Saudi Arabia: Women Traveling Alone in Saudi

 

The Middle East Experience blog contained a useful article with travel tips for women are traveling in the Middle East.  I think the article gave good advice so I’ve chosen to share it with American Bedu readers.  The majority of the tips would apply for female travelers in Saudi Arabia but with some refinements based on the unique customs and traditions.

Before discussing the various tips cited in the article, it is important to point out that Saudi Arabia is not the typical Middle Eastern country where a foreign woman is going to travel to alone.  Anyone who enters in to the Kingdom must have a sponsor whether the purpose is work, business or family.  As a result, there are fewer single women who travel to Saudi Arabia by themselves and for a short duration.  However, exceptions to these rules can be business women who have been invited to the Kingdom for business consultations or to participate in an international conference or symposium.  Therefore, in this post of discussing travel tips for women in Saudi Arabia, the answers are oriented more for the woman who is traveling by herself to Saudi Arabia for a short duration rather than one is who traveling to relocate to the Kingdom for employment.

Tip number one of the article focuses on the recommendation to dress modestly.  This certainly applies to Saudi Arabia but with a slight twist.  Any women traveling in the Kingdom would be expected to wear an abaya when she is out in public places.  While a woman can wear virtually whatever she pleases underneath the abaya, I think the recommendations of loose and modest clothing as suggested in the article is good advice for a woman traveling alone in Saudi Arabia.

Tip number two to ignore harassment from men definitely applies to Saudi Arabia.  Since segregation of sexes is publicly enforced some men can become overly aggressive in attempts to make contact with a female.  A woman should ignore and not pick up any pieces of paper which may get thrown at her as she passes by.  These will likely contain name and phone number of men seeking encounters with women.  A woman should be careful if by herself in a crowded and traditional market place (souk) as these can be places where a man may attempt an opportunity to “cop a feel.”  While there are religious police (muttawa) whose job is to help prevent unpleasant encounters, if a woman does not speak good Arabic, it may not be to her advantage to seek out a muttawa for help against an aggressive man.  The best advice is to ignore him and leave the area.

Tip number three would not apply to Saudi Arabia.  Due to the segregation one will rarely see any attempts at public displays of affection (PDA).  However, this tip should serve as a reminder that it is prohibited for an unrelated male and female to be out together in a public venue.  An exception for the single woman is that some conferences and symposiums will organize private events which are not segregated.  While such an event allows for mixing of the sexes, PDA’s remain prohibited.

Tip number four to steer clear of men only hubs is absolutely correct.  A woman venturing into a men only domain is unlikely to receive a warm or positive welcome.  Men only domain include men only sections of restaurants, fast food joints, banks, medical centers and barber shops (advertised as salons or saloons).

Tip number five suggests check out women only venues.  This is a good suggestion for Saudi Arabia.  There are always multiple women only activities taking place each and every day in the Kingdom which offer shopping, entertaining and networking opportunities.  Some of the women only venues allow a woman to remove her abaya after arrival inside of the venue.

Tip number six pertains to shopping.  It is a general rule of thumb across the entire Middle East that bargaining is expected and especially if from a small or outdoor souk (market).  One can find a multitude of unique items perfect for gifts and souvenirs in Saudi Arabia.  With bargaining,it may be possible to get the asking price reduced by 50 per cent!

Don’t be afraid or hesitant to travel alone to Saudi Arabia if given the opportunity.  Just ensure to read up on the culture, customs and traditions prior to travel and to register your presence with the local embassy.

 

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27 Responses

  1. I disagree about ignoring harassment or inappropriate touching. I found it very effective the couple of times I had to do it to bring negative public attention to the man. He was shamed and escorted out of the store and hopefully will not again count on the silence of his victims to be even more emboldened. Once I went to the front of a supermarket and loudly announced to the manager that there was a man bothering me. He and collectively the whole store turned toward the guilty-looking culprit and went after him.

  2. I also disagree. I think you need to be loud, blatant and rude. Quite frankly a knuckle sandwich sounds like a perfect start to the yelling and pointing aspect. Then maybe the grabbing of an ear leading him down to the ground while at the same time inserting a knee to the face creating an upward thrust thereby creating further understanding that disrespectful behavior will be handled in a loud forceful lady like kick ass manner. :)

  3. I stand correct and do endorse that it is important for a woman to advise publicly if she is being harassed.

  4. I threw water bottles or shouted at them…they always fled in shame.

  5. I think there’s a line – 100% ignoring is the way to go when it’s still in the calling-out and paper-throwing stage. At least in Syria (I don’t know about Saudi) if you acknowledged a guy’s existence in any way at this point, even by angrily telling him off, they would see that as a sign of potential interest. However, once the harassing gets within arm’s reach I agree that yelling and making a fuss is the way to go. Public shame goes a long way; even the guys who wish they were getting that close to a girl are socially obligated to protect the gal in order to save face in front of others.

