Doing Business In... 2023

Last Updated July 18, 2023

Saudi Arabia

Law and Practice


Derayah LLPC is an independent Saudi Arabian law firm that regularly acts for international clients in disputes before Saudi Arabian courts. It has played an impressive role in high-profile transactions and developed a reputation for providing high-quality advice on some of the largest and most complex transactions in Saudi Arabia. Recent clients include F. Hoffmann-La Roche AG, Citicorp Trustee Company, Richard Attias & Associates and Al Raha Al Safi Food Company. Derayah maintains offices in Jeddah and Riyadh, and remains the first-choice Saudi counsel for many foreign companies and international law firms seeking advice on Saudi Arabian law.

Islamic Law

Since the creation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on 23 September 1932, it has been the government’s express policy that the country is governed by Islamic law (Sharia). This was confirmed in 1992 by the Basic Law of Rule (Royal Order No A/90 of 27 Sha’ban 1412 Hejra corresponding to 1 March 1992), which is, in effect, the country’s constitution. Historically, the Hanbali school of Islamic law has been dominant in the territory that is now Saudi Arabia. The Islamic law texts that Saudi jurists regard as authoritative were compiled during the 13th to 17th centuries CE; as such, they reflect the concerns of a pre-industrial society and do not address many commercial, business or economic issues.

There are numerous areas of law where Islamic law offers few or no guidelines, and where government-made legislation is, therefore, the only law. For example, company law, capital markets law, foreign investment and employment law are governed by largely self-contained codes. However, until recently the Saudi Arabian government was reluctant to legislate in areas where a given subject matter is covered in some detail in the authoritative Islamic law texts. This has changed with an ambitious reform programme under the supervision of the Main Committee for the Preparation of Judicial Legislation, who have been working on a modern model of legislation consistent with Islamic law principles and international norms. The Evidence Regulation was enacted under Royal Decree No M/43 of 26 Jumada Awwal 1443 Hejra corresponding to 30 December 2021, the Personal Status Regulation under Royal Decree No M/73 of 6 Shaban 1443 Hejra corresponding to 9 March 2022, and the Civil Transactions Regulation under Royal Decree No M/191 of 29 Shawwal 1444 Hejra corresponding to 18 June 2023. Taking their queue from the codes of other Arab states as well as European and North American laws, these new Regulations are primarily a codification of Islamic law rules with guidance from internationally accepted principles where Islamic law is silent or unclear. Therefore, they are not a radical departure from Saudi law, but rather have consolidated and clarified existing rules, with some changes where this is possible without conflicting with Islamic law. For example, Article 385 of the Civil Transactions Regulation confirms the clear Islamic law rule that agreements to charge or pay interest are void, while Article 137 permits awarding damages for loss of anticipated income, which was traditionally opposed by the Saudi judiciary without being based on a clear Islamic law prohibition.

An obvious advantage of the new Regulations is that one no longer has to ascertain legal principles with reference to four- to eight-hundred-year-old texts, the language of which requires a specialist education to understand – the equivalent of reading Blackstone’s commentaries in their original language.

Contract law

The Civil Transactions Regulation will enter into force on 20 December 2023, with retroactive effect except for relevant conflicting regulations and judicial principles. It codifies Saudi Arabian contract law, liabilities for harm caused other than in contract, and property rights. There is a section on general principles of contract law, and another section covering nominate contracts such as sales, leases, loan agreements, service contracts, agencies, bailments and partnerships that are not covered by the Companies Regulation. Areas of law which are covered by existing legislation remain largely unaffected; for example, the sections on employment contracts and insurance merely confirm that they are governed by the existing statutes.

Article 104 of the Civil Transactions Regulation confirms the established rule that clear contract terms must be applied as written, reflecting the Islamic law maxim “the contract is the law of the parties” (Al Aqd Shari’at Al Muta’aqdin). Courts may only seek to ascertain the parties’ common intention if the contract’s wording is unclear. In such situations, judges may have regard to, for example:

  • custom;
  • the circumstances and nature of the transaction; and
  • equality in bargaining power.

Courts and Tribunals

Saudi Arabia has courts that are administered by the Ministry of Justice, and specialised tribunals. The General Courts (also known as the Sharia Courts), the Commercial Courts and the Labour Courts are under the administration of the Ministry of Justice.

Other specialised tribunals (whose names mostly explain their scope of jurisdiction fully) include the following:

  • the Administrative Court, also known as the Board of Grievances, which has exclusive jurisdiction over disputes to which the government or government agencies are party;
  • the Committee for the Resolution of Securities Disputes, which deals with disputes falling within the ambit of the Capital Markets Regulation and its Implementing Rules;
  • the Committee for Banking Disputes; and
  • the Committee for the Settlement of Insurance Disputes.

Administration of justice

The past decade has seen considerable change to the administration of justice in Saudi Arabia, which was initiated under the Judiciary Regulation (Royal Decree No M/78 of 19 Ramadan 1428 Hejra corresponding to 1 October 2007). The Board of Grievances used to have jurisdiction in commercial disputes, but this was transferred to the newly formed Commercial Courts in October 2017, and the definition of commercial disputes was widened to include construction cases and commercial property disputes. Labour disputes used to be administered by the Ministry of Labour’s Commission for the Settlement of Labour Disputes, but this jurisdiction was transferred to the new Labour Courts in October 2018.

Commercial Courts

Furthermore, the Commercial Courts Regulation (Royal Decree No M/93 of 15 Sha’ban 1441 Hejra corresponding to 8 April 2020) came into force on 16 June 2020, and brought about further innovations to the Commercial Courts. Greater emphasis is placed upon mediating commercial disputes instead of resorting to litigation, and Article 6 provides that, where both parties to a commercial transaction are merchants, they may utilise alternative forms of dispute resolution.

Electronic procedures

Commercial Courts may now engage the services of the private sector for functions such as mediation, notification and judgment delivery. Electronic filing procedures have been introduced, and several court-related procedures may be performed online, such as the exchange of judgments, memoranda and objections.

