Business in Saudi Arabia is a part of many organisations’ strategic plan and with growth in the country’s non-oil private sector accelerating to its fastest rate for 17 months in January 2017, there are multiple opportunities. As a female traveller, understanding the culture and business etiquette is an important factor in your success, so use our business travel guide to make the most of your trip.

Greetings and customs

During business meetings, greet your Saudi business associates using any honorific title and their first and family name. If you’re unsure, you can always politely ask how they would like to be addressed. As a woman, refrain from shaking hands with the opposite sex. Men should shake hands as a form of greeting with the same sex using the right hand. If you’re meeting members of government ministries, address them as Your Excellency. Ensure you greet each person individually and a few words of the local language (Arabic) would be a welcome gesture.

What to wear

Both men and women should dress conservativly. Women are required to wear an abaya, a full length cloak that covers clothing, and a head scarf, called the hijab. If you aren’t familiar with wearing the hijab, here’s a quick tutorial. Both items should be black or dark in colour. You can wear normal business attire underneath, ideally a trouser suit. Your collar bone should be covered and tight-fitting clothing should be avoided. Men can wear a suit ideally with a long-sleeved shirt underneath.  

Business hours

The working week is from Sunday to Thursday with general office hours from 7:30 am until noon and then again from 3:30 pm to 7 pm so plan your business meetings accordingly. Government offices are open from 7:30 am to 2:30 pm and it’s also important to take into consideration the Islamic holidays and the five daily prayer times. 

Accommodation and transport

Women are prohibited from driving so a car and a driver is the best way to get around or you could opt for a taxi. Depending on which city you’re visiting, there are a good range of hotels of high standards, and our serviced residences are an excellent alternative for that home-away-from-home feel. 

After hours

Dining is a big part of Saudi culture. When experiencing one of the public restaurants, women will have their own private area to eat. Alcohol is prohibited. If invited for a meal by a Saudi, it’s polite to taste every dish and ensure you express your thanks and appreciation. A gift for your host is always welcome and it’s best to ensure your gift is appropriate for the whole family rather than just one person.

Final tips

  • Spending time building relationships is time well spent. Working with people on a trust and knowledge basis is critical.
  • Saudis will always prioritise prayer times and religious holidays so ensure you keep a flexible and open mind to business meetings and appointments.
  • Avoid direct or confrontational styles of communication. A subtle approach is more appropriate.
  • Follow the lead of your Saudi counterpart during introductions, as there are several variations on greetings.

To book your stay in Saudi Arabia, or for more information, visit www.ascottmea.com