Traveling to Riyadh for Business

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AZAttorney11
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Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by AZAttorney11 » Sun Sep 22, 2019 12:38 pm

I'm traveling to Riyadh later this year for work. I've never been to Riyadh or the Middle East. For those who have been, what should I know about traveling to Saudi Arabia? Any tips for blending in and being culturally astute and respectful?

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by ResearchMed » Sun Sep 22, 2019 1:08 pm

AZAttorney11 wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 12:38 pm
I'm traveling to Riyadh later this year for work. I've never been to Riyadh or the Middle East. For those who have been, what should I know about traveling to Saudi Arabia? Any tips for blending in and being culturally astute and respectful?
If you take any meds, Rx or OTC, double check that they are not illegal.
Penalties can be severe in some countries, and the restricted list can have some surprises.

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by Elysium » Sun Sep 22, 2019 1:25 pm

Check State Dept web site. In general Americans are fine in KSA. Treated with respect and courtesy, as long as they do nothing stupid. Oh and forget about blending in, you will not, but that's okay. They are also very formal and conservative, respect to an individual is a big thing culturally there. Be gentle and respectful all the time and you will be treated same way.

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by metacritic » Sun Sep 22, 2019 1:32 pm

Are you a man or woman? Makes a huge difference in Saudi. I know a major journalist, a household name, who had to wait in the hotel lobby to check in until a man in the camera crew showed up to check them in.
AZAttorney11 wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 12:38 pm
I'm traveling to Riyadh later this year for work. I've never been to Riyadh or the Middle East. For those who have been, what should I know about traveling to Saudi Arabia? Any tips for blending in and being culturally astute and respectful?

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AZAttorney11
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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by AZAttorney11 » Sun Sep 22, 2019 1:45 pm

Let's stay on topic, please. I'm interested in learning more about the business aspects of visiting Riyadh.

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by whodidntante » Sun Sep 22, 2019 1:50 pm

I think you'll enjoy your visit. Blending in is unlikely so just be respectful. You may have trouble getting factory produced alcohol as alcohol is banned. Personally I would skip the made onsite stuff but you do you.

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by ram » Sun Sep 22, 2019 1:51 pm

I have worked in middle east many years ago.
Do not take any alcohol with you. (Tobacco is fine).
If you are a non Muslim do not take any artifact associated with any religion (Example : a cross)
There is no law against it but for males it is probably best not to wear shorts in public. (For females this used to be a punishable offence, things have changed somewhat now, I understand)
Do not carry anything that may remotely be considered a (psychotropic) drug. Poppy seeds may be considered a "drug".
Carry prescriptions for all prescription drugs. Best not to carry narcotics even if you have a prescription for it.
Best not to photograph anything. Ask for permission if you have to. Avoid photographing any females in the public.
"Mangnu" means "prohibited" and a word which is good to know.
If you need some official work done the answer about when it will get done is frequently " Insha allah bukra" which literally translates to " With Gods grace tomorrow" but usually means "I will get to it when I get to it."
Last edited by ram on Sun Sep 22, 2019 2:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by HomeStretch » Sun Sep 22, 2019 1:53 pm

Does your company or the company you are visiting have available to you resources that can prep you about the country you are visiting? Some large global companies do. If not, read up on the web starting with the US State Department site.

As others have noted, your business travel experience will likely vary depending on gender, etc. If female, take that into account when selecting your travel wardrobe.

Avoid doing or saying anything that can be construed as critical of the ruling family, culture, religion, etc. Avoid talking to females, alcohol, taking pictures or social media postings. Be careful with the literature and what is on the electronics you bring into the country.

ETA:
- if you do any sight seeing, check whether there are any issues with the areas you are planning to go to. Spouse was in Yemen years ago for business which was rough travel then for US citizens. I think there are areas now near the Yemen border which US government personnel are not allowed to travel which means you probably don’t want to be there either.
- sign up at the State Department STEP program at their website to get alerts etc. while traveling especially with the recent Saudi oil attacks.
Last edited by HomeStretch on Sun Sep 22, 2019 2:06 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by frcabot » Sun Sep 22, 2019 1:54 pm

AZAttorney11 wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 1:45 pm
Let's stay on topic, please. I'm interested in learning more about the business aspects of visiting Riyadh.
You asked what you should be aware of. I told you that there are significant risks to going if you are gay or Jewish. If you’re not, good for you, but that’s hardly off topic. See the state department advisory for further information. If you’re a woman, there are additional difficulties and norms of modesty are strictly enforced by the religious police (you also haven’t said whether you’re male or female). The fact that you might dismiss such concerns hardly makes them off-topic since you’ve failed to state whether you’re male or female, Jewish or not, gay or straight.

https://travel.state.gov/content/travel ... rabia.html

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by frcabot » Sun Sep 22, 2019 1:56 pm

ram wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 1:51 pm
If you are a non Muslim do not take any artifact associated with any religion (Example : a cross)
There is no law against it but for males it is probably best not to wear shorts in public. (For females this used to be a punishable offence, things have changed somewhat now, I understand
It’s actually OK to bring a single bible or religious artifact as long as it’s for personal use only and NOT displayed publicly (obviously nothing Jewish like a kippah). Strictly private observance of non-Jewish religious customs (eg reading the Bible privately or praying privately) is ok.
Male travelers are specifically cautioned NOT to wear shorts. And for females, modesty laws are strictly enforced by the religious police (I.e. no, things have not changed except that women have been permitted to drive since 2018).

