Etiquette in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia , officially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, constitutes the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula on the Persian Gulf. Its population is estimated to consist of 16 million citizens and an additional 9 million registered foreign expatriates.

The official language is Arabic. Saudis who were educated overseas usually speak English.

Saudi Arabia is an unitary Islamic absolute monarchy, and The Quran and the Sunnah (the traditions of Muhammad) are declared to be the country’s constitution. Saudi Arabia is  the only Arab nation where no national elections have ever taken place, and no political parties or national elections are permitted.

The official religion is Sunni Islam and Saudis are not permitted to change religions.

The Saudi riyal (ريال‎) is the currency of Saudi Arabia. It is abbreviated as ر.س or SR (Saudi Riyal) and subdivided into 100 Halalas.

Business Negotiation Etiquette

Expect the pace of business to be slow, and often interrupted. Business decisions take a considerable amount of time to be made. Don’t be surprised if your meetings start with a lengthy conversation about your health, journey, or other personal inquiry. Your meeting may also be interrupted by personal phone calls and visits from others.

Business hours are quite different from those in other parts of the world. Friday is the Muslim holy day, so most businesses operate from Saturday to Wednesday. Business hours can vary widely but many are open in the morning, close midday and the reopen for a few hours late in the afternoon. Also, Saudi officials are prohibited from working more than 6 hours a day, so it is best to schedule your appointments early in the day. Alternatively, some Saudi businessmen prefer to work after dark due to the extreme heat. You may be invited to a meeting anytime up until midnight.

No business is conducted on Aid-al-Fitr or Ramadan, and individuals choose other holidays to observe that may disrupt business scheduling.

The key to business success in Saudi Arabia is your contact-sponsor. Finding one with the right personality and connections is paramount. If you do not have one, you can find one through contacts at banks that do business in Saudi Arabia or through the U.S. International Trade Administration. Choose wisely, as once you choose a sponsor you are not permitted to switch.

Compared to North America, there is much less distance and more physical contact in conversation.  Also, Saudi men will often walk hand in hand. If a Saudi takes your hand, accept it as a sign of friendship.

It is unwise to bring up women in conversation, even to ask about your partner’s wife or daughter. Israel is also a topic best avoided. Sports, such as soccer, horse/camel racing, or hunting are a good choice of conversation topic.