Saudi Arabia - Country Commercial Guide
Trade Barriers

Includes the barriers (tariff and non-tariff) that U.S. companies face when exporting to this country.

Last published date: 2019-10-13

Trade Barriers

As a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Saudi Arabian government (SAG) has taken positive steps to become a more open, transparent, and predictable market; however, it has regressed in several key areas as well. 

In January 2018, the SAG implemented a VAT at a rate of five percent, in addition to the excise taxes implemented in June 2017 on cigarettes (at a rate of 100 percent), carbonated drinks (at a rate of 50 percent), and energy drinks (at a rate of 100 percent).  Over the past year, certain U.S. pharmaceutical companies have alleged that the SAG violated their intellectual property rights and the confidentiality of their trade data in licensing local firms to produce competing pharmaceuticals.  The use of unlicensed U.S. software, including on SAG computer systems, has continued unabated. 

U.S. firms report experiencing market barriers in the following areas: Technical Standards and Regulations, Performance and Localization Requirements, Intellectual Property Rights Protection, Delayed Payments, Dispute Resolution, and the Arab League Boycott.


Technical Standards and Regulations

Saudi Arabia uses technical regulations developed both by the Saudi Arabian Standards Organization (SASO) and by the Gulf Standards Organization (GSO).  Saudi Arabia notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade.

Saudi Arabia continues to move toward adherence to a single standard, which is often based on International Organization for Standardization (ISO) or International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standards, in technical regulations to the exclusion of other international standards, such as those developed by U.S.-domiciled standards development organizations (SDOs).  Saudi Arabia’s exclusion of these other international standards, which are often used by U.S. manufacturers, can create significant market access restrictions for industrial and consumer products exported from the United States. 

The United States government has engaged Saudi authorities on the principles for international standards per the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade Committee Decision and encouraged Saudi Arabia to adopt standards developed according to such principles in their technical regulations, allowing all products that meet those standards to enter the Saudi market.  Several U.S.-based standards organizations, including SDOs, and individual companies have also engaged SASO, with mixed success, on these issues to preserve market access for U.S. products, ranging from electrical equipment to footwear.


Performance and Localization Requirements

Government-controlled enterprises in Saudi Arabia are increasingly introducing local content requirements for foreign firms.  Aramco’s “In-Kingdom Total Value Added” program, for example, strongly encourages the purchase of goods and services from a local supplier base and aims to double Aramco’s percentage of locally-manufactured energy-related goods and services to 70 percent by 2021.  Saudi Arabia’s military is reforming its procurement processes and policies to incorporate new Saudi employment and localized production goals.  The SAG’s Vision 2030 program calls for 50 percent of defense materials to be produced and procured locally by 2030, and simultaneously seeks comparable increases in the number of Saudis employed in this sector. 

Intellectual Property Rights Protection

While the SAG has made significant progress in IPR enforcement in recent years, deterioration of the IP situation occurred in certain sectors in 2017.  Saudi Arabia was included on USTR’s Special 301 “Watch List” in April 2018 following an increase in the number of IP stakeholders’ complaints about the IPR situation in the Kingdom, particularly with respect to pharmaceuticals, software, digital and signal piracy, and counterfeit goods.  (Saudi Arabia had been removed from USTR’s Special 301 report in 2010 following improvements in the Kingdom’s IPR enforcement regime).

Manufacturers of consumer products and automobile spare parts are particularly concerned about the widespread availability of counterfeit products.  Anti-counterfeiting laws exist, and the U.S. government has urged the Saudi authorities to step up enforcement actions against perpetrators.  Manufacturers estimate that as much as 50 percent of consumer goods in the Saudi market are counterfeit products. 

To restrict the entry of counterfeit products, the Saudi Customs requires all imported goods to clearly display the “Country of Origin” or “Made in ….” on the items in an irremovable manner either by engraving, knitting, printing, or pressing based on the nature of the imported items. This requirement is strictly enforced; however, locally produced or smuggled counterfeit products abound in the market due to lack of effective enforcement.


Delayed Payments

Companies who hold government contracts here continue to experience payment delays.  While the Finance Ministry is honoring its pledge to pay the dues on time, many government departments are taking months to process the paperwork and send it to the Ministry, according to reports.  Apparently, the delays are less severe than in the aftermath of the 2014 oil slump; however, it has been widely reported they are impacting sectors from construction to education, and they’re particularly acute for companies dealing with the Health Ministry. 

To allay contractor concerns, the Finance Ministry launched an electronic platform in January 2018 that allows them to check on the status of payments.  In February, a royal order set up a committee headed by Commerce and Investment Minister to determine government arrears and find a quick solution. 

