The United States and Europe have had a long relationship with Saudi Arabia, and as a result, many business travelers find themselves traveling to Saudi Arabia for business. While any business dealing can have hiccups don’t let language or cultural differences ruin your face-to-face meeting or conference.
Official languages in Saudi Arabia
Modern Standard Arabic is the official language in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The formal version of the Arabic or Fus-ha is almost exclusively a written language, rather than a spoken one. Other minority languages, spoken by the non-Saudi expat and migrant population include English, Urdu, Turkish, Tagalog and Rohingya.
Saudi Work Week
The Saudi work week runs from Saturday through Wednesday, with Friday and Saturday being the official weekend. Most employees do not work on Thursday, but the government is trying to change the current standards, so companies do not miss out on economic opportunities, especially regarding international business.
Expect local interpreters to also adhere to this work week norm. Take note that working hours are arranged around the five daily prayer times, as well as Islamic holidays (more on this below).
Typical business working hours in Saudi Arabia are from 7:30 am or 8:00 am – 12:00 pm and 2:30 pm – 7:00 pm.
Business Customs and Etiquette
The pace of business is slower in Saudi Arabia than in the West, so patience is key. Business meetings should be made in advance and punctuality is important but do not be surprised if the hosts are running late.
There are several styles of greetings used in Saudi Arabia. It is highly recommended that you wait for your Saudi counterpart to initiate the greeting. Westernized Saudi men usually shake hands with other men, and some will shake hands with Western women.
Personal space is deemed as less important than is the norm in most western countries, do not be shocked if you feel people are in your personal space.
Holidays and Observances
Ramadan is the name of the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and a time when Muslims around the world focus on prayer, fasting, and religious devotion. Ramadan lasts 29-30 days and traditionally begins with a new moon sighting, with the date fluctuating from year to year. For 2020, Ramadan will begin on April 24.
Though work is still conducted in the month of Ramadan, the working day is reduced to six hours. For more information, and the full list of holidays and observances in Saudi Arabia, please visit timeanddate.com/holidays/saudi-arabia/.
Female Business Travelers
In recent years, Saudi Arabia has made changes to their laws to be more inclusive of women. Foreign women over the age of 25 are allowed to travel to Saudi Arabia for both business and pleasure without a male guardian. While visiting Saudi Arabia, women should dress very conservatively with shoulders and knees covered in public.
In September 2019, Saudi Arabia announced a new e-visa. The visa enables travelers to visit Saudi Arabia any time of the year. The visa fee is around $117 USD and includes a health insurance fee.
Countries eligible for Saudi Arabia visa in 2019 include the United States, Canada, almost all of Europe, Oceania and selected Asian countries. For the full list visit visa.visitsaudi.com.
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