We’ve created this guide to help you get closer to your Saudi customers. A web presence that is in tune with Saudi Arabian culture will make your customers feel well disposed to you, and give them the confidence to do business with you. By understanding these little yet important details, you'll be in a good position from the start in your new market.
2 The main language
In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is the language used online.
Modern Standard Arabic is a simple form of Arabic which comes from classical Arabic, and is the official written language. It is used in the media, publications, government official papers, etc. Modern Standard Arabic is also used in localised Arabic products. On some social media platforms, Arabic speakers may write in their own Arabic dialects, but those are not official languages in any of the Arabic speaking countries.
An Ethnologue study states that there are three main regional variants:
- Hejazi Arabic is spoken by 6 million Saudis
- Najdi Arabic is spoken by 8 million Saudis
- Gulf Arabic is spoken by 0.2 million Saudis
Saudi Arabia has a large expatriate community. Of these, 700,000 Filipinos speak Tagalog, 400,000 Rohingyas speak Rohingya, and 380,000 Pakistanis speak Urdu.
Should you be formal or informal when addressing your customers?
In Saudi Arabia it is best to be formal when addressing your customers, especially when communicating about financial products or legal services.
Ease of doing business in Saudi Arabia
The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business 2020 report ranked Saudi Arabia as 62nd out of 190 countries.
4 Numbering systems and formats
Eastern Arabic numerals are widely used in Saudi Arabia.
- This is a dot or full stop (.)
- e.g ٦.٧ (6.5).
- The thousand separator is a comma (,)
- e.g.٣٣,٤٠ (33,400).
The international code is +966. Telephone numbers have a three digit area code followed by seven digits,
e.g. 011 123 4567.
Freephone numbers have the prefix 800,
e.g. 800123 4567.
5 Currency format
Saudi riyal. This is abbreviated to SR. Its trading three letter code is SAR.
The note denominations are 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 riyals.
The coin denominations are 0.01, 0.05, 0.10, 0.25, 0.50, 1 riyal, 2 riyals.
6 Date format
In Saudi Arabia the date format is DD/MM/YY, e.g. 24/03/19.
In Saudi Arabia the Hijri calendar is often used instead of the Western, Georgian calendar.
7 Hour formats
The 12-hour clock is used in Saudi Arabia.
In everyday speech the 12-hour format is preferred and should be written as 9:35 (i.e. the separator between the hours and minutes is a colon).
8 Working days
Standard working days are Sunday to Thursday. Many businesses have Saturday as a working day too.
Shops are usually open on Fridays but not during prayer times.
9 Things to avoid in the Saudi Arabian market
Every culture has different superstitions and traditions which are always worth noting, especially when entering a new market.
The crescent shape is associated with Islam.
10 Important localisation tips
Here are the top six translation tips that will make you sound like a local in no time:
Make sure the final translation reads right to left.
Aim for a natural-sounding translation by avoiding translating word for word English into Modern Standard Arabic.
Use Modern Standard Arabic, and avoid using dialects
Give your translators as much background information as possible. Let them know the purpose of your communication, who the intended audience is, and what tone you would like to convey
Good localisation requires time. Give your translators the opportunity to ask questions.
Ensure letters are joined, as some fonts cause the glyphs not to be joined.