U.S. companies should contact the U.S. Commercial Service at the Embassy in Riyadh or Consulates in Dhahran or Jeddah if payment problems persist.


Dispute Resolution

Traditionally, dispute settlement and enforcement of foreign arbitral awards in Saudi Arabia have proven time-consuming and uncertain, carrying the risk that sharia principles can potentially trump any foreign judgments or legal precedents.  Even after a decision is reached in a dispute, effective enforcement of the judgment can take a long period of time. 

In recent years, the SAG has demonstrated a commitment to improving the quality of commercial legal proceedings and access to alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.  Local attorneys indicate that the quality of final judgments in the court system has improved, but that cases still take too long to litigate. 

In 2012, the SAG updated certain provisions in Saudi Arabia’s domestic arbitration law, paving the way for the establishment of the Saudi Center for Commercial Arbitration (SCCA) in 2016.  Developed in accordance with international arbitration rules and standards, including those set by the American Arbitration Association’s International Centre for Dispute Resolution and the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Court of Arbitration, the SCCA offers comprehensive arbitration services to firms both domestic and international.  The SCCA reports that both domestic and foreign law firms have begun to include referrals to the SCCA in the arbitration clauses of their contracts.  However, it is currently too early to assess the quality and effectiveness of SCCA proceedings, as the SCCA is still in the early stages of operation.  Awards rendered by the SCCA can be enforced in local courts, though judges remain empowered to reject enforcement of provisions they deem non-compliant with sharia law. 

In December 2017, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) recognized Saudi Arabia as a jurisdiction that has adopted an arbitration law based on the 2006 UNCITRAL Model Arbitration Law.  While Saudi Arabia adopted this law in 2012, UNCITRAL did not consider it as a model law jurisdiction due to the SAG’s reference to sharia’s supremacy over UNCITRAL-adopted provisions.  After discussions between UNCITRAL representatives and Saudi judges, during which the Saudi judges clarified that sharia would not affect the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards, UNCITRAL added Saudi Arabia to the list of model law jurisdictions.  The potential impact of the decision is that foreign investors and companies in Saudi Arabia have slightly more certainty that their arbitration agreements and awards will be enforced, as in other UNCITRAL countries.  Whether (and how) Saudi courts will apply this latest interpretation of the relationship between foreign arbitral awards and sharia law remains to be seen. 


Arab League Boycott

The GCC announced in the fall of 1994 that its members would no longer enforce the secondary and tertiary aspects of the Arab League Boycott.  The primary boycott against Israeli companies and products still applies. Advice on boycott and anti- boycott related matters are available from the U.S. Embassy or from the Office of Anti- Boycott Compliance in Washington, D.C. at (202) 482-2381.

Import Tariff

Saudi Arabia uses the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System for tariff classification purposes.  As a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), it applies the GCC common external tariff of 5 percent to be levied on most goods imported from countries outside the GCC. 

Goods that compete with those produced domestically are dutiable at rates of 12 percent or 20 percent, depending on the industry.  Certain textile imports are among the products on which the 12 percent rate applies.  Dates are dutiable at 40 percent.  Cigarettes and other tobacco products are dutiable at 100 percent.

Certain goods are exempt from the common external tariff.  For instance, goods manufactured within the GCC states are exempt from any duties as they are transported within the union.  There are also a limited number of GCC-approved country-specific exceptions.  Saudi Arabia’s exceptions include 758 products that may be imported duty-free, including aircraft and most livestock. 

For updated information, visit:

In January 2018, the SAG implemented a VAT at a rate of five percent, in addition to the excise taxes implemented in June 2017 on cigarettes (at a rate of 100 percent), carbonated drinks (at a rate of 50 percent), and energy drinks (at a rate of 100 percent). 

Ad valorem duties are levied on the CIF value.  Saudi Arabia adheres to the WTO Customs Valuation Agreement (Article VII of the GATT), which stipulates the methods for the determination of customs valuation.  Imports are subject to a customs surcharge, port fees, cargo service fees, and an import inspection tax.


Import Tariffs on Food/Agricultural Products

Most of food products are subject to a 5 percent import duty.  Selected processed food products, however, are assessed higher import duties.  In order to protect local food processors and production from competitively priced imports, Saudi Arabia ties import duties to the level of local production of similar products.  As a rule, a maximum import tariff rate of 40 percent ad-valorem is applied when local production of a food or agricultural product exceeds a self-sufficiency level. 

Currently, a 40 percent import duty rate applies to fresh, dried/processed dates and 25 percent on wheat flour.  Poultry imports face a mixed tariff; 20 percent or SAR 1.00 (USD0.267) per kilogram, whichever is higher.  