Parties seeking to litigate commercial claims are subject to a limitation period of five years from the date on which the cause of action arose. Exceptions to this rule exist, such as where the court deems that the plaintiff has a valid excuse for bringing the claim after the expiry of the limitation period.

The past few years have also seen a shift from court proceedings being held in person to being held on online platforms, in no small part in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even after regular governmental services resumed in June 2020 following the initial lockdown in the Kingdom, hearings are now mainly held online.


The Evidence Regulation regulates civil and commercial transactions. It contains provisions controlling the presentation, examination and interpretation by the courts of evidence, and regulates admissions, oral testimonies, cross-examinations, the taking of oaths, expert evidence and written and digital evidence.


Where technical or complex financial issues are raised, it is common for the judges to appoint an expert or experts as advisers to the tribunal. The tribunal has discretion over who it appoints as an expert, although as per Article 110 of the Evidence Regulation, should the parties agree on the selection of one or more experts, the court shall abide by their agreement. The court also has discretion over whether or not it accepts or disregards all or part of the expert’s findings; however, ordinarily, the determination of technical or complex financial issues falls to the expert.

Until the year 2000, the opportunities for foreign investment in Saudi Arabia were extremely restricted, being limited essentially to foreign minority shareholdings in industrial development projects involving technology transfer to Saudi Arabia. Foreign participation in service or trading businesses was not possible. At the time, the economy was dominated by state-owned monopolies.

With the assistance of the World Bank, a new foreign investment framework was created through the enactment of the new Investment Regulation and the creation of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) in April 2000. Until then, foreign direct investment in Saudi Arabia had been treated as a privilege. Under the new law, all business activities were opened to foreign investment, unless they were expressly excluded from foreign investment under the so-called Negative List.

These reforms immediately opened most forms of industry and services to 100% foreign ownership. Trading activities remained restricted to Saudi nationals until 2007, when the sector was opened up to 75% participation. 100% ownership of trading businesses has been possible since 2016, but is subject to high entry requirements.

In 2020, SAGIA became the Ministry of Investment of Saudi Arabia (MISA). Foreign investors must now obtain approval from MISA before establishing a presence in Saudi Arabia. Approval is obtained after meeting certain conditions (depending on the investment activity) and providing the required documentation. There are various limitations on foreign ownership of joint stock companies, which can vary depending on the nature of the activity carried out by such companies. For example, foreign ownership limits apply to banks, insurance companies and telecommunications companies.

In addition, the Negative List sets out a number of activities that foreign investors are prohibited from undertaking, such as real estate development in the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.

Until June 2019, foreign investors could not generally own more than 49% of the issued shares or convertible debt instruments of a listed company. The Capital Market Authority has now lifted the maximum foreign ownership limit, permitting foreign investors to increase their investments in some sectors, with the restriction that their shares cannot be sold until they have owned them for two years.

Foreign investors are required to obtain an investment licence from MISA. The process requires the submission of several documents by each foreign shareholder; the required documentation may differ depending on the activity of the company to be incorporated.

For example, the following documents are required for a foreign company to obtain a trading licence from MISA in connection with a limited liability company:

  • a commercial registration certificate;
  • articles of association; and
  • financial statements for the previous financial year.

Until recently, these documents had to be authenticated in accordance with the authentication process in their country of origin, and attested by the Saudi embassy in the same country before being authenticated in Saudi Arabia. On 7 December 2022, Saudi Arabia acceded to the Convention Abolishing the Requirements of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents, aka the Apostille Convention. Theoretically, documents now only require an apostille in the country of origin and an Arabic translation to be considered authenticated in the Kingdom; however, some government ministries have yet to adopt these changes.

The name of the company would then have to be reserved through the filling out of the designated form in person at the Ministry of Commerce (MCI).

An application for the foreign investment licence takes place online, and requires the applicant to:

  • provide some general information with respect to each shareholder, including contact information;
  • specify the activities that will be carried out by the company in Saudi Arabia; and
  • provide some general information with respect to the investment in Saudi Arabia, including the capital and estimated number of employees to be employed by the company.

MISA charges an annual services fee of SAR12,000 for the first year, and SAR260,000 for five years.

Once the online application is complete, it can take up to five business days from the date all the required documents are submitted to obtain the licence.

Carrying on unlicensed economic activities or investing in Saudi Arabia without an investment licence is an offence under the so-called Anti-fronting Regulation (Royal Decree No M/22 of 4 Jumada Awwal 1425 Hejra corresponding to 22 June 2004). The parties involved may be imprisoned and fined, and the assets used in the business may be seized. In addition, a non-Saudi may be deported, and a Saudi may have their commercial registration cancelled and be prohibited from practising the same activity for up to five years. Participation in unlicensed economic activities also often involves tax fraud, in respect of which please refer to 5.7 Anti-evasion Rules.

Depending on the industry for which the investment licence is issued, certain restrictions may be imposed upon the investor. For example, an investment by a non-Saudi interest in retail and wholesale activities with a Saudi shareholder would be subject to the following requirements:

  • at least 25% Saudi Arabian participation;
  • a minimum foreign investment of SAR20 million (USD5.3 million);
  • a restriction of opening a maximum of one shop per district; and
  • training a minimum of 15% Saudi employees each year.

Non-Saudi interests can invest in a wholly owned trading venture subject to the following requirements.

  • Alternative 1 – foreign investment of SAR300 million (USD80 million), with a minimum of 30% Saudi employees trained each year.
  • Alternative 2 – foreign investment of SAR200 million (USD53 million), with a minimum of 30% Saudi employees trained each year, coupled with one or more of the following:
    1. manufacturing – a proportion of not less than 30% of products distributed locally to be manufactured in the Kingdom;
    2. research and development programmes – a minimum of 5% of total sales to be allocated to the establishment of research and development programmes in the Kingdom; or
    3. logistical services and distribution – a centre to provide such services and after-sales services to be established.

When an application for an investment licence is rejected, the applicant may lodge an objection with MISA’s board within 30 days of receiving the rejection notice. The board considers and rules on the objection within 30 days of submission. If the board dismisses the objection, the applicant may appeal to the Administrative Court.

