Saudi Arabia - Country Commercial Guide
Selling to the Public Sector

Describes how major projects are secured and financed. Explains activities of the multilateral development banks in and other aid-funded projects. 

Last published date: 2022-07-06

Saudi Arabia allows all duly licensed individuals, establishments, and companies to engage in its government tender process.  Foreign suppliers not already licensed by the Ministry of Investment as foreign investors must obtain a temporary registration from the Ministry of Commerce or use a Saudi agent who is registered with the Ministry of Commerce to pursue business opportunities on their behalf.

The Saudi Arabian Government continues to move toward a more centralized procurement system in which contractors will be expected to catalogue their levels of local content and increase their reliance on local content over time.  In 2018, the Ministry of Finance launched the Electronic Government Procurement System (Etimad Portal) (https://portal.etimad.sa) to consolidate and facilitate the process of bidding and government procurement for all government sectors.  To further simplify government procurement procedures and enhance transparency, in 2019, the Saudi Arabian Government enacted the amended Government Tenders and Procurement Law (GTPL), which regulates long- and short-term commercial agreements between private bodies and government entities. 

The GTPL affirms that all government bids must be announced in the official gazette Umm al-Qoura (Arabic), in two local newspapers, as well as in electronic media.  There is no central tender board, and each government agency has its own full contracting authority.  As a general rule, all government procurements must be listed on the Etimad Portal; however, U.S. companies should be aware of sector-specific circulars, resolutions and regulations, which may in some cases alter the substantive provisions of the law.  This is true, for instance, in the healthcare sector where the National Unified Procurement Company oversees the centralized procurement process, and in the defense sector where the General Authority for Military Industries manages Saudi Arabia’s armaments procurement activities. 

The GTPL requires that preferences be given in procurements to Saudi individuals, establishments, and other majority Saudi-owned suppliers.  It also gives preference to products of Saudi origin that satisfy the procurement’s requirements. In addition, Saudi Arabia prioritizes GCC products in government procurement.  These items receive up to a ten percent price preference over non-GCC products in all government procurements in which foreign suppliers participate.  Several royal decrees strongly favor the GCC nationals in the award of government procurement contracts.  Foreign suppliers that participate in government procurement are required to establish training programs for Saudi nationals.  In 2021, the Saudi Arabian Government announced that it will stop signing contracts with foreign companies from 2024 unless their regional headquarters are based in Saudi Arabia. 

Advocacy

U.S. companies bidding on Government tenders might also qualify for U.S. Government advocacy.  A unit of the U.S. Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration, the Advocacy Center coordinates U.S. Government interagency advocacy efforts on behalf of U.S. exporters bidding on public sector contracts with international governments and government agencies. The Advocacy Center works closely with the U.S. Commercial Service and inter-agency partners to ensure that exporters of U.S. products and services have the best possible chance of winning government contracts. Advocacy assistance can take many forms but often involves the U.S. Embassy or other U.S. Government agencies expressing support for the U.S. bidders directly to the foreign government. To learn more, visit: https://www.trade.gov/advocacy.
 

Multilateral Development Banks and Financing Government Sales

Price, payment terms, and financing can be a significant factor in winning a government contract.  Many governments finance public works projects through borrowing from the Multilateral Development Banks. Please refer to the Project Financing Section in Trade and Project Financing for more information.  For more information, reference  the “Guide to Doing Business with the Multilateral Development Banks.”

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration  has a Foreign Commercial Service Officer stationed at each of the five different Multilateral Development Banks: the African Development Bank; the Asian Development Bank; the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development; the Inter-American Development Bank; and the World Bank.