Imports of rice, baby milk and animal feed (soybean meal, feed corn, barley, rice, sorghum, palm kernel meal, wheat bran, alfalfa, hay, sugarcane molasses, rice bran, and sunflower meal, oats, canola meal, fish meal, alfalfa pellets, soy bean hulls, sunflower hulls, and rice bran) are subsidized while coffee, tea and fresh red meat enter the country duty-free.  Saudi Arabia has no tariff rate quota (TRQ) requirement. 

In April 2017, the country began levying a 50 percent excise tax on soft drinks and a 100 percent tax on cigarettes, tobacco products, and energy drinks.


Import Requirements & Documentation

Under its World Trade Organization (WTO) obligations, Saudi Arabia has committed to implement a transparent and predictable import licensing system.  The Government of Saudi Arabia requires that local chambers of commerce around the United States perform the authentication of shipping documents.  The following documents are required for exporting goods to Saudi Arabia:

  • Original certificate of origin legalized by the chamber of commerce of the exporting country;

  • Original commercial invoice (in triplicate) invoice attested by the agency responsible for trade in the exporting country and which must state the country of origin, name of the carrier, brand and quantity of goods, and description of the goods including weight and value;

  • Irremovable label showing the country of origin affixed on the commodity;

  • A clean bill of lading or airway bill;

  • Documents indicating compliance with health regulations, if applicable;

  • Insurance documents, if shipments are sent CIF;

  • Packing list; and

  • Certificate of conformity with applicable Saudi standards, if available. 

  • The original documents must be accompanied by an Arabic translation of a radiation certificate, if applicable. 

Saudi exporters must submit a copy of their commercial registration, which indicates they can export.  They are also required to submit a certificate of origin of Saudi products (issued by the Ministry of Commerce and Investment). 

Certain items such as antiques, Arabian horses, livestock, or subsidized items need special approval to export, e.g., feed additives require a Certificate of Analysis that needs to be authenticated. 

Foodstuff validity period together with ingredients should be labeled in Arabic in accordance with the Saudi or GCC specifications.

Register medical preparations at the Ministry of Health (especially medicaments and herbs). 

Exports of oil, petroleum products, natural gas and wheat all require export licenses. 

Saudi Arabia has removed its export ban on all scrap metals and will not apply export duties on these products.

For updated information, visit:


Labeling/Marking Requirements

Generally, if the product has an applicable Saudi-specific (SASO) standard or SASO-adopted standard, the marking requirements should be as per the SASO standard.  If the product has no applicable SASO standard but has an applicable Regional/International Standard (e.g., IEC/ISO/GSO/EN/ASTM), the marking requirements should be as per the applicable Regional/International Standard.  In other cases where the product has no applicable specific standard, or the language of the marking is not specified in the product’s applicable standard, then the marking language can be either in Arabic or English. 

All markings pertaining to warnings and safety instructions must be in Arabic or in Arabic and English.  Instruction manuals or pamphlets must be in Arabic language or in both Arabic and English.

All containers should be marked with the gross weight and with either the initials or the name of the consignee.  If the consignment includes two or more containers, they should be numbered consecutively.  All containers reportedly should be marked showing the country of manufacture (e.g., Made in U.S.A.). 

All goods consigned to Saudi Arabia should be packed to withstand rough handling, extreme heat, and high humidity and to afford full protection against pilferage.  These precautions are particularly necessary because many shipments from the United States to Saudi Arabia are transshipped.  Boxes should be waterproofed on the inside and outside and double strapped with metal bands.  Simple crating of merchandise does not provide sufficient protection from the weather and from possible careless stevedoring at the ports.

The Saudi authorities are introducing halal certificates and labeling requirements on food, animal products and certain other non-food items.  The SFDA announced the establishment of “Halal Center” this year.  This Center will issue “Halal Certificates” for establishments and food products, recognize and work with entities that issue halal certificates, establish research, and training and development centers.  As for the drugs aspect of SFDA, it is states that the center will develop halal and quality requirements for other products such as cosmetics, drugs, and medical devices.  More information on the Halal Center can be found in Arabic at


Country of Origin

The country of origin (CoO) must be indicated on all imported goods in either Arabic or English unless it is not feasible to do so because of the size or the nature of the goods; in such cases, items may have the country of origin indicated on the package or box.  The CoO must be indicated in such a way as to be unremovable, whether by printing, engraving, embossing, sewing, or other permanent method.  A sticker is acceptable provided it cannot be removed.  Shipments that do not comply with CoO requirements may be re-exported or destroyed at the importer’s expense.  Under certain circumstances, shipments that do not comply with CoO requirements may be corrected by the importer inside a customs zone or warehouse within two weeks, subject to the payment of a fine.  Exporters are urged to consult with their customers in Saudi Arabia.

