Dating in Saudi Arabia is challenging, but not impossible, and this helpful article will walk you through the basics of how to go about it discreetly.
Dating in Saudi Arabia is a secretive affair and looking for romance in this highly conservative Kingdom is difficult, but not impossible. This helpful article will walk you through the basics of how people meet, socialize, and date in Saudi Arabia. However, do keep in mind that dating is technically illegal, therefore you should aim to be as subtle as possible.
The guide includes the following sections:
- Dating in Saudi Arabia
- How to meet people in Saudi Arabia
- Dating etiquette in Saudi Arabia
- Moving into a relationship in Saudi Arabia
Dating in Saudi Arabia
The first and most important thing that expats need to know is that Saudis do not date. Once it is time for a person to get married, their parents will decide on an appropriate match and, depending on how traditional the family is, that person may have the final say on the matter.
Furthermore, it is considered both immoral and illegal for two people who are unrelated and unmarried to spend time together; therefore, if you are looking for someone to be more-than-friends with, you will need to be both careful and creative. Although the Kingdom is opening up in many ways – for example allowing music, movies, and theaters, which enables more public mixing than before – dating, sex, and romance remain taboo.
How to meet people in Saudi Arabia
Despite the cultural limitations, it is not impossible to meet new people in Saudi Arabia. In fact, you have a few options if you are on the lookout for romance. Here are some of them:
Dating apps like OKCupid, Match.com, Tinder, Bumble, and WhoseHere work in the Kingdom and offer various options and levels of success. Just make sure that you are cautious about meeting up with strangers since you are technically breaking the law. Of course, you should take the same safety precautions that you would at home, too. For example, be careful not to share too much personal information, such as your address, and if you do meet, do so in a public place, and be discreet.
Expat friends, get-togethers, and compounds are good options for potential romance and for finding people with similar interests. Compound living mirrors life in your home country, offering housing, activities, and gender mixing. It might feel monotonous to constantly go on dates within the compound, but it is your safest bet.
Although many public restaurants and coffee shops are gender separated, more and more are beginning to allow mixing. Places like this offer opportunities to go out and socialize in a pseudo-normal way. Public displays of affection aren’t tolerated, however, so be careful. Read our article on The best restaurants in Riyadh for some inspiration.
Join Meetup groups
A solid option to meet friends and interesting people are the myriad Meetup groups that unite people with similar interests, such as fencing, dancing, painting, running, and so on. This is also a safe bet if you are looking for a way to get to know people before diving into a potential romance.
Dating etiquette in Saudi Arabia
A typical dating scenario
Because of the taboo nature of dating in Saudi Arabia, first dates must be low-key affairs. If you both live in the same compound – or you don’t but can let them into yours – you will likely spend your first date at the movies or at one the compound’s restaurants. As most Saudi society rules don’t apply within the compound, this is a great, relaxed option for couples. Some restaurants in big cities also offer private cabinas and are lax about letting genders mix within their establishment. Asking around in your expat circles is a great way to discover date spots as most expats know a place or two with relaxed attitudes.
Dating behavior in Saudi Arabia
As mentioned before, dating in Saudi Arabia must be subtle. Depending on whether you brave the public gaze, or if you live in a compound or in a home, your risks and behavior will be different. As in any space in the Kingdom, be sure to dress conservatively and avoid being publicly affectionate.
Because unmarried couples legally shouldn’t share space in Saudi Arabia, it is not common for men to drive women to and from their house. It is also risky to follow the more Western rituals of dating, such as bringing gifts, hugging, and so on. At the end of the date, if there is a bill, the man will usually pay it and they may even get offended if you offer to contribute.
Even though the Saudi government recently removed the mandate on wearing the abaya, there are still some people who will be offended if you don’t wear it. While expat women aren’t required to cover their hair, it is smart to keep a scarf with you just in case. Whether or not you choose to wear an abaya or headscarf, it is wise to dress as conservatively as possible; especially if you are (technically) breaking the law by going on a date. Long, loose-fitting skirts paired with long-sleeved tops are a good option.
Similarly, men should cover their shoulders and legs at all times. For both genders, if you aren’t sure whether to dress formally or informally – err on the formal side. Besides, there’s no such thing as looking too good.
It is still incredibly rare for Saudis to marry non-Saudis. If you are a woman dating a Saudi man, you should know that stories abound of married Saudi men hiding their marital status while dating. You should also know that it is uncommon for Saudi men to introduce foreign women to their families because that demonstrates an intent to marry. If you are a foreign man dating a Saudi woman without the consent of her family, you should be extremely careful. On her part, she is risking both her honor and that of her family; on yours, you are risking jail time and even possible deportation.
Moving into a relationship in Saudi Arabia
Moving into a relationship can take various forms in Saudi Arabia, depending on the cultures of the people involved. Some couples continue to subtly date for months and years within the confines of Saudi society. Others will get married quickly so they can be more public with their relationship – while they continue to date. Keep in mind that sex outside of marriage, and living together while unmarried, are both criminal offenses; so be very careful about the intimate aspects of your relationship/s.
The role of family in dating in Saudi Arabia
The time for families to become involved depends on the couple. Some expat couples date, become engaged, and marry without the families meeting before the wedding day. For almost all expat couples, however, meeting the family involves travelling to their respective home countries and reaching a certain level of commitment.
Meeting a Saudi partner’s family, on the other hand, is a landmark moment. This usually means that you two are expected to get married and that the time and place of that marriage are a formality. Saudi families, like most Gulf families, practice extended family living; where parents, grandparents, and siblings – along with their spouses – all live together in one huge villa.
For more information, read our Guide to getting married in Saudi Arabia.