Exploring the World of Saudi Arabian Business Etiquette -
Final Logoé

Exploring the World of Saudi Arabian Business Etiquette

What is included:

  1. Introduction
  2. The Role of Islam in Business
  3. Greeting and Personal Introductions
  4. Dress Code and Appearance
  5. Business Communication Styles
  6. Building Relationships and Trust
  7. Structure of Meetings and the Importance of Punctuality
  8. Gift-Giving and Exchanging Favors
  9. Workweek and Religious Observances
  10. How PROVEN HXM Can Help


Cultural norms play a pivotal role in shaping business interactions around the world. These norms reflect a society’s values, traditions, and way of life, and they significantly impact how business relationships are formed, nurtured, and maintained. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), a country known for its rich cultural heritage and strong adherence to Islamic principles.

In KSA, cultural norms are deeply ingrained in both personal and professional spheres. With a history steeped in tradition, the Kingdom places great emphasis on respect, honor, and mutual understanding. The social fabric is woven from the threads of hospitality, close-knit relationships, and a hierarchical structure that influences interactions at all levels of society.

The Role of Islam in Business

Islam is not only the dominant religion but also a guiding force that shapes the way business is conducted. Islamic principles promote honesty, transparency, fairness, and ethical conduct in all dealings. The concept of ‘halal’ (permissible) and ‘haram’ (forbidden) extends beyond dietary matters to encompass business practices as well.

Religious observances, such as the daily call to prayer and the holy month of Ramadan, punctuate the business routine. During Ramadan, for instance, business hours may be adjusted to accommodate the fasting schedule, showcasing how religious obligations are woven into the fabric of daily life and work.

Islamic values also underline the importance of generosity, humility, and treating others with respect. This is especially evident in the concept of ‘sadaqah’ (charitable giving) and the tradition of offering hospitality to guests, which extends to the business realm in the form of meetings over meals and other social interactions.

Greeting and Personal Introductions

In the Kingdom, traditional forms of greeting hold deep cultural significance, reflecting values of respect and honor. A handshake, often accompanied by a warm smile, is a common gesture used to initiate interactions. However, it’s important to note that when greeting someone of the opposite gender, sensitivity to cultural norms regarding physical contact should be observed.

Equally crucial is maintaining eye contact during greetings, as it signifies genuine interest and respect for the person you’re engaging with. Steadfast eye contact is a sign of attentiveness and authenticity in communication, which is highly valued in Saudi culture.

When addressing colleagues or acquaintances, titles and honorifics play a vital role. It is customary to use formal titles, such as ‘Mr.’ (Sayyid) or ‘Mrs.’ (Sayyida), followed by the individual’s first name. This practice underscores the hierarchical structure of Saudi society and underscores respect for age and seniority.

Dress Code and Appearance

In the business setting of KSA, appropriate attire for both men and women is guided by the principles of modesty and professionalism, reflecting the cultural values of the society.

For men, traditional attire includes the ‘thobe’, a long white robe, often worn with a head covering called a ‘ghutra’ or ‘shemagh’. This ensemble signifies cultural authenticity and respect for local norms while projecting a sense of professionalism.

Women typically wear an ‘abaya’, a loose-fitting black cloak, which is often paired with a headscarf known as a ‘hijab’. The attire emphasizes modesty and adherence to Islamic principles while allowing room for individual style and comfort.

In both cases, clothing should be clean, well-maintained, and not overly tight or revealing. By following these attire guidelines, individuals in the Kingdom showcase their understanding and respect for the cultural emphasis on modesty and professionalism. Such dressing choices also contribute to fostering an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding in business interactions.

Business Communication Styles

In Saudi culture, indirect communication is a cornerstone of effective interpersonal interactions. This practice revolves around conveying messages and intentions subtly, often through gestures, body language, and tone of voice. The primary objective is to maintain harmony, uphold respect, and avoid causing offense, all of which are highly valued in the culture.

Harmony and maintaining positive relationships take precedence in communication. Open disagreements or confrontations are often avoided, as they can disrupt the social equilibrium. Instead, individuals employ tactful language and hints to convey disagreement or disapproval without causing embarrassment or friction.

Gestures and body language play a pivotal role in conveying unspoken messages. Subtle nods, gentle smiles, and attentive posture signify attentiveness and agreement. Conversely, avoiding direct eye contact, averted glances, or slight head tilts may indicate disagreement or discomfort. These non-verbal cues require a keen understanding of cultural norms to accurately interpret.