CoO Format: “Made in xxx” or “Manufactured in xxx”

Other formats/text for marking the country of origin are not acceptable.  Dual CoO marking such as:
“Designed in xxx, Made in yyy“ or “Assembled in xxx, Made in yyy“ or “Engineered in xxx, Made in yyy“ where xxx and yyy denote different countries of origin will not be accepted.  It will only be accepted if the name of the manufacturer is clearly indicated in the dual CoO marking text, e.g., “Designed by [ Insert Manufacturer’s Name]in xxx, Made in yyy” and likewise for the other two dual CoO variations.


Units of Measure

Generally, goods for sale in Saudi Arabia must be in containers labeled in metric measurements. However, goods imported from countries that do not use the metric system may be marked in units of the exporting country provided they are sold locally based on the metric system. Articles not manufactured based on length, weight, volume, or area need not be marked.

Prohibited Items

Goods bearing immodest or nude pictures or bearing a cross and pictures not consistent with Islamic morals are prohibited. There should be no Koranic or Islamic sayings written on packages, other than straight translations of product contents, when necessary. If human figures are shown on packages, they should be in good taste. Photographs or illustrations of pigs or wrappings simulating pigskin should be avoided. Permission must be obtained for goods to bear the Saudi Arabian emblem, which consists of crossed swords and a palm.

Animals and Animal Products

All fresh meat and poultry products must be labeled with the production and expiration dates, metric weight, the necessary storage temperature or range of temperatures, and attestation that the product meets Halal slaughtering requirements.  Processed meat and poultry products labels must include net weight, a list of ingredients in descending order of weight, and name and address of the manufacturer and packer, and must identify any pork components, including lard.  Animal feeds must be labeled “Unfit for human consumption” or “Special for animal feeding only.”

Food and animal products require “halal certificates for both food products and animals—imported meat and poultry require “halal slaughter certificates”.

For food and agricultural import regulations and standards and certification see USDA report at



The Ministry of Agriculture requires all importers of chemicals to mark the following information in Arabic on all insecticide cans and packages: (a) the phrase “agricultural insecticides”; (b) the trade name and mark of the insecticides, if any; (c) the ratio of the active agents in the insecticides; (d) the purpose for which the insecticide is used and the ratios and methods of its uses; (e) precautions necessary for the protection of public health, stating the period that should elapse after its application to crops before harvest; (f) date of manufacture and expiration date for effectiveness of the insecticide, if any; and (g) net weight of contents.


Cosmetic products must be labeled in Arabic on the outer packaging with the name and brand name; name and address of the manufacturer or importer; expiration date given as month and year for products that expire in less than 30 months or the phrase “Period After Opening” with the number of months the product expires if more than 30 months; list of ingredients, which must conform to the international nomenclature for cosmetic ingredients; function of product; storage conditions; production date or batch number; usage instructions and precautions; country of manufacture; and volume.  Medical claims are prohibited unless they conform to Gulf Standard GSO 1943/2009.  English language labeling is permitted alongside the Arabic. 

The Saudi authorities are expected to issue regulations for halal certifications and labeling on certain non-food items such as cosmetics.  As of the latest update on by SFDA, no such Halal certificates and labeling are require for cosmetics. 

The news on “Halal Center” is published on SFDA’s website (In Arabic).  This initiative is still in the development phase.( )


Food Products and Beverages

Prepackaged foods are subject to the Gulf Cooperation Council standard GSO 9/2013, “Labeling of Prepackaged Food Stuff.” See labeling information for Food Products and Beverages in the GCC profile in Trade Blocs.  Food containers: Plastic containers used to package food products must be labeled with the type of plastic material used; the weight, capacity, number, or dimensions of the container; statement of food grade; purpose; directions for use; and applicable warning statements.

Genetically Modified Organisms

The Gulf Cooperation Council has established labeling requirements for foods that contain genetically modified organisms. See labeling information for Genetically Modified Organisms in the GCC profile in Trade Blocs.

Medical Devices

Medical devices are subject to specific labeling guidelines.  The device or the packaging, as appropriate, must be labeled with the name of the device, name and address of the manufacturer, special storage conditions, warnings and contra-indications, and batch code or lot number, along with many other requirements specific to the type of device.  Complete labeling guidelines are available from the Medical Device department at the Saudi Food and Drug Authority.


Specific labeling requirements apply to pharmaceutical products.  Exporters should consult with their customers in Saudi Arabia or with the Drug Department of the Saudi Food and Drug Authority for specific guidelines.

