Working Hours and Days Off in Saudi Arabia


I think one of the more challenging aspects of adapting to life in Saudi Arabia is perhaps getting adjusted to the differing working hours and days off. Many businesses will work what I refer to as split days. A prime example is a mobile phone company, like Mobily. Mobily will have working hours from 0800 to 1100 hours and then close until 1630 hours at which time it reopens and remains open until 2200 hours. Talk about having a split day of work…

Banks are another place which I do not care for the operating hours. Now remember, if you are female, you are expected to go to a women’s branch. The women’s banking hours are generally 0900 – 1530 hours. If a woman also works, that can make it a challenge in getting to the bank if necessary for a transaction.

Even the shopping malls will have split hours where the mall shops will be closed for several hours during an afternoon.

And of course all shops, businesses, restaurants, etc., will close four times per day for 30 minutes for prayer (most businesses are not open yet at the time of the first prayer hence the typical 4 closures instead of 5). As a result, many who reside in Saudi will find themselves trying to run errands between prayers and hope not to get caught out with an errand unfinished before the prayer time.

So in arriving to Saudi Arabia from most other parts of the world, one must first adapt to the differing type of working hours. That’s number one. Secondly, at least in the majority of the Kingdom as of yet, the official weekend days are Thursday and Friday. This is pretty comparable to the Saturday/Sunday weekends experienced in the western world where most families run errands on Thursday (Saturday) and then attend religious services on Friday/Sunday (jumah prayers at the masjid/church services in the west).

However there are also some key disadvantages to having the Thursday/Friday weekends. As a result, Saudi is shut down for two days while most of the rest of the world continues doing business and financial markets remain active. Then when Saudi reopens for business on Saturday in many times some transactions are delayed and have to wait until Monday for the rest of the world to restart business.

The Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry though has decided to be a trailblazer and began a Sunday – Thursday work week with Friday’s and Saturday’s off for the weekend. It remains to be seen though whether many other business and organizations will follow suit or not.

57 Responses

  1. Jeddah Chamber of Commerce tried to be a trailblazer by having their employee’s weekends on Fridays and Saturdays, but a short time later, they abolished that decision citing employee objections. But the true reason for cancelling their earlier decision could have been pressure exerted by the religious establishment.

  2. bahrain changed to the Fri Sat off routine a few years back…we are considered the financial hub of the middle east (all thoug I believe Duabi is making a run on that title these days) so it only made sense to cater to the financial markets.

    commenting on the closing for prayer thing…Islam is supposed to be easy and God mentions that it isnt supposed to be a harship etc…but closing and opening and closing and opening etc seems like a harship to me…for business owners and customers…now I realize business shouldnt come before prayers etc (for some) but it seems that business can stay open…and people still can find 5 minutes to pray…just like they do in the rest of the world…just sounds like the community is treated as children that cant be trusted to pray unless adults come along and take away their toys and send them to the bathroom for know what I mean. Wheres the choice I keep hearing about all the time?

  3. Actually it’s 3 closures instead of 4. With the split working hours you usually aren’t open for Dhur prayer.

  4. Mohamed: in jeddah, Jareer bookstore opens for an hour after Dhur prayer… which was useful to me once..

    i still dont understand the gap in between. it was understandable back in the day they seldom had electricity and shops were tiny and attached to the merchant’s house. its impossible to run errands in this country! though i’ve lived here my entire life…

  5. Maybe you learn patience there a little better than here, where we have everything when and where we want it. And business can get done with the world regardless of days off,

  6. I don’t mind closing shops at prayer time since I’m a practicing muslimah, I wish other muslim countries were doing that too. Yes I agree that sometimes it’s not fun inside the supermarket or have to get out before one is done shopping but here again, you have other options either do them early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid any inconvenience. What I don’t like though is that some malls & stores like Saco World (never open before 4 pm). It can be a hassle especially during the week ends, which of course makes the traffic worse in late afternoons. If they open all day & close only for prayer I think it would have helped the traffic in Riyadh, A LOT!!

