Saudi Arabia

Market overview

After weeks of imposing a 24-hour curfew in most cities, Saudi Arabia has laid out a three-phase plan for easing of restrictions and a return to normality, following a strict lockdown during the five-day Eid break.

Phase 1, which includes a curfew applied from 3:00pm to 6:00am, will end on 30 May.

Phase 2 commences from 31 May and will end on 20 June, with a shorter curfew from 8:00pm until 6:00 am and a further easing of restrictions, including travel between cities in the Kingdom and the resumption of domestic flights. Gatherings of up to 50 people, wholesale, retail and malls will be allowed to operate within those hours. With due consideration given to social distancing and preventative health measures, life is expected to return to normal in the country during Phase 3, which will begin on 21 June.

The easing of restrictions applies to all cities across the Kingdom except for the holy city of Makkah, which will follow a slower return. Further details can be found here. The Ministry of Human Resources has laid out a plan for the return to work of no less than 50% of public sector workers on 31 May. This will increase to no less than 75% on 7 June, and full workforces are expected to return to offices by 21 June.

The Ministry of Transport has announced the resumption of public transport services, with vehicle guiding acts now installed. They can operate in non-lockdown cities during the permitted periods and deliver orders using delivery apps. The suspension of international flights is still in effect until further notice. However, Saudi Arabia will allow residents with valid visas to travel back to their home countries as part of an initiative called Awdah (ireturn). Residents who wish to return to their home countries can submit an application on the Absher online platform. Surveys reveal that the virus is taken seriously by people in Saudi Arabia, with residents doubting a return to normal within the coming months. The majority expect to continue wearing face masks even after the pandemic is over.

Resources for Saudi Arabia

Export support
Last updated: 26 May 2020
COVID-19 Market Realities: Saudi Arabia Dairy

NZTE Business Development Manager Hiba Abu Reyaleh and Beachhead Advisor Graham Hamilton discuss Saudi Arabia's dairy industry. Recorded 20 May 2020.

Read more
Export support
Last updated: 13 May 2020
COVID-19 update for Saudi Arabia – VAT and Vision 2030, 14 May 2020

Hazim Al Madani, Saudi lawyer and NZTE Beachhead Advisor, discusses the introduction of 15% VAT in Saudi Arabia and the impact of COVID-19...

Watch now
Export support
Last updated: 6 May 2020
COVID-19 – construction in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, 7 May 2020

Anirudh Sharma, NZTE Business Development Manager in Dubai, discusses short and medium-term COVID-19 impacts on the construction industry in the UAE.

Watch now

Economy and trade

A report by the Council of Saudi Chambers has evaluated the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on Saudi Arabia. It estimates that the virus may be controlled nationally by June 2020, which might lead to a gradual return to business.

Saudi Arabia has introduced several measures to help boost the economy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent drop in oil prices. Among these, Value Added Tax (VAT) will increase from 5% to 15% starting from 1 July, while cost of living allowances to families will be suspended from 1 June. Other measures taken by the Saudi government include a NZ$43 billion reduction in expenditure towards its Vision Realization Programs (VPRs), a series of initiatives aimed at delivering Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, as well as spending cuts for some major projects in the pipeline for 2020.

Government support

In response to the public health crisis, the Saudi Government has implemented urgent measures to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on economic activities. It announced a stimulus package of SAR 120 billion (NZ$54 billion) to support the private sector, especially SMEs, and to maintain the financial sector stability. The Government also confirms its determination to meet its financial obligations in accordance with their due dates.

Saudi Arabia has signed a $ 256 million deal with China's Beijing Genome Institute to supply the Kingdom with 9 million COVID-19 test kits, 500 specialist technicians and 6 test laboratories. This agreement will enable the kingdom to test up to 14.5 million people, almost 40% of the population.

As current G-20 chair, Saudi Arabia has recently pledged an additional US$500 million to support global efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. This contribution came in response to calls to help bridge an US$8 billion funding gap to deliver a vaccine.

Saudi Arabia (as the largest oil exporter) has been challenged by an acute drop in oil prices. Travel restrictions following the COVID-19 pandemic have sharply reduced global demand on for oil, and with the flood of supply, oil prices have fallen by over 50% since the start of the public health crisis. The reduction of oil prices is likely to put extra pressure on the Government budget, which may spill over to the rest of the economy, at least in the short term.

The negative impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on foreign trade is likely to affect the Saudi balance of payments this year. The magnitude of this impact will largely depend on Saudi export oil prices.

