Cultural Aspects of Riyadh

Religion

Riyadh is the capital city of Saudi Arabia which is a highly conservative Muslim country. Riyadh is notably conservative and is home to over 4000 mosques. Jeddah is the capital of the western region and has a more relaxed atmosphere; however the country’s strict moral and social rules still apply. Sharia law covers areas unfamiliar to Europeans: such as dress, moral behaviour, drinking and intermingling with the opposite sex. Prayers are said five times per day, the times of which appear in local daily newspapers. Shops and businesses generally close during prayer so workers and customers can attend.  During Ramadan business is generally conducted in the evening and businesses run different times during Eid. It is illegal to publicly practice any religion other than Islam.

Men and Women

Men and women do not intermingle. Entertainment is same sex only; shopping, museums, and cinemas, amongst others, are separated, offering distinct times for men and women. Women are not allowed to drive or bicycle in public places. Women must have a chaperone with them at all times and are not permitted to use gyms and engage in sports.
Men and women do not interact in the workplace and there are prohibitions on women’s employment: Labour laws state that women may not work night-shifts nor perform hazardous tasks.

Dress

There are no strict codes on what men may wear. Saudi men tend to wear traditional white thobes and foreigners are generally expected to wear suits and may be refused entry to public places if they wear shorts. Women are generally expected to wear the traditional abaya and the hijab (head covering); whether to wear the niqab (face veil) is a personal choice but many women will wear them. Business women must particularly ensure that their collar bones are covered and that their clothes are not form fitting and fall below the knee.

Saudi Business Visas

When entering the country you are expected to have a Saudi supporter known as a wakeel. They will act as an intermediary for you and will assist in making appointments. Expatriate employees need an employment visa, which last for two years, and must be sponsored by an employer in order to obtain them. Foreign workers require a Saudi business visa. A residency permit known as an Iqama can be applied for with the assistance of an employer and the sponsor must be named on the Iqama. There must be at least 6 months validity on your passport and your passport should cover the length of your stay in Saudi Arabia.  If you hold an Iqama you will need to seek an exit visa whenever you leave the country. Your sponsor is responsible for you during your stay in Saudi Arabia and must be included in decisions regarding residency, employment and leaving and entering the country.

Business

It is best practice to pre-arrange appointments by several weeks to a month. Government officials will not generally make appointments until you are in the country. If becoming employed in Saudi Arabia employers have the right, under labour laws, to ask for a 90 day probationary period.  Employees are entitled to 21 days leave and increases to 30 days for those consistently employed by the same employer for five consecutive years.

Friday is the Muslim holy day and therefore Thursday and Friday should be considered to be the weekend. The currency is the Riyal. The opening hours of banks tend to be Saturday to Wednesday between 8am and 12pm and then 4pm until 8pm. The main language is Arabic, although many people will speak and understand English.



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