The new Companies Regulation (Royal Decree No M/132 of 1 Dhul Hijja 1443 Hejra corresponding to 30 June 2022) and its Implementing Rules came into effect in January 2023, replacing the Companies Regulation (Royal Decree No M/3 of 28 Muharram 1437 corresponding to 10 November 2015), the Professional Companies Regulation (Royal Decree No M/17 of 26 Muharram 1441 Hijra corresponding to 25 September 2019) and the Implementing Rules of the Professional Companies Regulation which were issued on 23 April 2020.

Companies incorporated in Saudi Arabia are usually incorporated as limited liability companies (LLCs) or joint stock companies (JSCs). An LLC can be owned by a single person, and there is no limit on the maximum number of shareholders. There is no minimum share capital requirement for LLCs, but the capital of a company must be sufficient for carrying out the company’s activities.

A JSC can be incorporated by one or more persons, whether natural persons or corporate entities. The JSC’s capital on establishment must be sufficient to achieve its object, and in any event must not be less than SAR500,000.

Under the 2022 Companies Regulation, a new form of entity called a “simplified joint stock company” can also be created. A simplified joint stock company can be incorporated by one or more persons, and there is no minimum share capital requirement for such companies.

The first step towards incorporating an entity with non-Saudi shareholders is obtaining an investment licence from MISA, as further detailed under 2.2 Procedure and Sanctions in the Event of Non-compliance. Once the licence has been obtained, the shareholders must submit the company’s draft articles of association to the MCI for review and approval. After they have been approved, the articles must be notarised and published. The next step is to obtain the commercial registration certificate from the MCI, a process which includes the appointment of management.

The timing for incorporating a company from the date of receiving a MISA licence up to the issuance of the commercial registration certificate is usually two to three weeks, if the draft articles of association do not deviate too far from the standard articles issued from time to time by the MCI.

Once the commercial registration certificate is issued, the company is incorporated and must complete the post-incorporation registrations with the following government authorities:

  • the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs;
  • the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development;
  • the General Organisation for Social Insurance;
  • the Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority (ZATCA); and
  • the General Authority for Competition (if applicable).

The company may also need to obtain additional approvals from other relevant authorities regulating its activities, depending on the business it will be carrying out. The time to complete these post-incorporation procedures varies widely depending on what registrations with government authorities are required.

Any amendments to the articles of association of a company must be submitted to the MCI for review and approval, and must be notarised and published. This includes any change in shareholding, any increase or decrease in the capital of the company, or any change to the activities of the company. Furthermore, the names of the general manager or members of the board of directors are included in the commercial registration certificate of a company, so any change in management must be reported to the MCI for amendment of the commercial registration certificate.

Companies are required to upload their financial statements in respect of each financial year to the MCI, through the online portal Qawaem.

JSCs are managed by a board of directors, consisting of not less than three members, which has the widest powers to manage the company towards achieving its objectives, subject to the limitations set down by the shareholders’ general assembly. The board members may be shareholders, or other persons, and are elected by the shareholders in the ordinary general assembly. The first board can be appointed by resolution of the founders or in the JSC’s by-laws. The company’s by-laws or the shareholders specify the mode of management of the company.

LLCs have more flexibility than JSCs to put a management structure in place that suits the company’s shareholders. An LLC can be managed either by one or more managers, who can be shareholders or other persons. The shareholders can appoint a board of managers if there are multiple managers. The manager(s) can be appointed via the articles of association or via separate contracts. The company’s articles of association or resolutions of the shareholders determine the mode of management of the company.

Management and Shareholders’ Liability

As per Article 28 of the 2022 Companies Regulation, “the manager and members of the board of directors shall be responsible by way of joint liability to compensate the company or partners or shareholders or third parties for damage arising by reason of a violation of the provisions of the Regulation or of the company’s articles of association or by-laws, or by reason of any error, neglect or default on their part in the performance of their work; any condition providing otherwise shall be void ab initio.”

A manager or member of the board of directors who fails to call a shareholders’ meeting upon being made aware of the losses of the company reaching 50% may be imprisoned for up to a year and/or fined up to SAR1 million.

Article 242 (1) of the 2022 Companies Regulation provides that the managers or the board of directors of the company must, before the company, the general assembly or the shareholders pass a resolution to dissolve the company, and prepare a declaration stating that they have investigated the financial position of the company, confirming that the assets of the company are sufficient to discharge its debts at the end of the liquidation period proposed, and that the company is not in default under the Bankruptcy Regulation (Royal Decree No M/50 of 28 Jumada Awwal 1439 Hejra corresponding to 14 February 2018) as amended by Royal Decree No M/89 of 9 Rajab 1441 Hejra corresponding to 4 March 2020. This declaration must be presented within 30 days from the date of its separation to the partners, the general assembly or the shareholders for the passing of a resolution to dissolve the company.

Article 242 (2) provides that in a situation where the partners, the general assembly or the shareholders pass a resolution to dissolve the company, when it is apparent from the declaration that the assets of the company are not sufficient to discharge its debts or that the company is in default under the Bankruptcy Regulation, they shall be liable by way of joint liability for any debt outstanding against the company.

Therefore, if a company continues trading while insolvent, eventually the shareholders may be held personally liable for the company’s debts, which can only be evaded by either infusing new capital or making an application for a procedure under the Bankruptcy Regulation. Under the Bankruptcy Regulation, a company’s manager, member of its board of directors or board of managers, or any of its officers or any other person participating in the establishment or management thereof, or an analogous person, risks imprisonment of up to five years and/or a fine of up to SAR5 million, by “continuing to carry on the activity of the debtor in the absence of the possibility of avoiding liquidation”.

Main Statutes

The main Saudi statutes governing relations between employers and employees are:

  • the Labour Regulation (Royal Decree No M/51 of 23 Sha’ban 1426 Hejra corresponding to 27 September 2005), as amended most recently by Royal Decree No M/5 of 7 Muharram 1442 Hejra corresponding to 26 August 2020; and
  • the Labour Regulation Implementing Rules (Ministerial Resolution No 1982 of 28 Safar 1437 Hejra corresponding to 6 April 2016), as amended most recently by Ministerial Resolution No 142906 dated 13 Sha’ban 1441 Hejra corresponding to 6 April 2020.

