A small group of upper-class Sa'udis have traditionally held substantial investments overseas. These Sa'udis hold large demand deposits in US and Western European banks and considerable investments in commercial ventures, especially real estate, in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries. Since the early 1970s, the Sa'udi government has vastly increased its overseas investments in the US, Western Europe, and Japan.
The Sa'udi government generally encourages foreign direct investment, especially in the case of joint ventures with Sa'udi partners. The foreign capital investment code specifies that foreign investments: (1) must be a "development project," (2) must generate technology transfer, and (3) a Sa'udi partner should own a minimum of 25% equity in the project. However, in 1999, the government began revising its laws on foreign investment in an effort to attract more overseas capital and to lure back the large private Sa'udi capital that is invested abroad. Principal foreign investors include the US (41% of the total), Japan, the UK, Switzerland, France, and Germany.
A major milestone was reached in three preparatory agreements signed on 3 June 2001 on natural gas development with eight leading oil companies, the first foreign direct investment (FDI) in Sa'udi Arabia's upstream sector since Aramco was nationalized in the period 1974 to 1980. The Sa'udis hope to attract as much as $25 billion in FDI through the gas initiative.