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Do’s and Don’ts of doing business in Saudi Arabia

Monday January 10, 2022

As the largest economy in the Middle East and North Africa, Saudi Arabia attracts many international investors and serves as a major commercial hub. For most expats, the Saudi corporate world is the least familiar of all Gulf countries. The Kingdom can be difficult for outsiders because of its religious strictness, cultural conservatism, and difficult geographic location.

The Saudi way of life may be somewhat different from the style you are accustomed to. However, given that you will be in the Kingdom for extended periods and want your business to succeed, it is essential that you become familiar with the business etiquette and the culture. This page will cover some do’s and don’ts when doing business in Saudi Arabia, and by the end, you will have a better grasp of how the Kingdom does business.

We will cover the following:

    • Respecting the culture and traditions
    • Establishing personal connections
    • Actively engage with the culture
    • Recognising Islam is a cornerstone of the country
    • Don’t avoid eye contact
    • Don’t be rude
    • Working with Creative Zone

Respecting the culture and traditions

In Saudi Arabia, Islam forms the foundation of society. To avoid offending Muslims, you need to familiarise yourself with the fundamental rules of Islamic culture.

Even if you are not Muslim, wearing conservative clothing is the norm. Men tend to wear suits and ties when they go to the office or to business meetings. Women have to wear floor-length dresses or pants. Women should also bring an abaya, which they may need to wear when entering specific locations.

Establishing personal connections

Men in Saudi Arabia always shake hands when they meet for the first time. Ensure to do so with everyone in the room, beginning with the most senior person. If women are present, wait for them to offer their hand – do not extend yours to them without their having initiated it.

You will also have to be patient when meeting new Saudi business partners for the first time. To do business with Saudi Arabia, you must first earn their trust. As a rule, they like to get to know one another before committing to a formal partnership.

In the beginning, when you are getting to know each other, small talk is very important. Families, business, culture, and sport are all good topics to discuss. It will be very warmly appreciated if you are generous with your views on Saudi culture, history, and achievements. In Saudi Arabia, establishing long-term, personal business ties is a sound investment.

Actively engage with the culture

In Saudi Arabia, English is extensively spoken, particularly in the corporate world. It would go a long way if you learned a few Arabic words and phrases since it will enable you to communicate more effectively with your Saudi counterparts. They will also appreciate the time and effort you put into studying their language.

Entertaining your guests is a big aspect of business relationship building in Saudi Arabia. Saudis love to host, so it’s best to accept all invitations as they see any declination as an insult. It is also customary to invite them over for dinner and lunch. Most of the time they will be happy to accept your invitation.

Recognising Islam is a cornerstone of the country

It is essential that you understand the significance of Islam in Saudi Arabia, particularly in the corporate sector. The majority of local nationals do not separate their work and spiritual lives. They see Islam as an integral component of their personal, spiritual, and professional lives.

For example, it is common to organise meetings and other events around prayer times as a general rule. Furthermore, it is unlawful to consume food or drink in public (even in places of business) during daylight hours throughout the holy month of Ramadan. Always be aware of this and remain sensitive to local culture and traditions.

Don’t avoid eye contact

It is important to look them in the eye when talking to someone. People in Saudi Arabia see eye contact as a sign of honesty and openness, so be sure to make eye contact with Saudi men when you talk to them. On the other hand, Saudi women do not usually make eye contact with men they do not know. Keep this in mind when you meet new people, so you don’t offend them.

Do not be rude

Many Saudi businesspersons deal with expats and tend to overlook minor cultural misunderstandings. However, there are some red lines you need to avoid crossing. For example, never show your soles or openly dispute with your host in front of others, especially in public. Do not raise your voice, and only eat with your right hand.

Working with Creative Zone

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of how to do business in Saudi Arabia. While it appears slightly tricky, you will get the hang of it after spending some time in the country.

Setting up a business in the Kingdom can sometimes be challenging and require help from qualified and expert professionals to handle all government-related work. They will ensure a smooth setup of your new business.

Creative Zone is UAE’s oldest and most trusted business setup expert, having assisted over 44,000 entrepreneurs in successfully establishing their businesses since our inception in 2010.


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