Business in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia was once a purely trade-based economy until the discovery of their oil in 1950s.  From then on the country entered the business world as the biggest exporter in the petroleum industry.

To do business with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in depth knowledge of the business culture is important.  There are values and concept that a business person must understand when dealing with the Arabs: Islam, culture and communication.

Religion strongly influences the society.  The Islam religion permeates the customs and tradition of the Arab community hence the social duties affects the way they do business.  Shari’a or Islamic laws are implemented in the country therefore conducting business relies on the customs of Islam.  When setting business appointments, the daily prayers and religious holidays should be taken into great consideration.  The business hours of Saudi starts on Saturday and ends on Wednesdays.  Rest days are during Thursday and Friday where Friday is equivalent in importance in Sunday of the Western countries.  Since Islam is a very conservative religion, the dress code should be observed properly.  Men are expected to wear conservative business suits while women are discouraged to wear low necklines, sleeveless and short skirts.

Aside from the expected social behavior dictated by Islam, face or dignity is very important to the Arabs. They avoid imposing pressure that would lead to losing face during business negotiation. 

Islamic people respect the elders.  If you are in a meeting, you should greet the most senior in the group irregardless of the position.  It is a good start to establish trust with them.

Communication on the other hand is very different on this part of the world.  Unlike the Western countries, people in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia communicate not only by talking but through cues such as body movements and even silence.  Emphasis on subjects is placed on the movement of the body, tone of the voice, movement of the eyes and silence.  Meanings and conclusions are based on things left unsaid.  The one who talks more often during the meeting is considered the less important in the group.  Decision maker spend time contemplating issues than talking so it is not necessary to speak when silence fell on the group.

Other important aspects that must be considered are the following:

- People in Saudi Arabia have a very relax nature.  Their hospitality leads to a slower pace on talking business because they deliberate things over cups of coffee and teas.  It is not therefore surprising for an Arab to be not punctual during business meetings.

- The Arab people have high regard to friendship and respect that is why family and personal relationships affects their decision makings even in business.

- Aside from handshake, the customary greetings among Muslims are 'As-salam alaikum' or 'peace be with you'.  This should be answered in return with 'Wa Alaikum as-salam' or 'and peace be upon you'.

Although theirs are very conservative, learning these simple rules of business etiquette has a great impact on doing business in Saudi Arabia.