How to Practice Proper Business Etiquette in Saudi Arabia

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To successfully negotiate business deals in Saudi Arabia, business people from abroad must understand the culture and customs of the country. Although many Saudi business people have conducted business with foreigners and have visited other parts of the world, it is important to show respect for Saudi traditions. Read on to learn how.

Instructions

  1. Schedule meetings once you are in Saudi Arabia. Let Saudi business executives know your agenda ahead of time; but don't expect to schedule appointments or meetings until you've arrived. Take into consideration Saudi religious holidays, Ramadan and Hajj. Respect daily prayer breaks.

  2. Expect only to finalize any agreement or negotiation with a personal meeting. Know that all business matters are considered personal matters. Show respect by dressing appropriately once you have a meeting or appointment. Wear conservative business attire only. Have business cards prepared to exchange with information in English on one side and Arabic on the other side.

  3. Learn a few Arabic greetings, shake hands and greet each individual. Address people by their first names always, even if they have a business or academic title (for example, Dr., Ph.D., or ABD). Address Saudi ministers as, "Your Excellency" and royal family members as, "Your Highness," however.

  4. Take your time at meetings and follow the pace of others to practice proper business etiquette in Saudi Arabia. Understand that Saudi business meetings are slow-paced and leisurely. Take note that many casual meetings might need to take place before any real business discussions ensue or any deals are agreed to. Take it slow.

  5. Support a comfortable atmosphere during meetings with a friendly attitude and personable tone. Enjoy cordial conversation over coffee or tea. Accept at least one cup of tea or coffee to practice proper business etiquette in Saudi Arabia. Refrain from asking men about their wives and daughters to avoid offending them. Ask only about their entire family.

  6. Relax if your meetings or appointments are interrupted by phone calls and other matters. This is not considered rude. Be patient to practice proper business etiquette in Saudi Arabia.

  7. Know when dining out or going out for coffee, it's customary for the inviter to pay even if the invitee first declines the offer. Saudi business people will decline at first just to be polite. Turn your cup handle away from you to indicate you don't desire another serving of coffee or tea when you are finished with it.

  8. Use your hands carefully. Use your right hand when doing anything in public to practice proper business etiquette in Saudi Arabia (e.g., handshaking). Keep from gesturing with your hands a lot or pointing at anything, especially to the soles of people's shoes or feet. This is considered very rude behavior. Get used to people being in your personal space and refrain from pulling or jerking back when someone touches you. It is customary to touch and stand close to one another.

Tips & Warnings

  • Note that no matter what your opinion is about women's rights, gender separation in Saudi Arabia makes conducting business in the country challenging for women. Dress very conservatively if you're a woman--for example, wear long skirts, sleeves are never worn above the elbows and necklines are never revealed. Avoid shaking hands. Know that women have separate meeting or family areas in hotels and other places.
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