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by LadyGeek » Sun Sep 22, 2019 2:21 pm

This thread is now in the Personal Consumer Issues forum (travel).

As a reminder, this forum maintains a family-friendly environment. Not just for language, but subject matter.

I removed a post and several replies regarding gender relationships that were above this threshold and were derailing the thread.

Please stay focused on helping the OP.
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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by AZAttorney11 » Sun Sep 22, 2019 3:40 pm

Thanks to all who have replied. I'm male, so that makes things easier for me in Saudi Arabia. That said, I may be traveling with female colleagues. How do I safely navigate that?

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by AZAttorney11 » Sun Sep 22, 2019 3:46 pm

ram wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 1:51 pm
I have worked in middle east many years ago.
Do not take any alcohol with you. (Tobacco is fine).
If you are a non Muslim do not take any artifact associated with any religion (Example : a cross)
There is no law against it but for males it is probably best not to wear shorts in public. (For females this used to be a punishable offence, things have changed somewhat now, I understand)
Do not carry anything that may remotely be considered a (psychotropic) drug. Poppy seeds may be considered a "drug".
Carry prescriptions for all prescription drugs. Best not to carry narcotics even if you have a prescription for it.
Best not to photograph anything.
Ask for permission if you have to. Avoid photographing any females in the public.
"Mangnu" means "prohibited" and a word which is good to know.
If you need some official work done the answer about when it will get done is frequently " Insha allah bukra" which literally translates to " With Gods grace tomorrow" but usually means "I will get to it when I get to it."
Thank you very much. I'm inclined to not photograph anything. My fear is that I inadvertently take a picture of a mosque, official government building, etc. and greatly offend someone, or worse, unknowingly commit a crime.

In terms of prescription drugs, are you suggesting carrying a physical copy of the prescription from my physician in addition to transporting medication in the plastic tube from the pharmacy? From what I've read online, you should only bring an amount of medication that is necessary for the trip. In other words, don't bring a 30 day supply of medication X if you're only going to be in Saudi Arabia for 7 days.

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by JPM » Sun Sep 22, 2019 4:00 pm

Young relative worked in KSA for a few years. His Saudi friends advised him to grow facial hair in the Saudi style with the mustache-goatee and wear sunglasses and a business suit at the airport and he would look like any other Saudi businessman coming or going on a western business trip. His friends picked him up at the airport and dropped him off in the local style. If you can arrange pickup and dropoff, this may be safer than an armored car with a security service if you are prominent enough to be a kidnap target.

The Saudis of the western educated managerial class do party privately with alcohol but they have to be careful not to attract the attention of the religious police. The people follow their rules of politeness even if they don't like you very much. They expect the same of you.

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by ResearchMed » Sun Sep 22, 2019 4:14 pm

AZAttorney11 wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 3:46 pm
ram wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 1:51 pm
I have worked in middle east many years ago.
Do not take any alcohol with you. (Tobacco is fine).
If you are a non Muslim do not take any artifact associated with any religion (Example : a cross)
There is no law against it but for males it is probably best not to wear shorts in public. (For females this used to be a punishable offence, things have changed somewhat now, I understand)
Do not carry anything that may remotely be considered a (psychotropic) drug. Poppy seeds may be considered a "drug".
Carry prescriptions for all prescription drugs. Best not to carry narcotics even if you have a prescription for it.
Best not to photograph anything.
Ask for permission if you have to. Avoid photographing any females in the public.
"Mangnu" means "prohibited" and a word which is good to know.
If you need some official work done the answer about when it will get done is frequently " Insha allah bukra" which literally translates to " With Gods grace tomorrow" but usually means "I will get to it when I get to it."
Thank you very much. I'm inclined to not photograph anything. My fear is that I inadvertently take a picture of a mosque, official government building, etc. and greatly offend someone, or worse, unknowingly commit a crime.

In terms of prescription drugs, are you suggesting carrying a physical copy of the prescription from my physician in addition to transporting medication in the plastic tube from the pharmacy? From what I've read online, you should only bring an amount of medication that is necessary for the trip. In other words, don't bring a 30 day supply of medication X if you're only going to be in Saudi Arabia for 7 days.
We *always* have a copy of the physical script as well as the properly labelled Rx bottle. And we also carry a special letter from the physician for two medications stating that they are needed for medical reasons (for one, injections are required, which adds to the concern).
For some countries, advance permission is required. Thus far, for us, Japan had the most requirements, but with email, it was taken care of in about 24 hours. We then printed out the permissions.

It can be surprising what is allowed. For example, Japan does NOT allow regular Sudafed tablets, but they allow the newer version (I'm forgetting that name; I think it has a separate letter in the name).

But in the Middle East (and a few other places) the penalties can be especially severe, so we'd recommend "playing by the rules". See what their government website states about documentation and any permissions needed are.

