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
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.
It used to be compulsory in Saudi Arabia that women had to cover your hair but in 2019 this rule was changed. However having said that I would always still have one to hand.
The only place where wearing a headscarf or hijab is compulsory is Iran. If you are visiting here 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
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
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
- sunglasses with good SPF
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:
- cotton and
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?
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
A T Shirt that covers the shoulder is great wherever you are heading in Dubai.
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.
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.
Are the perfect type of shoe for the Middle East
Although sandals are my go to shoe I also advise taking a sneaker for heavier walking days.
Click here to shop good sneakers
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.
This goes without seeing.
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.
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.
Sun safety in the Middle East is very important so be sure to pack a good pair of sunglasses that have good UV Protection.
What to Wear in the Middle East as a Man
To keep your knees covered for certain public places but keep cool we recommend wearing lightweight cotton pants.
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.
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 are appropriate for men as well as women.
Sneakers are great for the days you plan on doing lots of walking.
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.
Light Weight Jacket or Sweater
For when inside in strongly air conditioned places
Middle East Packing List (non clothing)
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
- Aloe Vera
- Lip Balm with SPF
- 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:
- What to wear to Jordan Dress Code
- What to wear to Petra
- What to wear to Wadi Rum
- What to wear in the Dead Sea
- Dubai Dress Code
- Burj Khalifa Dress Code
- Dubai Beaches Dress Code
- What to Wear in Dubai Airport
- What to Wear in Dubai in April
- What not to wear in Abu Dhabi
- Abu Dhabi Beaches Dress Code
- Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Dress Code
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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