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Understanding Saudi Business Culture Essentials

A busy gathering at a Saudi mosque, reflecting the cultural richness and business etiquette understood by JOH Partners for successful placements.

Establishing successful business relationships in Saudi Arabia requires a thorough understanding of the cultural nuances and practices that make up the country’s corporate etiquette. Business culture in Saudi Arabia is heavily influenced by religion, social customs, and traditional values, and it is essential to develop cultural awareness and sensitivity to succeed in the Saudi Arabian business landscape.

Saudi society places a strong emphasis on respect, honor, and hospitality, and these values are reflected in the country’s business practices. Building personal relationships is an important aspect of doing business in Saudi Arabia, and it is customary to spend time getting to know one another before engaging in formal business discussions.

In this section, we will explore the essential aspects of Saudi business culture, including cultural awarenessbusiness etiquette and practices, decision-making and hierarchy, hospitality and business meals, and the role of women in business culture.

Key Takeaways:

  • Saudi corporate culture is heavily influenced by religion, social customs, and traditional values.
  • Building personal relationships is important in Saudi Arabia, and it is customary to spend time getting to know one another before engaging in formal business discussions.
  • The country places a strong emphasis on respect, honor, and hospitality, and these values are reflected in their business practices.
  • Developing cultural awareness and sensitivity is crucial to navigating the Saudi Arabian business landscape successfully.
  • Understanding the cultural nuances and practices is essential for anyone looking to establish successful business relationships in Saudi Arabia.

Cultural Awareness in Saudi Business Culture

Developing cultural awareness is crucial when doing business in Kingdom. Understanding business etiquette in the country is important, as it can have a significant impact on your interactions with local Saudi Arabian businesspeople. It is crucial to familiarize yourself with local culture to avoid any faux pas that could damage important business relationships.

For instance, Corporate Etiquette in KSA places a lot of emphasis on personal relationships. Building a rapport with potential business partners is crucial for successful dealings. Understanding the importance of the local language can also be beneficial in building relationships with local Saudi businesspeople.

Furthermore, it is imperative to understand and respect the local customs and traditions. Traditional clothing should be worn out of respect for the local culture. Also, it is important to understand the role of religion in Saudi Arabian business culture, where Islam plays a significant role in everyday life.

“Understanding the cultural context in which you are doing business is essential to success.”

Business Etiquette and Practices in Saudi Arabia

When conducting business in Saudi Arabia, understanding local business etiquette and culture is crucial. The Saudi Arabian business relations context places great importance on personal relationships, which are established through social interaction and shared experiences.

Greetings in the Kingdom

Appropriate greetings are essential in building relationships and establishing trust, so in general, it is best to address business associates using their full name and title. Titles such as “Doctor” or “Professor” are commonly used, and it is essential to use the appropriate title to show respect.

It is also customary to greet associates with “as-salam alaykum,” which means “peace be upon you”. The usual response is “wa alaykum as-salam,” which means “and upon you be peace.”

The Significance of Handshakes

In Saudi Arabia, handshakes are a common form of greeting among men. It is essential to remember that women may not extend their hand for a handshake, and it is best to wait for them to offer their hand first.

When shaking hands, it is important to use the right hand, as the left hand is considered unclean. A firm handshake is recommended, but it is essential to avoid being too forceful as this may be seen as aggressive. It is also customary to maintain eye contact during the handshake.

Personal Relationships

Establishing a personal relationship with business associates is critical in Saudi Arabia. It is essential to take the time to get to know your associates, and sharing a meal or drink is an excellent way to build relationships outside of the office.

When conducting business, it is customary to begin with small talk before moving onto the main topic. Personal relationships are an integral part of business relationships in Saudi Arabia, and showing a genuine interest in your associates will help to build trust and goodwill.

“Establishing a personal relationship with business associates is critical in Saudi Arabia.”

Decision-Making and Hierarchy in Saudi Business Culture

In Saudi business culture, decision-making is a hierarchical process that involves senior individuals. It is vital to understand and respect this structure to be successful in Saudi business interactions.

The senior members of a company are typically responsible for making important decisions. Their decisions are generally respected and adhered to by other employees. When working with a Saudi company, it is crucial to identify the individuals in senior positions and communicate with them directly.

In Saudi business culture, seniority is highly valued, and older individuals are typically respected and hold higher positions in a company. When conducting business in Saudi Arabia, it is important to show respect to older individuals and always address them appropriately.

The hierarchical structure of Saudi business culture also extends to communication in meetings. The most senior member of the group typically speaks first, and it is essential to show respect and patience in waiting for their input before contributing to the discussion.

As a result, building and maintaining relationships with senior individuals in a Saudi company is crucial for long-term success. It is recommended to invest time and effort in cultivating these relationships to build respect and trust.

Hospitality and Business Meals in Saudi Arabia

In Saudi culture, hospitality is central to building and maintaining business relationships. This is reflected in the way business meals are conducted, with food and drink often playing a significant role in the proceedings.

Business meals are typically arranged in advance and are often held in private dining rooms. It’s important to dress appropriately for the occasion and to arrive on time.

During the meal, it is customary to eat with your right hand and to only take small portions of food. Refusing food or drink can be seen as impolite, and it’s often considered good manners to compliment the host on the quality of the food. It’s also worth noting that alcohol is generally not served during business meals in Saudi Arabia.

