ETS suggests that adapting and blending in with the host country protocol helps not only personal security but can help ingratiate you with hosts and potentially make the difference between success and failure in business terms too.
When in Saudi Arabia (KSA) this is pertinent and we suggest, taken into consideration. Unfortunately in different cultures certain behaviors we define as ‘normal’ or ‘friendly’ are interpreted differently, and dress/fashion protocols considered acceptable in one country are different from another. Changing particular behavior and dress code is not about fighting for one’s rights, in our opinion it is about not drawing too much-unwanted attention, putting personal safety first. We suggest that it is not your role to fight the perceived rights and wrongs of cultures and practices in certain countries and regions. Acknowledge them, adapt to them, and decrease risk at every opportunity.
Security and Safety On-Arrival:
- The Immigration counters have improved their customer service, and they are a lot friendlier and faster, so it should not take long to get through (Unless there are multiple Asian flights landing at the same time with contracted workers).
- After arrival, and at Immigration: All new Visa arrivals will be subjected to Biometrics (Finger Printing and Digital Portrait), and there is a special lane for that. It has also happened in the past that external drives/USB memory devices have been temporarily confiscated and checked, so it is also important that all software/content installed on laptops or devices is licensed proprietary software. Laptops are not to contain material of Sexual/Anti-Saudi or Political/Anti-Islam nature, as such would result in complications ranging from confiscation of hardware and software, to erasing of content, issuing of affidavits, deportation, or imprisonment. Alcoholic beverages are also prohibited and lead to extreme punishments, and lastly, drugs are also prohibited with punishment by death.
- Arrival hall at Airport: Is at times very busy, and it is common that Saudis dressed in traditional clothing would attempt to offer their transportation services for eastern and western expats, and some travelers get intimidated by such attempts and have fallen for such, as the drivers call out various names and demand passports etc.
- The female traveler may not be wearing an Abaya upon arrival, which is OK as long as the traveler wears clothing that is not revealing (It should cover the whole upper body and legs and not be of see-through material). The face, hands, lower arms, feet can be exposed (A long dress or even pants is a good option for the arrival).
- The Host could have in the vehicle an ‘Emergency” Abaya-cover, in case the female traveler has to leave the vehicle before arriving at the hotel (Upon Request).
Female Hotel Security Considerations
- Upon arrival at the Hotel; The hotel or the local/regional client company liaison can usually provide an Abaya (Body/Cloth cover), and a Tarha (covers the hair).
- The Abaya and Tarha should be used whenever outside the hotel room. (You might find women who do not adhere to such, but we are to apply what is required per Saudi tradition and etiquette). The Abaya and Tarha should also be used at/during the Host meetings and breaks unless the Host takes initiative and states that it is OK to remove the Tarha (Head Cover), then the dress below the Abaya has to be of a long nature, or, pants are acceptable.
- The Client team can remain together in the Hotel Lobby, Hotel Restaurant and Hotel Cafe areas (in the Family Sections), if the hotel is a Top 5 Star + Western Brand Hotel only.
- The team should not be together/mixed in a Hotel room (even for a meeting).
- If men are traveling or mixing into the group, then the team should spread among vehicles with Females being together in one vehicle. If a must, then both genders can remain together in one vehicle, as long as there are three travelers (Second row would seat the female travelers, and the third row would seat the 3rd male team member.
- At Checkpoints, the Client Lead would do the talking if reacquired to do so. The team would provide the Client Lead with the name/contacts at each Host/Venue before arriving at the gates.
- It is currently recommended (with the current heightened threat level) not to wander off into different parts of Riyadh, but instead to stay at the Hotel and not spend too much time in the Lobby area, and such is also for security reasons as the entire Ritz Carlton facility would be declared an At-Risk Facility during the High Prominence level Event. The Ritz Carlton Hotel is owned by the Saudi Government and other prominent 5 Star Hotels are owned by members of the Royal Family.
- A hint for both Male and Female Travelers: It is OK to be in one lift (elevator) together with a lady (unless the lady gestures for you not to enter the lift, or if the lift is crowded with ladies and/or mixed family members, and is one of the three high-profile Hotels).
- Once at the Host location, and with regards to female business travelers shaking hands: Wait to see if the members of the hosting team advance their hand to shake her hand and to reciprocate accordingly. If a man does not move his hand forward to shake your hand, then you should not initiate a handshake. You might get your handshake rejected. (Again, there are exclusions which might informally apply to this event, whereby you will see other western and Arab women act, and if they shake, then it should be OK, as some males might not initiate the handshake, but would be happy to shake the lady’s hand). We suggest to “read” the room and determine what is acceptable.
Female Security in Saudi Arabia Hints and Tips:
The below section is a list of considerations and noted that a female traveler may want to be aware of and take into account. You will most likely experience a lighter and less burdensome version of strict KSA culture, yet it helps to know the standards, and you can apply flexibility where obviously possible.
At ETS we understand the Saudi culture 100% with all its nuances but are in the business of Risk Mitigation so we err on the side of caution.
- Head gear: No Hats/Caps.
- Shoes: Do not expose the bottom of your foot/shoe in the face of anybody.
- Try to avoid exposure of legs
- Laughing: Not too loudly
- Applauding: Not to Strong/Loud/Excessive
- Eating: Cut your meat/food normally yet try to use only the right hand to bring into your mouth.
- Eye Contact: It is OK to maintain direct eye contact, but if you sense your counterpart is avoiding such, break it off. Then insert natural eye contact breaks during your conversation.
- Segregated Public Spaces: There might be separate sections for women, and you will be able to observe if the public is adhering to such, but if not, then mingle into the general group. Some progressive Saudi women (Challenging the System) might choose not to sit in the segregated section.
- Public Display of Affection: No public shows of affection (No kissing when greeting and saying goodbye, etc.)
It is important to remember that thousands of business travelers and tourists travel in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia every year without incident. The risks are extremely manageable and as long as basic security precautions are taken by everyone within the group the chances of falling victim to an incident are reduced.