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How to export and import: Saudi Arabia

Learn about the taxes, forms and the business sense needed to start an import and export business involving Saudi Arabia.

Do you speak Arabic? Do you have connections in Riyadh? Have you lived in Jeddah? Maybe you simply love the Saudi Arabian culture. In the import/export industry, you can use your individual competitive advantages to serve as a matchmaker for companies in Saudi Arabia — matching product manufacturers with markets that want and need to purchase the goods they produce. Imports and exports are a competitive, challenging business.

With dedication and this guide, you can become a part of the estimated $48.1 billion in goods and services traded between the US and Saudi Arabia.

Types of import/export businesses

There are three basic types of import/export businesses. Starting out, it’s a good idea to pursue the one that interests you most.

Export management company

Let’s say a company in Saudi Arabia wants to export plastic goods. That’s where an export management company (EMC) can help.

An EMC handles all of the details for the company to ship goods overseas. This could include hiring distributors, creating marketing materials and preparing shipping logistics.

Export trading company

An export trading company (ETC) finds out what foreign buyers want and then locates domestic companies that can export the goods.

Import/export merchant (or free agent)

Import/export merchants buy merchandise from a manufacturer — foreign or domestic — then resell that merchandise around the world. There’s heavier risk involved in being a free agent — but with fewer middlemen, the potential for higher profits as well.

Startup costs

You can start your own import/export business with little upfront costs.

At a minimum, you need a phone and a reliable Internet connection. You’ll also want to invest in business cards, a website and a fax machine. And it doesn’t hurt to hire somebody for your branding, including a unique business logo.

In reality though you’ll need a lot more than this to get going. A lot of companies that enter the import/export business in India are already operating elsewhere, so crucial skills and resources include:

  • In-depth knowledge or connections with companies in the United States looking to buy goods from Saudi Arabia.
  • In-depth knowledge or connections with companies in Saudi Arabia looking to export their goods to the US.
  • Start-up capital to travel to businesses, manufacturers and potential clients to discuss deals and products.

Narrowing your market

Once you’ve decided on the type of import/export business you want to run and calculated your startup costs, it’s time to narrow your market focus.

By niching down, you can focus your attention on a market you can serve best. Think about:

  • Customers you want to serve.
  • Areas of the world you’ll target.
  • Types of goods you’ll offer.

Take your time to dig deep with your research. The extra time you spend finding profitable niches will pay off in the long run.

Your customer

Your target customer will be someone who wants to trade globally. They’ll either want to sell goods overseas or buy goods from international sources.

Beyond that, you can choose any type of customer you wish. Maybe you’ll cater to companies that sell Saudi Arabia’s No. 5 export, aluminum. Or mechanical pumps. Or electronic equipment.

If you can identify a need, you can target a group of companies as customers.

Saudi Arabia’s top 10 exports

According to, Saudi Arabia’s top 10 exports in 2018 included:

  1. Mineral fuels including oil: US$231.6 billion (78.6% of total exports)
  2. Plastics, plastic articles: $20.9 billion (7.1%)
  3. Organic chemicals: $14.3 billion (4.9%)
  4. Ships, boats: $2.6 billion (0.9%)
  5. Inorganic chemicals: $2.29 billion (0.8%)
  6. Aluminum: $2.26 billion (0.8%)
  7. Machinery including computers: $1.9 billion (0.7%)
  8. Iron, steel: $1.4 billion (0.5%)
  9. Vehicles: $1.29 billion (0.4%)
  10. Fertilizers: $1.26 billion (0.4%)

Saudi Arabia’s top 10 imports

According to, Saudi Arabia’s top 10 imports in 2018 included:

  1. Machinery including computers: US$12 billion (11.8% of total imports)
  2. Vehicles: $11.3 billion (11.2%)
  3. Electrical machinery, equipment: $9.2 billion (9%)
  4. Cereals: $4.3 billion (4.3%)
  5. Pharmaceuticals: $4.3 billion (4.3%)
  6. Aircraft, spacecraft: $4 billion (4%)
  7. Mineral fuels including oil: $3.5 billion (3.4%)
  8. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $3.3 billion (3.2%)
  9. Articles of iron or steel: $2.6 billion (2.5%)
  10. Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs, prefab buildings: $2.5 billion (2.4%)


Registering your business

To register your import/export business, you need to fill out the US Department of State’s SNAP-R company registration.

After you submit your information, the Department of State will send you an email about how to get a company identification number (CIN). A CIN is used for tax purposes and for registering with the US Department of Commerce.

Import and export licenses

Typically, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) doesn’t require a license to import goods to or export goods from the United States. However, other government agencies or departments or local governments may require them.

If you’re exporting goods, you can find out which licenses may be required by asking your local port of entry.

A note about importing goods into Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has no special import provisions. Under WTO obligations, Saudi Arabia is committed to a transparent and predictable import licensing system, but you are required to submit a number of documents.

Contact a professional to learn more about registration, tariffs and specific documents you’ll need to provide to conduct business there.

Picking the right type of business structure

Forming an LLC has specific benefits for importing and exporting, so we’ll discuss it detail. However, the US has four business structures to choose from depending on your needs, use the business structure guide to figure out which is best for your import/export business.

You don’t have to incorporate in the United States in order to start an import/export business.

However, incorporating or creating an LLC can provide key benefits, including:

Separation of personal and business assets.Creating a corporation or a limited liability company (LLC) can help you protect your personal assets. For example, you’ll have less personal liability for business debts.
Expense deduction. Through a corporation or LLC, you can deduct business expenses before income is forwarded to you.
Enhanced credibility.Clients often prefer working with incorporated businesses, seeing them as more legitimate.