RM
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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by ram » Sun Sep 22, 2019 4:52 pm

AZAttorney11 wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 3:46 pm
ram wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 1:51 pm
I have worked in middle east many years ago.
Do not take any alcohol with you. (Tobacco is fine).
If you are a non Muslim do not take any artifact associated with any religion (Example : a cross)
There is no law against it but for males it is probably best not to wear shorts in public. (For females this used to be a punishable offence, things have changed somewhat now, I understand)
Do not carry anything that may remotely be considered a (psychotropic) drug. Poppy seeds may be considered a "drug".
Carry prescriptions for all prescription drugs. Best not to carry narcotics even if you have a prescription for it.
Best not to photograph anything.
Ask for permission if you have to. Avoid photographing any females in the public.
"Mangnu" means "prohibited" and a word which is good to know.
If you need some official work done the answer about when it will get done is frequently " Insha allah bukra" which literally translates to " With Gods grace tomorrow" but usually means "I will get to it when I get to it."
Thank you very much. I'm inclined to not photograph anything. My fear is that I inadvertently take a picture of a mosque, official government building, etc. and greatly offend someone, or worse, unknowingly commit a crime.

In terms of prescription drugs, are you suggesting carrying a physical copy of the prescription from my physician in addition to transporting medication in the plastic tube from the pharmacy? From what I've read online, you should only bring an amount of medication that is necessary for the trip. In other words, don't bring a 30 day supply of medication X if you're only going to be in Saudi Arabia for 7 days.
I would suggest " better safe than sorry" strategy and "yes" I would carry a paper prescription from your doctor.
Ram

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by dbr » Sun Sep 22, 2019 6:40 pm

ram wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 4:52 pm
AZAttorney11 wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 3:46 pm
ram wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 1:51 pm
I have worked in middle east many years ago.
Do not take any alcohol with you. (Tobacco is fine).
If you are a non Muslim do not take any artifact associated with any religion (Example : a cross)
There is no law against it but for males it is probably best not to wear shorts in public. (For females this used to be a punishable offence, things have changed somewhat now, I understand)
Do not carry anything that may remotely be considered a (psychotropic) drug. Poppy seeds may be considered a "drug".
Carry prescriptions for all prescription drugs. Best not to carry narcotics even if you have a prescription for it.
Best not to photograph anything.
Ask for permission if you have to. Avoid photographing any females in the public.
"Mangnu" means "prohibited" and a word which is good to know.
If you need some official work done the answer about when it will get done is frequently " Insha allah bukra" which literally translates to " With Gods grace tomorrow" but usually means "I will get to it when I get to it."
Thank you very much. I'm inclined to not photograph anything. My fear is that I inadvertently take a picture of a mosque, official government building, etc. and greatly offend someone, or worse, unknowingly commit a crime.

In terms of prescription drugs, are you suggesting carrying a physical copy of the prescription from my physician in addition to transporting medication in the plastic tube from the pharmacy? From what I've read online, you should only bring an amount of medication that is necessary for the trip. In other words, don't bring a 30 day supply of medication X if you're only going to be in Saudi Arabia for 7 days.
I would suggest " better safe than sorry" strategy and "yes" I would carry a paper prescription from your doctor.
For meds a person needs to track down the specified regs on an authoritative site for that country. I can't help you with Saudi Arabia, but I have done this exercise with Australia and New Zealand. In the case of those two countries there are official lists of what can be brought in, at what doses, in what quantities, and with what supporting documentation (actual prescription, sometimes physician's letter) required. Those lists also tell you what is banned even with a prrescription. A person can be very surprised that common over the counter meds in the US are restricted or even banned in any given country. A common problem is pseudoephedrine, for example (brand name Sudafed, which may be pseudoephedrine which is only behind the counter in the US or diphenylhydramine + phenylephrine which is over the counter in the US) Pseudoephedrine is a banned substance in many countries. Common sea sickness pills are another problem area in AU and NZ, in spite of visitors to those areas commonly being on boats. What are the issue in Saudi Arabia, I don't know.

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by bogledogle » Sun Sep 22, 2019 7:27 pm

Updates post below.
Last edited by bogledogle on Sun Sep 22, 2019 7:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by bogledogle » Sun Sep 22, 2019 7:39 pm

duplicate post
Last edited by bogledogle on Sun Sep 22, 2019 7:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by bogledogle » Sun Sep 22, 2019 7:39 pm

AZAttorney11 wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 3:40 pm
Thanks to all who have replied. I'm male, so that makes things easier for me in Saudi Arabia. That said, I may be traveling with female colleagues. How do I safely navigate that?
What business are you in that allows female employees to travel to KSA? I highly recommend not taking female colleagues with you. First of all, there is a special process where a woman need their husband, son or father to go with them. They need a letter with permission from their husband or son if they want to enter alone - which makes the process cumbersome. Also, you cannot move around publicly with them in the country if you are not related. I would recommend arranging door to door transportation for you female colleagues - hotel to business site and back, you don't go nowhere with them. There is segregation everywhere, men and women don't take same elevators (if there is a woman, don't get into elevator). Men are not allowed into shopping malls without a woman (if you have a woman with you, she must be related to you). And women cannot go to random stores and street eateries.


As for yourself, if you are white then you are better off. If you are brown or black you may be mistaken for other nationalities which involves receiving a lot of disrespect from random security guards and religious police. Sometimes you may not be let into buildings without permission letters ....etc. It better to have a local colleague escort you around if you want to enter government buildings.