  7. I meant: ” It’s not fun to get stuck inside the supermarket..”

  8. In Damascus it is a Friday/Saturday weekend. I didn’t realize it was different in KSA… hmmm.

  9. Friday/Saturday is a good and practical compromise I think.

  10. Closing for prayers, while admirable in intention, results in much frustration and ultimate lack of efficiency. I never liked it, especially since women had few areas in which to pray while they were out shopping or whatever. They’d have to sit on the sidelines, and wait for businesses to reopen; they’d miss the prayer altogether, or offer it late.

    The timings of prayer should not interfere with other activities. Rather than close down the whole country several times each day, why do these businesses not stay open, but establish a musallah for both men and women customers. That way, both business and prayers could be accomplished in a timely and efficient manner.

  11. Oh that closing intermitently in KSA drove me crazy. They should keep the stores open and have a place for prayer, so that way people who want to pray can and those that don’t can continue with their activities. Again that willprobably offent a hundred diff groups there. I’ve seen something similar in India actually B’lore – commercial street ( one of the shopping hot spots) to be specific. This was a decade ago and the shops would open around 9.30am and close again before noon and open only by 4pm..what the hell.. you need a 4 hr lunch break!!!! and in those days it was not one of the cities that got really hot either.. so i guess it was just alaid back lifestyle. Drove my mom mad since those were the times she could shop in peace while we were in school. every place has it’s quirks. Looking back it’s funny how running errands revolved around the prayer times in KSA. Always keep a good book handy. – time passes fast while reading something fun:-)

  12. Thusday and Friday are fine. Closing at prayer times, purposeful. It doesn’t take that long to pray…if u are ‘stuck’ or ‘inconvenienced’ due to prayer time closing, then pause to remember ….

  13. And be grateful there are five rather than waht was it? 50? Thete’s time enough for errands, plan better

  14. I love the short work hours in MidEast. of course that doesn’t mean that i will get to go home at 3pm. but it is very helpful during ramadhan. That is certainly one of the things i miss from my ‘Gulf’ days.

    Regarding the split hours, i know that happens in other parts of the world as well such as Greece where there will be lull in the afternoon which is much needed in the scorching heat of the summer months.

  15. @Susan,

    These hard line positions regarding Thursday as a holiday does not come from Islam. Actually Thursday was not a day off in Saudi until the 70’s. The only day that we are supposed to observe a weekly prayer of is Friday. So having Saturday as a day off is not against any religious teachings and should be purely a business decision. If you think having only 3 days to conduct business with the rest of the world does not have an impact in a global economy, you really need to do some more research here.

    Further, I am a Saudi and I know how long it takes to close shop for prayer. It takes 20-30 minutes each prayer and it is typically at the prime business time. I am a son of a merchant and have done this every day growing up. Multiply this by 4 prayers and you get a loss of 2 hrs of business. The fact is Islam does not require that we close shops for prayer. This is a pure invention. The only requirement is to close for the Friday prayer which you can authenticate by religious text.

  16. @Saudi in the US:

    Actually, the 3 day window to conduct business with the rest of the world doesn’t seem to effect the Saudi economy at all.

  17. I agree that the only Islamic obligation is to make sure MEN have time off for the Friday jum’ah prayer. In some other Muslim countries this is accomplished by the normal hot climate “siesta” hours, with no change to the normal work week, and Saturday and Sunday (or 1/2 Saturday and all Sunday) are the traditional business closings. Those who wish to observe salat are allowed to do so. Workday hours are collapsed and shortened for Ramadan (early afternoon closing).

    These hours mean those countries are essentially on European time, and only modestly off North American time due to the time difference.

    As someone who enjoys the “pedestrian” life, I appreciate “siesta” hours in the countries that need them (no personal walker’s AC’s yet), and find them easy to adapt to.

  18. @Mohamed S.,

    How are you measuring that? What are the missed opportunities? and why is this a religious decision not a business decision?

    Businesses should be determining the dates. Making bureaucratic requirements of business is never a good policy. In this case it is not necessary as there is no violation of Islam for Saturday to be a holiday.

