Saudi Arabia Economy, Living & Culture

Banks, Currency And Credit Cards

All banks and banking operations in Saudi Arabia are controlled by the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA). Several of the major commercial banks are wholly Saudi-owned and all others are in partnership with major international banks. Enormous advances have been made in banking, considering that the first bank opened its doors in Saudi Arabia as recently as 1926. A number of other specialized development and investment banks have been set up to stimulate private investment and to offer international aid. These include the Saudi Arabian Agricultural Bank, the Saudi Credit Bank, the Saudi Arabian Investment Company, the Saudi Fund for Development and the Saudi Industrial Development Fund.

Riyals are easily converted to any foreign currency (dollars, pounds, etc.) at local banks, and likewise, money transfers are readily available. The most readily accepted credit cards are American Express, Visa and MasterCard. If you presently have an American Express card you account will be transferred to Bahrain and billed from England.


In the field of communication, the Kingdom has rapidly progressed with a crucial role in INTELSAT and the new ARABSAT. Four ground stations for satellite communications (two in Riyadh, one in Jeddah and one in Taif) provide a total of 1,000 telephone circuits with direct access to 152 countries. The telex network connects more than 300 cities and towns with more than 150 countries.

The Kingdom is served by the most modern telephone system. Direct international telephone calls can be made to most of the world's countries. Telephone service continues to improve throughout the Kingdom. Both domestic and international calls are easy to place and incoming and outgoing reception is excellent.

The postal service has improved considerably in speeding up mail deliveries within the Kingdom due to the increase in air services. Telegraph facilities are available at post offices. Hotels will dispatch cables for their guests and most operate telex and facsimile facilities.

Air Mail Service

Air mail service between the United States and Saudi Arabia takes up to ten days. Between Europe and Saudi Arabia the mail takes from four to seven days. All correspondents must put the proper postage on envelopes. Less than the proper amount of postage will result in the mail going by sea, thus delaying its deliver indefinitely. All correspondents should put their return address on the envelope.

All mail should be addressed to your project location in Saudi Arabia which can be obtained upon arrival or from the agent you are working with in your company.

Newspapers And Magazines

There are several Arabic dailies and weeklies. The Arab News, The Riyadh Daily and The Saudi Gazette and three English language daily newspapers published locally. The Saudi Business and Arab Economic Report is an English language business-orientated weekly. Visitors can easily find a wide range of European and American newspapers, magazines and books in hotels, bookshops and newsstands.


The overseas service of the Canadian CBC, British BBC and the American Voice of America can be received in Saudi Arabia. Frequency charts are published in the Saudi Gazette. Broadcasts in other languages can also be received on both short wave and medium wave radio receivers. The Broadcasting Service of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia provides nightly programming in both English and French.


Saudi television is broadcast throughout the Kingdom and is available at all of the facilities. Saudi broadcasting occurs over two channels: channel I is an Arabic language station and channel II is an English language station, providing full-length films, short features, as well as some programming from European or American television sources. Most hospitals now have satellite dish connections featuring channels like CNN, BBC, Star Entertainment and others.

Throughout the Kingdom there are video tapes which provide current movies, sports events, etc. Most expatriates invest in a video deck in order to enjoy this pastime.

Shopping And Leisure

In all of the major cities there are numerous supermarkets, food stores, clothing and appliance shops, and a wide range of electronic centers to serve the expatriate. In addition, excellent restaurants serve a variety of international foods enjoyed by all nationalities.

Short Holidays

Many expatriate employees plan on taking a short holiday (R & R) about midway through their contract year. In close proximity to Saudi Arabia are a number of excellent vacation spots, including Jordan, Cyprus, Turkey and Egypt, Greece and a number of Gulf State countries. Flights and accommodation are readily available. The company's travel agent can be of assistance in arranging your travel needs.

The Calendar

The Saudi Government operates according to the Hegira calendar, a lunar reckoning from the year of the Hegira (Prophet Muhammad's journey from Mecca to Medina in 622 A.D.). The twelve months of the Hegira calendar have 20 or 30 days totaling 354 days. Because the beginning of each month depends upon the sighting of the moon, it is not unusual for the calendar to be adjusted during the year.

The Work Week

Friday is the weekly day of rest. The normal work week is Saturday through Thursday, although many companies work at half day on Thursday. All government offices are closed on Thursday.

Special Periods

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Hegira calendar. It is a period of daytime fasting for all Muslims except the sick, the weak, nursing mothers, children under the age of puberty, military personnel during a war and travelers. The fast consists of abstinence form food, drink, smoking and sexual intercourse from daybreak to nightfall. Nighttime is filled with feasting and prayers. The completion of the month of fasting is celebrated by the Eid al-Fitr (the Feast of Breaking the Fast), a three-day holiday commencing on the first day of Shawwal, the month following Ramadan. Nearly all businesses are closed for this holiday; government offices take a longer holiday.

The pilgrimage to Mecca (the Haj) is one of the five requirements of Pillars of Islam and should be performed by all Muslims who can afford it. The Haj occurs during the first ten days of the twelfth Hegira month (Dhy al-Hujjah). Millions of the faithful descend on Mecca and, to a lesser extent Medina, to perform ritual acts of devotion. The first pilgrims may arrive in Saudi Arabia two months in advance, and the last may depart two or three months after the actual dates of the Haj.

The feast at the end of Haj, Eid al-Adha (the Feast of Sacrifice) begins on the tenth of Dhy al-Hijjah and lasts about four days. This, like the Eid al-Fitr, is a holiday observed by both businesses and government offices, although the latter are generally closed for a longer period.

The Ministry of Labour announces the holiday periods each year. Unfortunately, these announcements are made very close to the start of the actual holiday. Only emergency services are performed by the Government during these holidays. Because of the cut-off date for accepting passports for exit/re-entry visas, travelers. must apply for these well in advance.

The Saudi National Day is the only holiday consistently observed according to the Western calendar. It occurs on September 23rd, Neither business nor government offices usually close on this day.

Dress Code

In August of 1979, a dress code for foreigners living in Saudi Arabia was published by the Society for the Encourage of Virtue and the Elimination of Vice. In essence, this publication designed for the foreign residents of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is a guide for proper behaviour.

The Society's publication stresses proper dress for females, although it also touches upon male attire as well. Women may not, for instance, wear shorts or short dresses in public, nor may the female figure be emphasized or delineated. Long loose fitting clothes for females are a compulsory requirement. This is best achieved with the Abbaya, a big black cloak which covers you from head to toe and conforms to the requirements of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Proper attire is important for men as well. Tight trousers and shirts and any type of shorts are discouraged. Remember, in this climate, loose is cool and comfortable; tight is hot and uncomfortable. Sadly, not all foreign residents in Saudi Arabia pay attention to the dress requirements. A visitor to the souks may see many non-Saudis dressed in complete disregard to the standards mentioned earlier. Some Western Nationalities ignore the standards of dress, which result in the Saudi authorities getting a bad impression of all Western expatriates.

Private dress within the confines of the home of compound is more relaxed and the dress for social occasions may vary. Similarly, dress for recreation or sports is as informal and relaxed as it would be in the West. Nevertheless, employees and their families are reminded that if traveling by car they should be properly dressed, as breakdowns do occur.

Children dress as they would in their home country. Older children visiting their families on vacation should be cautioned to dress in the same conventional manner as their parents.

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