Saudi Arabia

Doing Business In Saudi Arabia

Visa Information

Saudi Arabia is one of the most difficult places in the world to visit. Note that Jews are not granted visas to the Kingdom.
Tourist visas
During the last six years the Saudi authorities have started tentatively to issue tourist visas, but only for those willing to travel as part of a group (minimum four people) organised by a recognised tour company (including dive companies).
Issued under the sponsorship of Saudia (under its ‘Discover Saudi Arabia’ program), you can find the list of approved international and local Saudi tour companies who can arrange the visas at: rabia.jsp. It takes 14 days from the date of request to issue a tourist visa.
Note also that passports must be valid for a minimum of six months, and women under 30 years old must be accompanied by their husband or brother (who must also arrive and leave Saudi Arabia at the same time).
Note that men and women are only allowed to travel together (and granted a visa to do so) if they are (a) married (with an official marriage licence) or (b) form part of a group.
It is not permitted for an unmarried couple to travel alone together in Saudi Arabia (and doing so runs the risk of apprehension). Regarding the tourist visa, two couples could in effect travel together, but only if they came as ‘individuals in a group’.
One local tour company that can offer advice and has an excellent reputation locally is Sadd Al-Samallaghi Est based in Jeddah.
Transit visas
Three-day transit visas are available for people driving between Jordan and either Kuwait or Yemen. Those driving between Jordan and Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are usually granted seven-day visas. They’re only issued if you can prove that there was no other way to get to your destination.
To obtain a transit visa you must visit the embassy with your vehicle’s carnet de passage and proof that you have a visa for the country you’re planning to visit.
Visitor (business) visas
Rule number one is that you must have a Saudi sponsor (a company or an individual). The sponsor applies to the Saudi Chamber of Commerce & Industry for approval and, if granted, an invitation letter will be sent to you (or direct to the embassy).
Rule number two is that you must then make your application in your country of nationality or permanent residence.
Depending upon the Saudi embassy to whom you are making your application (always phone the embassy to check), most commonly you will require a letter from your company outlining the nature of your business in Saudi Arabia and a letter of support from your local chamber of commerce.
Armed with this paperwork, the visa is usually granted without difficulty by the embassy, sometimes even on the same day (if you visit in person), but more often within a week to 10 days if applying by post.

Business Etiquette

Relationships & Communication
  • You will need a Saudi sponsor (wakeel) to enter the country. The sponsor acts as an intermediary and arranges appointments with appropriate individuals. 
  • Saudis do not require as much personal space as most western cultures. As such, they will stand close to you while conversing and you may feel as if your personal space has been violated. 
  • Saudis prefer to work with people they know and trust and will spend a great deal of time on the getting-to-know-you part of relationship building. 
  • You must be patient. 
  • Since Saudis will most likely judge you on appearances, dress and present yourself well.
Business Meeting Etiquette
  • Appointments are necessary and should be made several weeks to one month in advance if at all possible. 
  • When meeting with government officials, a firm date will not be settled upon until you are physically in the country. 
  • Try to schedule meetings in the morning. 
  • You should arrive at meetings on time, although it is an accepted custom to keep foreigners waiting. 
  • It is not uncommon to have a meeting cancelled once you arrive.
  •  Meetings are generally not private until after a relationship of trust has been developed. This means you may expect frequent interruptions. Others may wander into the room and start a different discussion. You may join in, but do not try to bring the topic back to the original discussion until the new person leaves.
  • Business meetings start after prolonged inquiries about health, family, etc. Never inquire about a Saudi's wife.
Business Negotiating
  • Decisions are made slowly. Do not try to rush the process. 
  • The society is extremely bureaucratic. Most decisions require several layers of approval. It takes several visits to accomplish simple tasks.
  • Saudis are tough negotiators. 
  • Business is hierarchical. Decisions are made by the highest-ranking person. 
  • Repeat your main points since it will be interpreted as meaning you are telling the truth. 
  • Do not use high-pressure tactics. 
  • Decisions are easily overturned. 
  • When discussing price, Saudis will often make an initial offer that is extremely low when they are buying. Conversely, when they are selling, their initial offer will be extremely high. 
  • You may need to compromise on a point if someone's dignity is at stake. 
  • There is a tendency to avoid giving bad news and to give effusive acceptances, which may only mean 'perhaps'.
Dress Etiquette
  • Most Saudis wear long white thobes. You would be expected to wear a suit.
  • Dress well if you want to make a good impression.  
  • Business women should make certain that their collarbones and knees are covered and that their clothes are not form-fitting.
Business Cards
  • Business cards are given to everyone you meet, although it may be an idea to be selective if you have few in your possession.
  • Have one side of your card translated into Arabic. Be sure to check the translation carefully as there is often confusion with the order of western names.

General Business Hours

Opening hours vary according to the season and province. In general:


Banks 8.30am to noon and 4.30pm to 8pm Saturday to Wednesday. At airports, banks are open 24 hours.


Offices 7.30am to 2.30pm or 3.30pm Saturday to Wednesday


Post offices 7.30am to 10pm Saturday to Wednesday, 4.30pm to 10pm Friday


Restaurants 7am to 10.30am, noon to 3pm and 6pm or 7pm to midnight (to 1am or 2am at weekends)


Shopping centres 9am or 10am to midnight Saturday to Thursday


Shops & souqs 8am or 9am to 1pm or 2pm and 4.30pm or 5pm to 9pm to midnight, Saturday to Wednesday


Note that during prayer times (five times a day), everything shuts.