Business Etiquette, Languages & Culture
A lot of time has to be spent getting to know people and establishing relationships before doing business in Saudi Arabia.
It can be quite common for meetings to be interrupted by phone calls and people coming in, but it's important not be put off by this, patience and courtesy are essential.
In accordance with a Royal Decree announced in July 2013, the official work-week in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been moved from Saturday-Wednesday to Sunday-Thursday. Some private sector organisations still retain a 6-day work week, with Friday serving as the only day off.
Working hours during the holy month of Ramadan are reduced - Government offices should be open from 10.00am to 3.00pm. In the private sector many businesses will open at night in Ramadan, normally 10.00pm to 1.00am. For the most up-to-date information about future Ramadan dates, please contact the British Embassy Riyadh or visit the online British Embassy Riyadh section. It's best to avoid non-essential business travel around Ramadan and Eid festivals.
For the most up-to-date information about Public Holidays in Saudi Arabia, please contact the British Embassy Riyadh or visit the online British Embassy Riyadh section.
Saudi businessmen often wear the traditional thobe and shemagh - headdress - in public. Saudi women and foreign women must wear an abaya - a full length black cloak - in public. A headscarf need not be worn but should be carried with you in case you are told by the religious police that you have to cover your head. Under the abaya, women visitors are advised to wear a full-length dress or trousers and top with high neck and long sleeves, in case you are invited to remove the abaya in less formal business meetings.
Visiting businessmen usually wear suits for appointments.
No religious practices other than Islam are allowed. The majority of Saudis are Sunni Muslims and many are Wahhabis (puritans), although there are considerable numbers of Shia Muslims in the Eastern Province. Muslims pray five times a day and all shops and many offices will close to observe prayer times. Copies of the Bible or any other non-Islamic religious literature may not be brought into the country, nor any non-Islamic symbols or statues.
The Muttawa are members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. They maintain a vigilant eye on Saudis and foreigners to ensure that they conform to the Kingdom's strict dress and behaviour codes. Women approached by the Muttawa and asked to cover their hair, should do so and move on quickly to avoid confrontation.
Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. The best way to get around for men and women is to use a chauffeured car supplied by the hotel or to use taxis. Many local business contacts will be happy to send a car to pick up foreign visitors from their hotel.
Saudi Arabia has many traffic cameras dotted around, waiting to catch drivers going through red lights or speeding. The problem is, many people don't know they've been caught and fined until they try to leave the Kingdom and are refused exit by immigration. There is a desk at the airport where you can pay fines, but if it's closed, you'll have to wait until it opens!
There are several options to avoid this situation. First of all, don't break any traffic laws and you'll be ok! If you are worried you might have been caught by a camera and you have an iqama you can text the number to 88993 if you are on SAWA mobile, or 625555 if you are on Mobily, and you will get a reply telling you if you have any fines, which you can then pay before you try and leave the country.
Alternatively you could call 01-2928888 through your landline to know the status of your fine. Just follow the instructions after dialling this number.
The ministry of interior has more information about traffic violations www.moi.gov.sa
Saudi Arabia is the strictest of all Muslim countries and behaviour in public is subject to inflexible rules. Islam dominates all aspects of life. The sexes are strictly segregated for example in restaurants and in hotel swimming pools/gyms, and no public displays of affection may be shown when out and about.
It is important that anyone doing business in Saudi Arabia, or living in the country, understands the laws and obeys them.
Alcohol consumption is forbidden, and prison sentences vary from a few weeks to several months with or without flogging. Anyone caught smuggling or distributing alcohol can face a long prison sentence.
No pork or pork products are allowed.
During the month of Ramadan, visitors should avoid eating, drinking or smoking in public between dawn and dusk.
It is prohibited to take photographs of airports and military installations and of other sensitive buildings. Care should also be taken not to photograph Muslim women without their consent.
Homosexual behaviour and adultery are illegal and carry the death penalty.
Source - UKTI
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