Saudi culture and customs

One of the best ways to be a respectful tourist — and to make the most of your experience in the kingdom — is to educate yourself on local customs. This Q&A with Khaled Shuwail, visitor experience adviser with the Saudi Tourism Authority, will help get you started on the right foot!


Q: What are common greetings in Saudi Arabia?

In Saudi Arabia, when we greet each other, we say “Salam Alaykum,” which means “peace be upon you.” It is usually followed by a handshake if it is a formal meeting, or a kiss on the cheek if it’s been a while since meeting that person —  especially if they are family or a close friend. Nowadays, with COVID-19, we say Salam Alaykum followed by a wave.

Q: What is Saudi Arabia’s dress code for women and men?

In general, it is not mandatory to wear an abaya or hijab [head covering]. However, you should dress modestly. [Refer to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Public Decorum Charter for more information.]

Q: Is running or jogging in public acceptable for men and women, and if so, what should exercisers wear?

It is acceptable. Exercisers should wear clothing that matches the Public Decorum Charter.

Q: Is it acceptable to bring young children to restaurants? Must they follow a dress code?

Mostly, children are not only allowed but also welcomed! However, if you are going to a fancy restaurant, it is best to reach out in advance in case there are any restrictions on having children with you. As for the dress code, there are no specific rules for children, as long as they are dressed modestly.

Q: Is price negotiation encouraged at Saudi Arabian street markets?

As part of our Saudi Hafawah (hospitality), we try to give visitors to the kingdom the best possible price, and to treat our tourists like friends. However, bargaining is usually acceptable—even expected—at traditional markets.

Q: What constitutes proper behavior at people’s homes?

In general, we are a welcoming community in Saudi. However, there are clear norms about how people socialize in Saudi homes. Most Saudi homes have a space called a majlis that is dedicated to entertaining guests. Within the majlis a Saudi host will serve their guests food, snacks, etc. However it is not normal for guests to be entertained in family living areas.

Q: Are there Saudi Arabian photography rules?

Saudis value their privacy a lot, especially females. So before taking any picture, especially if people are included, ask them first. You should also be careful taking photographs of government buildings, including police stations, and national infrastructure such as airports. Cell phone photography is generally fine, but if you’re using a full-size camera with a telephoto lens you might be asked to stop

Q: What should one do during prayer times to be respectful of worshippers?

People usually pray in areas reserved for prayer or in mosques. To show respect around these areas, avoid doing things that could distract others, like talking loud or playing loud music. If you are not around those areas during prayer time, just act normally.

Q: What is the best thing tourists can do to ingratiate themselves with the locals?

In Saudi, we really care about our guests. Seeing tourists come to Saudi and explore our country makes us feel proud and happy. So the best thing tourists can do is come!