The Labour Regulation lays down certain mandatory minimum standards for the treatment of employees, and any agreement reducing an employee’s minimum rights is void.

The Nitaqat System

The basic rule under the Labour Regulation is that Saudi employees shall not represent less than 75% of the total workforce, but that the Minister of Labour may decrease the percentage temporarily. In 2011, the Saudi Ministry of Labour – now the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (HRSD) – implemented a detailed list of quotas, known as the Nitaqat system, which are determined by the business sector and size of the business entity, with the percentages of Saudi employees currently classed in Red, Low Green, Medium Green, High Green and Platinum sections. These quotas are updated frequently.

Labour Reforms

On 4 November 2020, the HRSD announced new labour reforms which, as stated in the Labour Reform Initiative Services Guidebook (the “LRI Guidebook”) published by the HRSD in 2020, aim to improve working environments and the labour market in the Kingdom, and strengthen human resources. To that end, the LRI Guidebook outlines the following three online services, each of which is subject to certain conditions that are elaborated upon within the guide:

  • employee mobility, a service that allows expatriate workers to apply to transfer their employment between private sector establishments;
  • automatic exit and re-entry visas, which is a service allowing expatriate workers to apply to exit and re-enter Saudi Arabia while their employment contract is valid; and
  • automatic exit visas, which is a service that enables expatriate workers to apply to leave the Kingdom during the period that their contract is valid, or following the expiry of their contract.

The online platform Qiwa provides a standard employment agreement which companies can use to contract with their employees. These online templates are amendable to a certain extent. The Implementing Rules of the Labour Regulation also set out a standard employment contract, certain provisions of which are mandatory. A written employment contract must be executed, but the provisions of the Labour Regulation apply if the employer fails to do so.

Employment contracts with non-Saudis must be on a fixed-term basis, but Saudi employees can be employed on fixed-term contracts or indefinite term contracts. If a fixed-term contract expires and the parties continue the relationship, it becomes an indefinite term contract for Saudi employees. If a fixed-term contract contains a renewal provision, it can be renewed twice for less than four years and remains a fixed-term contract. If the contract is renewed three times or the employment period exceeds four years, the contract becomes indefinite for Saudi employees. Accordingly, a Saudi national who has been employed by the same employer for more than four years or whose contract has been renewed three times will automatically be employed on an indefinite-term basis.

As a general rule, working hours are eight hours per day for six days per week, with a total of 48 hours per week. During Ramadan, working hours for Muslims are reduced to six hours per day for six days per week, with a total of 36 hours per week. Article 99 of the Labour Regulation provides that statutory working hours may be increased to nine hours per day or decreased to seven hours per day for certain work categories. According to Article 101 of the Labour Regulation, workers may not work continuously for more than five hours at a time, with breaks for meals, rest and prayers of not less than half an hour at a time. Breaks are not counted as working hours, but workers may not remain at the workplace for more than 11 hours per day.

Article 106 of the Labour Regulation provides that the maximum actual working hours may be increased to up to ten hours per day or up to 60 hours per week without a day of rest in certain circumstances, including “if the worker is intended to face extraordinary work pressure”. In such situations, overtime is payable at 150% of the employee’s base wage.

The circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in reductions in the working hours of many employees. In light of this and other changes to contractual relationships caused by the pandemic, the HRSD issued Resolution No 142906 of 13 Sha’ban 1441 Hejra corresponding to 6 April 2020, inserting Article 41 into the Implementing Rules of the Labour Regulation, which is applicable to situations where the government has taken measures in relation to a situation that necessitates a reduction in working hours or has implemented precautionary measures to prevent the worsening of a situation. It allows employers to take certain measures to lessen the adverse impact of the pandemic within six months of the beginning of government-imposed restrictions taking effect. Such options include reducing an employee’s salary in proportion to a decrease in their working hours.

On 13 January 2021, the HRSD announced that Article 41 would no longer be effective in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under Saudi Arabian law, staff can be dismissed in the following circumstances:

  • non-renewal of a fixed-term contract;
  • for a cause listed under Article 80 of the Labour Regulation; and
  • termination of an indefinite-term contract under Article 75 of the Labour Regulation.

Fixed-Term Contract

A fixed-term contract comes to an end when its term expires. Therefore, an employee can be dismissed by being given notice that the contract will not be renewed. In such circumstances, no compensation is payable other than the statutory end-of-service award, and repatriation costs for non-Saudis.

Article 80

Article 80 allows an employer to terminate a contract for certain specified causes, most of which involve misconduct. Article 80 (2) permits termination “if the worker fails to perform his essential obligations arising from the employment contract, or to obey legitimate orders, or if, in spite of written warnings, he deliberately fails to observe the instructions related to the safety of work and workers as may be posted by the employer in a conspicuous place.”

This is a catch-all provision, and is applicable to any breach of the essence of the contract of employment, but the breach must be material. Ordinary, trivial errors are punishable only by disciplinary measures. Any dismissal under Article 80 requires that the employee be given a chance to justify their conduct. For this, a meeting must be called, at which at least two management representatives must be present, and which must be minuted. If the employee fails to respond within a reasonable time, it may be assumed that they have no valid objection to the termination, or that they are not interested in prolonging the employment relationship. Dismissal under Article 80 can only be invoked in isolated instances, and not, for example, to reduce a company’s workforce.

Article 75

Article 75 of the Labour Regulation permits the termination of an indefinite term contract for lawful cause, upon 60 days’ notice, although the term “lawful cause” is not defined. In principle, it can include any reason, such as:

  • the Labour Regulation and other applicable laws;
  • contractual obligations;
  • social, religious and customary rules;
  • public policy;
  • impossibility or frustration of purpose;
  • the employer’s by-laws and work rules; and
  • real business considerations.

