The business culture in the United Arab Emirates is probably different from what you would experience at home. However, it is easy to navigate, and this helpful guide explains how.
The most important thing to remember is that business etiquette in the UAE is all about respect. Furthermore, attitudes towards business are changing. For instance, corporate social responsibility is becoming an increasing concern. In addition, the government is taking measures to promote women in the workplace and discourage corporate crimes.
This guide includes the following information:
- Business in the UAE
- Business culture in the UAE
- Working hours and conditions
- Business etiquette in the UAE
- Organizational structure and hierarchy in the UAE
- Business strategy, planning, and decision-making in the UAE
- Meetings and negotiations
- Networking in the UAE
- Work socializing in the UAE
- Women in business in the UAE
- Businesses in the community in the UAE
- Social provision through businesses in the UAE
- Business corruption and fraud in the UAE
- Useful resources
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Business in the UAE
Business is booming in the UAE. In fact, as of 2017, the country had 131,000 registered businesses; many of which had foreign owners or investors. The Emirates also saw US$10.3 billion in foreign direct investment in 2018. Coupled with the fact that there was a 15% increase in Greenfield Investments between 2017 and 2018, it is clear that foreign businesses see huge opportunities there.
In addition, the government is paving the way by opening opportunities for foreign investment. This includes lifting restrictions on foreign ownership and offering long-term visas for investors.
Oil and gas are one of the UAE’s main industries. After all, it was what transformed the country into the economic powerhouse it is today. However, other sectors are ripe for growth, too. For example, renewable energy is huge as the country looks to break its dependence on fossil fuels. Similarly, the automotive and aerospace industries are leading the way in innovation. With tourism to the Emirates constantly increasing, there are growth opportunities in hospitality, and food and beverage, too.
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If you plan to capitalize in the country, then you will need to know the proper business etiquette in the United Arab Emirates. It’s also a good idea to make sure your CV and job interview is up to scratch – using a resume-building website such as Resume.io can help to make the process more effective.
Business culture in the UAE
It is important to remember that the UAE is an Islamic country. For that reason, the business culture there is more conservative than you might experience in Europe or the US. Additionally, weekends are on Friday and Saturday, instead of Saturday and Sunday.
Despite this, you will find that the business world in the UAE is a blending of two cultures. Furthermore, most Emiratis are forgiving to foreign business associates as they understand that the west has much more relaxed attitudes.
Personal relationships are the key to business in the Emirates. Because of this, local business culture demands that you pay attention to small talk and socializing, even at work meetings. Similarly, loyalty is greatly valued.
Working hours and conditions
Generally speaking, the UAE workday runs eight-hours, from 9 am to 5 pm. Additionally, the workweek runs from Sunday to Thursday. Conversely, during the holy month of Ramadan, most people only work six hours a day. Although timekeeping isn’t a priority, Emirates respect punctuality. As a result, it is important that you show up on time for work and meetings.
The UAE also has a good work-life balance. For instance, most employees get 30 days of annual leave in addition to public holidays. They can also get up to 90 days of sick leave. Women also get 45 days of maternity leave at full pay. They also receive special considerations when they return to work.
Traditionally, the UAE does not offer many flexible working arrangements. However, things may soon change. In 2019, the government introduced two new resolutions that may encourage flexi-work. The part-time working resolution is designed to help employers fill labor gaps, especially at odd hours. Similarly, the remote working resolution was created to help Emirati nationals gain more work-life balance.
Learn more about the women’s rights situation in the United Arab Emirates
Business etiquette in the UAE
Having the right communication skills is key to good business etiquette in the UAE. Because of its more conservative culture, communication is more formal here. For instance, you should address people as “Mr” or “Ms” when you first meet them. And while men can exchange a light handshake, when meeting with women, you should always wait for them to offer their hand. Furthermore, you should always greet the eldest person first, and work down through seniority.
In business meetings, compliments are normal. Because relationship-building is such an important part of the culture, it is common to flatter your hosts and their organization. Similarly, small talk and social conversation always kick off every meeting. Chatting about families, the country, and local food, for example, is a good way to go. However, you should avoid divisive topics such as politics and religion.
