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I am an American nurse who signed a one-year nursing contract in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (I did get fired after 4-months which you can hear about here…), and my first thought was, “how am I supposed to pack for this?!”
Moving to a very hot, and very conservative Muslim country brought so much uncertainty when it came to packing. What are the lightest clothes I can wear while still be covered? What kind of plugs and adapters do I need to purchase? What will I want/need to take with me if I don’t return to the United States for an entire year? How much do I need to pack?! The questions tumbled through my mind until I made myself crazy!
The good news is – you can find pretty much anything you may want or need in Saudi Arabia. There are tons of malls in the Kingdom and many stores from budget all the way up to luxury. There are even home stores like Ikea if you decide you want to make your place feel more *homey* and add an extra touch here and there. (When I arrived to the Kingdom I was a freak about buying candles and storage bins – both which made me feel more at home). All of this to say, if you forget something – don’t fret, you can most certainly buy it.
The Best Packing Guide for Nurses Moving to Saudi Arabia
Below you’ll find everything that I took with me to Saudi Arabia or wish that I had taken with me to Saudi Arabia. You’ll also find a list of things that I think you’ll need in Saudi Arabia, but I would suggest purchasing once you arrive just to save room in your luggage.
At the end of this post you’ll notice an area where you can sign up for my email list. If you sign up, you’ll also get a checklist for this packing guide that will come in handy when you’re actually packing! (If you’re already signed up for my email list, you can sign up again and you’ll receive the packing list without being added twice).
Remember, you’re moving to a very hot, very conservative country so it’s important to cover up while still staying cool. And one of the interesting things about Saudi Arabia is that it does cool down in the winter (who would’ve thought?! Not me!). Of course, it’s not cold enough to snow (unless you’re in the mountains), but it cools down enough that you may need a coat when the sun sets at night.
You also might notice that I don’t mention scrubs on this list. I would reach out to your hospital to see if they provide scrubs and if not, pack a few pairs or purchase once you arrive.
There are tons of stores selling abaya’s in Saudi, but you might feel more comfortable arriving with one in your suitcase. It is not required to wear an abaya, but many people do and I suggest having one on hand *just in case*. Also know, you can wear any color abaya you want, but the women of Saudi wear black. If you want to blend in, I suggest purchasing a black one too. (To save room, I don’t recommend buying more than one as you can purchase as many as you want once you arrive).
HIJAB (HEAD SCARF)
It’s not required by law to wear a hijab, but again, you might feel more comfortable having one one you – just in case. Plus, in the off chance you visit a holy site, you’ll most likely be required to cover your head in some capacity.
- Hijab x 1
Different parts of Saudi Arabia have different levels of conservatism. For instance, Jeddah is much more relaxed and laid-back than Riyadh. And Mecca and Medina are the two most conservative cities in the country (and maybe even the most conservative in the world). With that being said, yes, you can get away with wearing short sleeves in Saudi Arabia – but it’s not something that is common and will more than likely get you a LOT of stares. For packing purposes, I only recommend bringing long-sleeves or shirts that you can wear under an abaya/jacket and once you get to the Kingdom you can see how you feel in terms of wearing short-sleeves around.
- Long-Sleeve Shirts x 7
- Short-Sleeve/Tank Tops x 3 (only if you plan to bring jackets)
Remember, your tops should cover your chest and abdomen!
You can wear a variety of bottoms in Saudi Arabia as long as they cover your knees and aren’t too tight. I did take “tight” jeans and whenever I wore them, I just made sure to wear a long top that covered my bum. Otherwise I stuck to loose jeans and linen pants.
- Jeans x 2
- Linen Pants x 2
My favorite way to dress in the hotter months was by throwing on a light-weight dress and calling it a day! Remember, your dress should cover at least your knees and shoulders. Although, I would aim for dresses that went to your ankles and covered your elbows unless you plan to wear a jacket.
- Dress x 2
If you’re going to bring less conservative clothing to Saudi Arabia, outwear will be your best friend. But if you’re planning on bringing conservative clothing, less outwear will be required. Remember, it can be quite chilly in the Kingdom – especially at night – so you might want to consider bringing *warmer* clothes with you.
To save space in your luggage, I would recommend packing a coat only if you’re arriving in Saudi in the cold months (December-February). If you’re arriving to Saudi in the summer you’ll have tons of time to navigate the malls before winter comes so you can just buy a coat once you’re there.
- Coat x 1 (only if you’re arriving in the winter)
- Jackets x 2 (if possible, bring a jacket that covers your bum so it can double as a sort of abaya)
Don’t forget your underwear when packing! I generally like to pack enough as if I won’t be able to do laundry for two-weeks.
- Underwear x 14
- Bra x 2
- Socks x 14
WORK-OUT WEAR/LOUNGE WEAR/SWIMWEAR
Of course, if you don’t work out – you can skip this part. But you’ll definitely want to bring something to lounge around in/pajamas and you’ll definitely want a swimming suit – even if you don’t think you’ll need one. I got invited to many swim parties that I didn’t expect to get invited to and was very thankful I had a suit with me!
- Work-Out Outfits x 4
- Lounge Wear x 2
- Swimsuit x 1
Surprisingly, you can wear pretty much any footwear that you want in Saudi! I highly recommend taking mostly flats, but if you do want to dress up for a “night out on the town”, then heels are perfectly acceptable!
- Sandals x 1
- Tennis Shoes x 2 (one pair for work/working out, one pair for walking around)
- Heels x 1 (I had trouble finding cute shoes in Saudi so if you think you might want to wear heels, I suggest bringing a versatile pair)
- Shower Shoes/Slippers (these are not required but if it’s something that you like wearing around home, I suggest packing them for Saudi as well)
There are a few instances in which I would recommend packing more “unconventionally” (shorts, tank tops, short dresses, etc). These reasons would be if you’re living on a compound where you’re allowed to go out in whatever you want, if you’re planning to leave Saudi and travel to less conservative countries, and if you want to attend any embassy parties.