  19. Saudi in US, there is no more of a hardline issue in the deciding of Thurs / Friday weekend than there is in the Fri/Sat or Sat/Sun, unless one wants to get the jump on the other to be different.

    In this global economy and the use of technology, the market is open around the clock 24/7 … if you get a loss of business for those two hours, make them up earlier or later. Ask you customers to pray with you, turn the key in the register, lock the door … if everyone is on the same page about the req for prayer … what’s the problem? Or you don’t have time in your busy important schedule for Allah?

  20. And …. closing for prayer is not just a Saudi thing, it’s a Muslim thing … business manages to continue, what are you so afraid of losing? Better you should be concerned about losing in the hereafter, which is a lot longer ?

  21. There are a lot of countries with large muslim populations that don’t close 3-4 times a day and apparently the pious manage fine there.
    Since saudi is predominantly muslim it makes sense that they would try and make it as easy as possible for them to pray ( more like a forced reminder) . Having said that it’s still an inconvienience .

  22. I can see where that would be true, Radha, but for practicing Muslims, it just goes with the territory. There’s some ‘wiggle room’ though. About being pious, idk, i think people are just trying to do the best they can, prayer is important & often the first thing that stops in those other countries cause there’s no accommodation for it.

  23. @Susan,

    Obviously you did not understand what I wrote about the Thursday/Friday vs Friday/Saturday weekend. Let me state it clearly for you. I do not necessarily take a hardline on either. I do prefer the later. However, what I have a problem with is the religious leaders getting involved in every decision in the country. This decision is really not one they should make or influence, as long as Friday is preserved as a day of prayer. Let the people that run the businesses decide on what is appropriate to get the most efficiency. Note most GCC countries have moved to adapt the Friday/Saturday weekend to stream line global trade. They would not have made such change if there is no value to it.

    Regarding the missed 2 hrs, again you missed the point. I was talking about a merchant having to close his shop at a time where customers are ready to purchase (i.e has nothing to do with the global economy). There is no religious requirement for the merchant to close their shop. The prophet only required that for Friday’s prayer.

    Closing for prayer is a Muslim thing only in the fact that it is voluntary. I agree that if someone wants to close then they should. I have been in many Muslim countries and the voluntary system is in place. Having a group of people policing morality and the relationship of a person with Allah is only a Saudi thing.

  24. One should simply get used to the closing/opening hours in KSA and other countries where the hours are choppy depending on belief or old tradition.
    KSA is not the only country that does not follow “traditional” hours of operation. I lived in Rome, Italy and it still has the long afternoon breaks and many stores and restaurants are closed during the month of August. One only wonders how the ecomony survives there, but it does.

  25. @Susan,

    I agree prayer is important, but Islam also provided for a long period for the person to fulfill the obligation. Example using Saudi time, a person has about 6 hrs to fulfill the Eisha prayer requirement. The religious police makes it obligatory for people to fulfill that requirement within a 10 minute period. They force people to close shop and head to the mosque (most do not do this by the way, they just find places to hide from the roaming Muttwa and his entourage of skinn/out of shape policemen). What is funny also is that they do not stop the traffic and require everyone to get out of their car and pray:)

  26. Well living in a city that never stops for anyone- the Muslim Taxi drivers of New York always find time to do their prayers- in some masajid cars are triple parked with NYPD permission for Jumma’ah and during the day their are at leat a double park in certain areas that don’t have their own parking space.

    In areas like Atlantic Avenue- Brooklyn, Main Street Patterson, Steinwey Queens; shop owners don’t close but have prayer areas in the back where anyone able to can pray…

    And mind you in NY we don’t have the pleasure of hearing the Adhan- we go by our watches; our time sheets; and computer programs….

    So there are ways around it- we don’t have to be treated like children to take care of our responsibilities.

  27. Simply put…one needs to spend some time living and working in Saudi and then determine whether the hours are convenient are not; whether the closing of enterprises for prayer makes sense or not; rearranging and even postponing school openings around Ramadan make sense or not…..I could go on but I think my point is made.