Most locals wear traditional clothing in business situations. That means a dishdasha for men (the long white shift) and an abaya for women (a floor-length robe). While expats should not adopt the local dress, they should wear formal attire that is modest and not revealing. Men should choose suits and dress shoes. Meanwhile, women should pay close attention to their outfits. Make sure to cover your shoulders, chest, upper arms, and knees at all times. Long skirts and dresses are a good option. You could also wear a light blazer and shirt over loose, flowing trousers. In any case, it is best to avoid wearing flashy jewelry and heavy perfume.
When meeting potential clients for the first time, it is a nice gesture to give a token gift. Similarly, it is always appropriate to give a gift when closing a deal. Gifts are also appropriate to mark big religious festivals, such as Ramadan. If you can buy it from overseas, so much the better. Locals appreciate receiving gifts from different cultures.
For a first meeting, snacks such as high-quality dates or chocolates are a good choice. For more long-term relationships, you can choose higher-quality or more expensive gifts. Carefully chosen coffee table books can also make a good present. At the highest levels, you might even choose pens or cufflinks from upscale brands.
It is best to avoid exchanging gifts across genders. If you have to give a gift to a woman, however, it is best to have a woman on your team present it. At the very least, you could say it’s from a female relative. The same applies to a woman having to present a gift to a male business associate.
There are certain items you should avoid giving as gifts, too, as they can cause offense to Muslim associates. For instance, don’t give alcohol, pigskin products, personal items, anything with pork, or anything related to dogs.
Attitudes towards business cards are quite relaxed in the UAE. This is a result of the country’s international persona. In a meeting, you will typically exchange cards at the beginning. When giving your card, always make sure to do so with your right hand, as it is impolite to use your left.
All company employees should have a business card. Your card should include your company name, name, designation, phone number, e-mail, and website. Moreover, the card should be in both Arabic (the official local language of the UAE) and English (the local business language).
Read our article on Arabic, the official language of the UAE
Organizational structure and hierarchy in the UAE
The United Arab Emirates is a very hierarchical society, which is why the local business culture is very stratified. Most companies have a very solid vertical hierarchy. Older, more experienced employees get the top positions in most companies. Moreover, they are the key decision-makers.
On the other end of the spectrum, lower-level employees do not generally have much input in the decision-making process. They tend to remain subordinate and follow whatever dictates come from above. As a result, you will need to win the top players over to do business with them.
Age, money, and family connections all play a role in where someone is positioned within a company. The more of these someone has, the higher up they are. There is also a strong preference for males over females, especially at higher levels.
Business strategy, planning, and decision-making in the UAE
Although the business culture in the United Arab Emirates can appear quite relaxed, that doesn’t mean Emiratis aren’t strategic thinkers. A lot of research goes into planning, and it is common to create several proposals and go back and forth over these until you find something that works.
The decision-making process is usually a long one, therefore it is important to remain patient. While many employees can be involved in research and planning, the decisions are ultimately made by senior players.
All companies must present a formal business plan when setting up a business in the UAE. At the lower level, regular meetings are common to check progress and decide the next steps. However, higher-level business reviews occur mostly on a yearly basis.
Meetings and negotiations
Meetings are key to business culture in the United Arab Emirates. However, these can take many forms. You might have to attend formal meetings where the most senior people present, discuss, and negotiate. Alternatively, you may find yourself attending more casual lunches or coffees. In some cases, you may even be asked to go to someone’s house for dinner.
Since personal relationships are important to business, it is important to create ties with business associates. At any meeting, you can expect to spend at least 30 minutes making small talk before moving onto the business at hand. It is considered rude to be rushed and pushy, so expect the meeting to take awhile. Answering your phone or responding to messages is acceptable, however. Just don’t be too long about it.
Haggling is a big part of the shopping culture in the UAE, therefore you can expect that business will involve a lot of negotiating. That said, you will get nowhere if you can’t create a sense of trust.