Tone of voice carries significant weight in Saudi communication. A soft and respectful tone is used to address colleagues, elders, or superiors, reflecting the culture’s reverence for hierarchy and tradition. Striking the right balance between formality and warmth is essential to fostering positive interactions.

Building Relationships and Trust

In Saudi business culture, personal relationships hold immense significance, often taking precedence over the pursuit of immediate business deals. This emphasis stems from the cultural value placed on trust, mutual understanding, and long-term connections.

Building a strong personal rapport is viewed as the foundation of successful business relationships in KSA. Prior to engaging in formal business discussions, individuals invest time in getting to know each other on a personal level. Sharing stories, discussing families, and engaging in small talk help establish a sense of camaraderie and trust.

Hospitality is a cornerstone of Saudi society, and it extends to the business realm as well. Offering and accepting invitations is a customary practice that demonstrates respect and goodwill. Invitations to meals, gatherings, or even casual conversations outside the office create an environment for relationship-building beyond the confines of work.

Inviting business partners or associates to meals or gatherings showcases a host’s generosity and genuine interest in their guests’ well-being. It’s common for hosts to go to great lengths to ensure their guests feel comfortable and honored during such occasions. These events provide informal settings to nurture relationships, discuss business matters in a relaxed atmosphere, and solidify the foundation for future collaborations.

Accepting invitations in Saudi culture signifies a willingness to establish a deeper connection and engage in meaningful dialogue. It’s considered a sign of respect for the host and an acknowledgment of the importance of building relationships. Accepting these invitations is crucial for fostering trust and indicating commitment to a potential business partnership.

Structure of Meetings and the Importance of Punctuality

  • Formal Greetings: Meetings start with traditional formal greetings and social pleasantries. Handshakes are common, with attention to gender considerations. A warm smile and respectful demeanor set a positive tone.
  • Small Talk and Relationship Building: A significant portion of the meeting is devoted to small talk and building personal relationships. This step is crucial in Saudi culture as it establishes trust and rapport.
  • Discussion of Business Matters: Once relationships are nurtured, business matters are introduced. Discussions may be indirect initially, gradually moving towards the primary agenda. Direct confrontation or negotiation might be avoided to maintain harmony.
  • Decision-Making Process: Decision-making might involve consultation with senior members or taking the time to reflect. Patience is key, as hasty decisions can be perceived as impolite.
  • Conclusion and Closing Pleasantries: Meetings conclude with gratitude for the time and insights shared. A commitment to follow-up is often expressed, underlining the value of ongoing communication.

Punctuality is paramount in meetings. Arriving late is disrespectful and can undermine trust. It’s advisable to arrive a few minutes early to show commitment and respect for others’ time.

Gift-Giving and Exchanging Favors

Gift-giving in KSA transcends the exchange of objects; it’s a profound act of respect and appreciation deeply ingrained in the culture. Gifts signify more than their material value – they symbolize the strength of relationships and the importance of social bonds.

Cultural norms dictate that gifts should be chosen thoughtfully, reflecting the recipient’s interests or needs rather than their monetary value. Modesty is key, and presenting the gift with both hands is a sign of respect. Occasions like religious holidays, weddings, and visits are common opportunities for gifting. However, potential pitfalls loom, such as offering inappropriate gifts conflicting with Islamic values or misinterpreting gestures in business contexts.

Workweek and Religious Observances

Saudi’s workweek, from Sunday to Thursday, is more than just a schedule; it reflects the culture’s unique blend of tradition and religious practices. This shift acknowledges the Islamic significance of Friday, when the congregational Jumu’ah prayers are observed, allowing time for worshippers to attend the mosque and engage in spiritual reflection.

Friday prayers hold immense importance, not only as a religious duty but also as a moment of communal connection. This practice underscores the integral role of Islam in shaping daily life and routines.

Additionally, the fasting month of Ramadan significantly impacts business operations. During this holy month, Muslims abstain from food and drink from dawn until sunset. Offices often adjust their hours to accommodate the altered eating and prayer schedule. This period emphasizes reflection, self-discipline, and increased religious devotion, resulting in a unique work atmosphere.


At PROVEN HXM, we strive to be the trusted partner that empowers organizations to navigate the complexities of the Middle Eastern market with confidence and ease. Through innovation, collaboration and unwavering dedication, we envision a future where businesses thrive and flourish in the dynamic landscape of the Middle East. Want to learn more? Book a demo with us today.

Need help?