Expect your business to take much longer than expected, folks usually only work for 2 to 3 hours between 9 - 5 PM. They take several prayer breaks and long lunch and tea/coffee breaks. Depending on who you will be dealing with, folks either come very early to work, or stay very late - so ask about work hours rather than assume. If you are a muslim or have a muslim name, they expect you to join the prayer - you should probably not decline. If you are not muslim, don't talk about your faith. If you are Jewish or have an Israeli visa in your passport, you will most likely not be allowed in. Best practice is to delete any pictures on your phone of women wearing revealing clothing (shorts/bikinis are too revealing). Do not take any pictures of people or government buildings in KSA.


My last piece of advice is to AVOID going to KSA like it's the plague.

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by ram » Sun Sep 22, 2019 8:00 pm

bogledogle wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 7:39 pm
AZAttorney11 wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 3:40 pm
Thanks to all who have replied. I'm male, so that makes things easier for me in Saudi Arabia. That said, I may be traveling with female colleagues. How do I safely navigate that?
What business are you in that allows female employees to travel to KSA? I highly recommend not taking female colleagues with you. First of all, there is a special process where a woman need their husband, son or father to go with them. They need a letter with permission from their husband or son if they want to enter alone - which makes the process cumbersome. Also, you cannot move around publicly with them in the country if you are not related. I would recommend arranging door to door transportation for you female colleagues - hotel to business site and back, you don't go nowhere with them. There is segregation everywhere, men and women don't take same elevators (if there is a woman, don't get into elevator). Men are not allowed into shopping malls without a woman (if you have a woman with you, she must be related to you). And women cannot go to random stores and street eateries.


As for yourself, if you are white then you are better off. If you are brown or black you may be mistaken for other nationalities which involves receiving a lot of disrespect from random security guards and religious police. Sometimes you may not be let into buildings without permission letters ....etc. It better to have a local colleague escort you around if you want to enter government buildings.


Expect your business to take much longer than expected, folks usually only work for 2 to 3 hours between 9 - 5 PM. They take several prayer breaks and long lunch and tea/coffee breaks. Depending on who you will be dealing with, folks either come very early to work, or stay very late - so ask about work hours rather than assume. If you are a muslim or have a muslim name, they expect you to join the prayer - you should probably not decline. If you are not muslim, don't talk about your faith. If you are Jewish or have an Israeli visa in your passport, you will most likely not be allowed in. Best practice is to delete any pictures on your phone of women wearing revealing clothing (shorts/bikinis are too revealing). Do not take any pictures of people or government buildings in KSA.


My last piece of advice is to AVOID going to KSA like it's the plague.
When I was there I had 5 or 6 letters from husbands written in Arabic and notarized stating that they have given me authority to carry their wives in my car. I had given out similar letters to my coworkers. The husbands then acted as "soccer moms" . Women were not allowed to drive at that time.

If you are going to travel in a car with a woman who is not your wife or daughter then "at the very least" I would have a letter from her husband/ father that you are allowed to be with her. I would prefer it to be on your company letterhead and then translated into Arabic by an authorized translation agency. It does not matter that the woman is an adult.
Ram

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by stan1 » Sun Sep 22, 2019 8:56 pm

People don't just drop into KSA for a cold call. Business visits are planned months in advance most of the time in part due to visa requirements. I'd be working all of this with your hosts, hotel, and with your corporate travel office (insourced or outsourced). If you don't have experts in the US and in KSA arranging a first-time trip like this for you that's a mistake. Not the place to save a few bucks. I'm very surprised a US company would send over a group of employees without at least one who has prior experience traveling to KSA.

Your hosts probably will tell you women are welcome but I think you should think twice about it. Anyone going should read the State Department web site closely and should be given the choice to opt out of the adventure. There are several groups of people who really should not go.

On a short trip (less than a week) we seldom left the hotel (such as the Ritz Carlton which is now again operating as a hotel not a prison it seems). Hotel was set up to handle female visitors including a lot of instructions in English. Saudi hosts who spoke fluent English and were educated in US or Europe were with the group in public including restaurants and a visit to a souk. On a longer trip a group of males did venture out by ourselves to a souk and a few restaurants near us. It absolutely helped we had an Arabic speaker with us who had grown up in another Middle Eastern country.

There are a few things to look out for if you are invited to a traditional Bedouin feast in a restaurant. You might see a camel nearby. Well there's no other way to collect fresh warm camel milk which you might be put in front of you by your host. Also be warned the most senior guest in your party might experience the eye from the goat carcass at the center of the table being ceremoniously grabbed and dropped on your plate to enjoy. I asked my hosts to split it with me, which they gleefully did while everyone laughed.

A few other tips: download a prayer calendar app and be mindful of it although hotels that cater to Westerners probably won't close restaurants for prayer. Your hosts will likely skip prayer when they are with you, so all the more reason to be respectful. Your hosts will assume you will ask questions about the culture and will answer them but I would not ask personal questions unless they volunteer information. You might be asked to put your religion on a form, even something like a hotel check in slip. We were advised to put christian as it is what is expected from Americans.

It wasn't on my bucket list, I have no desire to go back, but it was one of the more remarkable countries I've visited in terms of differences from home. Also these were my experiences. I can very easily expect someone else might have had different experiences as an ex-pat living there or visiting in another way. I was very fortunate to have good support on my team including an in-country ex-pat.

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by jabberwockOG » Sun Sep 22, 2019 9:19 pm

I'd suggest avoiding the place like the plague. During my career I just personally refused to travel to or visit a long term repressive and misogynistic country like Saudi Arabia. We did send consultants (males only, in a time when adult females were not allowed to drive, or to travel without a male relative) there from time to time on IT consulting gigs and most were treated OK, but not great, by the locals who tend to do very little but "manage" thousands of contract workers. I remember one of our guys came back with a story of going to see a public execution on his day off.