Emiratis are not direct in their negotiations, so you will have to learn to get around this. Ask open but unobtrusive questions to figure out their mindset. Alternatively, suggest a range of ideas to see what seems to appeal to them most. There will be a lot of dancing around the issue, so you should avoid giving decisive “yes” or “no” answers immediately. Think of it like playing poker – you want to try and find your opponent’s tells to win the game. Even if negotiations do not go well and the deal falls through, Emiratis will remain friendly. So bear this in mind when you respond.
Networking in the UAE
Social networks are a big part of the business culture in the United Arab Emirates. Because of this, you could find plenty of business opportunities through people you meet socially. You never know who may be in a position to connect you with a decision-maker at a big company.
The UAE also hosts plenty of different networking events. If you are new to the country, start attending some of these to grow your business network. Similarly, you could try groups such as the Dubai Chamber of Commerce, the British Business Group, or the Dubai Business Women Council.
Work socializing in the UAE
Socializing is a huge part of doing business in the UAE, and your business associates will invite you to a lot of lunches and dinners. While it is important to accept these invitations, there are a few things to keep in mind. For example, because you are in an Islamic country, you should avoid drinking alcohol or eating pork and shellfish with Emirati business associates. Furthermore, you will generally make small talk and conversation over a meal, so save the shop talk for afterward.
Women in business in the UAE
Women are getting more involved in business in the UAE. This is because many Emirati women are becoming more highly educated and choosing to work rather than marry early.
In fact, in 2018, 71% of Emirati university graduates were women. In addition, many expat women move to the UAE for work or to start a business there. The UAE government supports women in the workforce with part-time and flexi-work resolutions and paid maternity leave, too.
The government is also encouraging equality in the workplace. In 2018, it passed an equal wage law to begin closing the gender pay gap. Articles 27-24 of the UAE’s labor laws are also designed to protect women. Among these regulations, women cannot be employed between 10 pm and 7 am (with exceptions for technical and health services). Similarly, women cannot be employed in hazardous jobs and they are entitled to maternity benefits.
Nevertheless, only 5% of leadership roles in the UAE’s private sector are held by women. The government, however, appears more inclusive. Women make up 66% of the public sector workforce. Moreover, 30% of those are in decision-making roles and a further 27% are in the UAE cabinet.
Find a job in the United Arab Emirates
Attitudes are certainly more tolerant of women in business. This is especially true for western women. Among the older generation, however, some sexist norms and stereotypes still continue.
Businesses in the community in the UAE
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is becoming an increasingly big part of business culture in the United Arab Emirates. In February 2018, the government introduced a CSR law, which forced companies to report all CSR activities and offered incentives for CSR initiatives. Similarly, financial privileges and exemptions are awarded to companies that demonstrate outstanding social responsibility. In fact, CSR is now mandatory for most UAE companies.
Many companies adopt different strategies to fulfill their CSR requirements. Some invest in development projects, while others adopt environmentally-friendly policies relating to production. Some even encourage volunteering in local communities with paid time off. Although still in its infancy, CSR is set to make its mark on business in the UAE in the coming years.
Social provision through businesses in the UAE
Business culture in the UAE is largely familial and as such, companies tend to look after their employees. As a result, most businesses provide a range of social provisions.
The law mandates a total of 26% contribution to a pension fund; 15% comes from the employee’s salary, 5% comes from the employer, and the remaining 5% is paid by the government. Similarly, social security is part of the benefits package. Employers contribute 12.5% (or 15% in Abu Dhabi) while employees pay 5%. However, expats do not have to contribute to social security.
Companies also have to provide health insurance for all employees. Often, these benefits are extended to the employees’ families, too.
Business corruption and fraud in the UAE
The UAE penal code criminalizes bribery, embezzlement, and abuse of function. Because of this, these types of corporate crimes do not happen that often. In fact, Transparency International rated the UAE as the least corrupt country in the Middle East and North Africa in 2018.
However, money laundering can be an issue. In the same report, Transparency International noted that millions of dollars of real estate can be bought in Dubai in exchange for cash, and few questions are ever asked.