Charging for your services

Import/export business typically charge based on commission or retainer.

Commission structure

With a commission structure, you’re paid a percentage of any trade deal you close — usually around 10%. For example, if you sell a manufacturer’s smartphone for $300, you’ll make a $30 commission. On top of your commission, you’ll also want to charge for expenses like packaging and shipping.

Retainer model

On a retainer model, your client pays you a monthly fee to be on call when they need your services.

To find the right amount for your retainer, consider your costs — these may include labor, supplies and overhead.

An alternative model

Beyond a commission or retainer structure, you can simply buy goods and sell them. In this case, your revenue will come from the profit you make from selling merchandise.

Which business model should you choose?

A rule of thumb is to pick a commission model if you think a product will be easy to sell. If you think a product will be difficult to sell, however, price your business based on a retainer.

The thinking is based on this: If you’ll sell a lot of product, you want to be paid based on performance. On the other hand, if you believe sales will be slow, using a retainer model could ensure that you’ll be paid even in the downtime.

Finally, if you’re confident in your ability to sell products you acquire, you don’t have to negotiate a payment structure with manufacturers. All you’ll have to negotiate is how much you’ll buy product for and then find a way to profit from the merchandise.

International billing and payments

Your new business will require you to make and receive international payments, which means you’ll make transactions between currencies and across borders.

You can safely and affordably manage your business payments — with lower fees and stronger exchange rates — by comparing the services of a money transfer specialist.

Ways to Send Money to Saudi Arabia in under 60 Minutes

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$1,000 1 day USD 0.00 3.713 SAR 18,565 OFX has no maximum limit transfers, with competitive exchange rates for 45+ currencies. Go to site Show details
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Compare up to 4 providers

Shipping the goods

You need to send and receive goods from other countries, so you’ll need to arrange shipping details.

First, contact a freight forwarder — a company that helps you transport goods safely and efficiently. They will help you handle the logistics of completing shipping documents, finding cargo space and securing cargo insurance.

Find a freight forwarder by looking in state-specific business directories.

After you’ve hired a freight forwarder, read our shipping guides to learn how to ship merchandise.

Risks and how to avoid them

Unpredictable shipping logistics

Needless to say, your success hinges on whether you can ship goods safely and efficiently. If you’re exporting goods, for example, you’re responsible for ensuring they leave your local port and arrive at the correct destination on time.

You’ll also need to account for anything else that could go wrong, such as damage to the cargo. Staying organized and partnering with a reputable freight forwarder will help you ship goods without a hitch.

Not knowing enough about markets

It’s a good idea to thoroughly research a market before entering into this business, though even that may not be enough.

Consider hiring experts who understand the tastes and cultures of your specific markets. You’ll need to sell products that resonate in countries you’re unfamiliar with.

Running into problems at the border

Customs rules aren’t uniform throughout the world. Instead, you’ll encounter a mass of different regulations while transporting goods. To avoid drowning in a swamp of border regulations, hire experts in customs law and trade compliance.

Bottom line

The import/export business is for people who love building relationships in other countries. But it also requires an organized mind that can handle logistics.

If you have those qualities, take the plunge into creating a thriving import/export business.


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6 Responses

    Default Gravatar
    LakshmiOctober 2, 2018

    I want to start export business to Saudia can you please guide me

      Default Gravatar
      joelmarceloOctober 2, 2018

      Hi Lakshmi,

      Thanks for leaving a question on finder.

      As I checked, you are already in the correct page for our import/export guide to Saudi Arabia. If you have any other specific questions that are not covered in the guide above, please feel free to send us a message anytime and we’ll be glad to help.


    Default Gravatar
    FareedJuly 5, 2018

    If I sent goods to Saudi Arabia for example Jeddah, and I want to transfer that to Riaz, but i do the custom clearance in Jeddah, is there a rule that I can not send goods to Riaz or I should do the custom clearance in Riaz again?

      Avatarfinder Customer Care
      nikkiangcoJuly 22, 2018Staff

      Hi Fareed!

      Thanks for leaving a message on our page.

      Generally, the rules on importing goods are dependent on a country’s local point of entry.

      Saudi Arabia has no special import provisions. Under WTO obligations, Saudi Arabia is committed to a transparent and predictable import licensing system, but you are required to submit a number of documents.

      Contact a professional to learn more about registration, tariffs and specific documents you’ll need to provide to conduct business there.

      Hope this helps!


    Default Gravatar
    RaniaApril 11, 2018

    Dear, Please I would like to check what is the process for starting to export Perfumes and Deodorant to KSA, are there any regulations or restrictions?
    In addition, what is the right path to register and to find a distributor?
    Thank you in advance.

      Avatarfinder Customer Care
      JoshuaApril 12, 2018Staff

      Hi Rania,

      Thanks for getting in touch with finder.

      Before starting an exporting business, it would be helpful to learn as much information as possible. This page is a great place to start learning about the trade.

      After determining what type of products you are going to export, you need to register your business by filling out the US Department of State’s SNAP-R company registration. After you submit your information, the Department of State will send you an email about how to get a company identification number (CIN). A CIN is used for tax purposes and for registering with the US Department of Commerce.

      You also need to get a license. Since you’re exporting goods, you should be able to find out which licenses may be required by asking your local port of entry.

      Visiting your local port of entry can also help you learn more about the regulations and restrictions of exporting perfumes and deodorants to KSA. Finding a distributor depends on which marketing strategy that you would use. You need to take special consideration as well when it comes to finding a distributor.

      I hope this helps. Should you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to reach us out again.

      Have a wonderful day!


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