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by AZAttorney11 » Sun Sep 22, 2019 9:52 pm

Thank you all for the feedback and great insights. Please keep it coming. A few things to note:

This trip isn't being planned on a whim. Our gracious hosts are sophisticated and deeply experienced working with non Saudi nationals. They are handling all of the visa requirements and they have extended personal invitations to female colleagues. They employ professionals from all over the world, and the majority of them are Western educated. Yes, they are located in Riyadh, but this is not the first (or last) time that Westerners will be providing services for this client.

In terms of logistics and lodging, the client is arranging car service to and from the airport, and their offices are located in a "compound" with a hotel on site. I'm not planning to leave their offices or my hotel without the aid of a few locals. This is not a sightseeing tour for me. I'm going to familiarize myself with the State Department's website on KSA and learn as much as I can. And I will probably call the Embassy with specific questions.

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by stan1 » Mon Sep 23, 2019 6:40 am

AZAttorney11 wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 9:52 pm
Thank you all for the feedback and great insights. Please keep it coming. A few things to note:

This trip isn't being planned on a whim. Our gracious hosts are sophisticated and deeply experienced working with non Saudi nationals. They are handling all of the visa requirements and they have extended personal invitations to female colleagues. They employ professionals from all over the world, and the majority of them are Western educated. Yes, they are located in Riyadh, but this is not the first (or last) time that Westerners will be providing services for this client.

In terms of logistics and lodging, the client is arranging car service to and from the airport, and their offices are located in a "compound" with a hotel on site. I'm not planning to leave their offices or my hotel without the aid of a few locals. This is not a sightseeing tour for me. I'm going to familiarize myself with the State Department's website on KSA and learn as much as I can. And I will probably call the Embassy with specific questions.
This sounds reasonable and is what I would expect. Go in with an open mind to see, learn, and understand new things.

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by sunny_socal » Mon Sep 23, 2019 6:56 am

AZAttorney11 wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 1:45 pm
Let's stay on topic, please. I'm interested in learning more about the business aspects of visiting Riyadh.
You asked how to blend in, the answers you're getting are 100% on topic. I'd heed the advice you've been provided unless you wish to appear on the evening news. The Middle East (and all the *stan countries) are a whole other world. The cultures are not compatible with Western culture. The only common denominator: they also like to make money.

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by Elysium » Mon Sep 23, 2019 7:12 am

AZAttorney11 wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 9:52 pm
Thank you all for the feedback and great insights. Please keep it coming. A few things to note:

This trip isn't being planned on a whim. Our gracious hosts are sophisticated and deeply experienced working with non Saudi nationals. They are handling all of the visa requirements and they have extended personal invitations to female colleagues. They employ professionals from all over the world, and the majority of them are Western educated. Yes, they are located in Riyadh, but this is not the first (or last) time that Westerners will be providing services for this client.

In terms of logistics and lodging, the client is arranging car service to and from the airport, and their offices are located in a "compound" with a hotel on site. I'm not planning to leave their offices or my hotel without the aid of a few locals. This is not a sightseeing tour for me. I'm going to familiarize myself with the State Department's website on KSA and learn as much as I can. And I will probably call the Embassy with specific questions.
That sounds similar to the Saudi Aramco company, a facility with a separate compound that has all the facilities of a mini city that doesn't require you to leave, and the rules are slightly relaxed for Americans.

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AZAttorney11
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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by AZAttorney11 » Mon Sep 23, 2019 7:17 am

sunny_socal wrote:
Mon Sep 23, 2019 6:56 am
AZAttorney11 wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 1:45 pm
Let's stay on topic, please. I'm interested in learning more about the business aspects of visiting Riyadh.
You asked how to blend in, the answers you're getting are 100% on topic. I'd heed the advice you've been provided unless you wish to appear on the evening news. The Middle East (and all the *stan countries) are a whole other world. The cultures are not compatible with Western culture. The only common denominator: they also like to make money.
The moderators removed a handful of posts that were off topic earlier in the thread.

stan1
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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by stan1 » Mon Sep 23, 2019 7:23 am

Elysium wrote:
Mon Sep 23, 2019 7:12 am
That sounds similar to the Saudi Aramco company, a facility with a separate compound that has all the facilities of a mini city that doesn't require you to leave, and the rules are slightly relaxed for Americans.
There are other international-focused economic zones that are similar.

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Shackleton
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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by Shackleton » Mon Sep 23, 2019 7:58 am

jabberwockOG wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 9:19 pm
I'd suggest avoiding the place like the plague. During my career I just personally refused to travel to or visit a long term repressive and misogynistic country like Saudi Arabia.
My thoughts exactly. Of course, I'm also female, so that probably influences my opinion. People like to say that you should "respect" other cultures, but when another culture shows absolutely NO respect for half the population (or more!) then I believe they have not earned my respect.
“Superhuman effort isn't worth a damn unless it achieves results.” ~Ernest Shackleton

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by khale7 » Mon Sep 23, 2019 9:07 am

Wow, some of the responses are so out of date.
OP: You will have no issues, even if your colleagues are female. No head coverings required. Things have really opened up since the past two years. I have been working here almost 7 years now and they are eager to engage with the rest of the world. No need to blend in. Saudi’s are great hosts and you will thoroughly enjoy the experience.
Good luck.