  28. Susan- I think the point American Bedu was trying to make (and I trust her to correct me if I’m wrong) is that until one has tried to live and work in Saudi with its unusual, even for a Muslim country, time scheme-not only “siesta time, OR forced prayer closings OR floating school semesters around Ramadan OR altered work schedules for Ramadan OR the unusual Thursday/Friday weekend, but all of these and more-it is hard to imagine the real life negotiation of the work day and the rest of life on a day to day basis, even if one has experienced and accomodated to any one or more of these elsewhere: eg. my “siesta time” adaptations, even though I never take a siesta, or working in Morocco where the schedules are almost identical to those of France, and prayer is called but left to the individual.

  29. Susan

    American Bedu’s comment was: “…whether the hours are convenient are not; whether the closing of enterprises for prayer makes sense or not; rearranging and even postponing school openings around Ramadan make sense or not…..I could go on…”

    “Siesta time” is an expression for the long midday to mid/late afternoon closing characteristic of Mediterranean, MENA and other hot countries:
    eg. 12h00-14h00 or 12h00-16h00, or 13h00-15h30, etc. (longer in summer than in winter)

    In most of those countries, including Muslim ones, a main meal is eaten and then a siesta (sleep, or quiet time) taken, to be refreshed for the work hours that go to later in the evening than in North America.
    On Fridays the hours might be longer to accomodate Friday prayers, as well as allowing for the other 2 activities, or the other activities are squeezed in around the prayertime.

    Of course, in Muslim countries, people are free to take the salat prayer times, and accomodations are made in non-Muslim countries, especially on university campuses, but also in government offices, schools, hospitals, and businesses that I am aware of.

    I didn’t protest in the least over this issue in Saudi, nor rarely about any other issue in Saudi-I don’t see it as my place to do so.

    And please don’t insult me, my husband, and our Islamic marriage (performed according to Islamic law in a Muslim country) but suggesting I have issues with Islam, particularly as I take pains in almost every relevent comment to point out that I do not.

    Odd my Muslim family are far more accepting of my Islamophilia, while not converting, and even speak admiringly about my knowledge and respect for their religion, and my wearing hijab in Iran, and where required in Morocco (rarely), than others seem to be.

    So again, please don’t undermine a worthwhile discussion with such a gratuitous, insulting, false, and inflammatory comment.

  30. I believe one more feels the true feeling and meaning of Ramadan OUTSIDE of Saudi Arabia. Why should hours be changed and school schedules rearranged for Ramadan to make it easier and more accommodating to fast when part of Ramadan is learning how to sacrifice and withstand the typical work day and routine while fasting?

    I will say that closing enterprises entirely (with the exception of Friday’s) for prayer does not make sense to me. As has been pointed out by other commentors, many times women may be caught out in places which close but do not have prayer rooms for women (which does not stop them from praying in the open). But as I have found from when living in Pakistan, being in Bahrain and other places in the muslim world, those who are devout will pray anywhere and wherever they may be whether the shops close or not. I’d been to many places in Pakistan where an enterprise stayed open during prayer with an area set aside where the proprieter (and anyone else who wished) could pray while other customers who may not be muslim could continue to shop uninterrupted.

    Just the practical issues on the split working hours only adds to the growing congestion and traffic in Saudi. If shops were open for 8 or 12 hours at a stretch that would certainly help traffic flow. And how many of us prefer to run errands on a weekend morning to put them behind us so we can enjoy the rest of the day/weekend? Yet in Saudi and on Thursdays (the first day of the weekend), that’s not going to happen until after 4pm and then it feels like everyone and his brother has gone out.

  31. I’m sorry Carol, but that’s weak. Ramadan is as it is everywhere in the world, though perhaps more strongly so if you are fasting and can attend prayer at the Holy Haram. You know that Islam is as much a culture as it is a religion, and where else to displace tne culture and thereby the religion, but in the place of its founding.

    Is that the point?

    Chiara, if it is a flame, then it is set as a backfire to catch the one not set by me.

    If you have an agenda, tben have one. ut if you invite comment, then you have to take those counter to those you put forth.

