As perhaps the strictest Muslim society in the world, there are numerous implications for business. Men and women are largely segregated. There are restrictions on women’s activities, such as driving, a total alcohol and pork ban a host of other religious and cultural considerations. Adultery and homosexuality are illegal, attracting the death penalty.
Unlike other Muslim countries Shari’ah law is the law of the land underpinning all aspects of the legal process. Islam is the only religion allowed. Other religious symbols and books are banned. During the holy month of Ramadan it is important not to eat, drink or smoke in public between dawn and dusk. It can be difficult doing business during this time since working hours are considerably shorter. Meetings will be conducted outside of normal office hours, often very late at night.
The dress code is important. Men often wear traditional headdress. Saudi and foreign women are obliged to wear the full length black cloak or abaya in public with a long dress or trousers beneath. Women should also wear or carry a headscarf to wear if instructed to do so by the pervasive religious police.
The most usual form of address between men is a handshake and the greeting “Salaamu 'Alaykum” (“Peace be upon you.”) sometimes followed by kissing the right and left cheeks. It is not normal for women to shake hands with men.
The country has numerous traffic cameras and often visitors do not realise they have been caught offending until prevented from leaving the country.
It is advisable to avoid visiting Saudi Arabia during the intense summer heat of July and August.
The Ambassador’s view
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia remains a key strategic partner of the UK, and our most important market in the region,” says Sir Tom Phillips, the UK’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia. “UK visible exports to Saudi Arabia exceeded £3 billion in 2010, an increase of 16 per cent on 2009. Saudi exports to the UK were some £1 billion.
“British advisors are increasingly working with Saudi counterparts in key Ministries and agencies to help build capacity and exchange good practice. Even so, there is clearly much we can do further to strengthen the economic and commercial relationship, and I am keen to play my part in achieving this.
“The Saudi economy has weathered the recent global downturn well. Enormous opportunities are opening up for infrastructure development, including ports, railways and the new Economic Cities. Important reforms are being implemented in the education and health sectors. Numerous British companies are present on the ground in the Kingdom, and some 20,000 British citizens live and work here. UK companies have invested £20 billion in Saudi Arabia, where companies such as Shell, HSBC and BAE Systems are major employers of skilled Saudis.
“The British Embassy and UK Trade & Investment teams across all three Saudi Arabian posts are keen to do everything they can to help British companies succeed in the Saudi Arabian market.”
Tel: 0207 215 4246
PO Box 94351
Tel: 966 (0) 1 488 0077
Arab-British Chamber of Commerce
43 Upper Grosvenor Street
London, W1K 2NJ, UK43
Tel: 020 7235 4363
Fax: 020 7235 6688
Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAIGA)
Saudi Arabian Ministry of Commerce