Your guide to doing business in Saudi Arabia
One of the largest and most populous states in Asia and the Arab world, Saudi Arabia represents a major international business destination. A gateway to the Middle East, Saudi Arabia lies between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, and shares land borders with numerous Arab states, including Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE. Saudi Arabia’s economy was historically agriculture-based, thanks to the nomadic lifestyle of much of its population, but after the discovery of substantial petroleum deposits in 1938, the country’s financial influence expanded, and it became one of the world’s most prolific oil producers.
Today, Saudi Arabia’s GDP stands at over $786 billion, with oil production providing the backbone of the economy and comprising around 90% of export earnings. Recently, the Saudi government has made efforts to diversify by stimulating its small mining and agricultural sector - but infrastructure surrounding oil and gas continues to provide the vast majority of its commercial interests and development efforts remain concentrated here. With an ongoing annual growth rate of around 3%, Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth has driven its international economic profile and it is a member of the G20, OPEC, and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Saudi Arabia ranked 62 on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey 2019, a huge improvment from 2018 when the country was ranked 92.
Interested investors may choose Saudi Arabia for a number of reasons, including:
The formation and operations of business entities in Saudi Arabia are regulated by the Companies Law promulgated by a Royal Decree in 1965, as amended in 1967 and 1982 by
Subsequent Royal Decrees. The provisions of the Companies Law are extensive and cover all types of commercial activities in the Kingdom.
Registration of a company in Saudi Arabia follows this 11-stage process:
It is mandatory to have an in-country bank account to process payments in Saudi Arabia. All government levies must be paid through a government payment channel, SADAD. SADAD payments can only be initiated from Saudi Arabia based bank accounts.
All entities with more than 10 employees are required to process their payroll payments through Wage Protection System (WPS).
Bank lending consists mainly of trade and medium-term investment finance. Banking operations in the Kingdom are regulated by the Saudi Arabian Banking Control Law and are supervised by the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA)..
The typical working week in Saudi Arabia is Sunday to Thursday from 9am to 6pm. Friday is the only official weekend day and Saturday is often a working day for the construction and service industries.
Civilisation in the territory now known as Saudi Arabia dates back over 100,000 years, and was characteristically tribal and nomadic until Islamic society began to coalesce in the 6th and 7th centuries AD. Subsequently ruled by a variety of Arab dynasties and political powers until the 20th century, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932 by Ibn Saud, who united the four regions of Hejaz, Najd, Eastern Arabia, and Southern Arabia. The discovery of oil and gas deposits within the kingdom propelled it onto the world stage, and quickly made it a significant international commercial interest. Today, Saudi Arabia remains a hereditary monarchy, with an economy based on its lucrative oil production industry. As the location of Mecca, Saudi Arabia holds a central place in Arab and Islamic culture, and is otherwise a country of predominantly desert landscapes, surrounding settlements and highly populous urban centres. Saudi Arabia holds a variety of desert animals, including gazelles, leopards, and hyenas, while its climate is hot and dry throughout most of the year, with an annual monsoon season between October and March.
Official Name: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Population: 33.7 million (World Bank, 2018)
Area: 2,149,690 Sq. Km (424 Sq. Miles)
Major Languages: Arabic
Major Religions: Islam
Monetary Unit: Saudi Riyal (SR)
GNI Per Capita: $51,600 (World Bank, 2018)
Main Exports: Petroleum and petroleum products
Internet Domain: .sa
International Dialling Code: +966
Dates are usually written in the day, month and year sequence, for example, 12 July 2017 or 12/07/2017
There is no tax payable on salaries for foreign employees in Saudi Arabia, and self-employed foreigners are only taxed on overseas-earned income.
VAT is applicable at the rate of 5% from 1st January 2018 on all goods & services subject to limited exceptions.
Saudi Arabia has a double tax treaty with France, and similar arrangements with the UK and Germany. Certain countries, including the US, UK, Germany and Japan give their citizen’s tax allowances against any tax paid in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia has an extensive social security system which provides old age, disability and survivor benefits for its employed and self-employed nationals.
Employees must be registered as soon as the employment contract has been signed. Expat employees are registered during the visa application process and must also be registered with GOSI. The GOSI registration process is completed through an online GOSI portal and each entity has a unique GOSI number. Saudi employees must be added as part of the onboarding process on the first working day.
Saudi Law states that a probation period should not last any longer than 30 days.
All leavers must be deregistered from GOSI through GOSI online portal. Employees serving their notice periods are entitled to eight fully paid hours per week or a full day per week to look for alternative employment.
If an employer terminates the employee, they must have valid reason for doing so. Examples of valid reasons include gross misconduct, violence, prolonged absence without reason and employees that are still under probation.
Employers in Saudi Arabia have certain obligations during the payroll process, including withholding tax and social security contributions. While no income tax is generally due on employee wages in Saudi Arabia, social security contributions and nonresident withholding taxes (WHT) must be paid.
It is legally acceptable to issue employees with online payslips in Saudi Arabia, and payroll reports must be kept for a minimum of 7 years.