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What to wear in the Middle East

What to wear in the Middle East

Wondering what to wear in the Middle East? In this guide we will go through all of the Middle East Dress Code rules alongside suggestions for what to wear in the Middle East with a country by country overview.

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Middle East Dress Code Rules and Questions

What to Wear in the Middle East / What to Pack for Middle East Travel
What to Wear in the Middle East / What to Pack for Middle East Travel

The Middle East has a very strict dress code and rules that you must follow when putting together your Middle East packing list. In this section we aim to answer some of the most common Middle East Dress Code Questions.

Do I have to wear a Headscarf in the Middle East?

When people talk about traveling to the Middle East many people think that the rules are the same across the region. However this is not the case. 

One of the ways that this is most clearly demonstrated is in the need to wear a headscarf in the Middle East. 

The only countries where women must cover their hair are Saudi Arabia and Iran. If you are visiting either of these places then we recommend that you plan to bring a shawl or other fabric to cover year head and neck if you are visiting either of those countries.

However if you are visiting Doha in Qatar, Egypt or even Dubai or Abu Dhabi in the UAE then you will not be required to wear a headscarf unless in a religious site such as the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. 

What to Pack for travel to the Middle East 

What to Wear to the Pyramids in Egypt Dress Code
What to Wear to the Pyramids in Egypt Dress Code

Culturally Appropriate Clothing

In most Middle Eastern countries it is rude to bare your shoulders and knees. Try to bring light, loose layers such as:

  • Long pants
  • long skirts / Maxi Skirts but be sure to check that they do not have a slit that reveals your knees
  • long sleeve shirts and 
  • t-shirts 

are all appropriate to wear when traveling around the Middle East. 

If you are doing any sightseeing (pyramids, Petra, etc), it’s fine to wear hiking shorts but I always opt for a longer pair that cover knees but it definitely would not be appropriate to wear shorts out to dinner in the larger and even more liberal Middle Eastern cities such as Cairo, Amman, Muscat, etc.

Sun Safe Wear (i.e. Sunscreen + Polarized Sunglasses + Hat)

The sun in the Middle East is no joke and it is very easy to get burnt and get dehydrated. It is really important that you are adequately prepared  for the strength of the sun if you will be out of doors sightseeing or hiking. 

Therefore we recommend adding

  • a sun hat
  • sunscreen
  • sunglasses with good SPF 

with you. 

Best Fabrics to wear in the Middle East

If you are traveling to the Middle East, whatever country you are visiting it is important to select your wardrobe fabric carefully. 

We recommend selecting natural fabrics such as:

  • linen
  • cotton and 
  • silk

because these are the most breathable and will help reduce sweat. Man made fabrics should really be avoided if you are traveling and spending time outside in the Middle East. 

Can I wear a bikini in the Middle East? 

Dubai Beaches Dress Code what to wear on the beach in Dubai
Dubai Beaches Dress Code what to wear on the beach in Dubai

From the Red Sea to the Arabian Gulf, to the Dead Sea – there are plenty of beaches in the Middle East but what are you allowed to wear on the beach in the Middle East that meets the Middle East dress code rules? 

Typically, if you are staying at a hotel on the beachfront it’s fine to wear regular beachwear. Now personally I always prefer to wear one pieces in the Middle East over say a thong bikini as I think this is more appropriate buy at the 5* hotels and beach clubs etc you will see a variety of beach wear. 

It will also depend as to which country you are in to what type of beach wear you will commonly see. For instances the Dubai Beach Code is more liberal than the Abu Dhabi Beach code. 

If you’re using a public beach, there is an expectation that people will be more covered (especially for women). Plan to wear long shorts and a t-shirt over your swimsuit.

Pack a Copy of Your Marriage Certificate

If you’re married and you are planning on staying in hotels in more rural areas of the Middle East, it’s not a bad idea to have a copy of your marriage certificate with you. 

We’ve been asked a few places to show this at check-in – usually, we got away with just showing our wedding rings, but sometimes people put up a bit of a fuss!

To save the stress at check in have a copy of your marriage certificate with you in and always travel with a digital copy on your phone. 

What Not to Pack for a Trip to the Middle East

What not to wear to Abu Dhabi
What not to wear to Abu Dhabi

Alcohol

In most Middle Eastern countries, you are not allowed to pack and bring in your own alcohol. 

Several have options to purchase it at duty-free, but many do not. As a rule of thumb, don’t carry it in – plan to buy it there.

Pork

Again, most Middle Eastern countries do not allow pork in through customs. Muslims do not eat pork and many countries do not allow it to be sold. 

Some countries with non-Muslim populations will sell it in certain grocery stores. So if you need it, plan to buy it in the country.

Medicine Without a Prescription

Depending on what you prescription medication you bring with you (especially psychotropics), it’s a good idea to have your prescription with you. 

Your bags might be searched at customs and some countries will take your medication if you can’t show a prescription.

