France and Saudi Arabia


Political relations

France’s relations with Saudi Arabia are based on common strategic interests: preserving security in a troubled region, a common commitment to combating terrorism, and a convergence of views on regional crises. The regularity of bilateral official visits demonstrates the robustness of the strategic partnership between France and Saudi Arabia. They help deepen our dialogue in these areas and are a framework of confidence to regularly pass on messages on issues important to France, such as human rights and fundamental freedoms, including those of women, and to unequivocally condemn the use of the death penalty.

Recent visits

  • 9-10 April 2018: visit by the Saudi Crown Prince, to Paris.
  • 5 January 2018: visit by the Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Adel Al-Jubeir, to Paris.
  • 15-16 November 2017: visit by the French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to Riyadh.
  • 9 November 2017: visit by the President of the French Republic, to Riyadh.
  • 15 July 2017: visit by the French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to Jeddah.
  • 6 October 2017: visit by the Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Adel Al-Jubeir, to Paris.
  • 24 January 2017: visit by the French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, to Riyadh.

Economic relations

France’s exports to Saudi Arabia (excluding military exports) fell by 18.2% year-on-year to €1.82 billion in the first six months of 2018, as against €2.23 billion over the same period in 2016. Our imports, which fell sharply between 2014 and 2016, have begun to grow again since 2017, rising 40.5% year-on-year over the first six months of 2018 to €3 billion (as against €2.14 billion in 2017). This rise in the value of our imports is explained first and foremost by the significant rise in crude oil and petroleum product prices in 2018, which products represented 96% of our imports.

While our trade balance became positive in 2016, France had a trade deficit in the first half of 2018 of €1.13 billion (as against a surplus of €0.87 during the same period the year before), resulting from rising oil prices (10% rise year-on-year in the first half of 2018).

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan offers new prospects for French companies, particularly in the sustainable cities, resource management, health and training, energy and tourism sectors and in investment. To be more attractive, French companies’ projects need to comply with the three criteria applicable to the new economic configuration sought by the Saudi authorities and the Vision 2030 plan: technology transfers, “Saudization”, jobs and training.

Cultural, scientific and technical cooperation

Academic training and research

Study in France is increasingly popular among Saudi students. Currently, 1,400 Saudi students are studying in France under King Abdullah’s scholarship programme which sponsors the sending of 130,000 students abroad. In the academic sphere, three universities in the country have French departments:
In the health sector, a medical specialist training programme, based on an intergovernmental agreement signed in 2011, has made it possible to train hundreds of doctors since 2006.

In the area of research, the signature in 2016 of a scientific cooperation agreement between the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST, the equivalent of a Research Ministry and Academy of Sciences combined) and the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) has already led to the implementation of high-level cooperation projects.

Teaching of French

French is taught at three schools in Saudi Arabia, run in Riyadh by the Agency for French Education Abroad (AEFE) and in Jeddah and Khobar by the French Secular Mission (MLF). They school almost 3,200 learners. French is also taught in Saudi private schools situated in Riyadh and Jeddah. These schools may offer the French curriculum (French diplomas sat at the French schools in Riyadh or Jeddah), or the teaching of French as a foreign language (DELF or DALF).

Saudi Arabia’s Alliance Française branch was established in October 2010 to supervise the three French language centres in the country, in Riyadh, Jeddah and Khobar. The Alliance Française was recognized by the Saudi authorities as a cultural centre in 2016 and can now therefore organize cultural events, so long as they are non-mixed.

Cultural outreach and French archaeological missions in the country

In the cultural field, our activities are most often limited to diplomatic premises, given the local legislation.

During the Crown Prince’s visit to Paris in 2018, a bilateral agreement was signed for the development of interconnected urban centres and cultural and tourism institutions in the Al-Ula region and around the Mada’in Saleh Nabatean archaeological site was signed on 10 April. That programme is emblematic, particularly as the development of the UNESCO World Heritage Site is part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 strategy.

Our programmes to preserve and promote heritage, particularly in Jeddah and Riyadh, also contribute to consolidating our influence. There are also seven French archaeological missions in Saudi Arabia, covering all the country’s regions apart from Najran (mission relocated to the north-west opposite the Gulf of Aqaba) and studying the Saudi Arabia’s most emblematic sites (Nabatean tombs of Mada’in Saleh, ancient city of Thāj, Dumat al-Jundal oasis).

Updated: April 2019