From Masmak Fort to the historical Kingdom Tower and At-Turaif historical site in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia has so many magical sites to offer to tourists. Being a Muslim nation, the country is marked by significant religious sites including graveyards that house the remains of important people in the Muslim faith such as Prophet Mohammed. The architecture in Saudi Arabia perfectly displays the rich belief in the Muslim faith and unraveled culture that has stayed on for decades. There is so much to learn on a trip to Saudi Arabia and definitely a worthy investment.
Following the strict religious rules that have governed the country for decades, and in a bid to protect these rules, Saudi Arabia had been closed off to tourists for the longest time. Only business visas were allowed, which were also very difficult to find. It was much more difficult for women to enter the kingdom since they couldn’t be allowed to enter on their own.
Thankfully, as part of Vision 2030, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman initiated a new system that has opened tourism in Saudi Arabia in a great way. The new system allows eligible persons to apply for a Saudi Arabia eVisa online and get their visa shortly in their email. This means that you can obtain a visa to the country without going to a Saudi Arabia embassy or consulate. In addition, it has relaxed the previously strict religious laws, making travel to the country an easier affair, especially for women.
However, the culture in this country can be surprising for female tourists who visit for the first time. If you plan to travel to Saudi Arabia, it is prudent that you understand what the country expects for female tourists before taking the trip.
What Women Tourists Are Expected To (Or Not) Do
There are several things that foreigners are not allowed to do in Saudi Arabia. For starters, taking photos of government and military installations is not allowed. It is also prohibited to eat, drink or smoke in public especially in the holy month of Ramadan. Tourists are also expected to carry their personal ID at all times, so it is important that you carry your passport everywhere you go during your visit. While these laws are expected to be obeyed by both male and female foreigners, there are a few laws that apply more to women. The following is what is expected for a female tourist in Saudi Arabia.
- Modest dressing
Until recently, women visiting Saudi Arabia were expected to wear an abaya (an ankle length robe) and hijab (a headscarf). Following the relaxation of the religious laws, women are no longer required to wear the abaya and hijab, they are however expected to wear decently in public. That means a loose fitting cloth that covers the shoulders and doesn’t show too much flesh. Though women are not required to wear a hijab, it is advisable to carry one around if you plan to visit a religious building or area as you can’t be allowed in without one. Too much makeup can also land you in trouble with the authorities.
- Disrobing in public
Still on decency, women are not allowed to try on new clothes while shopping. In this country, removing your clothes in public, whether behind a closed door is not allowed.
- Use segregated areas for women
Women are not allowed to use the same gym facility as men. The same goes for bathing in swimming pools and public beaches.
In Saudi Arabia, most public places have segregated areas for women and men. Buildings and public transportation have two entrances, each for one gender. Women are expected to stay in the family area in restaurants while men have their own area.
- Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to enter a cemetery.
- The country doesn’t allow women to read magazines with uncensored content in public.
Misconceptions around women visitors in Saudi Arabia
Being a strict Muslim nation, Saudi Arabia has been known to have strict regulations for women both residents and tourists. These rules have not been without misconceptions around them. Here are some of the misunderstandings surrounding what a woman can and cannot do in Saudi Arabia.
- Travelling with a guardian is a must
It has been a law for women not to travel without a male guardian. However, this has been relaxed to a larger extent and women no longer need to be accompanied as they tour around the country. It is important to note that this rule is a culture thing that views women as important beings who need to be protected, but it is not a law.
- Women must cover-up
As discussed above, it is not a must that women tourists wear an abaya and cover their heads contrary to what many believe. Decent clothing is all you need. In fact, when hiking in remote areas you can wear your sportswear or whatever is comfortable for you. There are also private beaches that are accessed with a fee where you can wear your bikini comfortably.
- Relating with unrelated men is illegal
Another misconception surrounding women tourists is that they are not allowed to mingle with unrelated men in public. This, however, is not the case. You can freely mingle with the locals and even hang out with male friends at any given time.
- Renting a car is prohibited
Women in Saudi Arabia have for a long time not been allowed to rent a car on their own. However, this is just another misconception, as long as you have a valid international driving license you will be allowed to rent a car.
- Religious police are always spying on women
Since the relaxation of religious laws, religious police, otherwise known as muttawa have no power to act on anything unless an official is accompanying them. Besides, they no longer man the streets waiting for people to punish.
Saudi Arabia is slowly but surely opening up to modernization. The authorities have since last year allowed their women to travel abroad without a guardian as well as participate in sports activities. This means that most laws that restricted the freedom of women are slowly fading away. As the female residents are set free, so are the female tourists. Do not hold back your desire to visit this beautiful country because of the misconceptions created around women touring the country. The transformations brought about by the new system are so worth experiencing.