There are three major considerations to be made by those thinking of starting a business in Saudi Arabia:
- You must have a good knowledge of the region. Be prepared to undertake extensive research into the business sector you aim to operate within. You must have a viable business plan, which includes a study of the market conditions, the competition and your forecast results. You must be prepared to find the necessary investment from your own resources or through your bank and preferably by other means than applying locally, particularly if you’re new to the region and without a track record. A credible plan might attract local support, possibly government support.
- The law requires that you have a local partner who holds the majority interest and can therefore control the business (as well as close it, if he feels like it…). The local partner, be it a company or an individual, doesn’t need to contribute to the start-up investment or participate financially at all. As with self-employment, there are various ways that a partner can be remunerated. The local partner requirement is currently under review in some states, however, in order to encourage foreign investment.
- When the business is registered, you must show the Ministry of Commerce that you have a substantial sum of money to invest. The required sum varies between the states (it’s between $10,000/£6,500 and $50,000/£33,500 in most cases) and is reagrded as a guarantee against liabilities, although you may withdraw the money shortly afterwards.
The process is complex and financially risky, meaning that local knowledge is crucial. You must also consult a good lawyer from the outset. An experienced lawyer will guide you through the registration complexities and his help will be vital in protecting your interests. This applies whether you’re opening a modest shop or a major enterprise. As is the case all over the world, there are unofficial businesses operating in the region, but if anything goes wrong or you’re ripped off, you have no legal recourse whatsoever.
Don’t let these warnings put you off. All isn’t doom and gloom, and many people have developed successful, highly profitable businesses in Saudi Arabia. New operations are encouraged by the authorities and your local partner might be enthusiastically supportive (or he might be a severe liability). Export and manufacturing industries are especially strongly supported by government, particularly as regards the acquisition of land on which to construct a factory. If you set up such a business in a free trade zone, of which there are several in the region, it’s granted exemptions from import and export duties, commercial taxes, building and property licence fees, land tax and restrictions on the transfer of capital invested in the zone.
An alternative to starting a new business is to buy a going concern, which is a more straightforward process, as it doesn’t involve lodging capital, obtaining sponsorship or registration; all you have to do is agree a price and transfer the ownership of the business.
Local Chambers of Commerce can advise about start-ups and are adept at cherry-picking potentially profitable newcomers to the region. Winning the confidence and support of a Chamber of Commerce will help your cause. Contact details are as follows:
- Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry, PO Box 16683, Riyadh 11474, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (Tel. 966-1-405 3200);
- Eastern Province Chamber of Commerce, PO Box 719, Dammam 31421, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (Tel. 966-3-857 1111);
- Federation of GCC Chambers, PO Box 2198, Dammam 3145, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (Tel. 966-3-826 5943);
- Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, PO Box 1264, Jeddah 21431, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (Tel. 966-2-651 5111);
- Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry, PO Box 596, Riyadh 11421, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (Tel. 966-1-404 0044);
Doing Business in Saudi ‘Arabia: To learn more about the country’s profile, review a comparison of economies in each region, business laws, regulations, etc, click here