Plants and Plant Products

Packages of barley, sorghum, or wheat seed must state in Arabic the type of seed, name of exporter, country of production, the phrase “Poisonous for both humans and animals,” date of production, and expiration date.


Carpets: The following information must be repeated every five meters on carpet rolls and must be shown on the sales invoice: thickness or weight per square meter, pile height, country of origin, and carpet quality (nylon, wool, acrylic, polypropylene, etc.).  Carpet shipments without this information will not clear customs, and deviations from the requirements will be subject to legal penalty.

Other Products

Cigarettes: The following health warning, in Arabic, should be on all cigarette packs: “Government Warning: Smoking is a major cause of cancer and diseases of the lungs, heart, and arteries.”  This warning can be printed by the agent.  Certain types of cigarettes are banned.
For updated information, visit:


U.S. Export Controls

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) is charged with the implementation of U.S. export control policy on dual-use commodities, software, technology, and commodities on the Control Commodities List.  The sale of arms and ammunitions is managed through a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program of the U.S. Department of Defense.  The U.S. Military Training Mission (USMTM), a unit of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, provides training, advice and assistance to the Saudi Ministry of Defense in a variety of areas, including the management of the Kingdom’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS).

In addition to confirming the ultimate destination of exports to the KSA, U.S. exporters should ensure transactions do not involve any proscribed parties by consulting the U.S. Government’s consolidated export screening list at:  The Bureau of Industry and Security’s (BIS) Export Control Officer at the Consulate General in Dubai is available to assist U.S. and local firms with compliance in U.S. export controls.

All U.S. origin items with an ECCN other than EAR99 require a license for re-export to Sudan.  Most U.S. origin goods require a specific license to Iran however some items are eligible for shipment to Iran under an existing OFAC general license.  These include mobile phones and accessories (for non-governmental entities), personal computers and accessories (for non-governmental entities), and most food and medicinal products. 

Specific details can be found on OFAC’s website and these are subject to change.

Shipments of U.S. origin goods are even more restrictive to Syria and nearly all items will require a specific license.  U.S. exporters may contact the nearest Office of Export Enforcement for guidance prior to export.

Temporary Entry

Goods may be entered temporarily for promotional purposes provided they include both an invoice with the value of the goods endorsed by the local chamber of commerce and a certificate of origin.  Prior permission to import samples must be obtained from the director of customs in Riyadh.  The request for permission to import must be accompanied by samples, prices, and catalogs.

Commercial samples are subject to the payment of customs duty and surcharge either by a deposit equal to the duty at the time of import or by a bank guarantee.  The invoice should state that the goods are being imported for exhibition purposes only and that they will be re-exported when the exhibition is concluded. This deposit is refundable when the trade show is over and upon showing a document that the owner of the equipment officially participated in a trade show.  A refund is made if the goods are re-exported within 12 months.  If the samples are sold, neither the deposit nor the guarantee will be refunded.

A nonrefundable duty is levied on imports of samples of jewelry and watches.  Factory advertising materials, excluding printed and illustrated calendars, imported for display may be imported duty-free if the applicable duty is minimal.  All catalogs and brochures for which no charge is made may be entered duty-free.


Prohibited & Restricted Imports

The importation of certain articles is either prohibited or requires special approval from the competent authorities. 

Importing the following products requires special approval by Saudi authorities: agricultural seeds, live animals, books, periodicals, movies, and tapes; religious books and tapes; chemicals and harmful materials; pharmaceutical products; wireless equipment and radio-controlled model airplanes; horses; products containing alcohol (e.g., perfume); natural asphalt; and archaeological artifacts.

Saudi law prohibits importation of the following products: weapons, alcohol, narcotics, pork and pork products, pornographic materials, distillery equipment, retreaded or used tires, used clothing and certain sculptures.  Saudi Customs also does not allow importation of cars older than five years, salvaged cars, used police cars, taxies and rental cars.  For additional information, please review requirements on the SASO and Saudi Customs web sites.

Only Saudi nationals may import goods for resale and conduct direct marketing activities; however, foreign industrial entities may conduct trade in the products they manufacture, and nationals of GCC member states may engage in certain retail and trading activities.

In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, and Bahrain prohibited the importation of products from Qatar and severed their land, sea, and air connections with Qatar.  The action has disrupted GCC trade patterns and complicated doing business in the Gulf region for some U.S. companies.

U.S. companies have recently experienced difficulties in importing products designated as “Made in Canada” and “Made in Germany” to Saudi Arabia.  Please contact the U.S. Commercial Service at