However, anything that appears arbitrary or discriminatory will not be accepted by the Labour Courts.


When a fixed-term contract is terminated prematurely without cause, Article 77 of the Labour Regulation requires the courts to award compensation to the end of the contract (however long this may be), with a minimum of two months’ salary. The right to compensation applies not only when the employment contract is terminated early by the employer, but also when the employee terminates early without good cause.

When an indefinite-term contract is terminated without cause, the employee receives 15 days’ salary for each year of service, or pro rata for an incomplete year, with a minimum of two months’ salary, unless compensation for unlawful termination is set out in the employment contract. The compensation is in addition to the end-of-service benefits (ESBs) that are payable in any event.

Under Article 84 of the Labour Regulation, when an employment contract comes to an end, as a general rule the employee is entitled to:

  • one half of one month’s wages for each of the first five years of employment (or pro-rated part thereof); and
  • a full month’s wages for each year of employment thereafter (or pro-rated part thereof).

Where an employee has resigned for reasons other than force majeure, the ESB is calculated as follows:

  • one third of the Article 84 ESB for two to five years of employment;
  • two thirds of the Article 84 ESB for six to ten years of employment; and
  • the full Article 84 ESB for employment of more than ten years.

A waiver of the right to ESB is ineffective under Saudi Arabian law. The ESB is calculated with reference to the employee’s gross remuneration, which includes housing and transport allowances, regular bonuses, etc. Where housing and transport are provided to the employee, the actual value or fair market value of such benefits is taken as the basis of the calculation.

There are no trade unions in Saudi Arabia; employees’ interests are represented by the HRSD. The Labour Regulation sets out rules governing the investigation of complaints by labour inspectors.

There is no personal income tax in Saudi Arabia. However, in 2018 the government imposed monthly charges on expatriate employees, implemented on a sliding scale as follows.

  • Expats equal to or fewer than the number of Saudi employees:
    1. SAR300 in 2018;
    2. SAR500 in 2019; and
    3. SAR700 in 2020.
  • Expats exceeding the number of Saudi employees:
    1. SAR400 in 2018;
    2. SAR600 in 2019; and
    3. SAR800 in 2020.

Industrial firms currently benefit from a waiver of the expat fees.

In addition, a monthly charge is imposed on expatriates’ dependants, as follows:

  • July 2017 to July 2018 – SAR100 per month per dependant;
  • July 2018 to July 2019 – SAR200 per month per dependant;
  • July 2019 to July 2020 – SAR300 per month per dependant; and
  • July 2020 to July 2021 – SAR400 per month per dependant.

While the charges on expatriate employees must be borne by the employer, many employers do not cover the levy on dependents, which is therefore, in effect, a form of income tax.


Saudi Arabian interests pay zakat, which is a religious wealth tax based on the taxpayer’s net worth, not income. The effective rate is 2.5% of the net worth of natural persons and 2.5% of the total capital resources of companies. For companies, the tax base for the calculation of zakat excludes fixed assets, long-term investments and deferred costs from total capital resources, but includes profits from foreign investments that do not consist of investment in real property.

Under the Income Tax Regulation (Royal Decree No M/1 of 15 Muharram 1425 Hejra corresponding to 7 March 2004), most foreign interests that conduct business in Saudi Arabia pay income tax at a flat rate of 20% of the profits. Oil and hydrocarbon production income are taxed at a rate of 50% to 85%. When a company has Saudi and non-Saudi shareholders, the Saudi shareholders pay zakat, and the non-Saudi shareholders pay income tax.

Withholding Tax

Payments to a non-resident with no permanent establishment in Saudi Arabia for any amount realised from a source in the Kingdom are subject to withholding tax at the following percentages of the gross payment:

  • management fees – 20%;
  • royalties or proceeds, or payments for services to a head office or related company – 15%;
  • payments for rent, technical and consulting services, air tickets, air freight and maritime freight, international telecommunications services, dividends, loan charges, or insurance or reinsurance premiums – 5%; and
  • other payments – 15%.


Since 1 July 2020, value added tax (VAT) has been payable at a rate of 15%.

Net operating losses may be carried forward by non-Saudi investors from one year to the next. Any loss that has been carried forward may be deducted from the tax base of future taxable years until the cumulative loss is fully offset.

In March 2020, ZATCA launched an initiative granting amnesty in relation to tax filing and payment penalties for excise tax, VAT, withholding tax, income tax and zakat. The initiative was initially set to run for the period of 18 March 2020 to 30 June 2020, but has been extended multiple times since its launch. The latest resolution by the Minister of Finance – Resolution No 2303 dated 7 Dhul Qada 1442 Hejra corresponding to 21 January 2021 – extended the amnesty period until 30 June 2021.

For zakat payment purposes, Article 15 of the Implementing Regulation for Zakat Collection permits companies owned by the same partner, or holding companies and their wholly owned subsidiaries both inside and outside Saudi Arabia, to submit consolidated accounts and consolidated declarations.

There are no thin capitalisation rules.

Deduction of interest is limited to either the loan charge accumulated during the tax year (if related to taxable income) or the sum of a taxpayer’s income from loan charges, whichever is lower, and 50% of taxable income (minus loan charge income and expenses).

Article 63 (c) of the Income Tax Regulation gives ZATCA the power to re-allocate income and expenses between related parties as may be necessary to reflect the income that would have been realised if the parties had been independent and unrelated. While this rule has been in force since 2004, it was not widely applied until 2019. On 15 February 2019, ZATCA introduced transfer pricing by-laws based on the OECD’s Base Erosion and Profit Shifting Recommendations. In July 2022, ZATCA issued an amended draft of Transfer Pricing By-laws, inviting comments from the public.

Under the Income Tax Regulation, failure to pay income tax results in a fine of 1% of the unpaid tax for each 30 days of the delayed payment, plus an additional 25% of the unpaid tax if fraud is involved.

