Doing business in Saudi Arabia can be a highly-lucrative venture for Western businesspeople if they can handle the cultural differences.
Doing business in Saudi Arabia can be a highly-lucrative venture for Western businesspeople if they can handle the cultural differences. Reuters

Doing business in Saudi Arabia can be a highly-lucrative venture for Western businesspeople if they can handle the culture differences.

Saudi Arabia's economy is booming thanks to oil exports; its real 2011 GDP growth is estimated by the CIA World Factbook to be a healthy 6.50 percent.

The U.S. Department of Commerce described Saudi Arabia as the most stable economy in the Gulf and its government as having conservative economic and financial policies.

It claimed Saudi business people genuinely like and respect Americans and actually want to do business with them.

Saudi Arabia also fosters a surprisingly friendly environment for businesses; it ranked 12th in the 2012 World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index.

If Westerners want deepen their relationship with the Saudi market and businesspeople, they need to conform to the Saudi social and business culture, which can differ remarkably from Western norms.

Days and Times

The weekend in Saudi Arabia is Thursday and Friday. Saudi businesspeople pray five times a day; the exact time of the prayers are listed in the local newspapers each day, according to Kwintessential.

While Westerners are not required to pray at those times, whatever business activities they are engaged in with Saudi businesspeople will be interrupted by them.

During the month of Ramadan (the exact dates vary each year), businesses slow down noticeably. While Westerners are not expected to fast during Ramadan, they should refrain from eating in public and in the presence of those who are fasting.

The Australian Trade Commission went so far to suggest that Western businesspeople avoid business visits during Ramadan.

Pace and Trust

Saudi culture has a less rigid concept of time and schedule compared to the West.

Meetings are often loosely scheduled around set prayer times. It is common for them to be interrupted; sometimes, there may be multiple people in the same office discussing multiple business matters.

Saudi businessmen do not discuss hard details of business deals immediately in a meeting; instead, they first chitchat and inquire about the each other's welfare.

To do business with a Saudi businessman, trust must first be established; it may be a while before he will feel comfortable discussing serious business matters.

It is important to not rush a Saudi businessman into a business agreement or appear impatient.

When (finally) discussing business deals, nothing is final until both parties have parted with a verbal understanding, according to Communicaid.

Gender Considerations

In Saudi Arabia, public interaction between men and women are severely limited, even in business settings.

In public, Western businesswomen may be expected to wear an abaya. Indoors, their clothing should be loose-fitting and cover their collarbone, elbow and knees.

In many public places (like restaurants), Western businesswomen cannot meet with Saudi businessmen without a male in her party or cannot meet with Saudi businessmen at all.

Western business women tend to be accepted but with a great deal of reservation, stated a Culture Crossing posting on Saudi Arabia.


During small talks, Western businesspeople should avoid asking specifically about a Saudi businessman's female relatives.

They should not point the soles of their feet at anyone.

Saudi businessmen are comfortable standing very close to the men they are talking with, often encroaching upon what is considered personal space by Western standards.

Saudi men are usually addressed by their title (e.g. doctor, professor) and first name.

Western businesspeople should use their right hand when shaking hands with others and giving and receiving objects from others.

They should never flatly refuse refreshments like coffee, tea and dates; they should at least accept the first round of offerings.

They should not take photos of people without permission. They should not express admiration of a Saudi's material possessions.