Guide to Importing in Saudi Arabia 2019

Importing in Saudi Arabia is a growing industry that attracts foreign investors to the Kingdom. In 2017, Saudi Arabia imported $96.2 billion worth of goods into the Kingdom with a positive trade balance of $74.2 billion. Due to gaps in the market, there are many opportunities for importers in the Kingdom, such as the lack of manufacturing plants means products such as machinery and pharmaceuticals are largely imported. Saudi is also the largest importer of food and agricultural products in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The list of products imported in the Kingdom is long and is opportune for those looking to enter the market. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What does Saudi Arabia import the most?

Saudi Arabia’s imports comprise of mostly:

  • machinery (21%) – broadcasting equipment, valves, gas turbines,air conditioners, air pumps
  • transport (16%) – cars, planes, helicopters, spacecrafts, aircraft parts, delivery trucks
  • chemical products (10%) – packaged medicaments, scented mixtures, cyclic hydrocarbons
  • metals (7.4%) – iron pipes, flat-rolled steel
  • vegetable products (6.8%) – barley, rice, wheat, corn
  • textiles (6.6%) – knit and non-knit women’s suit
  • foodstuffs (5.3%) – raw sugar, malt extract, rolled tobacco, baked goods
  • mineral products (4.4%) – refined petroleum, iron ore
  • animal products (3.9%) – poultry meat, concentrated milk
  • plastics and rubbers (3.8%) – rubber tyres, houseware plastics

What is the custom duty in Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia uses the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding system for tariff classification purposes. As a GCC member, the VAT of 5 percent is levied on most goods imported from countries outside the GCC.

Goods imported that compete with those produced domestically have a duty rate of 12 to 20 percent depending on the product. Dates, for example, are dutiable at 40 percent and cigarettes and other tobacco products are dutiable at 100 percent.

Certain goods are exempt from the external tariff. Goods manufactured and transported within the GCC states are exempt from duties. There are also a number of GCC-approved country-specific exceptions. Additionally, Saudi has a list of 758 exceptions that may be imported duty-free, including most livestock and aircrafts.

What is not allowed in Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia has a few restrictions on what can be imported for religious and security reasons. It bans the import of alcohol, non-medical drugs, most non-Islamic religious materials and other materials deemed offensive. Goods such as weapons and electronic equipment are controlled for security reasons. 

Is a certificate of origin required in Saudi Arabia?

A certificate of origin is required for all commercial shipments to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA)

The Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) are responsible for the safety of food and drugs in the Kingdom. They monitor the safety of food consumption for humans and animals, the safety of pesticides and create clear and effective food safety policy. 

Additionally, they ensure the quality of pharmaceuticals entering the country are quality and non-counterfeit to encourage trust in the health industry by the community. This also includes the safety of medical and pharmaceutical instruments and cosmetics.

Certain products require the SFDA approval before they’ll receive entry clearance into the country. These products include:

  • Medications and pharmaceuticals (prescription and non prescription)  
  • Laboratory chemicals and solutions  
  • Reagents and diagnostics  
  • Dietary supplements including vitamins  
  • Cosmetics and perfumes 

Approval from the SFDA for these products should be obtained before the consignee ships the products. If products arrive to the Kingdom without the proper documentation and approvals, they may be held for long delays may occur (up to 90 days) while approval is sort from the SFDA. 

If you are importing food and drug products to the Kingdom, the SFDA have e-services available to assist importers;

  • Imported Food Control E-services
  • Medical Devices Importing License

To find out whether your products need to be approved by the SFDA, the classification systems will provide consignees with guidance.

  • Product Classification System
  • Medical Device Classification

Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC)

The CITC is responsible for managing the communications and information technology that enter the Kingdom. The following products must get clearance before entering the Kingdom.

  • All wireless telecommunications equipment
  • Wireless computers
  • Networking equipment
  • All IT equipment
  • GPS equipment
  • Satellite communication equipment
  • Cell phones and smartphones
  • Certain Wi-Fi routers 

Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI)

The following products require approval from the MOCI before shipping to the Kingdom. 

  • Chemicals, including dangerous goods
  • Ink products
  • Toners

Ministry of Information (MOI)

All shipments entering the Kingdom are inspected and the following commodities may be intercepted and sent to the MOI for review and approval.

  • Magazines
  • Books
  • Compact discs – music or data files
  • Computer games
  • DVDs 
  • Photographic media
  • Cards containing electronic information – e.g. satellite TV cards, ID cards, maps

Saudi Arabia Imports – Approvals

Certain Saudi Arabia imports require ministry approval.

Good descriptionMinistry Approval from
BooksMinistry of Information (MOI)
Cards containing electronic information – e.g. satellite TV cards, ID cards, Maps MOI
ChemicalsMinistry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI)
Compact disksMOI
Computer gamesMOI
Cosmetics and perfumesSaudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA)
Dietary supplements including vitaminsSFDA
DVDsMOI
GPS equipmentCommunications and Information Technology Commission (CITC)
Ink productsMOCI
Laboratory chemicals and solutionsSFDA
MagazinesMOI
Medications and pharmaceuticals (prescription and non prescription)SFDA
Reagents and diagnosticsSFDA
Satellite communication equipmentCITC
TonerMOCI
Wireless computer and networking equipmentCITC
Wireless telecommunications equipmentCITC

Saudi Arabia Import Restrictions

Saudi Arabia import restrictions prohibits the following commodities from entering the Kingdom and will be destroyed at the border.

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Alcohol distilling equipment
  • All animal blood products
  • All kinds of Liquor, or items containing liquor as an ingredient
  • All narcotics without exception regardless of form (Including poppy seeds)
  • Annoying car horns or horns that play tunes
  • Asbestos
  • Blank invoices for companies established abroad
  • Christmas Trees
  • Counterfeit products that bear the brand of a manufacturer or brand name of a commercial product, or a commercial title
  • Crosses, Crucifixes or stars of David
  • Dangerous goods, hazardous or chemical combination materials 
  • Explosives except by licensed importers 
  • Firearms & parts thereof
  • Frogs meat
  • Gambling devices or Slot machines
  • Label and packing material (can be imported only if consignee has a license agreement with the shipper or with permission from the customs authority)
  • Laser pens or pointers
  • Masks
  • Massage equipment indecently packaged
  • Musical greeting cards
  • Night vision binoculars or similar items
  • Nutmeg, seeds & powder thereof
  • Pigs (swine) and pork products
  • Postal envelopes
  • Soil samples
  • Spawn of silk-worms, any kinds of soil, leaf, stem, straw and natural manure used for agriculture
  • Tobacco advertising materials
  • Used tires or retread tires 

*This list is not conclusive and is subject to change 

Have a question?We can help.

Fill out your details and receive a call back from a consultant