Additionally, it is more common to see labor and visa fraud. This can take the form of contract substitutions and improper visa details. To avoid this, you should familiarize yourself with local employment contract laws and visa processes. Should you find any irregularities, you can go to your local UAE embassy or the MHRE.
The United Arab Emirates is a very hierarchical society, which is why the local business culture is very stratified. Most companies have a very solid vertical hierarchy. Older, more experienced employees get the top positions in most companies. Moreover, they are the key decision- makers.What is the culture of Emirates? ›
Emirati culture is a blend of Arabian, Islamic, and Persian cultures, with influences from the cultures of East Africa and Indian Subcontinent. Islam has had a prominent influence on local architecture, music, attire, cuisine, and lifestyle.What are the important aspects of the culture in the UAE? ›
Hospitality and generosity are two very important values in the Middle East. The region is known for its welcoming people, who are interested in learning about their guests and welcome them to experience their culture.What is the business culture in Dubai? ›
Working practices & values
Many UAE businesses are family-run. While an element of formality and respect for hierarchy are essential, especially at first, the business environment is also characterised by friendship and warmth.
They identified 4 types of culture – clan culture, adhocracy culture, market culture, and hierarchy culture. You can take the Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument (OCAI) to assess your organization's culture in just 15 minutes and make strategic changes to foster an environment that helps your team flourish.What is the biggest culture in the UAE? ›
The UAE has a rich culture and heritage that reflects traditional Arab and Islamic values. Environment and terrain also influenced the lifestyle.What is the most significant value within the Emirati culture? ›
One of the most significant Emirati values is hospitality. You may have noticed the Dallah coffee pot on one-dirham coins. That's how serious the UAE culture and traditions are about making guests feel at home. It is natural for Emiratis to give visitors a warm welcome with Arabic coffee and some dates.Is UAE a business friendly country? ›
Ease of doing business
Excellent infrastructural facilities coupled with professional expertise and personalised services give the UAE an edge over other countries. The UAE was ranked 16th globally, as per the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Report 2020.
Poverty, poor health, food insecurity, biodiversity loss, water scarcity, reduced resilience to climate change, and forced migration are all exacerbated. The UAE developed the National Desertification Strategy 2014-2021, which was in line with global efforts to combat desertification.What are the 5 issues that you need to consider when doing business in Dubai? ›
However you choose to do it, understand that organization is key to any business's success. As legendary American businessman Harold Geneen once declared: "The five essential entrepreneurial skills for success: Concentration, discrimination, organization, innovation and communication."
- The UAE Population Is 9.8 Million, Made up of 200+ Nationalities.
- The Official Language of the UAE Is Arabic.
- There Are Seven Emirates in the UAE.
- The UAE Is the World's Third Largest Oil Producer.
- The UAE Has the World's Highest Tower.
- You Won't Find a River in the UAE.
However, Emirati citizens make up only around 20 percent of the total population. The influx of foreign cultures and economic globalization has transformed the UAE's cultural landscape.What are the three most important aspects of a culture? ›
- The major elements of culture are symbols, language, norms, values, and artifacts.
- Language makes effective social interaction possible and influences how people conceive of concepts and objects.
- Respect and fairness.
- Trust and integrity.
- Growth mindset.
- Employee engagement and opportunities for advancement.
- Communication and transparency.
Other clear advantages to doing business in the UAE include: No restrictions on profit transfer or repatriation of capital. No corporate or income taxes. A currency, the Dirham, that is stable, secure and pegged to the US dollar.What is the culture of a business? ›
Company culture is how you do what you do in the workplace. It's the sum of your formal and informal systems and behaviors and values, all of which create an experience for your employees and customers. At its core, company culture is how things get done around the workplace.What are the 6 most important characteristics of culture? ›
- Culture is learned. It is not biological; we do not inherit it. ...
- Culture is shared. ...
- Culture is based on symbols. ...
- Culture is integrated. ...
- Culture is dynamic.