Major Saudi energy companies have contributed SAR 525 million to Saudi Arabia's Health Endowment Fund to support the government in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Supply chain, logistics and freight

The Kingdom is continuing to receive goods through all its Air Cargo Terminals around the clock, where shipments must be cleared by customs within two hours.

Vital products such as F&B, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment are given priority clearance by customs employees as soon as this cargo arrives. However, companies will still need to provide SFDA approval and the GDP certificate for pharmaceutical products.

In an attempt to ease import restrictions, Saudi authorities are currently accepting electronic copies of "Certificates of Origin" (rather than the original, signed and stamped one).

It is observed that there is a loosening of the need for customer invoice and other export documents to be authenticated by a Chamber of Commerce in the exporting country.

There is also a general trend for suspension of the need for consular/embassy authentication of original documents (health and halal certification, invoices etc) and the acceptance of unauthenticated export documents for import clearance purposes.

The situation is dynamic and rapidly evolving, and New Zealand exporters and their import partners should confirm the latest situation directly with the Saudi border agencies.

F&B shipments from Europe failing to submit necessary documents due to the closure of regulatory agencies in these countries are being temporarily exempted.

Cargo companies still operating in Saudi Arabia include Saudi Airlines, DHL, Emirates, FlyDubai, Cargolux and Lufthansa. Etihad Airlines will also enter the freight business soon.

Please note: shipments may take longer to clear due to necessary precautions to sterilise ports and customs facilities. Planes also must be sanitised, and workers have to wear masks and gloves before entering aircraft or touching goods to keep them safe.

Tradeshow and event information

Numerous international tradeshows and events are being postponed or cancelled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Make sure you proactively check with organisers for any tradeshow or event you're scheduled to attend – conditions and regulations are changing rapidly overseas, and events may be postponed or cancelled at short notice.

Below is the status of major Saudi Arabia tradeshows and events that NZTE's teams are aware of.

If you have questions about an event not listed here, please contact the organisers in the first instance or get in touch with NZTE for further advice.

  • Intersec Saudi Arabia: the annual three-day event, which was scheduled to take place during 23 – 25 March, is postponed to 1– 3 September 2020

  • Saudi International Soft Drink & Vending Machine Expo: was scheduled to take place 5 – 6 April 2020 at the Riyadh International Convention & Exhibition Centre. The exhibition is cancelled.

  • The Saudi International Health Tourism Forum (SHIFT): was set to take place between 13 – 15 April 2020, has been postponed towards the end of the year.

  • The International Conference & Exhibition for Education: in conjunction with the Kingdom's presidency of the G20 summit, set to take place 4 – 7 April 2020, has been postponed to September 202.

  • Riyadh Travel Fair:  scheduled for 26 – 28 March 2020, postponed to 1 – 3 September 2020.

  • HIMSS Saudi Arabia Conference and Exhibition 2020 - scheduled to run in Riyadh from 5 – 9 April 2020, postponed to autumn 2020.

  • Riyadh International Bookfair: set to take place from 2 – 11 April 2020, postponed indefinitely .

  • Saudi HORECA Dammam: the biggest international food, beverage and hospitality exhibition planned for 14 – 16 April 2020, rescheduled to 2– 4 March 2021 at the Dharan International Exhibition Centre.

Sector insights

As is to be expected, numerous sectors have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Below you'll find information on any COVID-19 effects across important sectors and industries in Saudi Arabia.

Banking and finance

Companies are still at low risk of facing delayed payments as well as banking or financial challenges in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority has announced a bundle of precautionary measures to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on different economic sectors. These include:

  • Easing financial transactions and improving payment solutions through electronic services

  • Restructuring outstanding credit facilities with no interest or additional fees

  • Providing funding for retail clients who have lost their jobs at private sector entities.

Additional resources

Below you can find information and contact details for other New Zealand government and international agencies regarding their response to COVID-19.

New Zealand Government agencies
COVID-19 helpline for businesses
New Zealand Customs
Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI)
New Zealand Export Credit (NZEC)
MFAT Export Helpline
MFAT Safetravel
Callaghan Innovation
Ministry of Health
WorkSafe New Zealand

Global agencies

World Health Organization (WHO)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Contact NZTE

We're available to talk to you about any issues your export business is facing due to COVID-19.

For existing NZTE customers, please contact your New Zealand-based Customer Manager.

If you're unsure who to contact or haven't worked with us before, you can call NZTE on 0800 555 888 or email below and one of our Customer Advisors will help you.