5 Things To Know About Doing Business in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s economy is not only booming, it’s the most stable in the Gulf. This is a country offering many highly-lucrative ventures for Westerners hoping to make their mark, but at times – largely due to its religiously conservative nature – Saudi Arabia seems more intimidating than largely opportune.

Don’t be discouraged by the seemingly strict, closed-off way of life. Armed with the proper knowledge, you can easily break into the culture and begin your business ventures. We surveyed Saudi Arabia’s expat business community and here offer you the top 5 things to know about doing business in Saudi Arabia.

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Photo by Larry Johnson

1. Saudi Arabia offers a friendly business environment.

Out of 189 economies, Saudi Arabia is ranked as 12th when it comes to ease of doing business. Many preconceived notions regarding animosity between Saudis and Westerners simply aren’t true – in fact, Saudi businessmen enjoy creating and fostering such types of working relationships. Need proof of good expat relations? Saudi Arabia is the largest exporters of crude oil to the U.S. and on average ships around 10 million barrels per day to the States alone, therefore, having an open and friendly business culture is definitely a must!

2. Weekends differ and prayer times are important.

100% of Saudi Arabia is Muslim – a title that only one other country, Somalia, can claim. Therefore, it is important to respect Islamic culture when doing business in Saudi Arabia. As Friday is a holiday in Muslim countries and the day set for communal prayer, weekends are Friday-Saturday instead of Saturday-Sunday. Also, Saudi business people pray five times a day and even though you are not required to do so, you will have to observe these times on a daily basis and fit your schedule around them.

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Photo by Tps Dave

3. Saudi Arabia has a loose approach to business.

Like many Middle Eastern nations, Saudi Arabia is a bit more lax when it comes to punctuality and meetings. Being on time is not generally a priority and even once you get a meeting going you’ll find that Saudi’s tend to carry on multiple meetings at the same time, stop for prayer time, or even take time for simple chit-chat. Many Westerners struggle to adapt to this loose structure, but once they do most prefer it to the fast-paced business culture of the West.

4. There are specific cultural restrictions for women in Saudi Arabia.

Amongst the 22 Arab states, Saudi Arabia is considered the third worst for women. This is largely due to restrictions which prevent local women from working, moving abroad, or even doing simple things such as opening a bank account without the permission of a male guardian. But even though less than 20% of the workforce in Saudi Arabia is comprised of women, it doesn’t mean women aren’t there doing business. It’s important to be aware that even if you are a Western woman doing business in Saudi Arabia, you will still have to adhere to certain standards – a big one being that many Saudi businessmen will refuse to meet with you unless there is a male in your party.

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Photo by Kimon Berlin

5. Privacy is a big deal in Saudi Arabia.

You only need to look at the modest mode of dressing in Saudi Arabia to realize that this is a conservative culture which places high value on privacy – especially when it comes to women. While doing business there, you’re sure to have some leisure time for sight-seeing, but when out and about never point your camera at, or take pictures of Saudi women. Also, avoid pointing at women or discussing a male friend’s female relatives with him. Taking pictures of men is generally okay, but only after obtaining permission first – so be sure to ask before you snap!

Even though Saudi Arabian culture is starkly different from the West, it is a society which fascinates and intrigues people all around the world. Having a grasp on the language is another way to supplement your recently acquired knowledge and help you truly embrace life in Saudi Arabia. Check out Language Trainers’ Arabic language classes before you go so that once you’re there you’ll be able to show the proper deference and respect. And start your language journey now by taking a free Arabic placement exam! Knowing these five tips and having strong language skills will take you far as you journey to the driest place on Earth to seek your business fortune.

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