Customs, laws, dress, architectural style, social standards and traditions are all examples of cultural elements.What are the 4 C's of culture? ›
These four values or cultural elements are termed as 4Cs of culture, namely Competence, Commitment, Contribution, and Character.What is the most important thing in UAE? ›
- #1 Burj Khalifa. This has to be first on the list, 'cause who doesn't know Burj Khalifa? ...
- #2 Desert Safari. The United Arab Emirates is a large desert. ...
- #3 Louvre Abu Dhabi. ...
- #4 Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. ...
- #5 Shawarma. ...
- #6 The Dubai Mall. ...
- #7 Safety. ...
- #8 Luxurious lifestyle.
The UAE is home to 200 nationalities, and the UAE cultural scene has celebrated the meeting of Emirati, Arabic and international cultures over many years. The UAE considers the diversity of cultures and religions in the UAE society as a source of strength and enrichment.What makes UAE different from other countries? ›
UAE is best known for its diversity and dynamicity, highly-developed infrastructure, the vibrancy of cultures and religions, high-quality medical facilities, and rich lifestyle. It is an economic hub of the Middle East, also known as a business-friendly country in this region.What is Emirates best known for? ›
The United Arab Emirates is known for the tallest human-made structure, the Burj Khalifa, and the Burj Al Arab, one of the tallest hotel building in the world. The UAE is famous for several artificial islands like the Palm Jumeirah island, the World, and The Universe archipelagos.What is unique about Emirates? ›
Emirates has always been known as one of the world's best carriers and has won buckets of awards. Most passengers say it is a lot to do with the fantastic service from economy to first-class, the larger and more modern in-flight entertainment, and the better-than-average plane food.What is Emirates main focus? ›
We consciously strive to improve our economic, environmental and social impact in a meaningful way. In this regard, one of our key focus areas has always been the management of resource consumption. Reducing unnecessary consumption not only reduces environmental impact, but also has a direct benefit on our bottom line.What are Arab culture values? ›
Some of the most important values for Arabs are honor and loyalty. Margaret Nydell, in her book Understanding Arabs: A Guide for Modern Times' says that Arabs can be defined as, humanitarian, loyal and polite.How does UAE preserve its culture? ›
Museums in the UAE have contributed a lot towards preservation of the culture of the UAE. There are several museums in the UAE. They display artwork, rare pictures, utensils, armoury, maritime equipment, currencies and other items from the olden times.What makes UAE a very welcoming and hospitality country? ›
It has its root in the ancient Arabian custom of welcoming desert travellers with warmth, kindness and generosity. From the traditional serving of Arabic coffee to making sure that guests are comfortable, the UAE has continued its hospitality tradition with keen devotion to the highest standards of modern service.Which business is most successful in UAE? ›
- Import & Export. In Dubai, the import and export business is an exceedingly lucrative sector and is, of course, #1 on our list. ...
- Real Estate. ...
- Information Technology. ...
Most foreign investors are mainly attracted by the Dubai's economic stability, low cost of energy and more importantly, the tax-free environment for companies in Dubai. The absence of limitations on repatriation of profits also makes Dubai an attractive environment for both local and foreign investors.
- Travel and Tourism. ...
- Real Estate Agency. ...
- Health Sector. ...
- Handyman Business. ...
- Consultancy Service. ...
- Beauty Salon. ...
- Restaurant Business. ...
- Cleaning Services.
Swearing and making rude gestures (including online) are considered obscene acts and offenders can be jailed or deported. Take particular care when dealing with the police and other officials. Public displays of affection are frowned upon, and there have been several arrests for kissing in public.What are the disadvantages of UAE? ›
- No Citizenship on Offer. ...
- Cost of Living. ...
- Hard to Find a Job. ...
- Strict Laws in Place.
Lured by almost no taxes, full paid salaries without deductions, sunny beaches and luxurious lifestyle to some point you cannot handle the high expenses of such a lifestyle. High paid professionals are not expecting to come to the UAE and live a lower standard life than theirs in their home country.What are the key 3 challenges facing most businesses? ›
- Keeping up with the market.
- Planning ahead.
- Cash flow and financial management.
- Problem solving.
