While some business owners are looking for opportunities to do business in Europe and North America, others are looking for opportunities to do business in the Arab world. However, it is important to recognise that the Arab region is culturally, religiously, ethically, and geographically diverse, resulting in norms in the Arab world that are completely different from those in Europe or America.

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The Arab Council is made up of 22 countries, including Saudi Arabia, located in West Asia and North Africa, and understanding the cultural and economic characteristics of each country is critical for a successful business. It is necessary to understand proper business etiquette, negotiation techniques, hospitality details, their calendar, and a variety of other features. And what should you pay special attention to?

Acknowledge different calendars when doing business in the Arab world

The working week in the Middle East differs greatly from the working week in the Western world. Given that Islam is the dominant religion in Saudi Arabia, Friday is considered the holiest day of the week, with prayer beginning at noon. Fridays and Saturdays are considered work-free days in many Middle Eastern countries, but this is not always the case.

It is important to note that, apart from Saudi Arabia, the Arab world uses the Gregorian calendar, but they also adhere to the Islamic lunar calendar for religious holidays. The most important are Eid-al Fitr (the end of Ramadan fasting) and Eid al-Adha (the end of the hajj, or annual pilgrimage). Because these are changing holidays that follow the movement of the moon, determining their exact date is difficult. When scheduling business meetings and appointments, make sure to avoid the Ramadan period.

Make personal communication a priority when doing business

Because personal contact is extremely important to Saudis, avoid conducting business over the phone or via email. Personal communication should be included in business transactions, and personal meetings and appointments should be scheduled accordingly. Appointments should be scheduled at least one week in advance and confirmed by phone a few days before.

You will make a good impression if you respect the language

The official language of most Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, is modern standard Arabic. Saudis are very proud of their mother tongue, so knowing the fundamental Arabic greetings will impress them.

We recommend that you learn some of the most useful phrases for any occasion, but if your business partners would prefer to lead a meeting in Arabic, hire an interpreter. This will demonstrate that you are serious about doing business with them and that you respect their language.

Meeting handshakes are common even in the Arab world, but they usually take a little longer than we are accustomed to. So, instead of withdrawing your hands immediately, wait for your Arab business partner to do so. If you do business with women, keep in mind that some of them are still very conservative, so you should wait for them to offer you a hand on their own. Also, wait for a handshake if you do business as a woman in the Arab business world of men.

Saudis typically conduct business in formal settings, so address them with Ms or Mr in front of their name, though this varies by country.

If you want to do serious business in the Arab world, you should print your business cards in both English and Arabic. Because the language is read from left to right, place your company logo on the left side of the card.

You gain trust by becoming their friend

Many Saudis still believe that professional and personal lives are indistinguishable, so if you become their business partner, they will consider you a friend. Because of this, Saudis prefer personal meetings in which they can get to know you personally.

It is critical that you form a personal conversation before beginning a business conversation, so prepare some answers to any questions about family, health, travel experiences, and your home. Keep in mind, however, that you should refrain from asking them about their family members.

Because it is extremely difficult to break into an industry or business in Arab countries, you must have an older contact person, sponsor, or intermediary in the company who will introduce you to business partners. Wasta is a widely used and accepted system in the Middle East.

Expecting and returning favours is also common in the Arab world. If a business partner asks you to do him a favour, you will undoubtedly benefit from it. Never completely refuse to do them a favour without at least trying, as any effort is appreciated and can benefit you later.

Be flexible with your schedule

Being on time has a completely different meaning in the Arab world than it does in the West. When scheduling a business meeting, you must be extremely flexible with your time because your business partners may be 30 minutes, an hour, or even more late. Accept this but still show respect as their guest by arriving on time to the meeting.

Saudis are unconcerned about the agendas of business meetings. Only older Arab business partners strictly lead the business discussion; otherwise, meetings usually begin with short, 5-minute conversations. Expect interruptions during the meeting, as Saudis are constantly communicating with others due to the increased use of mobile phones. This, however, does not imply that they are disrespectful; rather, it is part of their technology-based culture.

Be patient when making business deals

Arab businessmen are still very traditional, and the final deal is their standard way of doing business. You should be aware from the start that the negotiation process is extremely slow, necessitating a great deal of patience. Expect lengthy negotiations as well as slow bureaucracy, so plan on several meetings before reaching an agreement.

Avoid disagreeing with Arab businessmen during negotiations and learn the art of subtly redirecting them to think differently. Expect your business partners to not directly agree with you, so reading body language is a critical indicator of where negotiations are headed.

Respect the dress code

Because Saudis are still very traditional in many ways, it is critical to adhere to their dress code. They are always dressed in a long white gown and a red and white plaid headscarf. Wear a dark-coloured business suit to business meetings, but when traveling, wear comfortable and modest clothing. Wearing shorts and T-shirts should be avoided.

Businesswomen should dress conservatively, with sleeves that reach to the elbows and skirts that reach to the ankles. Shirts and dresses should have a rounded neckline and be of good quality and fit you well.

The Saudis are very welcoming, and you can expect invitations and various gifts from them. If you are invited to lunch, remember to return the invitation.

The Arab world has a distinct business culture

When doing business with cultures that are diametrically opposed to your own, it is critical to get to know them as thoroughly as possible. This will be of great assistance to you in conducting successful business and closing new deals, even when doing business in Saudi Arabia. Negotiating with Arab businessmen is never easy, but when we factor in our lack of understanding of their language, the situation becomes even more complicated.

When doing business in Saudi Arabia, a quality translation agency can be of great assistance because it can prevent many unpleasant situations with its translation services, and your business will be more successful as a result. Professional translations ensure that your message is translated accurately into Arabic, increasing trust among your Arab business partners.