Doing Business in the UAE – What to Know About the Business Etiquette

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The United Arab Emirates has a diverse and multicultural society that is relatively modern in comparison to many other Middle Eastern countries, making it a prime location to expand a business. The area boasts cultural centers and restaurants that serve international cuisines, so some visitors may quickly feel at home without realizing the distinct cultural differences.

While the country is evolving toward a more western approach and many expatriates currently reside in the United Arab Emirates, it is critical for anybody doing business in the UAE to be aware of and respectful of cultural differences. 

Doing Business in the UAE – Religious Observations and Holidays in the UAE

The United Arab Emirates is a Muslim country, so it is important to understand this culture to avoid inadvertently offending UAE business professionals. Show respect of the local traditions and approach new contacts with cultural sensitivity. 

While the Islamic dress code is not compulsory, most UAE males wear a kandura, which is an ankle-length white shirt.  Most UAE women wear an abaya, which is a black garment that covers most of the body.

When meeting with people in the UAE, dress modestly, especially if you will be visiting a religious site. 

Holidays in the UAE largely revolve around religion. Islamic holidays are determined according to moon sighting.

Major holidays in the UAE include:

  • Gregorian New Year
  • Eid Al Fitr 
  • Arafah day 
  • Eid Al Adha
  • Hijri New Year
  • The Prophet Mohammed’s birthday
  • Commemoration Day
  • National Day

Some of these holidays last for up to four days, so be sure that you plan your business travel around them. While Islam is the primary religion, other religions are represented and you should be respectful of them.

Business Meetings in the UAE 

Business professionals in the UAE often prefer face-to-face meetings rather than phone calls or emails, which may be perceived as impersonal. This is particularly true when establishing a trade agreement as an exporter with a UAE business.

When reaching out for a business meeting, be sure that you speak to the decision maker of the business. A mutual contact may be able to introduce you two together. 

Other possible ways to make important contacts in the UAE include:

  • Meeting at an exhibition
  • Meeting at a networking reception
  • Using an Overseas Market Introduction Service

There are a variety of exhibitions that occur in the UAE. Many take place in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. These regional events offer an opportunity for foreign companies to meet potential distributors, partners and clients.

When scheduling an appointment, be sure that you schedule it at least two weeks ahead of the scheduled date and time. The private sector working week in the UAE is Sunday through Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. while the public sector is usually conducting business Sunday through Thursday 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday are the official days of rest.

Call a few days before the scheduled meeting to confirm the meeting.

A handshake is the customary greeting in the UAE. Greet each individual personally. The cultural norm is not to shake hands with a woman unless she first extends her hand. 

It is customary to serve coffee or tea during business meetings, which is seen as a sign of hospitality. 

Plan on taking some time to establish a foundation with a UAE partner. You may need to make multiple trips to the area to establish mutual trust with your prospective partner. 

Tips for Business Cards in the UAE

Although many people in the UAE speak English, it is helpful to have a working knowledge of Arabic since this language is used on official documents in the UAE. You may also want to have your business cards translated into Arabic before visiting the country.

The official greeting in the UAE is “As-salam alaikum,” which translates to “peace be upon you.”

During business meetings and when participating in exhibitions, it is customary to exchange business cards immediately after introductions. UAE natives may present these with both hands. Accept the card with your right hand since the left hand is perceived as unclean. Leave the card on the table and do not immediately put it away. 

Contact New Horizons for Assistance with Doing Business in the UAE

Understanding the basics of doing business in the UAE and the cultural norms for this area is just one piece of successfully expanding your business in the United Arab Emirates. Understanding these key differences can ensure that you make the most of your trip to United Arab Emirates. 

It is also essential that you obtain legal, taxation and compliance advice before beginning business operations in the UAE. Our local experts can provide you with practical advice based on our local knowledge and experience in various industries. Contact us to learn more about our services. 

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