Doing business

Current business situation

Australians planning to travel to, or who are in the Middle East, are urged to monitor developments that may affect their safety - through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's (DFAT) current general travel advice and bulletins.

It is recommended that Australians visiting the region register with the nearest Australian Embassy (see relevant DFAT travel advisory for Saudi Arabia). To register online visit: www.orao.dfat.gov.au.

Individuals should take sensible precautions, dress and behave conservatively, strictly observe Islamic customs and ensure that travel documentation, including passports and any necessary visas, for themselves and their dependents are valid and up-to-date.

Austrade advises Australian companies with ongoing business in Saudi Arabia to maintain contact with their business partners and to clarify with their freight forwarders that the usual commercial arrangements still apply.

Austrade offices in Riyadh and Jeddah are fully operational.

Australian companies undertaking business in Saudi Arabia who are unable to travel to meet with their customers and business partners may wish to contact Austrade regarding commercial problems or issues they are facing in the Middle East.

Business culture

Business tips

Business visits during Ramadan (fasting month) and Hajj (pilgrimage) should be avoided as working hours are shortened and many senior businessmen will not be available.

‘Small talk’ is vital for the establishment of trust and must not be hurried or dispensed with. In introductory business conversations, talk often centres on the health and wellbeing of the other person, but never about his wife and female relatives.

It is not unusual for a Saudi businessman or official to have a number of people in an office all discussing various matters at once. When invited into an office, you will be given a seat, refreshments and be engaged in introductory conversation, after which your host may break off conversation with you and deal with one of his other visitors before returning to you.

It can be a lengthy and complicated process to obtain a visa for a female business visitor. It is generally easier if she is part of a delegation.

Refreshments (e.g. coffee, tea) should always be accepted. Coffee is offered to guests in order of their rank, if known to the host. It is customary to drink more than one cup of coffee or tea, but not more than your host or others present. To decline a further serving, you shake the cup when handing it back to the server.

In business circles, standard dress for men is a suit and tie. For casual wear, slacks and a short-sleeve shirt are acceptable, but shorts should not be worn in public.

Women should wear long, loose fitting garments. Foreign women have to wear a black cloak called an ‘abaya’ that drops from the shoulders to the ground and carry a headscarf in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. The areas of Jeddah and Dammam tend to be a bit more tolerant.

Social etiquette

Saudis usually greet each other with kisses on the face or on the forehead and walk hand-in-hand. Westerners are often greeted with a handshake.

Saudi men are usually addressed by their first or given name. For example, Mr. Khalid Bin Abdullah Al-Tuwari has the given name of Khalid, is the son of Abdullah, and his family grouping or tribe is Al-Tuwari. He would be called Mr Khalid.

Saudis show a concern for seniority and precedence and visitors should also observe this e.g. ensure that an older or more senior person goes through a door first and if walking together, the guest or senior person should be on the right of the group.

Care should be taken not to express admiration for something owned by your host or you may have the object offered to you immediately as a gift. This is an ancient custom, still preserved in many traditional areas.

If invited to dinner, unless otherwise stated, it can generally be assumed that only males will attend the function. Women frequently have separate functions. It may be taken as an affront to refuse an entertainment invitation.

It is unlikely that you will be invited to an Arab’s house, unless the host is very aware of Western culture or you have developed a very strong friendship with the person. If you invite a local to dine with you, do not include his wife in the invitation unless you have a prior indication that she may accept.

Do not take a photo of anyone without asking prior permission. Sensitivity to local tradition and laws is essential and caution is strongly.

Links and resources

Government, business and trade

Australia Gulf Council
Australian Arab Chamber of Commerce and Industries
Chamber of Commerce Eastern Province
Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce
Riyadh Chamber of Commerce & Industry
Saudi Arabian Information Source
Saudi Arabian Standards Organization
Tradearabia

News and media

Arab News

Please note: This list of websites and resources is not definitive. Inclusion in this list does not imply endorsement by Austrade. The information provided is a guide only. The content is for information and carries no warranty; as such, the addressee must exercise their own discretion in its use. Australia’s anti-bribery laws apply overseas and Austrade will not provide business related services to any party who breaches the law and will report credible evidence of any breach. For further information, please see foreign bribery information and awareness pack.