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by mptfan » Mon Sep 23, 2019 9:25 am

jabberwockOG wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 9:19 pm
I'd suggest avoiding the place like the plague. During my career I just personally refused to travel to or visit a long term repressive and misogynistic country like Saudi Arabia.
Referring to Saudi Arabia as a "repressive and misogynistic country" is a personal opinion and a political comment, that is against forum rules and is not helpful to the OP. I also wonder if you have actually been there before passing judgment?
Last edited by mptfan on Mon Sep 23, 2019 9:34 am, edited 3 times in total.

Valuethinker
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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by Valuethinker » Mon Sep 23, 2019 9:30 am

ResearchMed wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 4:14 pm
AZAttorney11 wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 3:46 pm
ram wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 1:51 pm
I have worked in middle east many years ago.
Do not take any alcohol with you. (Tobacco is fine).
If you are a non Muslim do not take any artifact associated with any religion (Example : a cross)
There is no law against it but for males it is probably best not to wear shorts in public. (For females this used to be a punishable offence, things have changed somewhat now, I understand)
Do not carry anything that may remotely be considered a (psychotropic) drug. Poppy seeds may be considered a "drug".
Carry prescriptions for all prescription drugs. Best not to carry narcotics even if you have a prescription for it.
Best not to photograph anything.
Ask for permission if you have to. Avoid photographing any females in the public.
"Mangnu" means "prohibited" and a word which is good to know.
If you need some official work done the answer about when it will get done is frequently " Insha allah bukra" which literally translates to " With Gods grace tomorrow" but usually means "I will get to it when I get to it."
Thank you very much. I'm inclined to not photograph anything. My fear is that I inadvertently take a picture of a mosque, official government building, etc. and greatly offend someone, or worse, unknowingly commit a crime.

In terms of prescription drugs, are you suggesting carrying a physical copy of the prescription from my physician in addition to transporting medication in the plastic tube from the pharmacy? From what I've read online, you should only bring an amount of medication that is necessary for the trip. In other words, don't bring a 30 day supply of medication X if you're only going to be in Saudi Arabia for 7 days.
We *always* have a copy of the physical script as well as the properly labelled Rx bottle. And we also carry a special letter from the physician for two medications stating that they are needed for medical reasons (for one, injections are required, which adds to the concern).
For some countries, advance permission is required. Thus far, for us, Japan had the most requirements, but with email, it was taken care of in about 24 hours. We then printed out the permissions.

It can be surprising what is allowed. For example, Japan does NOT allow regular Sudafed tablets, but they allow the newer version (I'm forgetting that name; I think it has a separate letter in the name).

But in the Middle East (and a few other places) the penalties can be especially severe, so we'd recommend "playing by the rules". See what their government website states about documentation and any permissions needed are.

RM
This is really important advice.

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by BogleMelon » Mon Sep 23, 2019 9:38 am

ram wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 1:51 pm
"Mangnu" means "prohibited" and a word which is good to know.
It is "Mamnouu". The last letter has no equivalent in English, so I replaced it with another "U"
"One of the funny things about stock market, every time one is buying another is selling, and both think they are astute" - William Feather

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by BogleMelon » Mon Sep 23, 2019 9:45 am

AZAttorney11 wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 3:40 pm
I may be traveling with female colleagues. How do I safely navigate that?
Just don't try to hug them or kiss them anywhere. It is a crime in most Arab countries to hug or kiss a female in a public place. Don't also meet with them in a private area (example: in a hotel room). Again, in most Arab countries, a male+ a female who is not his wife or close relative, alone, in a private place = crime. US citizens might have some kind of immunity though, but it is better to play it safe.
"One of the funny things about stock market, every time one is buying another is selling, and both think they are astute" - William Feather

Valuethinker
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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by Valuethinker » Mon Sep 23, 2019 9:45 am

AZAttorney11 wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 12:38 pm
I'm traveling to Riyadh later this year for work. I've never been to Riyadh or the Middle East. For those who have been, what should I know about traveling to Saudi Arabia? Any tips for blending in and being culturally astute and respectful?
I have not visited KSA in the Middle East but I have interacted with their nationals in the west, and visited some of the more westernised countries.

Avoid any "opportunity" to consume alcohol (if that is offered). There's too many risks for the itinerant foreigner (whatever some of the long term expats do). They have non-alcoholic beer and now is time to cultivate a taste (and it's lower calorie! ;-)).

The locals drink tea (even though the Arabs discovered coffee) - tea salons are an important part of their lives (for men).

Advice about prescription drugs is really important. Make sure that if you happen to live in an American state where cannabis is legal, there's no trace of it on your clothes or travel gear (that you may have incidentally picked up) - make sure everything is dry cleaned or well laundered before you go. (this is paranoid, but the KSA invites paranoia).

I cannot advise you on arrangements for female colleagues. My understanding is that in the environment of the offices of a western company you can interact with them normally. Ditto in compounds for foreigners. But in every other way and place segregation is strictly enforced (shopping malls, public transport etc) - they would join your meetings via conferencing. I am assuming your hosts will have arranged separate cabs for them etc.

Traffic is fairly horrific. The driving style is just terrifying (in pretty much the whole Middle East). Let the locals do the driving - the default in the Middle East if there is an accident with a foreign driver is that the foreigner is in the wrong, and is clapped straight into prison.