Under Article 7 of the Competition Regulation (Royal Decree No M/75 of 29 Jumada Thani 1440 Hejra corresponding to 6 March 2019), businesses that plan to engage in a transaction resulting in an economic concentration must notify the General Authority for Competition (GAC) at least 90 days before the transaction is completed, if the total value of the annual sales for all the enterprises taking part in the economic concentration surpasses SAR100 million. On 29 March 2023, the GAC announced that this minimum threshold for reporting an economic concentration was to be raised to SAR200 million. The Guidelines for Reporting Economic Concentrations issued by the GAC on 6 Sha’ban 1441 corresponding to 30 March 2020 specify that, when determining whether the threshold has been reached, the GAC considers the pertinent annual sales to be the aggregate value of sales achieved by all the relevant enterprises on a global level.

Article 1 of the Implementing Rules of the Competition Regulation issued by the GAC Board Resolution No (337) dated 25 Muharram 1441 Hejra corresponding to 24 September 2019 defines an economic concentration as “any action that results in a total or partial transfer of ownership of assets, rights, equity, stocks, shares or liabilities of a firm to another by way of merger, acquisition, takeover or the joining of two or more managements in a joint management, or any other form that leads to the control of a firm(s) including influencing its decision, the organisation of its administrative structure, or its voting system”. Therefore, a full merger or acquisition is not necessary to trigger the reporting requirement; for example, the formation of an unincorporated joint venture or a consortium may also be sufficient.

Depending on the parties’ activities, it may also be necessary to obtain approvals and comply with the additional requirements of sector-specific regulatory bodies, such as the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) for banks and insurance companies or the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) for telecommunications companies.

Special rules apply to mergers and acquisitions involving listed companies, which are set out in the Merger and Acquisitions Regulations (Resolution of the Board of the Capital Market Authority No 1-50-2007 of 21 Ramadan 1428 Hejra corresponding to 3 October 2007), as amended by Resolution No 3-45-2018 of 7 Sha’ban 1439 Hejra corresponding to 23 April 2018.

Under the 2019 Competition Regulation and its Implementing Rules, the parties to an economic concentration exceeding the threshold must submit a report for GAC approval at least 90 days before the completion of the action. This report is submitted through the GAC’s website and must contain the following information:

  • the basic information concerning the operation of the economic concentration and the parties thereto;
  • the sectors and markets concerned;
  • the likely effect of the economic concentration on competition generally;
  • the most prominent customers; and
  • the most prominent competitors.

The report must also contain any other data the GAC requires to review the economic concentration.

Certain documents must also be submitted to the GAC in connection with the buyer, seller and target entities, namely:

  • their articles of association;
  • their commercial registration certificate or an equivalent document; and
  • their financial statements for the past two years.

Once the report and required documents are received, the GAC may publish basic information on the economic concentration and request comments from the public. The GAC must evaluate the application in light of the following factors:

  • the structure and level of competition in the market in Saudi Arabia, and abroad in situations where the competition has an impact on the Saudi market;
  • the financial positions of the parties to the economic concentration;
  • the availability and accessibility of alternative commodities;
  • the distinctness of the commodities;
  • consumer interests and welfare;
  • the probable effect of the economic concentration on prices, quality, diversification, innovation or development in the market;
  • advantages and disadvantages to competition arising from the economic concentration;
  • the growth and direction of supply and demand in the market;
  • the barriers to entry and exit or the expansion of enterprises in the market, including regulatory barriers;
  • the likelihood that the economic concentration will create or enhance influential market strength or the dominant position of the enterprise in any particular markets;
  • the degree and history of practices prejudicial to competition in the relevant market; and
  • the views of the public, the parties related to the economic concentration, and the sector regulators.

At the conclusion of the enquiry, the GAC may approve or reject the application, or may set conditions for its approval. If no ruling is made within 90 days of submission of the application, the application is deemed to be approved.

Article 5 of the 2019 Competition Regulation prohibits practices that have the effect or intention of disturbing competition. Such practices can involve express or implied agreements between businesses, but a single entity can also be guilty of engaging in anti-competitive practices.

Article 5 sets out a non-exclusive list of practices that are considered anti-competitive, as follows:

  • fixing or proposing prices for goods, consideration for services, conditions of sale or purchase, and the like;
  • fixing the volumes, weights or quantities of production of commodities or the performance of services;
  • restricting the freedom of flow of commodities or services to the markets, or wholly or partially removing them therefrom by concealing or storing them without right, or refusing to deal therein;
  • any conduct tending to impede the entry of an enterprise to the market, or excluding it therefrom;
  • withholding commodities or services available on the market wholly or in part from a particular enterprise or enterprises;
  • dividing up the markets for the sale or purchase of commodities or goods, or allocating them in accordance with any criterion, particularly according to geographical areas, distribution centres, types of customers, or seasons and periods of time;
  • freezing operations of manufacture, development, distribution and marketing and all other modes of investment, or restricting them; and
  • colluding or co-ordinating in bids or offers in governmental or other auctions or tenders in such a manner as to disturb competition.

The GAC has both an investigation department and a tribunal that adjudicates on violations of the Competition Regulation. The decisions of the Committee for the Determination of Violations of the Competition Regulation are appealable to the Administrative Court, but such appeals have so far, for the most part, been unsuccessful. Since the GAC was established in 2004, originally as the Competition Protection Council, it has taken to court and convicted enterprises in a variety of industries, including cement, medical gases, rice, sugar and soft drinks.

Under the 2019 Competition Regulation, a dominant entity is defined as having a 40% market share or the ability to influence a particular market.

Dominant businesses may not abuse their position, nor disturb or limit competition. Article 6 of the 2019 Competition Regulation sets out the following non-exclusive list of practices that are prohibited for dominant businesses:

  • selling a commodity or service at a price less than the total cost, in order to exclude enterprises from the market or to expose them to grave loss, or to impede the entry of potential enterprises;
  • fixing or imposing prices or conditions for the resale of commodities or services;
  • reducing or increasing the available quantities of products in order to control prices or fabricate a non-genuine abundance or shortage;
  • discriminating in dealings between enterprises in respect of similar contracts with regard to the prices of commodities, consideration for services, conditions of sale or purchase thereof;
  • refusing to deal with another enterprise without objective cause, in order to restrict its entry to the market;
  • imposing a requirement on an enterprise that it should refrain from dealing with another enterprise; and
  • making the sale of a commodity or the provision of a service conditional upon the assumption of obligations or the acceptance of goods or services that – by their nature or under commercial usage – are unconnected with the commodity or service that is the subject matter of the original contract or transaction.