Illegal Drugs

Most Middle Eastern countries (even the UAE) have very strict drug laws. Like many, many years in jail. Don’t even bring weed.

If you have any questions about what’s appropriate to pack for a trip to the Middle East, please feel free to ask in the comments below.

What To Wear in the Middle East as a Woman 

What to wear in Dubai in April Packing List

Maxi Skirts

A Maxi skirt is on all of my Middle Eastern packing lists whatever the country. Maxi skirts are a great modest but cool piece of clothing providing that there isn’t an overly high slit that reveal your knee.

Maxi Dress

A Maxi dress is another staple. I try and pick one made of a natural fabric such as cotton so it is more breathable. 

I would advise picking a dress that has at least some cap sleeves to make it more appropriate for the Middle East dress code. 

Cardigan

It might sound strange to be heading to a country that has daytimes temperatures in the 30s minimum and recommend taking a cardigan but I am. The reason is because many indoor venues in the Middle East have very strong air conditioning. It can definitely feel chilly enough indoors to want an extra layer. 

T Shirt

A T Shirt that covers the shoulder is great wherever you are heading in Dubai. 

Swimwear

My preference is to take one pieces for swimming. That is because they can work at whatever beach or water park you are at. 

If you are traveling and using the private beaches and beach clubs however then you can wear whatever type of swimwear you desire. 

Beach Cover

Now although you can wear swimwear on private beaches and in the waterparks in Dubai and the more liberal countries, swimwear is definitely only appropriate at these places. 

As soon as you leave the beaches and water parks and head onto the boardwalks, shops, restaurants and bars you will need to cover up. 

We advise choosing a beach cover that covers both your knees and shoulders again to adhere to the Middle East dress club. 

For this reason I usually opt for beach kaftans such as the one below

Shorts (Longer Length)

e often get asked “Can I wear shorts in the Middle East?”. And the answer is surprisingly yes but they have to be the right type. 

If you want to wear shorts in public they have to be longer length and cover the knee. 

Sandals

Are the perfect type of shoe for the Middle East

Sneakers

Although sandals are my go to shoe I also advise taking a sneaker for heavier walking days. 

Click here to shop good sneakers

Flip Flops 

Although the most important shoes for the Middle EAst are definitely sandals and sneakers, you may also want to pack a pair of flip flops with you for when wandering around the pool and beach.

Click here to shop flip flops

Underwear

This goes without seeing.

Pashmina

For any trip to the Middle East whatever time of year you are traveling we recommend taking a pashmina. This is for three reasons:

  • The air conditioning can be very strong so you may want to have a pashmina as an extra layer for some indoor locations. 
  • It can be used to make an outfit more modest when required.
  • Can be used as a headscarf if you are traveling to Iran or to Saudi Arabia. 

Sun hat

The sun is very strong in the Middle East so to protect your face from the sun while walking around the city and for hanging out on the beach. 

Sunglasses

Sun safety in the Middle East is very important so be sure to pack a good pair of sunglasses that have good UV Protection.

PJs

What to Wear in the Middle East as a Man

Cotton Pants

To keep your knees covered for certain public places but keep cool we recommend wearing lightweight cotton pants. 

T Shirts 

T Shirts are appropriate throughout the Middle East for men.

Longer Length Shorts

While at hotels and on the beach shorter length shorts are fine, we recommend packing a long length pair for certain public places.

Shirts

While T shirts are appropriate in most public places, button down shirts should be added to your packing list if you plan on eating at some of Middle East’s fine dining establishments.

Sandals

Sandals are appropriate for men as well as women.

Sneakers 

Sneakers are great for the days you plan on doing lots of walking. 

Flip Flops

Again if you are at the beach and hotel, you may if you have room want to add some flip flops to your packing list too.

Underwear

Light Weight Jacket or Sweater

For when inside in strongly air conditioned places

Pjs

Swimming Trunks

Middle East Packing List (non clothing)

Abu Dhabi Beaches Dress Code

Now we have covered the clothes you should pack for the Middle East, we will look at the non clothing items to put on your Middle Eastern packing list

  • Documents including Marriage Certificate
  • Suncream
  • Aloe Vera
  • Lip Balm with SPF
  • Toiletries
  • Medication and their related prescriptions
  • First Aid Kit
  • Water bottle – it is important to stay hydrated in Dubai
  • Cooling Towel
  • Quick Dry Towel

Specific Middle Eastern Countries Dress Codes

As we have said the Middle East is not one homognous area. There are several countries that make up the Middle East and even though they all follow Islam they have differing dress codes and approaches to attire. For country and attraction specific dress codes please check out the below posts:

EGYPT 

What to Wear to the Pyramids in Egypt Dress Code
What to Wear to the Pyramids in Egypt Dress Code

QATAR

UAE

If you have any other questions about Middle East Dress Code then please do leave us a comment and we will do our best to answer.

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