Remember, you can buy anything you want to in Saudi (they have the most incredible Zara stores I’ve ever seen), so I wouldn’t jump at packing these items right away. I suggest packing everything you need first, and then if you have space, packing unconventional wear.
I’m going to mention all of the things that I packed, but tailor this list to your liking!
- Tampons – I heard mixed reviews on whether or not you could find tampons in the Kingdom and while I was told it’s possible… I didn’t find any while I was there. For that reason, I recommend bringing a lot with you or switching over to a menstrual cup. (Please note: pads are readily available).
- Shampoo/Conditioner/Hair Care Products
- Skin Care Products
- Curling Iron/Straightener/Blow Dryer
- Body Lotion/Body Wash
- Travel Size Bottles – I highly recommend bringing travel size bottles (as well as full size bottles) so that you can take some in your carry on in case your luggage gets lost (more on that later) – or if you plan to travel around and don’t want to carry your big bottles with you.
Here are some other – random – things that I would recommend packing.
- AirTags – I will never again check a bag without ensuring there is an AirTag inside. I had my luggage lost for 10-days when I arrived and nobody was able to tell me where it was. Luckily, I got it back, but my co-worker also lost her luggage and it was never returned.
- Power Adapter – You need a power adapter so that you can charge your devices using your US power cords.
- Voltage Converter – This also does the job of the power adapter, but is much bulkier which is why I would suggest buying a separate power adapter. You need a voltage converter if you plan to bring a hairdryer with you. Otherwise, I don’t see a need for a voltage converter.
- Cable Organizer – I travel with a cable organizer to keep all of my cords together and tangle-free.
- Sleep Mask – I always travel with my Manta sleep mask to help me fall asleep on the plane and adjust to changes in the time zone.
- Any paperwork that you’ve filled out for work and Saudi i.e. vaccines, physical, visa paperwork (even if you’ve already submitted these, I’d bring a hard copy just in case)
- COVID Vaccination Card
- Purses – Don’t forget a small purse or two! I would also highly recommend a big travel backpack, not only for the airplane, but also for days that you’re out adventuring and need to pack a few bigger things like your camera, etc. I use this Nordace one and am very impressed every single time I pack it just by the amount of things that are able to fit inside.
If you have room you might also want to consider bringing things along that you generally like at home. For instance, I’m an avid reader so while I brought a couple of books, I also purchased an iPad to buy books from and save precious packing room.
I love to work out so I made sure to bring a jump rope. elastic workout bands, and resistance bands as well. Think of things you normally do at home, and try to bring it with you in a more conventional, pack-friendly, way.
Onto electronics! This section won’t be for everyone, but it will be for you if you like photography and want to capture some great content while you’re in Saudi! Below I’ve linked everything that I personally use to take pictures and make content.
- Phone – Of course, don’t forget your phone! One question I get asked endlessly online is “Are you able to use WhatsApp in Saudi Arabia?”, and the answer is yes! Check out this post for more apps to download before you arrive to the Kingdom.
- Camera – I have always used a Canon and most recently updated to the Canon EOS R and absolutely love it! It’s worth every single penny.
- GoPro – For on the go footage, underwater footage, and something smaller than a camera.
- Smartphone Gimbal Stabilizer – For shooting stable footage with your phone.
Packing Tips for Moving to Saudi Arabia
I did a lot of things wrong when it came to packing up my belongings and moving to Saudi Arabia (the worst mistake was not putting AirTags in my luggage). But I also did a lot of things right! Below you’ll find my best packing tips for packing up your life and belongings and moving to Saudi Arabia.
HOW MANY BAGS SHOULD YOU TAKE TO SAUDI ARABIA?
I’m more of a “less is better” gal when it comes to packing. I truly hate lugging my stuff across the world so if you’re able to pack lighter, I say go for it. However, that wasn’t necessarily the case for me and I packed two bags to check-in, one carry-on, and one big backpack.
HOW TO PACK: CHECK-IN LUGGAGE VS CARRY-ON
For my checked-in luggage, I separated these two bags into “one for toiletries/miscellaneous items” and one for “shoes, purses, clothes”. It helped keep me organized as I packed. I don’t recommend placing anything super valuable or expensive in your checked-in luggage.
In my carry-on I made sure to pack things that I would need in case my checked bags were to get lost (which they did so thank goodness!). Make sure to put extra clothes, underwear, etc in your carry-on. Along with any electronics that you don’t readily need on your flight and all of your paperwork. I always carry my camera and valuables with me, instead of checking them in.
For the backpack – this should be packed with everything that you’ll need readily available on your flight. You’ll want to have your skin care, deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste here. Your passport, wallet, COVID vaccination card, etc. You’ll also want to have your flight entertainment like books, your iPad with your downloaded shows, and headphones. Make sure to pack your sleep mask in your backpack and generally anything else you may need “right away”.
WHAT IF I FORGOT SOMETHING?
Again, if you forgot something – don’t worry! Not only are there tons of malls in Saudi Arabia where you can get anything you need, but also delivery services as well. If you want to shop on Amazon you can do so on the Saudi Amazon (amazon.sa). But I think the even better option is to use Noon, which the locals refer to as, “Saudi’s Amazon”. (The one time I ordered off of Amazon instead of Noon my package was never delivered).
I hope that this list provided a bit of anxiety relief when it comes to packing up your life and moving to Saudi Arabia. If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below. And don’t forget, by signing up for my email list (at the bottom of this email) you’ll get a packing checklist sent straight to your inbox!
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