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General Etiquette & Protocol Guidlines

Meeting Etiquette

  • It’s always best to be on time for meetings, but do not necessarily expect all others to show up on time.
  • Exchange greetings and pleasantries freely with everyone present, starting with the most senior person first then everyone else in turn. 
  • It is customary to remove your shoes before entering a carpeted room.  When in doubt, follow a Saudi counterpart's lead.
  • Always give and receive business cards with the right hand.
  • It is a good idea to have one side of your business card translated into Arabic.

Dress Code

  • For Men – For foreigners, conservative suits and ties are common for initial meetings.  Darker colors are the way to go.  Jackets are not always a necessity. Business casual attire is becoming more and more acceptable in many industries. 
  • For Women - For foreigners, conservative yet stylish is a good choice.  Avoid wearing overly expensive accessories, dresses/skirts cut above the calf, low necklines and sleeveless attire. Sleeves should cover at least to the elbow, up to the wrist tends to be the norm. Pants are generally acceptable. 
  • According to Saudi law, when in public all women must wear a long cloak called an abayya which covers all clothing.  In addition they must wear a head scarf which covers the hair completely.  Foreign women are expected to obey this law.
  • Traditional Saudi attire for men includes a thobes, which is a long white body robe, a ghoutrah, which is a head cover and an egaal which is a black head-band .
  • Jeans and shorts are not worn in business situations

Gift Giving Etiquette

  • Gifts are not usually given at initial business meetings.  It is best to avoid giving gifts until a very strong bond has been established.
  • If invited to a Saudi home or at someone's office, be aware that it is not polite to openly admire something which a Saudi owns or has on display as he/she will feel obliged (most likely unwillingly) to offer it to you as a gift and may be offended if this gesture is not accepted.
  • To be on the safe side avoid bringing flowers and/or perfume as a gift to a Saudi host.  Alcohol is not to be given as well.
  • Gifts are not usually opened in the presence of the giver.

Negotiations

  • Always remain calm during negotiations, Saudis do not tend to be very expressive in public. 
  • Always expect to bargain.  It is a national sport of sorts and an integral part of the Saudi culture.
  • Decisions are made from the top down and usually take time.  It is important to not come across as impatient or over eager.