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Shopping for Expats in Saudi Arabia

Author: Jason Zhou
Submitted: October 2014

Many places in the Middle East offer fantastic shopping experiences; Dubai for instance is very popular. Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia does not have such a reputation. This is not to say Saudi Arabia is bad for shopping. It is just that it is very difficult for foreign nationals to enter and spend time in Saudi Arabia, one major reason being that the country does not offer any kind of tourist visa. Expatriates going to Saudi Arabia are usually there on working visas or business visas, or, for Muslims, Hajj or Umrah visas. Citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates do not require a visa. The stringent Islamic law practiced in the Kingdom acts as a further deterrent, especially for women, who for example are not allowed to drive or be alone with an unrelated man. Acceptable relations are via marriage, siblings, parent and child, grandparent and grandchild, or aunt/uncle and nephew/niece.

There are no pubs or nightclubs in Saudi Arabia, so it is impossible to obtain alcohol – at least in public. Shopping, instead, can be seen as a way to relax and socialise. Saudi citizens often go to shopping centres with their families in the evening time, as housewives do not normally go outside alone during the day. Some shopping centres have female-only sections for women shopping together.

You can find many of the well-known international brands in the shopping centres or markets. Many big brand products are cheaper than in other countries.

In the souks and smaller shops, haggling is perfectly acceptable (and highly advisable, and fun), though this is not permitted in larger stores. Shops do not have fitting rooms; instead, customers must pay for the item they would like to try on and either try it on at home or in the public fitting rooms within the shopping malls. While many shops offer three-day refund period and seven-day exchange period to allow people to do this, some have recently introduced the policy of only giving credit vouchers on returned purchases. In such cases, it is best to be sure you really want the items in question before making a purchase.

Online Shopping

Online shopping is not very popular in Saudi Arabia, although it has started to pick up in recent years. There are some local online shopping websites, such as www.souq.com.

You can buy items online from all over the world from websites such as Amazon and eBay, but be aware that this is a form of importation and may trigger custom duties. Furthermore, it is illegal to import some items into Saudi Arabia. If you are unsure about the legality of importing a particular purchase, you can check an import guide such as this one.

Opening Times

Being an Islamic country, Saudi Arabia has different weekdays and weekends from most of the other countries in the world. Weekdays are from Sunday to Thursday, while weekends are Friday and Saturday. Typical business hours between Sunday and Friday are 9:00 to 1:00pm and 4:30 to 8:00. On weekdays, including Friday, many large shops are open from 8:00am to midnight but have shorter opening times on Saturday. You should be aware of special dates and times, as these will affect shopping times. For example, in the holy month of Ramadan, shops are only open in the evenings between 8:00pm and 1:00. These opening times vary slightly between different regions of the country.




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