Project Financing Institutions

  • The U.S. Export-Import Bank (EXIM):  According to the EXIM Country Limitation Schedule (https://www.exim.gov/resources/country-limitation-schedule), EXIM provides both public and private-sector financial support for the bank’s maximum terms of over seven years.  EXIM has provided trade finance support including loans and insurance products for projects across a variety of sectors in Saudi Arabia.  For additional information on EXIM, please visit: https://www.exim.gov/.
  • The International Finance Corporation (IFC, a member of the World Bank Group):  IFC’s strategy in Saudi Arabia focuses on promoting select business and supporting the country’s financial markets (particularly housing finance, insurance, and leasing), infrastructure development, and lending to SMEs as ways to support job creation and economic growth. 
  • The World Bank (WBG): Saudi Arabia and the World Bank have been in partnership since 1974 when Saudi Arabia signed a Technical Cooperation Program (TCP) Agreement establishing the World Bank office in Riyadh.  Saudi Arabia has its own chair in the Board of Executive Directors and has been a major donor to the International Development Association (IDA) since its inception.  The World Bank is focused on supporting the Saudi government in the priority areas identified in the Vision 2030 and various Vision Realization Programs and the World Bank program is delivered through the Reimbursable Advisory Services instrument.  The World Bank’s website provides current financial information, doing business ranking, and development statistics on Saudi Arabia.  Saudi Arabia is ranked as a High Income Country by the World Bank.  
  • Saudi Industrial Development Fund (SIDF):  Provides financial assistance in the form of medium and long-term loans to investors in industry development.  It also offers technical, administrative, financial and marketing advice to borrowers.  For additional information, please visit the SIDF website.
  • Saudi Agricultural Development Fund (formerly known as Saudi Agricultural Bank):  A public credit institution, specializing in providing finance for various agricultural activities in all regions of Saudi Arabia.  Its mission is to assist in the development of the agricultural sector and the enhancement of its production efficiency by introducing up-to-date, state of the art, scientific and technical methods through soft interest-free loans to farmers to enable them secure industry prerequisites, such as machinery, irrigation pumps, agricultural equipment, livestock and poultry keeping and fish farming equipment.  For more information, please visit the Saudi Agricultural Development Fund website.
  • Saudi Credit and Savings Bank (SCSB):  Provides interest-free loans to small enterprises and employers to encourage them to run their own businesses independently.  The bank operates twenty-six branches throughout Saudi Arabia and has executed over 2 million loans in Saudi Arabia.
  • Public Investment Fund (PIF):  Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund has ambitions to become the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund.  At the end of 2020, the PIF reported its investment portfolio was valued at nearly $420 billion, mainly in shares of state-controlled domestic companies.  In an effort to rebalance its investment portfolio, the PIF has divided its assets into six investment pools comprising local and global investments in various sectors and asset classes: Saudi holdings; Saudi sector development; Saudi real estate and infrastructure development; Saudi giga-projects; international strategic investments; and an international diversified pool of investments.  The PIF increased its ownership of equities in the U.S. market to nearly $15.9 billion at the end of the second quarter of 2021.  To review the PIF’s current investment program for 2020-2025 please visit the PIF website.
  • Islamic Development Bank (ISDB) Group:  The IsDB is a multilateral development bank headquartered in Jeddah that fosters the economic development and social progress of member countries and Muslim communities.  It participates in equity capital and grants loans for productive projects and enterprises, besides providing financial assistance to member countries in other forms for economic and social development.  Saudi Arabia is by far the largest shareholding member of the IsDB, with 23.5 percent.  The Bank has 57 member countries as shareholders coming from the Middle East, Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia. A leader in Islamic finance and the world’s largest issuer of Sukuk (sharia compliant bonds), the IsDB is a Triple A rated financial institution with operating assets of over $16 billion.  To date, the IsDB has funded over 400 projects in Saudi Arabia worth over $5 billion. While the U.S. is not a shareholder of this bank, U.S. companies can bid on these projects, and can also access the IsDB’s private sector arm, the Islamic Corporation for Development (IDC).  For more information about the IsDB, please visit the ISDB website.
  • The Islamic Corporation for Development of the Private Sector (ICD): The ICD is the private sector financing arm of the IsDB.  Its work is much like that of the IFC and therefore it lends to the private sector to finance projects throughout Saudi Arabia.  The ICD has a total capital of $5 billion.  It finances private sector investment, mobilizes capital in the international financial markets, and provides advisory services to business and governments.  ICD financing projects are selected on the basis of their contribution to economic development considering factors such as job creation, Islamic finance development, contribution to exports, and other development-oriented factors.  For more information on ICD projects and structure, please visit the ICD website.  
  • Saudi Fund for Development (SFD):  A Saudi Arabian government agency that offers foreign development assistance, including financing for Saudi exports to qualified companies.  SFD is based in Riyadh and has a current capital of 3B SAR.  For more information, please visit the SFD website.
  • Islamic Corporation for the Insurance of Investment and Export Credit (ICIEC): Provides Export Credit guarantees on exports to member states and to companies owned/partly owned by member states. In addition, the corporation provides investment insurance and guarantees against country risks to member states.

Regional Organizations

  • Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (the Arab Fund):  Based in Kuwait, the Arab Fund is a pan-Arab regional financial institution focused on supporting economic and social development by financing public and private investment projects and providing grants and expertise. Membership includes all member states of the League of Arab Nations. For more information, please visit the Arab Fund website.
  • Arab Industrial Development and Mining Organization (AIDMO):  A Pan-Arab organization, based in Morocco, which supports industrial and mining investments and standards. AIDMO operates under the League of Arab Nations.  For more information, please visit the AIDMO website.
  • Arab Monetary Fund:  The AMF is a 21-member regional Arab organization, based in Kuwait, that aims to improve the balance of payments of member states and to promote Arab monetary cooperation and trade amongst its member states.  The organization also advises member countries on policies with respect to their foreign investments.  For more information, please visit the AMF website.
  • Inter-Arab Investment Guarantee Corporation (DHAMAN):  A AA-rated multilateral financial institution, which is based in Kuwait and maintains an office in Riyadh.  DHAMAN has 58 shareholding member countries and promotes and facilitates inter-Arab investments and trade.  For more information, please visit the DHAMAN website.