In 2018, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was the 28th biggest export destination for the United States with $22.4 billion in goods and services. According to the United States Trade Representative Office, the Saudis were the US’s 22nd largest trading partner in 2018 and the Department of Commerce says that exportation of goods and services to Saudi Arabia supports over 160 thousand jobs. The top exports to the Saudi Arabian market from the US include vehicles, machinery and equipment, weapons and ammunition and foodstuff.
The country requires most of the typical shipping documentation that are necessary for any shipment coming into the country. These include
They also need a certificate of conformity according to Saudi standards for some goods and products and the validity of food stuff plus the food ingredients should be clearly labeled in Arabic according to Saudi specifications. If one is importing medical preparations they need to register them especially if it is herbal in nature at the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health.
It’s crucial to remember that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a muslim country. Entering the country with a bible is forbidden so one can’t import Christian material into the country. Other prohibited items also include:
There are also restricted items but one can import them with special approval from the government. These include chemicals and hazardous materials, agricultural seeds, archeological artifacts, live animals, wireless equipment, radio controlled airplanes, religious books and audio materials, natural asphalt, perfume that includes alcohol. It’s crucial to find out which items are restricted or prohibited because the importing such items can result in legal problems with the Saudi Arabian authorities.
The United States and Saudi Arabia signed a TIFA (Trade and Investment Framework Agreement) in 2003 which promotes a better trade environment for trade between the two countries. However, this doesn’t provide free trade zones where the US can export goods duty free in Saudi Arabia. As a member state of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council), they levy a common external tariff of 5% on most products imported outside of the GCC countries.
Imported goods that compete heavily with similar goods produced locally are subject to duties between 12 and 20 percent depending on the type of goods and industry. However, some imported food stuffs are charged higher to protect the local producers. Luxury goods tend to be charged higher rates. For example, all tobacco products including cigarettes are charged 100% duty as are energy drinks. Carbonated drinks are charged 50%.
TIFAs are renegotiated every two years between countries invested in the framework and the last negotiations between the United States and Saudi Arabia occurred in May, 2018.
Shipping to Saudi Arabia from the States can be challenging because of the language barrier. It’s therefore crucial for one to choose a freight forwarder that can move the process along smoothly and understands the language and manner of doing business in the country.
Call the preferred forwarder and provide the following information: place of shipment and the final destination of the shipment, the weight and dimensions of the container or cargo and the description of the cargo. The forwarder, using all the shipment information provided, will get their Saudi agent to ascertain the fees for transportation of the shipment beyond the port and also the relevant documentation for a smooth clearance process through customs.
The information is relayed back to the consignee who takes care of the following Saudi custom charges: the custom handling and clearing fees, air or sea transfer costs and door delivery fees. Once done the freight forwarder will collect the shipment from the consignee to the Los Angeles airport for air freight bound for Riyadh. If it’s seaborne cargo it will originate from the US west coast to the designated Saudi port.
The customs in Saudi Arabia will require, in addition to the above mentioned documentation an authorization letter for the broker in Saudi to clear the cargo and a trade license copy. The forwarder then contacts the client once the shipment reaches the customs destination to inform them of the arrival of the shipment and make an appointment for local delivery.
Because of the significant amount of trade between the US and Saudi Arabia the country has invested millions in getting their ports ready to accommodate large cargo like vehicles, furniture, medical equipment, jet skis, auto parts, motor cycles, and other types of machinery. To move heavy and large shipments it’s better to use Ocean freight from USA to Saudi Arabia because the ocean shipment service covers all the ports across the country. When shipping vehicles one has to present the original title from the US customs and border protection.
"Customs duties play an important role in your international shipment. How they're determined and calculated varies from country to country"
Klaus Lydsal, vice president of operations at iContainers