It covers payment methods and information on, banking systems, foreign exchange controls, and U.S. and correspondent banking.
Methods of Payment
The most common methods of payment in Saudi Arabia include open account, letter of credit, cash in advance, documentary collections, and direct billing. Credit cards including MasterCard, Visa, and American Express are also widely used in Saudi Arabia. U.S. companies should take steps to mitigate the risk of late payment and non-payment in Saudi Arabia. Of course, payment up front is the safest approach. A letter of credit and export credit insurance are also ways to manage this risk. The Export-Import Bank of the United States (https://www.exim.gov/) provides U.S. businesses with these and other solutions to protect against foreign buyer nonpayment. The Saudi Credit Bureau (SIMAH) is the sole licensed national credit bureau offering consumer and commercial credit information services to respective members in Saudi Arabia. Debt collection is usually undertaken by law firms. For more information about the methods of payment or other trade finance options, please read the “Trade Finance Guide” at trade.gov.
The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh maintains a list of local law firms which can be accessed at https://sa.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/legal-assistance/. For a list of registered credit rating agencies operating in Saudi Arabia, please visit https://cma.org.sa/en/Market/AuthorisedPersons/Pages/CRAsCompanies.aspx. For a list of registered accounting firms operating in Saudi Arabia, please visit https://cma.org.sa/en/Market/rafs/Pages/default.aspx .
The banking system in Saudi Arabia is generally well-capitalized and healthy. The public has easy access to deposit-taking institutions. The legal, regulatory, and accounting systems used in the banking sector are generally transparent and consistent with international norms. In November 2020, the Saudi Arabian Government approved the Saudi Central Bank Law, which changed the name of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) to the Saudi Central Bank. Under the new law, the Saudi Central Bank is responsible for maintaining monetary stability, promoting the stability of and enhancing confidence in the financial sector, and supporting economic growth. The Saudi Central Bank will continue to use the acronym “SAMA” due to its widespread use. SAMA generally gets high marks for its prudential oversight of commercial banks in Saudi Arabia. SAMA is a member and shareholder of the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland.
In 2017, SAMA enhanced and updated its previous Circular on Guidelines for the Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing. The enhanced guidelines have increased alignment with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) 40 Recommendations, the nine Special Recommendations on Terrorist Financing, and relevant UN Security Council Resolutions. Saudi Arabia is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENA-FATF). In 2019, Saudi Arabia became the first Arab country to be granted full membership of the FATF, following the organization’s recognition of Saudi Arabia’s efforts in combating money laundering, financing of terrorism, and proliferation of arms. Saudi Arabia had been an observer member since 2015.
The Saudi Arabian Government authorized increased foreign participation in its banking sector over the last several years. SAMA has granted licenses to a number of new foreign banks to operate in Saudi Arabia, including Deutsche Bank, J.P. Morgan Chase N.A., and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC). A number of additional, CMA-licensed foreign banks participate in the Saudi market as investors or wealth management advisors. Citigroup, for example, returned to the Saudi market in early 2018 under a CMA license.
Credit is normally widely available to both Saudi and foreign entities from commercial banks and is allocated on market terms. The Saudi banking sector has one of the world’s lowest non-performing loan (NPL) ratios, roughly 2.0 percent in 2020. In addition, credit is available from several government institutions, such as the SIDF, which allocate credit based on government-set criteria rather than market conditions. Companies must have a legal presence in Saudi Arabia to qualify for credit. The private sector has access to term loans, and there have been a number of corporate issuances of sharia-compliant bonds, known as sukuk.
In 2021, SAMA introduced the new Instant Payment System (Sarie) to facilitate instant, 24/7 money transfers across local banks.
Bankruptcy in Saudi Arabia is considered a criminal offense. Those who face insolvency may face a large fine as well as significant jailtime. However, Saudi Arabia has taken steps to reform its bankruptcy law. In August 2018, the Saudi Arabian Government implemented new bankruptcy legislation that seeks to “further facilitate a healthy business environment that encourages participation by foreign and domestic investors, as well as local small and medium enterprises.” The new law clarifies procedural processes and recognizes distinct creditor classes (e.g., secured creditors). The new law also includes procedures for continued operation of the distressed company via financial restructuring. Alternatively, the parties may pursue an orderly liquidation of company assets, which would be managed by a court-appointed licensed bankruptcy trustee. Saudi courts have begun to accept and hear cases under this new legislation.
Foreign Exchange Controls
There is no limitation in Saudi Arabia on the inflow or outflow of funds for remittances of profits, debt service, capital, capital gains, returns on intellectual property, or imported inputs, other than certain withholding taxes (withholding taxes range from five percent for technical services and dividend distributions to 15 percent for transfers to related parties, and 20 percent or more for management fees). Bulk cash shipments greater than $10,000 must be declared at entry or exit points. Since 1986, when the last currency devaluation occurred, the official exchange rate has been fixed by SAMA at 3.75 Saudi riyals per U.S. dollar. Transactions typically take place using rates very close to the official rate.
U.S. Banks & Local Correspondent Banks
According to the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA), the following foreign banks are licensed to do business in Saudi Arabia: Gulf International Bank (GIB), Emirates NBD, National Bank of Bahrain (NBB), National Bank of Kuwait (NBK), Muscat Bank, Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas, J.P. Morgan Chase N.A, National Bank Of Pakistan (NBP), T.C.ZIRAAT BANKASI A.S., Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), Qatar National Bank, Bank of Tokyo – Mitsubishi UFJ, CitiGroup/CitiBank, and First Abu Dhabi Bank. In June 2021, it was announced that Mashreq, Dubai’s third-largest bank by assets, had applied for a banking license, and sees great opportunity in digital banking space.