  32. Susan, I really do hope you realize your dream to come to KSA.

    I’m not trying to argue with anyone but simply sharing my frank and candid views based on my experiences.

  33. I agree with Carol…closing everything during Ramadan etc just makes things easy for Muslims…like we are children that need every single obstacle removed from our path because we are easily distracted and forgetfull.

    The whole point of being a Muslim is to choose to be a Muslim are partake of its rituals etc…fasting and praying is something you are Required to do…no matter the ease or inconvenience…forcing shops to close and herding people to the mosque etc is just for show…my personal experience has proven to me OFTEN over the years…that alot of things are done in the Muslim world…merely for show.

  34. Susan

    I often wonder whether you have actually taken the time to comprehend comments by others, including myself.

    No where do I incite, or inflame, and certainly no where do I suggest people or Muslims, Saudi or otherwise, should not pray.

    I cannot possible imagine where you think I might have an agenda, or what you might think it would be, or why I would choose to exercise whatever it is on someone else’s blog. Moreover, I always welcome having my own comments corrected or nuanced by others.

    Unlike yourself it seems, I have participated in Ramadan in both Muslim and non-Muslim countries, and I share the admiration of others for those who are willing and able to do it in the highly inconvenient West.

    You seem to be the only one who has experienced the divine right of cigarette breaks over prayer times. While perhaps Canadian anti-smoking laws have culturally handicapped me in this regard, it seems no one else here, including Muslims living in the West have experienced this form of denigration of their faith.

    Finally, while I know American Bedu has every capability of answering for herself, I find it unseemly to question her commitment to Islam, or to remind her to make “sincere” prayers. This is different in quality and tone from sharing information about Islam or disagreeing about details of its practice. It is also a fatuous waste for us blog readers and commentators.

  35. What I meant Saudi in the US is this doesn’t effect Saudi Arabia’s economy.

    We are the largest economy in the Arab world and the fastest growing as well.

    Saudi Arabia ranks #1 in the Middle East and 16th in the World in Business Competitiveness as rated by the world bank (they plastered that info on billboards everywhere).

    The Friday/Thursday thing seems to have very little effect at all.

  36. Susan

    I feel no need to do damage control as you are the only one with these misinterpretations.

    Your allusions to my strategies, and your pseudo-humorous dismal of them are of course tactics I trust the others to read for what they are (or understandably skip these comments).

    Of the 10 Muslims commenting on this thread you are the only one with cigarette break issues.

  37. Susan….the hickory stick comment was hilarious…all though given some of your comments thus far…Im not quite sure if you meant it to be humorous or not…but I found it to be so. Might even use that description on my blog sometime…with your permission of course.

  38. Egypt (and I presume some other Muslim countries) have been using the Sunday through Thursday workweek for several decades, at least.

    It was interesting to see that this was considered “trailblazing” in Saudi!

    Dedicated Elementary Teacher (in the Middle East)

  39. Egypt (and I presume some other Muslim countries) have been using the Sunday through Thursday workweek for several decades, at least.

    It was interesting to see that this was considered “trailblazing” in Saudi!

    Dedicated Elementary Teacher Overseas (in the Middle East)

  40. A Friday/ Saturday weekend would be great! As it is I can only talk to my husband once in the morning (at the end of his work day/ beginning of mine) and once at night (he is waking up/ I am going to bed). Sat & Sun we get a bit more talk time but it’s never enough.

  41. @Diana – yes; from Saudi and especially if back to the States, it can
    be challenging especially during the work week to have phone calls or
    web chats back to family in the States!

  42. i want working with your can test me am sure ican work with your huorses you can evry yers givening caps.i dont many iwork for you for win you and your me and me help you i peramis my he and she for me nat difrent. i men very kind i talk with huorse and living my world only huorse.i waith your.

  43. welcome majid. If I have interpreted your comment correctly you like horses and wish to have more opportunities to work with horses. And you provided your contact number freely for anyone interested and you are presently in Iran.

    I hope that you receive the opportunities you seek.

