Locals almost universally wear a thobe (white robe with sleeves) with a ghutra (headdress), but the standard dress code for foreign men in Saudi Arabia is long trousers and a long-sleeved shirt. Short-sleeved shirts are unusual, although T-shirts are increasingly common among youth, while shorts are rarely seen outside the gym or beach.
The law in Saudi Arabia requires women to wear a hijab (headscarf) covering the head (but not the face) and an Abaya (long black overgarment) which covers the body, arms up to the wrists, and down to the ankles. However, during the show and inside the exhibition venue, female exhibitors are allowed to remove their headwear but must keep the ‘Abaya’ on.
Interaction during the exhibition
Interaction between men and women during the show is very normal and business-like. Saudi buyers are used to interacting professionally with foreign female business women and so it should be a very natural and business-like environment with people visiting the stands and talking to the reps. I would recommend that female exhibitors do not offer to shake hands with male visitors but rather wait to see if a handshake is offered. Otherwise, a normal hello is enough when meeting Saudi male visitors.
The Saudi currency is the Saudi riyal (SAR), which trades at a fixed 3.7450 to the US dollar since 1986. The riyal is divided into 100 halalas, which are used to mark some prices, but, in practice, all payments are rounded to the nearest riyal and odds are you probably will never see any halala coins. Bills come in values of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 riyals, with two series in circulation.
Saudi Arabia is still largely a cash society, and credit card acceptance is surprisingly poor outside luxury hotels and malls. ATMs are ubiquitous, although those of many smaller banks do not accept foreign cards; Samba, SABB, and ANB are probably your best bets. Moneychangers can be found in souks, but are rare elsewhere. Foreign currencies are generally not accepted by merchants.
What to buy in Saudi Arabia?
Few local products are of interest to tourists. Locally grown dates are of high quality, and religious paraphernalia is widely available, but almost exclusively imported. Copies of the Qur’an are produced in a wide range of editions and sold at very low prices. Zam-zam water is available throughout the Western Region and at all airports.
Carpets are a favorite purchase, most of these coming from nearby Iran. Jeddah in particular has lots of carpets, many brought by pilgrims who sell them there to help finance their trip to Mecca.
Large gold and jewelry markets are prominent in all major cities. Bargaining is a norm in most small to medium-sized stores. Mecca and Medina offer a lot of variety in terms of luggage, clothing, jewelry, knick-knacks, souvenirs, toys, food, perfume, incense, religious literature, audio, and paraphernalia.
Large, well-maintained air-conditioned malls and grocery stores (i.e. Safeway, Geant, Carrefour ) are scattered throughout the kingdom.