Remember politeness is all in Arab society. Don't forget to say "Shoo-kran" (thank you) for even the slightest courtesy.

There's a western thing and it's when there is a complaint about service to go straight to the manager etc. and vocalise it - direct. It's how Americans are taught, customer is always king, etc. That goes down like a lead balloon in parts of Europe, but it's even more a problem in non-western societies. Remember it's all about face - what you must not do is humiliate or denigrate someone in front of their peers or subordinates - phrase things as requests not as complaints or orders. (Rest assured I have seen Brits behave as badly in Africa and East Asia - and usually with alcohol in their veins). There are ways to indirectly discuss your displeasure but always be aware of the dignity and self-respect of the person in front of you, most especially when they are the sort of person who acts as an intermediary between foreigners and the locals. Even though it's incredibly frustrating, often. There's almost always some kind of hidden agenda, status or family issue that you cannot read, that is a large part of the problem - something beyond their direct control. Be similarly wary of personal questions - I have read that in traditional Arab society you don't ask questions about another man's wife or daughters, for example - you just do not. You might want to take your spouse & daughters off your phone's screensaver, etc.

The more important you are, the later you are for everything even important meetings. Other than in western companies' where the culture is different, don't expect people to be on time - the rhythm of life is different. I also found (with Saudis outside of the country) that they would disappear to pray etc - the working day was punctuated with many long breaks, you did not get anything like 8 hours out of an 8 hour day.

You may find a lot of the menial work is done by foreigners - Pakistanis, Somalis, Yemenis etc (that's certainly true in the Gulf states). Treat those people kindly because they often have really horrible lives.

When my brother travels abroad on business he always takes a wiped phone ("burner") and clean laptop. Just to be safe - something could be found that would give offence or violate laws. And firewalls will block a lot of common sites and services (probably Facebook etc.). Assume that Big Brother is monitoring everything you do on the internets, etc.

Remember they understand English a lot more than they speak it. American voices *carry* - particularly some accents - quite penetrating. Americans often just seem loud to the rest of the world. Don't assume your conversation is private.

Don't go in summer, especially August, if you can possibly avoid it. The country shuts down it is so hot - the locals (if they have money) escape to Jeddah (marginally cooler) or to Europe.

It does rain in winter (sometimes) and the roads flood (no storm sewers). I'd still rather be there in January, though. In the night, it does get quite cold (down to freezing-ish, perhaps).
Last edited by Valuethinker on Mon Sep 23, 2019 10:01 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by Valuethinker » Mon Sep 23, 2019 9:47 am

BogleMelon wrote:
Mon Sep 23, 2019 9:45 am
AZAttorney11 wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 3:40 pm
I may be traveling with female colleagues. How do I safely navigate that?
Just don't try to hug them or kiss them anywhere. It is a crime in most Arab countries to hug or kiss a female in a public place. Don't also meet with them in a private area (example: in a hotel room). Again, in most Arab countries, a male+ a female who is not his wife or close relative, alone, in a private place = crime. US citizens might have some kind of immunity though, but it is better to play it safe.
I would say even touch them?

I don't know how the hotels work - can westerners of mixed gender dine together?

But KSA generally is a totally segregated society. Women are *only* in public places with men who are their husbands or blood relations. Only.
[EDIT - stores & malls & public transport (& presumably restaurants & cafes) are visually segregated (curtains etc) so women may be with other women in those places, which are public ]
Last edited by Valuethinker on Mon Sep 23, 2019 10:34 am, edited 1 time in total.

BogleMelon
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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by BogleMelon » Mon Sep 23, 2019 9:50 am

Valuethinker wrote:
Mon Sep 23, 2019 9:47 am
BogleMelon wrote:
Mon Sep 23, 2019 9:45 am
AZAttorney11 wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 3:40 pm
I may be traveling with female colleagues. How do I safely navigate that?
Just don't try to hug them or kiss them anywhere. It is a crime in most Arab countries to hug or kiss a female in a public place. Don't also meet with them in a private area (example: in a hotel room). Again, in most Arab countries, a male+ a female who is not his wife or close relative, alone, in a private place = crime. US citizens might have some kind of immunity though, but it is better to play it safe.
I would say even touch them?

I don't know how the hotels work - can westerners of mixed gender dine together?

But KSA generally is a totally segregated society. Women are *only* in public places with men who are their husbands or blood relations. Only.
<can westerners of mixed gender dine together? >

I am not from there to answer that specific question. As someone else noted, things there changed in the past couple of years. This might be one of the things that changed.
"One of the funny things about stock market, every time one is buying another is selling, and both think they are astute" - William Feather

Elysium
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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by Elysium » Mon Sep 23, 2019 10:05 am

BogleMelon wrote:
Mon Sep 23, 2019 9:45 am
AZAttorney11 wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 3:40 pm
I may be traveling with female colleagues. How do I safely navigate that?
Just don't try to hug them or kiss them anywhere. It is a crime in most Arab countries to hug or kiss a female in a public place. Don't also meet with them in a private area (example: in a hotel room). Again, in most Arab countries, a male+ a female who is not his wife or close relative, alone, in a private place = crime. US citizens might have some kind of immunity though, but it is better to play it safe.
These are things not appropriate in US either, we are supposed to be well past the unwanted touching of female colleagues or sub-ordinates in this era.

mptfan
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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by mptfan » Mon Sep 23, 2019 10:06 am

Elysium wrote:
Mon Sep 23, 2019 10:05 am
These are things not appropriate in US either, we are supposed to be well past the unwanted touching of female colleagues or sub-ordinates in this era.
Um, where did BogleMelon state that the touching was unwanted? Why would you assume that?

