Cultural and Social Norms
Social Etiquette and Rules in Saudi Arabia
The cultural setting of Saudi Arabia is greatly influenced by the Arab and Islamic culture. The society is in general deeply religious, conservative, traditional, and family-oriented. Many attitudes and traditions are centuries-old, derived from Arab civilization and Islamic heritage. Arabic is the official language of Saudi Arabia. English is widely spoken and incorporated into daily transactions and functions.
Saudi Arabia’s national currency is the Saudi riyal (ر.سSAR), which is subdivided into 100 halala. You’ll receive notes in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500 riyals, and coins in denominations of 1 or 2 riyals and 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 halala.
Saudi Arabia imposes an indirect tax of 15 percent (called a value-added tax, or VAT) on all goods and services with few exceptions. VAT is common in many countries as a way to diversify their revenue sources.
The Saudi people generally share a strong moral code and cultural values, such as hospitality, loyalty and a sense of duty to support their community. They are often highly aware of their personal honor and integrity. However, the country is also highly modernized and industrialized.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not always hot in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom experiences four distinct seasons —from chilly winter breezes in January to peak desert heat in August —and a climate that varies between regions.
- The working week is Sunday-Thursday.
- Smoking in Saudi Arabia is banned in airports, workplaces, universities, research centers, hospitals, government buildings, all public places, places involved with tourism, and in and around all places associated with religion, education, public events, sporting establishments, charity associations
- Women can travel to Saudi Arabia alone and independently and, definitely, without a guardian.
- The ‘guardian thing’ is more of a cultural thing, not the law
- Some of the common food items in Saudi Arabian cuisine include wheat, rice, lamb, chicken, yogurt, potatoes, seafood and dates.
- Unmarried foreign couples will now be allowed to rent hotel rooms together in Saudi Arabia as part of a new visa regime announced by the religiously conservative kingdom. Women will also be allowed to stay in hotel rooms alone
- Alcohol is banned.
- Women should wear an Abaya in public, but headscarves are not compulsory any longer.
- You should refrain from holding hands and public displays of affection.
- Dress code is dependent on individual establishments, some casual, others keen on sophistication.
- Gambling is banned in KSA.
- Look out for the family sections of cafes and restaurants; if you are a male who is alone, don’t go in.
- Certain beaches in Jeddah are expat only and you can wear swimwear and shorts. This is not the case in public beaches elsewhere.
- Only shake Muslim females’ hand if offered by her, otherwise a simple hello or hold your hand over your heart.
- Only use your right hand for shaking hands or for handing anything. It’s considered rude to use your left hand in Islam.
- Respect the religion. Shops, cafes, etc. will close for a short while during prayer times.
- Shops and many services are closed on Fridays, the holy day.
- Ramadan is the Holy Month where Muslims fast during daylight hours.
- Do not have any water or food visible in public during this time, even in your car, or you risk fines.
- Currency exchange and transactions are easy in Saudi Arabia. And even if you don’t yet know the difference between a riyal and a halala, there’s no need to worry: Many businesses in the kingdom accept credit cards and contactless payments.
- For more detail and facilitation, please feel free to ask to Arab Food Safety Summit Organizing Committee Members