- The right systems.
- Skills and attitudes.
- Welcoming change.
- DO: Dress right, play nice and smile. ...
- DON'T: Boast about your achievements. ...
- DO: Get out there. ...
- DON'T: Expect meetings and negotiations to go as planned. ...
- DO: Explore the culture and immerse yourself in new traditions. ...
- DO: Research, research, and then research some more.
There are three options for you to set up your business in the UAE:
- UAE Mainland.
- UAE Free Zone.
- UAE Offshore.
There are certain things you can't do in Dubai and PDA is one of them. In Dubai, holding hands, hugging, and kissing in public is considered socially unacceptable and if caught indulging in such acts, you might land up in jail.Why is UAE so amazing? ›
The UAE is one of the safest countries in the world with low crime rates assuring a safe and secure place to live in. You can roam around freely at any hour of the day and no one will harm you, you drop your wallet on the road and you shall get it back. Women are highly regarded here.Why do you want to work in UAE? ›
At Dubai, you would not have to pay any income tax as such. This way, you would also be able to stay over here, work to your heart's content, and save sufficient amounts of money. Dubai has probably the finest opportunities for investment without taxation.
The United Arab Emirates is a very hierarchical society, which is why the local business culture is very stratified. Most companies have a very solid vertical hierarchy. Older, more experienced employees get the top positions in most companies. Moreover, they are the key decision- makers.What is the important part of UAE culture? ›
Hospitality and generosity are two very important values in the Middle East. The region is known for its welcoming people, who are interested in learning about their guests and welcome them to experience their culture.What are the UAE cultural values? ›
Features. Some of the distinct features of the UAE's heritage are hospitality, tolerance, family cohesion and solidarity among members of the society along with honour and pride associated with being part of this heritage.What makes a strong work culture? ›
Strong workplace cultures generally emphasize open and effective communication above all else. Your organization ought to be a space in which people feel comfortable communicating ideas, thoughts, opinions, you name it. Fostering free-flowing, open communication is a must for any organization.What is values in culture? ›
Cultural values are a culture's core beliefs about what's good or right. We all have cultural values. These are sometimes called 'cultural value preferences'. They're informed by the cultures we most associate ourselves with. These values are neither positive nor negative - they're just differences.What are the 3 C's of culture? ›
The Three Cs Of Working Culture: Communication, Connection, Celebration.Is UAE business friendly? ›
There's a strong backbone of the wealth in the UAE, from corporate investors to savvy individuals who live here to take advantage of the laissez-faire tax regime and good salaries. Startups with a great idea and a solid business plan have an excellent opportunity to find investors of all shapes and sizes.How is business done in UAE? ›
In the UAE, regulation of the establishment and conduct of businesses is shared at the federal and emirate levels. Effective June 1, 2021, the UAE removed the requirement for companies to have a local sponsor, allowing foreign investors and entrepreneurs to establish and fully own onshore companies in most sectors.Why is UAE a business hub? ›
One of the main reasons why the UAE business hub is a popular business destination is its strategic location. It is thought to have the world's seventh-largest proven oil and natural gas reserves. The UAE averages 3 million barrels of oil and liquids per day, despite having 100 billion barrels of oil reserves.How is UAE so successful? ›
The UAE GDP for 2020 was $359 billion. This reflects the rich natural resources in the UAE, which has 10 percent of the total world supply of oil reserves and the world's fifth largest natural gas reserves. As a mainstay to the economy, oil exports now account for about 30 percent of total UAE gross domestic product.
The answer in most circumstances is yes. Though there may be conditions depending on the type of business you wish to start, your nationality, and the country of your tax residence. In some cases, you may need to work with a local sponsor who will hold a 51% stake in your business.What are the main business sectors in the UAE? ›
- Food, beverage and agricultural technology Sector.
- Pharmaceuticals Sector.
- Electrical equipment and electronics Sector.
- Advanced manufacturing Sector.
- Heavy industries Sector.
- Petrochemicals and chemical Sector.
- Rubber and plastics Sector.
- Machinery and equipment Sector.