When it comes to the working week, it’s important to note that the weekend falls on Friday and Saturday in Saudi Arabia. As such, it’s unlikely that business meals will be arranged on these days, although they may take place on Sundays, which marks the first day of the working week.

Traditional Saudi tea set on a patterned carpet, symbolizing the cultural richness embraced by JOH Partners in their recruitment services.
Saudi Hospitality: Elegance and Tradition in Business | JOH Partners

The Importance of Hospitality in Building Relationships

In Saudi business culture, building strong personal relationships is essential for success. Hospitality, including the provision of food and drink, plays a crucial role in this process. By sharing meals and engaging in friendly conversation, business partners can develop trust and establish long-lasting connections.

“In Saudi Arabia, business is all about building relationships. Without establishing strong personal connections, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to succeed in the Saudi Arabian market.”

Women in Saudi Business Culture

Saudi Arabia has made significant progress in recent years by promoting gender equality and empowering women in the workplace. While the country’s conservative cultural norms have historically limited women’s participation in public life, Saudi women are increasingly playing an active role in the corporate world.

According to a report by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development, the participation rate of Saudi women in the workforce increased to 31% in 2020, up from 19% in 2017. This growth is attributed to various reforms, such as allowing women to drive and removing gender-based workplace restrictions.

However, it is essential to understand and respect gender-related dynamics in the Saudi business culture. While progress has been made, traditional values and customs can still play a significant role in the workplace, particularly when it comes to gender roles and interactions.

“It’s important to acknowledge that while there has been progress made in Saudi Arabia regarding women’s rights and empowerment, there is still a long way to go. Building strong relationships and understanding the cultural nuances can help women navigate potential challenges in the Saudi corporate world.”– Sarah Ahmed, CEO of Saudi-based marketing firm, Riyada

Female Leadership in Saudi Arabia

Despite cultural obstacles, Saudi women are increasingly taking on prominent leadership roles in the corporate world. Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, for example, became the first woman to hold the position of Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States in 2019, while Lubna Olayan is the CEO of Olayan Financing Company, one of the largest private investment companies in the Middle East.

2011First municipal elections open to female candidates and voters
2013First female members appointed to the Shura Council
2018Women allowed to attend sports events in stadiums for the first time
2019Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States appointed

These accomplishments demonstrate the significant progress made in recent years towards gender equality in Saudi Arabia. However, while there is certainly reason for optimism, it is important to approach the cultural landscape with sensitivity and caution when doing business in Saudi Arabia.


In conclusion, it is crucial to understand and adapt to Saudi business culture to achieve success in the country’s business landscape. Cultural sensitivity plays a vital role in building strong and lasting business relationships with Saudi businesspeople. By recognizing the nuances of Saudi Arabian culture, individuals and businesses can navigate the unique business practices and etiquette of the country.

Ultimately, success in Saudi Arabia relies on the ability to respect and adhere to the local culture and its values. Embracing cultural sensitivity is vital to addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by the Saudi Arabian business environment.

Developing an understanding of Saudi business culture can greatly enhance business success in the country. By recognizing the importance of cultural sensitivity and adapting to the local customs and practices, individuals and businesses can forge strong and prosperous relationships with their Saudi Arabian counterparts.


What is the importance of understanding Saudi business culture?

Understanding Saudi business culture is crucial for establishing successful business relationships in Saudi Arabia. Cultural nuances and practices play a significant role in business interactions, and having this understanding can help navigate the business landscape more effectively.

Why is cultural awareness important in Saudi business culture?

Developing cultural awareness is key to navigating the business landscape in Saudi Arabia. This awareness allows for a better understanding of local customs, etiquette, and norms, leading to more successful and respectful business interactions with Saudi counterparts.

What are some key aspects of business etiquette and practices in Saudi Arabia?

The business etiquette and practices in Saudi Arabia focus on respectful greetings, such as handshakes, and building personal relationships. Understanding these aspects is crucial to establishing strong and fruitful business connections in the Saudi Arabian business context.

How does decision-making and hierarchy work in Saudi business culture?

Decision-making in Saudi business culture is often hierarchical, with senior individuals having significant influence. Respecting and adhering to this hierarchical structure is important, as decisions are typically made by higher-ranking individuals.

What is the role of hospitality and business meals in Saudi Arabia?

Hospitality plays a significant role in Saudi business culture. Business meals are common and serve as opportunities to build relationships and discuss business matters. Considerations regarding the working week, which is typically from Sunday to Thursday, should also be taken into account when scheduling business meals.

What is the role of women in Saudi business culture?

The role of women in Saudi business culture has been evolving, with advancements made by Saudi women in the corporate world. Understanding and respecting gender-related dynamics in the workplace is important for successful business interactions in Saudi Arabia.

Why is cultural sensitivity important in Saudi business culture?

Cultural sensitivity is important in setting up a modern business as it shows respect for local customs and traditions. Adapting to the cultural norms and practices of Saudi Arabia can help build stronger and more successful business relationships in the country.

How can understanding Saudi business culture contribute to business success?

Understanding business culture in the Kingdom is essential for anyone seeking business success in Saudi Arabia. By embracing cultural sensitivity and adapting to local norms and practices, individuals and businesses can forge strong and successful business relationships in the country.

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