Originally, intellectual property rights were administered and protected by three different government authorities:

  • King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) for patents;
  • the MCI for trade marks; and
  • the Ministry of Media for copyrights.

These functions are now handled by the Saudi Authority for Intellectual Property (SAIP), which aims to organise, support, sponsor, protect and promote intellectual property in the Kingdom, in accordance with global best practices.


There are currently two overlapping patent systems in Saudi Arabia. The GCC Patents of Inventions Regulation of 2001 was approved in Saudi Arabia by Royal Decree No M/28 of 2001, and is an amendment of an earlier statute of 1992. It permits the registration of patents with effect throughout the GCC countries. The GCC Patent Office is based in Riyadh.

Patents are governed by the Patent, Layout Designs of Integrated Circuits, Plant Varieties, and Industrial Models Regulation (Royal Decree No M/27 of 20 Jumada Awwal 1425 Hejra corresponding to 17 July 2005), which gives effect to the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property under Saudi law.

A protection document is granted by the SAIP, which gives full protection within the Kingdom to an invention, a layout design of an integrated circuit, a plant variety or an industrial design. The protection document grants the owner the right to commercially exploit the subject matter of protection.

In accordance with the provisions of the Patent, Layout Designs of Integrated Circuits, Plant Varieties, and Industrial Models Regulation, a patent may be granted for an invention if it is novel, involves a creative step and is capable of industrial application. The invention may be a product or an industrial process, or may relate to either.

Applications for protection documents can now be filed through the SAIP website by filling out a template which requires the input of:

  • a summary;
  • a full description;
  • the elements being protected; and
  • drawings (if any) for the invention being patented.

For certain patent applications, the patent application fast track examination (FTE) programme is also available, which provides a potentially quicker avenue for obtaining a protection document.

The protection document is the personal right of the owner, who may transfer or assign it, or grant a contractual licence to others to commercially exploit the subject matter of protection. Protection is granted to the owner for:

  • 20 years for an invention;
  • ten years for an industrial design and a layout design of an integrated circuit; and
  • 20 to 25 years for a new plant variety.

These periods are renewable, for an annual fee.

Disputes arising from patent infringement are handled by the Commercial Courts.

Trade marks are regulated under the Trade Marks Regulation (Royal Decree No M/21 of 28 Jumada Awwal 1423 Hejra corresponding to 8 August 2002), which defines a trade mark as:

“… anything having a distinctive form such as names, words, signatures, letters, figures, drawings, logos, titles, hallmarks, seals, pictures, engravings, packs or any other mark or group of marks if used or intended to be used either to distinguish goods, products or services of a facility or other facilities or to indicate the rendering of a service or the control of inspection of goods or services.”

Applications for the registration of trade marks are made online and must include the following:

  • a copy of the trade mark to be registered;
  • the name, title, address, nationality and trade name of the applicant (if any) – if the applicant is a juristic person, the name, address of the head office and nationality must be provided;
  • the name, title and address of the attorney where the application is submitted by an attorney;
  • a description of the trade mark to be registered;
  • the products or services in respect of which the trade mark is to be registered, and the classification thereof;
  • a copy of the power of attorney; and
  • payment of the application fee.

In 2021, the 11th Edition of the Nice Classification was adopted by Saudi Arabia, and is now required when new trade mark applications are filed.

In Saudi Arabia, it is not permitted for anyone other than the rightful owner to register a trade mark that is similar to an internationally known mark. Registration of a trade mark provides the holder with protection for ten years from the date of registration, renewable for similar periods. Any renewal must be specifically applied for before the end of the last year of expiry of the registration, and the procedure for renewal is the same as that for the initial registration of the trade mark. A trade mark is deemed to be owned by the person who effects the registration. Once the registration is effected in the trade marks register, the party who has registered the trade mark shall be considered the owner thereof, to the exclusion of others.

A trade mark can be licensed, pledged or transferred by the rightful owner. The trade mark may be deleted or cancelled if it is not used for five consecutive years.

Penalties for infringement of a valid trade mark include imprisonment for a period of no more than one year, and a fine of no less than SAR50,000 and no more than SAR1 million. The Commercial Courts preside over infringement-related disputes.

Industrial design is defined as “a collection of two-dimensional lines or colours, or a three-dimensional form that gives any industrial product or product of traditional crafts a special appearance, provided that it is not merely for a functional or technical purpose, including textile designs”. The industrial design is protected by a protection document called an “industrial design certificate”.

Industrial designs are governed by the Patent, Layout Designs of Integrated Circuits, Plant Varieties, and Industrial Models Regulation. A protection certificate shall be granted for an industrial model if it is novel and has features that distinguish it from known industrial models. The industrial model shall be deemed novel if it was not disclosed to the public through publication anywhere in a tangible form, by use or by any other means, prior to the date of filing the registration application or the priority application.

Protection is granted to the owner for ten years for an industrial design. The above-mentioned regulation gives the owner of an industrial model protection certificate the right to initiate an action before the Commercial Courts against any person who infringes the industrial model by exploiting it for commercial purposes without their consent within the Kingdom through the manufacture, sale or importation of a product that includes or represents a wholly or substantially copied industrial model.

Note that the procedure for applying for a protection certificate for an industrial design is similar to the procedure for registering a patent, as described in 7.1 Patents.

The Copyright Regulation (Royal Decree No M/41 of 2 Rajab 1424 Hejra corresponding to 30 August 2003) and its Implementing Rules define copyright protection to include architectural designs, speeches and theatrical, musical, photographic and cinematographic works, as well as works for radio and television, maps, video tapes and computer software. The Regulation gives the author financial and moral rights to:

  • print or publish the work;
  • make amendments or delete the work;
  • withdraw the work from circulation; and
  • assign the work as they wish.