RollTide31457
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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by RollTide31457 » Mon Sep 23, 2019 10:46 am

Claim your passport is expired. That’s what our work group does when undesirable travel is presented by management.

BogleMelon
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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by BogleMelon » Mon Sep 23, 2019 11:16 am

mptfan wrote:
Mon Sep 23, 2019 10:06 am
Elysium wrote:
Mon Sep 23, 2019 10:05 am
These are things not appropriate in US either, we are supposed to be well past the unwanted touching of female colleagues or sub-ordinates in this era.
Um, where did BogleMelon state that the touching was unwanted? Why would you assume that?
Exactly!
I meant not try to hug or kiss them even with their consent (such as a friendly goodbye hug/kiss). Some of the humane interactions in western culture are banned in middle east culture.
"One of the funny things about stock market, every time one is buying another is selling, and both think they are astute" - William Feather

Topic Author
AZAttorney11
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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by AZAttorney11 » Mon Sep 23, 2019 1:08 pm

Once again, thank you to those who have provided comments and insights. A few more follow-ups.

There will be no touching of female colleagues, even in a friendly manner. We're not doing that here in the States, and we won't start in Saudi Arabia. While I don't anticipate being in public beyond the airport and car rides, and certainly not without our hosts guiding us, duly noted on areas being segregated by gender, avoiding riding elevators with women, etc. Again, my goal is to be perfectly respectful of the local culture and customs.

A medication I'd like to take, but am not required to take, is on the banned list. A call to the Embassy to figure out an exemption is in order. Worst case scenario, I simply leave the meds at home. I'm not going to leave this to chance and run afoul of their laws.

I'm not worried about dining with female colleagues. Our hosts have put together a rough agenda for the meetings and evenings, and everyone is invited. If they don't have concerns about dining with my female colleagues, why should I? I don't say that glibly... if there's something I'm missing, please let me know.

alfaspider
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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by alfaspider » Mon Sep 23, 2019 1:31 pm

RollTide31457 wrote:
Mon Sep 23, 2019 10:46 am
Claim your passport is expired. That’s what our work group does when undesirable travel is presented by management.
Most places where international travel is part of the job, will tell you on Day 1 to keep your passport current. If it's expired, they'd tell you to renew it for the trip. You can get them renewed fairly quick on an expedited basis.

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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by bogledogle » Mon Sep 23, 2019 4:43 pm

AZAttorney11 wrote:
Mon Sep 23, 2019 1:08 pm
I'm not worried about dining with female colleagues. Our hosts have put together a rough agenda for the meetings and evenings, and everyone is invited. If they don't have concerns about dining with my female colleagues, why should I? I don't say that glibly... if there's something I'm missing, please let me know.
Your hosts have invited your group to a private event - meetings and dining, this is completely acceptable. However, segregation is required in public. If you go to a restaurant which is not in a 5 star international hotel or similar, you will be expected to split up into separate groups and dine in different rooms. Even in 5 star hotels, if you see women, try to sit as far as possible from them. You will see folks entering the restaurant auto-segregate by themselves, just follow the crowd.

There are two faces of Saudi life, a private one and public one. In private, alcohol and other indulgences are acceptable, in public they are not. Everything is organized this way and you should observe and learn during your first trip.

If you have private transportation with a Saudi driver, you should be ok to sit together and ride in the same car. If your driver is non-saudi, you will need the permission letters in case you are stopped.

Topic Author
AZAttorney11
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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by AZAttorney11 » Fri Nov 08, 2019 3:47 pm

I very recently returned from Riyadh. What an amazing experience. Thank you again to everyone who provided helpful advice. A few highlights:

- Everyone I encountered was extremely hospitable, whether they were a local or an ex-pat. It started on the plane; a couple of fellow passengers asked if this was my first time to Saudi, welcomed me to their country, asked me if I needed help finding anything, etc.

- Fears regarding prescription medications were greatly overblown. Clearing security at the airport consisted of having my fingerprints and picture taken, and then placing my luggage on a machine to be screened by a security officer who didn't seem to be particularly interested in doing his job. A colleague had five or six bottles of various supplements and over the counter medications. No one even bothered to take a look inside. Perhaps it was because we were obviously Westerners there for business. Who knows... it felt like going through security at an airport close to a beach in Central America. Very relaxed and informal.

- I never felt unsafe. A few of us (male and female) ventured into public a handful of times. I actually thought I'd stay in the compound and work, but we had some down time and exploring Riyadh a bit was fun.

- Apparently, Saudi Arabia really is a much different place than it was two years ago. MBS is trying to modernize and open up the country, and women are gaining more freedoms.

Would I go back? Sure, if I had to. Would I sign up and visit for tourism? Not so much.

Dude2
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Re: Traveling to Riyadh for Business

Post by Dude2 » Fri Nov 08, 2019 11:56 pm

I'm glad you had a good time and safely made it back. However, be advised that all rules are arbitrarily enforced. What you experience today may change tomorrow.

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