and travel insurance, you will also need to bring some essential items for your trip to Saudi Arabia. These include:
- Modest clothing that covers your shoulders and knees, like long dresses, skirts, pants, and tunics. You do not have to wear a headscarf or a niqab, but it is recommended to bring one for certain situations, like visiting religious sites or meeting locals.
- A power adapter that works with the Saudi Arabian plug type, which is type G (the same as the UK).
- A VPN app that allows you to access blocked websites and apps, like WhatsApp, Skype, Netflix, and some news outlets. You can download one before you leave or use a local SIM card with internet access.
- A copy of your marriage certificate if you are travelling with your husband, as some hotels might ask for proof of your relationship.
- A letter of consent from your male guardian if you are under 30 and travelling alone or with a group of women. This is not required for all nationalities, but it is better to have one just in case.
What to expect at the airport
When you arrive at the airport in Saudi Arabia, you will need to go through customs and immigration. You might encounter some of the following situations:
- Separate queues for men and women: Look for the signs that say “families” or “women only” and follow them accordingly.
- Body scans and luggage checks: You might have to go through a full-body scan or a pat-down by a female officer. You should also declare any restricted items, like medication, alcohol, or pork products.
- Questions about your purpose of visit, your itinerary, and your accommodation: You should have your visa, your hotel reservation, and your return ticket ready to show to the officers. You should also be polite and respectful and avoid any sensitive topics, like politics, religion, or human rights.
Dress code and cultural etiquette
One of the most important aspects of travelling to Saudi Arabia as a female is to respect the local dress code and cultural norms. Here are some of the main rules and tips to follow:
- Dress modestly: This means wearing loose-fitting clothing that covers your shoulders and knees, like maxi dresses, long skirts with loose blouses, or tunics with leggings. You should also avoid wearing anything that is tight, transparent, or revealing, like short skirts, crop tops, or low-cut dresses. Even on beaches or resorts, you should wear modest swimwear that covers your arms and legs, like a burkini or a rash guard.
- Wear a headscarf or a niqab in certain situations: Although it is not mandatory for tourists to cover their hair or face, the locals highly recommend and appreciate it. You should wear a headscarf or a niqab when you visit religious sites, like mosques or shrines, or when you interact with locals, especially men. You should always carry one with you in case you need to cover up quickly or avoid unwanted attention.
- Observe gender segregation in some places: Although gender segregation is not as strict as it used to be, you might still encounter it in some public places, like restaurants, cafes, buses, or government offices. You should look for the signs that say “families” or “women only” and follow them accordingly. You should also respect the designated waiting areas or sections for women and avoid sitting next to or talking to men who are not your relatives or companions.
- Greet people with a nod and a smile: The usual way to greet someone in Saudi Arabia is to say “As-salamu alaykum” (peace be upon you) and shake hands with the same sex. However, as a female traveller, you should avoid initiating physical contact with the opposite sex unless they offer their hand first. Instead, you can nod and smile or place your hand over your heart as a sign of respect.
- Behave discreetly and respectfully in public: You should avoid any public displays of affection, like kissing, hugging, or holding hands, even with your husband or partner. You should also avoid speaking loudly, laughing excessively, or gesturing wildly, as these might be considered rude or inappropriate. You should also refrain from taking photos of people, mainly women, without their permission or of any military or government buildings.
Safety and Security
Saudi Arabia is generally a safe country for female travellers, as it has a low crime rate and a strong police presence. However, you should still take some precautions and be aware of some risks, like:
- Harassment or unwanted attention: You might experience some stares, comments, or catcalls from some men, especially if you are not dressed modestly or travelling alone. You should ignore them and walk away or seek help from a nearby shopkeeper, security guard, or police officer. You should also report any serious incidents to the authorities or your embassy.
- Scams or frauds: You might face some dishonest taxi drivers, shopkeepers, or guides who might try to overcharge you, take you to the wrong place, or sell you fake or low-quality products. You should always agree on the price and the destination before you get in a taxi, check the quality and authenticity of the products before you buy them, and only use licensed and reputable guides or tour operators.
- Terrorism or civil unrest: You might face some security threats from terrorist groups or political activists who might target foreigners, government buildings, or public places. You should avoid any demonstrations, protests, or large gatherings and follow the advice of the local authorities and the media. You should also register with your embassy and keep your family and friends updated on your whereabouts and plans.
Best attractions and activities for females
Saudi Arabia has a lot to offer for female travellers, from stunning natural landscapes to ancient historical sites to modern urban attractions. Here are some of the best places and things to do for females in Saudi Arabia:
- Explore the capital city of Riyadh: Riyadh is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city that combines tradition and modernity. You can visit the Kingdom Centre, the tallest skyscraper in the country, and enjoy the panoramic views from the Sky Bridge. You can also visit the National Museum, the Masmak Fortress, and the Al Murabba Palace, where you can learn about the history and culture of Saudi Arabia. You can also shop at the Riyadh Gallery Mall, the Granada Centre, or the traditional souks, where you can find everything from gold to spices to carpets.
- Discover the ancient city of AlUla: AlUla is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the 6th century BC. It is home to Hegra, the largest conserved site of the Nabataean civilization, which is famous for its rock-cut tombs and inscriptions. You can also see the Elephant Rock, a natural rock formation that resembles an elephant, and the Dadan, the ancient capital of the Lihyanites, where you can see the remains of temples, altars, and sculptures.
- Experience the desert adventure in the Empty Quarter: The Empty Quarter, or Rub’ al Khali, is the largest sand desert in the world, covering about a quarter of the Arabian Peninsula. You can experience the thrill of dune bashing, sand boarding, camel riding or enjoy the tranquillity of camping under the stars. You can also visit the Sharaan Nature Reserve, where you can see rare and endangered wildlife, like the Arabian leopard, the oryx, and the gazelle.
- Relax at the Red Sea coast: The Red Sea coast is a paradise for beach lovers, divers, and snorkelers, as it boasts some of the most pristine and diverse coral reefs and marine life in the world. You can visit the city of Jeddah, the gateway to the Red Sea, and see King Fahd’s Fountain, the world’s tallest fountain, and the Al Balad, the historic district that features traditional architecture and souks. You can also visit the NEOM, a futuristic city that is being built on the northwestern coast, and enjoy the luxury resorts, the smart technology, and the eco-friendly design.
People May Ask
Do I need a visa to visit Saudi Arabia as a female?
Yes, you need an e-visa that you can apply online if your nationality is on the approved list. Some nationalities may require a male guardian escort for unmarried women under 302.
What should I wear in Saudi Arabia as a female?
You should wear loose-fitting clothing that covers your shoulders and knees, like maxi dresses, long skirts or tunics. Headscarves are optional but recommended. Avoid wearing tight or revealing clothing, even on beaches or resorts.
Is Saudi Arabia safe for solo female travellers?
Saudi Arabia has low crime rate makes it generally safe for solo female travellers. However, you should be aware of the local customs and etiquette, like gender segregation, greetings and public behaviour. You should also avoid travelling at night or to remote areas alone.