Buy in Saudi Arabia
The Saudi currency is the Saudi riyal (ريال, SAR), which has traded at a fixed 3.7450 to the US dollar since 1986. The riyal is divided into 100 halalas, which are used to mark some prices, but, in practice, all payments are rounded to the nearest riyal and odds are you probably will never see any halala coins. Bills come in values of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 riyals, with two series in circulation.
The riyal is also pegged to the Bahraini dinar at a 10:1 ratio. If you are considering travelling to Bahrain, virtually all businesses in Bahrain will accept riyals, but the dinar is not as easily convertible in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is still largely a cash society, but credit card and debit cards acceptance is surprisingly good everywhere. ATMs are ubiquitous especially in gas stations and malls, all banks accept foreign cards, the largest bank in the country in the National Commercial Bank. Moneychangers can be found in souks, but are rare elsewhere. Foreign currencies are not accepted by merchants.
Prices are generally fairly expensive: figure on US$50/100/200 for budget, midrange and splurge-level daily travel costs.
Tipping is generally not expected, although service staff are always happy to receive them and taxi fares are often rounded up (or, not uncommonly, down). Restaurants are now legally not allowed to include the 15% service charge on bills, it is considered illegal, and if found, politely ask them to remove it, it is a serious offence and the restaurant staff will quickly comply. The bill must state 0% service changer, and a tip is commonly respectfully given as 10% of the value of the bill, depending of course of the quality of service. Make sure to revise your bill before paying as sometime (like other places in the middle east) they would include an extra dish for extra charge. (Smoking in banned indoors throughout the country, see Eat section of this article) There are no sales taxes in Saudi, and for that matter, there aren’t any income taxes either!
What to buy
Few local products are of interest to tourists. Locally grown dates are of high quality, and religious paraphernalia is widely available, but almost exclusively imported. Copies of the Qur’an are produced in a wide range of editions and sold at very low prices. Zam zam water is available throughout the Western Region and at all airports.
Carpets are a favourite purchase, most of these coming from nearby Iran. Jeddah in particular has lots of carpets, many brought by pilgrims who sell them there to help finance their trip to Makkah.
Large gold and jewellery markets are prominent in all major cities, especially in Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah. Gold prices are cheap in Saudi Arabia, and bargaining is a norm in most small to medium sized stores. Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah offer a lot of trading and variety in terms of luggage, clothing, jewellery, knick-knacks, souvenirs, toys, food, perfume, incense, and religious literature, audio, and paraphernalia. The Jeddah old town (Al-Balad) is internationally well known for its authentic, bazaar style, arabic souk atmosphere, along with the Hijazi old building architecture. There you will find a lot of local and international products, from jewellery, perfume and incense to cloths, toys and food. Along with with many international people and cultures mixing, which gives you a sense of belonging to the world and a real feel to business and product trading. Although to a new visitor the place might look unsafe, Jeddah’s Al-Balad is very safe, with police cars and officers patrolling the street and standing in every corner.
Large, well maintained air-conditioned malls and grocery stores (i.e. Al-Danub, Geant, Carrefour ) are scattered throughout the kingdom.