The SAIP has launched a copyright registration service for computer software, apps and architectural designs. To register, applicants must complete the registration application on the SAIP website and pay the requisite examination fee.

Upon successful registration, the copyright holder is issued a registration certificate.

In general, the duration of protection afforded to different types of copyrighted works is as follows:

  • protection of copyright for the author of a work lasts for the duration of their life and for 50 years following their death;
  • protection for works where the author is a corporate entity, or where their name is unknown, lasts 50 years from the date of the first publication of the work;
  • the protection period for sound works, audio-visual works, films, collective works and computer programs lasts 50 years from the date of the first show or publication of the work, regardless of republication;
  • protection for applied art (handcrafted or manufactured) and photographs lasts 25 years from the date of publication; 
  • protection for broadcasting organisations lasts 20 years from the date of the first transmission of a programme or broadcast materials; and
  • protection for the producers of audio recordings and performances lasts 50 years from the date of performance or the first recording, as the case may be.

Disputes arising from copyright infringement are handled by the Commercial Courts. Infringers of copyright may be punished with a fine of up to SAR250,000 for first-time offenders, which may be doubled to SAR500,000 for repeated infringement.

The Regulations for the Protection of Confidential Commercial Information, issued by the Minister of Commerce and Industry’s decision No 3218 dated 25 Rabi Awwal 1426 Hejra corresponding to 4 May 2005, as amended by His Excellency’s decision No 431 dated 1 Jumada Awwal 1426 Hejra corresponding to 8 June 2005, enumerate a list of situations where information is considered a commercial secret, namely where:

  • the information in its basic constituents or its final form is not generally known, and is difficult to obtain by practitioners of the type of business to which the information pertains;
  • the information is commercially valuable due to its confidentiality; or
  • the owner of the information takes steps to safeguard its confidentiality.

The obtainment, usage or disclosure of commercial secrets without the owner’s consent, through a manner that is deemed to be “inconsistent with honest commercial practices”, is deemed an abuse of commercial secrets under the Regulation.

Activities considered contrary to honest commercial practice include:

  • the breaching of contracts concerning commercial secrets;
  • breaching or encouraging the breaching of confidential information; and
  • obtaining commercial secrets from a third party who is known to have obtained the information through one of these activities.

Persons harmed by an abuse of commercial secrets may file a lawsuit to claim compensation for damages they have sustained.

The recently published Personal Data Protection Regulation (PDPR) (Royal Decree No M/19 of 9 Safar 1443 Hejra corresponding to 16 September 2021) amended by Royal Decree No M/148 of 5 Ramadan 1444 Hejra corresponding to 27 March 2023 will govern the collection and processing of data in the Kingdom. It was published in April 2023, and is scheduled to come into effect in September 2023. The regulation places a strong emphasis on obtaining the consent of data owners for the collection of their data, and maintaining transparency with data owners regarding how their personal information is processed.

Controlling entities, which is to say public bodies, natural persons or private bodies corporate that determine why and how personal data is processed (whether they themselves are processing it or whether this is done through a processing entity), may only (with certain exceptions) collect personal data directly from the owner of the data in question, and process such data solely for the purpose for which the data was collected. Privacy policies need to be adopted by controlling entities and made available to the owners of data. These privacy policies must inform data owners of:

  • the reason for their data’s collection;
  • the contents of the personal data that must be collected;
  • the method of data collection, storage and processing;
  • the means of deleting the data; and
  • the rights of the data owner in connection therewith, as well as the manner in which such rights may be exercised.

A number of industries are also currently governed by regulations that set out measures to protect data collected in those fields. Examples include the following.

  • The Health Profession Practice Regulation (Royal Decree No M/59 of 4 Dhul Qada 1426 Hejra corresponding to 6 December 2005), which provides that a medical practitioner must not disclose any confidential information obtained during the course of their work. The regulation lists a few exceptions to this rule, such as a court order requiring disclosure.
  • Article 5 of the E-Commerce Regulation (Royal Decree No M/126 of 7 Dhul Qada 1440 Hejra corresponding to 9 July 2019) which provides that online merchants may not retain consumer data beyond the period required for an electronic commerce transaction, and that online merchants must adopt the necessary safeguards to protect consumer data while it is retained. The same regulation prohibits online retailers from the unauthorised disclosure and usage of consumer data.

The PDPR applies to any processing of the personal data of individuals, carried out in the Kingdom by any means whatsoever, including the processing of personal data relating to individuals resident in the Kingdom, by any means whatsoever, by any entity residing outside the Kingdom.

Article 2 (b) of the 2018 E-Commerce Regulation details the provisions and sanctions in place to safeguard the protection of consumer data, and also applies to traders outside Saudi Arabia who provide products or services inside the country by offering them in a manner that enables the consumer to obtain them.

Although each government authority supervising an activity is responsible for enforcing its specific data protection rules, the NDMO is the national data regulator of Saudi Arabia, and creates laws, regulations and policies to facilitate the protection of data.

The PDPR makes reference to a “competent authority” which will oversee the application of the regulation. For a period of two years, this is to be the Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence (Council of Ministers Resolution No 98 of 7 Safar 1443 Hejra corresponding to 14 September 2021 Gregorian).

Between 5 April 2023 and 5 May 2023, the SAIP issued a draft intellectual property law for public feedback, with the aim of updating the current framework for intellectual property law to be in line with international standards.

Derayah LLPC

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Jeddah 21442
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Derayah LLPC is an independent Saudi Arabian law firm that regularly acts for international clients in disputes before Saudi Arabian courts. It has played an impressive role in high-profile transactions and developed a reputation for providing high-quality advice on some of the largest and most complex transactions in Saudi Arabia. Recent clients include F. Hoffmann-La Roche AG, Citicorp Trustee Company, Richard Attias & Associates and Al Raha Al Safi Food Company. Derayah maintains offices in Jeddah and Riyadh, and remains the first-choice Saudi counsel for many foreign companies and international law firms seeking advice on Saudi Arabian law.

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