Navigating Business Etiquette in Saudi Arabia

20 Mar, 2024 - Saudi Arabia

With over 100 million travellers, including both international and domestic tourists, contributing over GBP 53.17 billion to the economy, Saudi Arabia offers a lucrative landscape for business endeavours. Yet, amidst this promising milieu, understanding and adhering to local customs and etiquette are paramount for UK SMEs to successful engage with the market.

Cultural Savvy: A Foundation for Success

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is deeply rooted in Islamic traditions, shaping its business culture and societal norms. Visitors must exhibit respect for these customs to avoid any inadvertent breaches of etiquette. It is important for UK SMEs to prioritise awareness of prayer times and religious holidays, ensuring meetings do not conflict. Additionally, adherence to modest dress codes is essential. For instance, men should opt for suits with long-sleeved shirts and ties, while women should choose loose-fitting attire, covering arms and legs appropriately.

Fostering Connections: The Key to Progress

In Saudi’s business culture, relationships reign supreme. It is important for UK SMEs and business to take the time to cultivate personal connections with Saudi counterparts, as rapport-building is fundamental to success. It is also advisable for UK SMEs across all sectors & industries to be prepared for extended negotiations, respecting hierarchical structures and decision-making processes. Additionally, it is recommended to accept invitations for social gatherings outside of work, as this fosters goodwill and strengthens professional bonds with local partners in the market.

Market Adaptation: Embracing Cultural Nuances

Successful market entry necessitates adaptation. It is highly recommended for UK SMEs looking to develop their activities further in the Kingdom to tailor their branding and content in order to resonate with Saudi cultural values, ensuring relevance and resonance with the local audience. For instance, social media post/ email campaigns around certain events such as Saudi’s National Day, Ramadan, Eid festivities and more can further help pave the way for sustainable growth and acceptance in the country and region.

Nevertheless, acknowledging the variance in workweek schedules, with Friday and Saturday constituting the weekend in Saudi Arabia, it is strongly recommended for UK businesses to be mindful of this when scheduling business meetings. By accommodating these differences, it helps UK SMEs in facilitating seamless collaboration across the Middle East region.

Courtesies in Communication: Language and Gestures

For UK SMEs new to Saudi Arabia and Middle East business engagement, formal greetings, such as using titles and initiating handshakes, set the tone for respectful interactions. Demonstrating patience and understanding regarding punctuality norms fosters goodwill, despite potential delays. It’s important for UK businesses to be aware that, offering thoughtful gifts (perfumes, dates, watches and oud) and embracing Arabic phrases (such as Assalamu Alaikum – May peace be upon you) as a gesture of respect further solidifies connections, bridging linguistic and cultural divides.

Final Thoughts: Embrace the Etiquette, Embrace Success

In the realm of Saudi business, it is important for UK SMEs to remember that adherence to etiquette is non-negotiable. Success in Saudi Arabia hinges on more than just business acumen—it requires a deep understanding and appreciation of cultural norms and etiquette. Respect for customs, dedication to relationship-building, and adaptability are the cornerstones of fruitful engagements in the Kingdom. By embodying these principles, UK businesses can unlock the door to unparalleled opportunities in the Kingdom and forge lasting connections that transcend borders and boundaries.