News that a local Saudi woman has been arrested for flouting the kingdom’s dress code by wearing a miniskirt and crop top in a viral video, serves as a reminder to visitors to do their homework before traveling to conservative countries in the Middle East.
In the video, which went viral over the weekend after first surfacing on Snapchat, a young, dark-haired woman is seen walking around the historic fort in Ushayqir in the ultra-conservative province of Najd in Saudi Arabia.
The video stoked controversy on social media, with some calling for the model’s immediate arrest, and others coming to her defense.
But whether or not you support the woman’s actions and audacity, travelers to conservative countries are advised to read up on local customs and abide by their laws.
According to the US Department of State, women in Saudi Arabia customarily wear a full-length black cloak known as the abaya, and cover their heads with a scarf.
Women who choose not to conform to the dress code are advised that they face possible detention and arrest.
Likewise, men are advised to dress conservatively and not to wear shorts in public or go out shirtless.
Because as the Department of State points out, visitors are subject to local laws. Those who violate the rules — even unknowingly — may be expelled, arrested, imprisoned, subject to physical punishments, or even executed depending on the offense.
Unlike Saudi Arabia, women traveling to the UAE are not expected to cover their heads or wear traditional Muslim dress, points out the Embassy of the UAE website for the US.
When visiting a mosque, women will be asked to respect Muslim traditions and wear an abaya to cover their heads.
Countries with strict dress codes
Meanwhile, it’s not just Saudi Arabia that enforces a strict dress code.
In North Korea, locals are likewise expected to dress conservatively or risk attracting unwanted attention from government “fashion police.”
Last year, the government banned body piercings (ears are allowed), jeans, ponytails and tight clothing as part of a major crackdown on any public expression or appreciation of Western culture, reported Japanese news service Asia Press.
Sudanese women also face lashings for wearing trousers, while women in Uganda can be arrested for wearing skirts or shorts above the knee.