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World Travel Guide > Guides > Middle East > Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia: Doing business and staying in touch

Doing Business in Saudi Arabia

Appointments are necessary. Business cards printed in English with an Arab translation are usually exchanged. Men should wear suits for business meetings and formal social occasions. Thursday and Friday are official holidays.

Office Hours

Sun-Thurs 0800-1200 and 1500-1800 (Ramadan 2000-0100), Fri 0800-1200, with some regional variation.

Government office hours: Sun-Thurs 0730-1430.

Economy

Saudi Arabia has the world's largest oil reserves (about 20% of proven deposits) and is also currently the world's largest producer, and the 11th in terms of natual gas production. Oil and natural gas products now account for 35% of Saudi GDP, 75% of government revenue and 85% of export income. The non-oil economy is devoted to agriculture and newly developed industries. Agriculture products include wheat, fruit, vegetables, barley, eggs and poultry. The industrial sector produces petrochemicals, steel, engineering and construction materials and a wide range of consumer goods. The service sector is the fastest growing part of the economy at present, with finance and business services, consultancies and property services prominent. The rapid expansion of the Saudi economy from the 1960s onwards stalled during the late 1980s as overstretched finances and persistently low world oil prices forced the Saudi exchequer to rein in its spending plans (government debt is now nearly 100% of GDP - much of which, such as US$40 billion of loans to Iraq, may not be recovered). This has had unfortunate consequences for the large body of foreign labour (an estimated 80% of the workforce) upon which the Saudis rely for much of their technical, managerial and menial labour. Foreigners are now barred from a range of occupations as the government seeks to tackle Saudi unemployment, which is estimated to be as high as 15%. The economy was growing by 3.4% in 2015, with inflation creeping up to 2.3%.

GDP

US$646 billion (2015 est.)

Main exports

Petroleum and petroleum products.

Main imports

Machinery and equipment, food, chemicals, motor vehicles and textiles.

Main trading partners

USA, Japan, China (PR), Korea (Rep) and UK.

Keeping in Touch in Saudi Arabia

Telephone

A sophisticated telecommunications network and satellite, microwave and cable systems span the country.

Mobile Phone

Visitors can apply for a mobile telephone number upon arrival at the airport. Prepaid SIM cards, which operate in most handheld devices, are affordable and reliable.

International roaming agreements exist with some mobile phone companies and coverage is mostly good.

Hotels and some long-term apartment rentals will include access to a landline, but local and international calls can be much more expensive than calls placed on a landline.

Internet

The Ministry of Post, Telegraph and Telephones provides internet facilities in most cities. But email can also be accessed from many hotels and internet cafes.

Media

Saudi Arabia has a very tightly controlled media environment and criticism of the government, the royal family and religious tenets are not really tolerated. Newspapers tend to follow the lead of the state-run news agency on whether or not to publish stories on sensitive subjects. The government blocks access to websites that it deems offensive.

Growing signs of an increasing tolerance have recently been met with new calls for regulating the media, especially blogs and online-only media.

The state-run Broadcasting Service of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (BSKSA) is responsible for all broadcasting in the Kingdom. The Minister of Culture and Information oversees radio and TV operations. But the ubiquitous availability of satellite TV has meant the viewing of many more channels than ever before.

Post

Internal and international services available from the Central Post Office. Post is delivered to box numbers. Airmail to Europe takes up to one week.