Just like the United Arab Emirates and the rest of the countries in the GCC, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a very strong mall culture.
Malls in the conservative kingdom serve as climatic sanctuaries for its residents and visitors – somewhere to seek shelter, food, and drink from the severe extremities of the outside weather.
However, there are a few important points to be aware of when visiting a mall in Saudi Arabia.
Every mall has its own set of rules which apply to all visitors in addition to the rules and laws of the conservative country.
To avoid being arrested by the religious police, formally the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, and known locally as the "hay’ah" - who have an active presence in most of the malls - you should keep the following instructions in mind:
1. No shorts
This applies to all malls in Saudi Arabia. You will not be allowed to enter the mall with shorts; security may escort you out if you do.
2. No display of affection in public
This goes without saying, but display of affection to your partner in public is strictly forbidden. Yes, even holding hands will most likely get you into trouble with the mall security and/or religious police.
Nope, no way! If a male and a female are out together, and they are not relatives or married, they will be prosecuted as it's a crime punishable by Saudi law.
4. Don't go in with a large group of men
A large group of men - more than 5 at any one time - attracts unnecessary attention and will be refused entrance to the mall.
5. What's your excuse?
Be prepared, the religious police or security staff may randomly ask for a valid purpose for your visit to the mall.
You should have an answer ready, or at least a reason to be there. Just walking around the shops and spending time in the mall with no motive is not convincing enough.
6. Women-only shops
Males are only allowed in shops that have a male section. If you are looking to buy a birthday or anniversary gift for your wife, sister, or mother, you must do it online.
Check the sign of the shop before you enter as some shops say “Families only.” This means that you are allowed in if you have a woman with you.
Other shops may have a sign saying “Females only.” This means that even if you are with your wife, you won't be able to enter said shop.
Some malls in Saudi Arabia, such as Kingdom Mall and Panorama Mall, have special floors for women. There, they can take off their Abaya and shop freely.
7. Shut down for prayers
During prayer time, all stores inside the mall will be closed, not the mall itself. Shops must be empty of customers. If you are inside a clothes shop, for example, you will be asked to leave and return after prayers.
If you are Muslim, you must head for the Mosques and prayer rooms in the malls. If you are non-Muslim, you can either wait outside the shop, in your car or go home. The stores will normally be shut for 20 to 30 minutes.
Should you already be inside a supermarket for some food shopping before the prayer starts, you will be allowed to continue. However, as soon as it is prayer time, the staff usually leave the shop, close the doors, and lock you inside. You can continue to shop until the prayer is completed.
Once the staff returns and opens the doors, you can proceed to checkout.
8. No photos whatsoever
Photography is strictly forbidden.
Malls are filled with women, and if a woman is photographed by a man, she can - and most likely will - report you to the security personnel. Female members of society take privacy very seriously.
9. Separate seating areas
If you head over to the food court, you need to be mindful of the seating arrangements. There will be a family section and a separate section for singles.