Tap into a land of ongoing growth


A vast kingdom the size of Western Europe, and with a population of 36 million, Saudi Arabia is the dominant nation in the Gulf region. It is home to a vast abundance of natural resources, a flourishing ex-patriate community of six million workers, and one of the fastest growing per capita incomes anywhere on earth. With the world’s 19th largest economy (by GDP), and the largest in the whole MENA region, Saudi Arabia is a land of great opportunity and challenge. Identified as a high-growth market by the Department for Business and Trade (DBT), Saudi is the UK’s largest Middle Eastern trading partner, and the UK is its second biggest foreign investor, after the US.

With 16 per cent of the world’s oil resources, Saudi Arabia is OPEC’s biggest hitter and the world’s largest petroleum exporter. Oil accounts for 87 per cent of budget revenues, 42 per cent of GDP, and 90 per cent of export earnings. In fact, this nation is responsible for a quarter of all Arab GDP. Such enormous wealth offers huge potential for UK exporters.

Oil is still king, but this fast-growing market is taking steps to diversify its economy away from oil and gas dependency. Saudi Arabia's bold ‘Vision 2030’ project aims not only to cut oil dependency by 2030, but to also liberalise its economy, create a larger private sector and undertake crucial economic reforms. As a result, the kingdom is encouraging greater foreign investment with the aim of increasing competitiveness. In 2024, Saudi Arabia ranked 16th in the IMD’s Global Competitiveness Index.

Although Britain has long-standing ties with the country, doing business in Saudi can be eye-wateringly difficult not least because of cultural and religious complexities.

Named after the ruling Al Saud family, the country was formed in 1932 and remains an absolute monarchy ruled by the founder’s sons and a wider circle of royalty and advisors. A Council of Ministers wields executive power. Political parties and public demonstrations are banned. At a local level the country is governed by a series of councils. Calls for political reform led to the first elections to these councils in 2005.

Saudi Arabia boasts an annual budget of around £260 billion, spending huge amounts on education, training, health, infrastructure and social development.

Around 60 per cent of the Saudi population are under 20 years old. As a result, the country has followed a ‘Saudisation’ programme since 2011, which has aimed to provide more jobs by favouring its domestic labour force. One means of achieving this has been through limiting the number of foreign workers allowed into the country.

Despite labour restrictions such as ‘Saudisation’ and constraints on investment in some sectors of the economy, the World Bank’s 2019 “Ease of Doing Business” report ranked Saudi 62nd in the world, and 4th in the MENA region. 


Education is a national priority, focused in particular on the country’s young people, who in the past have often lacked the knowledge and technical skills required by private business. 2009 saw the opening of

Saudi Arabia's first co-educational higher educational institute, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Riyadh (catering for 50,000 students), and a new women-only facility at Princess Noura University. British providers can capitalise on the fact that in recent years roughly a quarter of the country’s budget has been earmarked for education and training.


On the positive side for international trade, the government has invested heavily in national infrastructure to cope with these population changes. New investment opportunities are being created, especially in the water, oil, gas, power transport, petrochemicals, communications, construction and mining sectors – all adding up to an estimated £1 trillion over the next two decades.

Other export opportunities

Other opportunities for UK businesses include financial services, environmental technology, consumer goods, and ICT.

The UK has long-standing ties supplying the Saudi military. In June 2019, a judgment of the Court of Appeal concluded that British arms sales to Saudi Arabia were unlawful, but the UK government has since made changes in order to re-start exports, which are still subject to strict export controls.

Saudi Arabia is also the UK's largest market for healthcare products and medical equipment in the Middle East, and continues to be a thriving sector with vast potential for British firms.

Saudi’s key business regions are Riyadh, the Eastern Province (which includes Dammam, Al Khobar, Dhahran, Jubail, Hofuf and Abgaig), and Jeddah.


Telephone one of our specialists on 0845 034 7200 or email for advice.

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