  44. Dear Sir,
    I would kindly ask number of working days and official off days of KSA in a year to calculate manhours annually in our construction site.

    I hope you will consider my request and reply at your earliest convenience.


  45. I have been working in Jeddah for a year now and I still cannot get used to the odd hours shops are open. The days are a minefield when it comes to getting your errand timing right, traffic is a nightmare and taxis charge more at peak times (which seems like most times of the day and night). Yet, you can go out and eat at midnight. Go figure.

  46. Get a prayer application on your phone-even if your not Muslim. It’s very handy for keeping track of ever-changing store hours due to ever -changing prayer times.

  47. That’s an excellent suggestion.

  48. Friday & Saturday Will Benefit More… i assume .. .

  49. most Arab countries that have Friday/Saturday weekends, have some percentage of Christians living in them, so it’s a compromise. In KSA however, there is no instituitionalized Christianity (churches) whatsoever; therefore they have the traditional Thursday/Friday. In Kuwait, they also have Thursday/Friday as the day off, but they don’t close down all the businesses and supermarkets and malls for prayer time. Apparently, the people are allowed to decide whether to go to the mosque or not. Stores there do close, from around 12:45pm to 4:40p.m., but it’s not really a prayer thing. It’s more like “siesta time.” Shop-owners take a nap and eat. Then re-open. The big chain supermarkets are 24-7, so the Kuwaiti’s aren’t as hardcore as their big neighbor.

  50. Susan, you make me proud sister! You tell them girl, what is a few hours of financial loss compared to eternal bliss. The world is filled with people chasing after an illusion, make loads of money to attain happiness. In reality, true happiness and success calls us five times a day. Come to prayer, come to success. They don’t realize how lucky they are to live in a country like that. I would trade my western passport and everything I have for a chance to live in the land of Muhammad salla Allahu Alayhi wasalam.

  51. What ”eternal bliss”? That’s just a superstition to me. In my opinion there is no ”eternal bliss” when you die you’re dead and gone.
    The end.
    If I had to run a business it would be run in the most efficient way, if anybody would have a problem with that they can go and work somewhere else.

    That said I know Muslim people who do all their prayers and they really take only a few minutes. That’s really no problem.

  52. In sha allah i will come to u in the monrth of jul hajj

  53. Funny thing is I have noticed that shops close but no one seems to go pray. People just wait patiently outside the stores. Perhaps some do go pray, but most sure don’t. Another hypocritical thing in Saudi. Wish I could snap a shot of the rows of women in black that are seated.
    I guess it’s good to put a short break in consumer orientated behavior?
    Fatimah, have you ever thought that some people might not want eternal bliss? Duh! You don’t realize how lucky you are not live here where you have no controle over your life just because you’re woman. A total travesty of Islam I might add.

  54. some of the prayer spaces do not have room for women or they are very crowded or not necessarily clean. also if a woman is having her menses or has to attend to multiple children, she’s unable to pray. last but not least, even if she is wearing black she may not be a muslim.

  55. Well, Dhahran Mall has a mosque for women. Actually it’s not only women who don’t go pray, but men as well. What I am trying to say is that there’s nothing wrong with that as we shouldn’t try to force it upon people. I am Muslim & know that we don’t pray during menses. These women sitting & waiting all have Niqab except their maids. I am not sure non-Muslim would wear Niqab, though I might be wrong. I must admit I don’t know half as much as you do Miss Carol about Saudi. Right now I’m very frustrated because I’ve only been here a couple of weeks & my line of work is Human Rights Law. I am just revolted. I am sure I’ll get used to it & realize I’m not here to change anything & get on with it. Always keep you in my prayers! Get well soon!

  56. Rahma,

    I’d love to hear more about the type of work you are doing in Saudi. You can email me directly at [email protected] rather than go through the comments.

    I will not claim to know it all by any means but i guess it’s fair to say i no longer was easily surprised by contrasts and contradictions of life in saudi.

  57. Althouqba at khobar here is brosted shop is there name is kuffha all staff working 14 houres. What can do staff

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