Start a Business in Saudi Arabia – Expat’s Practical Roadmap

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Forget the days of needing a local “sponsor” to start a business in Saudi Arabia.

Thanks to visionary efforts of His Highness King Salman and Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman through Vision 2030 which led to a lot of amazing changes in governmental rules & regulations and building a lot of Mega Projects including, futuristic NEOM city, expats can now own and start a business in Saudi Arabia.

Many expatriates operating under the guise of local partnerships by getting an Iqama, showing as they’re their employees and running a business on their names, an illegal practice, which will eventually lead to severe penalties for both Saudis and expats famously known as Tasattur.

Sadly, this led to instances where business owners were unceremoniously ousted once their ventures thrived, happened with a lot of expatriates, I know.

I recall an incident with a Pakistani restaurant in Riyadh, where success led to a sudden final exit (AKA khurooj nihai) by a local—this isn’t a tale, it’s a reality.

The Saudi government, in the past, initiated efforts to transfer expatriate-owned businesses rightfully to their names, cracking down on unlawful ownerships.

Despite all of this, some still persist in these illicit arrangements.

While it’s still not a walk in the park, navigating the process is much clearer with the right information.

This guide, based on my own experience and research, outlines a practical roadmap for expats like you to confidently start a business in Saudi Arabia.

My Story

Like many expats, I initially dismissed the idea of starting a business here.

But, witnessing friends successfully secure investment for their Pakistan-based IoT company at an entrepreneurial event called “Biban”, planted a seed of possibility in my mind.

While I was entrenched in a 9-5 job, their story nudged me to consider the thriving market here.

It echoed a poignant truth which I saw in a video on the YouTube 4 years back, where Kevin O’Leary, said:

“Salary is a drug your employer gives you to forget your dreams.”

YouTube video

Inspired by their determination and this powerful quote about leaving comfort zones behind, I began my own research journey.

However, the road to start a business in Saudi Arabia wasn’t paved with readily available guidance.

My quest for accurate information online and through various mediums, including YouTube, Google, LinkedIn, proved frustratingly short on practical advice, filled with misleading information and incomplete roadmaps.

The Real Deal

The hunger for knowledge drove me to connect with local expatriate businessmen who owned 100% LLCs.

After months of diligent effort, I built a network of successful expat business owners and savvy agents – Through these connections, I unearthed valuable insights of a roadmap to setting up an LLC in Saudi Arabia as an expat.

Now, I’m sharing the hard-won knowledge I gained to help you avoid the pitfalls and navigate the process smoothly.

Roadmap to open 100% owned LLC in Saudi Arabia as an Expat

How to start a business in Saudi Arabia

Established Company outside Saudi Arabia

First things first, you should have established company outside Saudi Arabia for at least 3 years, without this you can’t start a business in Saudi Arabia.

Here is the list of pre-requisites you need to establish a company in KSA:

  • Company Incorporation Certificate: You need to submit registration certificate of your company outside Saudi Arabia.
    • e.g. SECP Certificate of Incorporation in Pakistan.
  • Financial Documents: You need to submit external audited reports and bank statements for the past year.
    • Note: It should be prepared by internationally recognized legal office.
  • Legal Registrations: Ensure your company is registered with relevant authorities in your home country (e.g., NTN in Pakistan).
  • Document Attestation: You must have all documents attested by the Saudi Embassy and MoFA.

Procedure to Start a Business in Saudi Arabia

Once your pre-requisite is ready, you’re all set buddy, follow the procedure below to start your 100% owned dream company in Saudi Arabia.

Services Investment License from MISA

In order to start a business in Saudi Arabia, you need to first obtain an investment license from Ministry of Investment, before it was known as SAGIA Certificate.

You can easily apply online by submitting the documents as mentioned above and filling out the form.

Here’s how:

  • Visit and sign up on Ministry of Investment’s e-portal by clicking here.
  • Select your Preferred language, in my case, English.
  • Enter all the mentioned details.
  • On the next page, create your username and password and click “Submit”.
  • Now, you’ll be redirected to login, once logged in, verify your Email.
  • Once verified, now you can login and apply for the license.
  • Apply the license by clicking on “Apply” button.
  • Submit all the entity information and they will review it.
  • Once approved, you need to pay the fees and can apply of CoC.
    • Approval takes approximately 1 week, depending on the documents, category etc.
Fee Structure
  • 12,000 SAR (annual license fee + first-year subscription).
  • Renewals involve yearly subscription fees of 60,000 SAR.

For more details head over to this investment manual made by MISA: Services Manual

Chamber of Commerce

Once your Misa license is secured, head to the Chamber of Commerce for your Commercial Registration (CR).

You must have a rental office with necessary permits (municipality license (balady), etc.).

This CoC will help you throughout the business journey, it guarantees your company’s authenticity which helps in validity of your documents.

Ministry of Labour (MOL) Registration

To grab the visas for your non-Saudi employees, you need to register with Ministry of Labour in Saudi Arabia.

Initially, three visas are granted, including yours as the owner/GM. 

Hiring locals and achieving Saudization allows for up to seven visas. 

Iqama issuance and renewal fees costs approximately SAR10,000.

GOSI Registration

You need to register your company employees with General Organization for Social Insurance (GOSI).

GOSI insurance takes 20% for Saudi employees and 2% for an expatriate employee per month depending on the salaries of the employees.

Government announced that a minimum salary of 4,000 SAR for Saudi employees.