    The weirdest incident I heard of was “ride-by” breast grabbing in downtown Damascus, where a local guy would ride up behind a girl on a bicycle, snag a quick grab, then ride off. Never experienced in person but I heard stories through the grapevine. I don’t know what a girl could do in that case but when it happened to a friend on foot in the market she was able to get the police to come and arrest the guy.

    I also have to share a comment about clothing – you could tell when a foreign woman had recently arrived in Damascus by the baggy mis-matched hippie clothes she wears in order to try and “fit in” with the conservative dress code. However even Muslim girls wore form-fitting jeans, just with a long shirt/dress over them to cover their hips. It was fun to observe foreigners once I figured out the actual dress code :-).

  6. Catherine, that is really interesting about the “baggy hippie clothes” vs the form fitting jeans.

    I recently met a young woman who had slips of paper printed up with an Arabic message stating how shameful harassment is. I wouldn’t think this would work but she said it did. She said that sometimes the men would read the slip and call an apology after her as she continued down the street.

  7. I have only been in Al Khobar for 4 days so I haven’t technically been harassed as I’ve only been out with my husband twice. However, I have gotten a whole lot of stares. I don’t know if it’s because I didn’t cover my hair or because I’m Black(dark skinned) married to a White man with 2 boys. It felt really uncomfortable walking around in my abaya.

  8. sir i want to ask tht is there any visa that i can get it my husband is in madina n i also want to settle there but permanant visa is very expensive as he is not on a good post m wel qulified n i do want to get work visa n i want 2 live there with my husband on work visa is it possible for a pakistani women 2 get thiz type of visa if yes then how ??pplz help me out

  9. m very upset i hav one kid n we dont hav anyway 2 go to saudia m becholars of science n hav teaching exp

  10. Nads, Please write complete words, your comment is hardly understandable.

  11. i wanted to ask that my husband is living in saudia arabia on work visa n i also want to join him but on work visa now he is not able to call me on permanant visa is there any catogory for pakistani ladies to come n live in saudia on work basis.

  12. As a Pakistani I would suggest you find another country to work in. Saudis aren’t known for extending a hand of friendship or tolerance to those of “lower status”.

  13. i cant choose other country coz my husband is in saudia nw i wnt to join him too thts y

  14. that’s understandable nadia. i hope your wish comes true.

  15. sir thx alot but kindly plz tell me any job site for ladies or any other way 2 apply for work visa for KSA
    act i did comments to ask u thiz

  16. so it may ne help full for me Regards

  17. nadia, is your husband in saudi on a single instead of a married contract? i can not just give out info without in turn knowing more about you and your background, qualifications. where are you presently located? there may be agencies which specialize in employment opportunitities to the kingdom which you can pursue.

  18. ok Sir my Husband is on labour visa n currently working in madina now sir i hav info abt this i dnt knw its right or wrong first of all plz clear me that the person who is on labour visa can sponser his family or not??
    if not this is the main reason m going to join my husband on my own job visa category

  19. i m /becholars of Computer Science with 2 years Teaching Experiance in School Currently m Living in Pakistan i hav 1 kid of 3 yrs m living with my parents in multan now ok plz let me knw that which type of category of visa can allow me to me n my son can go there in KSA to join my huisband
    regards

  20. nadia, it does not work that way. i suggest you search the search box in the blog for working in saudi arabia and you will have some leads and steps to follow.

  21. mm Sir if u dont mind can u help me by telling me wht steps to follow ?? can u giv me ur mailing add?

  22. act m not understnding wht to do ..

  23. nadia,

    with all respect, you are wasting my time. the info is out there. go seek it.

  24. m Sorry Sir i did Disturb you

  25. I am moving to Saudi shortly on a work visa.Is it easy to travel within Saudi? As in from one city to another? Can a single woman travel by airplane alone with no significant issues?

  26. Dear Sir,
    I am working on valid visa in Saudi and planning to go on Exit/Re-entry visa to my home country and from there I will be proceeding with my Qatar job offer. It is possible for me to work in Qatar on valid visa or else I have to cancel my Saudi visa which is difficult for me.

    Thanks,
    Mirza

  27. Mirza, this is not the appropriate place for your question. Please post it in (another) correct forum.

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