After this you can register with Qiwa platform for signing e-contract with your employees.

ZATCA Registration

Registering with ZATCA is one of the post-steps to start a business in Saudi Arabia.

Actually, ZATCA collect Zakat, taxes and custom duties from companies.

While everything is digitalized in Saudi Arabia, ZATCA also provides an e-platform to seamlessly manage.

You need to share financial statements with them and pay 20% of profits after Zakat.

Saudi National Address Registration

Registering with Saudi National Address is a mandatory step also, it’s easy and you can register it online.

Register with Absher Business

At last, you need to register with Absher Business platform for managing most of the company operations such as Exit/Re-re-entry for employees etc. and it will help you to open a bank account as well.

Opening Bank Account

Opening a company bank account is important as mentioned above everything has been digitalized and mostly people here are cashless.

So, make sure you open a bank account in Saudi Arabia for smooth transactions.

I recommend you to open a bank account in Al-Rajhi.


Use a registered invoice system software as all invoices must be electronic with QR codes.

My Recommendation

Hire an agent to start a business in Saudi Arabia

As I told you before, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea to start a business in Saudi Arabia.

And there are a lot of considerations, such as registration with a lot of Government bodies, language barrier etc.

So, I recommend you to hire an agent to start a business in Saudi Arabia.

An experienced agent whom I know charges around 80,000 SAR incl. all the governmental fees.

It reduces your headache and frustration and your company will be opened in no time.

But be aware, nowadays, there are a lot of agents charging small to medium amount and not doing the work, so make sure, the one you choose is experienced and trust-worthy.

FAQs on “How to Start a Business in Saudi Arabia”

How much money do I need to start a business in Saudi Arabia?

The exact amount depends on your business type and chosen structure. However, expect initial expenses to cover:
Government fees: Around 20,000 SAR for the first year (including license, registration, etc.).
Office Rent: Around 200,000 minimum per year.
Agent fees (optional): Around 80,000 SAR, covering first-year costs and guidance.
Pre-requisites: Legal documents, audits, bank statements, etc. (Costs vary).

Can you own 100% of a company in Saudi Arabia?

Yes, absolutely! Most sectors allow expats to fully own and operate LLCs.

How can an expat get a Commercial Registration (CR) in Saudi Arabia?

After MISA license approval, expat can get a CR easily.

How to register a small business in Saudi Arabia?

Registering an LLC is the most common route. Follow the steps above.

Which type of business is best in Saudi Arabia?

Booming sectors with potential include:
Technology and e-commerce: Young population embraces digital solutions.
Tourism and hospitality: Expanding tourism offers opportunities for hotels, restaurants, and entertainment.
Healthcare and education: Growing demand for quality services presents lucrative options.
Renewable energy and environment: Focus on sustainability opens doors for eco-friendly businesses.

How much is Iqama for a small business?

The Iqama fees remain the same for the small businesses of expats even.

What is the most profitable company in Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia’s most profitable companies often operate in the oil and gas industry, with Saudi Aramco being a notable example.

What business to open in Saudi Arabia?

Businesses like restaurants, cafes, technology start-ups, and e-commerce ventures can be successful in Saudi Arabia.

How can I open a cafe in Saudi Arabia?

Opening a cafe involves obtaining licenses, finding a suitable location, adhering to health regulations, and more. Specifics can be obtained from local authorities.

Is it legal to do online business in Saudi Arabia?

Yes, online businesses are legal in Saudi Arabia, but certain regulations and restrictions might apply.

Is online freelancing legal in Saudi Arabia?

Yes, online freelancing is generally permissible, but it’s crucial to comply with local laws and regulations.

Can a foreigner live in a different country and own a business in Saudi Arabia?

Yes, a foreigner can own a business in Saudi Arabia without residing there, but it requires compliance with Saudi laws and regulations.

What is the most sold item in Saudi Arabia?

Commonly sold items include electronics, clothing, and food products. Trends might vary based on consumer preferences.

Which product is in demand in Saudi Arabia?

Consumer electronics, luxury goods, healthcare products, and quality food items are generally in demand in Saudi Arabia.

What are the top 2 exports of Saudi Arabia?

Historically, crude oil and refined petroleum products have been the top exports of Saudi Arabia.

Who will pay the Iqama?

Generally, the employer covers the expenses for an employee’s Iqama.

What are three major industries in Saudi Arabia?

Oil and gas, petrochemicals, and construction are significant industries in Saudi Arabia.

Are there booming sectors in Saudi Arabia?

Sectors like technology, renewable energy, tourism, and entertainment have been experiencing growth in recent years.

Can a foreigner open a restaurant in Saudi Arabia?

Yes, foreigners can open and operate restaurants in Saudi Arabia.

Can I be self-employed in Saudi Arabia?

Yes, it’s possible for individuals to be self-employed in Saudi Arabia, subject to certain regulations and permissions.

Is vlogging allowed in Saudi Arabia?

Vlogging is permitted in Saudi Arabia, but content creators need to adhere to local regulations regarding permissible content.

Final Words

Starting a business in Saudi Arabia is within reach for expats, and this practical roadmap lays the groundwork for your success.

Don’t hesitate to ask if I missed anything or if new updates emerge.

Let’s empower ourselves and turn our entrepreneurial dreams into thriving Saudi Arabian ventures, Ameen!

Happy Entrepreneurship!

Till then, Ma Salama.

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