HomeBlogUnique Aspects of Doing Business in the UAE: a Guide to Business Etiquette in The Emirates

Unique Aspects of Doing Business in the UAE: a Guide to Business Etiquette in The Emirates

February 02, 2024

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    The United Arab Emirates is a great place to live and do business. For entrepreneurs, the country boasts some of the leading support programs in the world, such as the National SME Programme, Dubai SME, and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Innovation Fund, just to name a few. This creates unprecedented opportunities if you are starting or relocating a business to the Emirates.

    But the UAE is also a country with deep religious roots and cultural heritage. Business etiquette in this region requires a deep understanding of local traditions. In this article we’ll explain how to conduct yourself in the Emirates to ensure successful negotiations.

    Unique aspects of business negotiations

    In contrast to the formal and tightly scheduled negotiating style often found in European countries, featuring strict timetables and interactive presentations, business meetings in the UAE tend to feel more like friendly chats.

    Here, meetings unfold in a laid-back setting, typically over coffee, where humor and lighthearted jokes are welcomed, provided they respect the religious beliefs and national pride of your partners.

    Negotiations in the Emirates usually extend over longer periods without strict time limits. They are seen as critical engagements that shouldn't be rushed. Displaying haste or impatience is frowned upon. Therefore, it's wise not to schedule any other significant commitments on the day of a meeting with business partners, potential investors, or clients.

    Being able to articulate your ideas verbally, with elegance and effectiveness, is crucial. In the Arab world, the art of speaking well — competently, confidently, and clearly — is valued far above the use of visuals like tables and slides in presentations. Thus, honing your public speaking skills is essential for securing business partners or closing lucrative deals.

    In the Emirates, negotiations are not just about business — they are about building relationships, often concluding with an invitation to dinner. Declining such an invitation, especially to a family dinner following negotiations, is strongly discouraged. A refusal could be seen as disrespectful.

    Remember, arranging business meetings in the Emirates requires advance planning and punctuality. Arab businessmen place a high premium on reliability and timekeeping in their foreign counterparts.

    Business dress code

    In the United Arab Emirates, a Muslim country, foreign citizens, especially business professionals, must dress in a way that respects Islamic moral standards. Here are some straightforward guidelines:

    • Avoid wearing traditional Arab attire if you are not a Muslim, as this can be seen as disrespectful. Also, steer clear of clothing that is revealing and violates Sharia norms.

    • Men should opt for business attire in subdued colors. Western business fashion is recommended, with a preference for black or a combination of black and white.

    • Businesswomen are advised to wear conservative suits or loose-fitting dresses that do not have deep necklines and have sleeves covering at least the forearms. Skirts and dresses should fall below the knees.

    Regardless of these guidelines, it's important to choose outfits that are suitable for the climate to ensure comfort. Additionally, wearing items and accessories from well-known fashion brands can positively draw attention.

    Communication skills

    In both business and personal conversations, it's crucial to understand that certain topics are strictly off-limits. In the UAE, any criticism of religion — not just Islam but all religions — as well as comments about the government (be it the local government or that of one's own country) and discussions on women are considered highly inappropriate: even a slight hint of criticism can significantly damage your relationship with your contact.

    Similarly, inquiring about personal relationships is seen as invasive. The most you can comfortably ask about is the health of your companion's parents and family. It's also deemed impolite to dive into business discussions without engaging in some light, casual conversation first, often referred to as small talk.

    Building positive relationships and establishing strong, beneficial connections are vital for business success in the UAE. Personal rapport can be a key factor in resolving many issues. Hence, making a good impression through respectful and thoughtful communication is essential.

    The need to break the language barrier

    While Arabic is the official language of the UAE, essential for formal communications and understanding local culture, English also plays a big role in the business sector and international dealings. If you're not proficient in these languages, hiring a translator is a practical necessity.

    It's important to note that over 80% of the UAE's population consists of expatriates, with around 40% originating from India and Pakistan. While English is a second language in these countries, not everyone is fluent. In such cases, to effectively bridge the language gap, you might need a translator fluent in Hindi or Urdu, depending on your business needs.

    Understanding of religious and cultural traditions

    In the Emirates, the interplay between religious traditions, cultural heritage, and contemporary business practices is intricate. Sharia law, rooted in Islamic principles, significantly influences the business landscape.

    The prohibition of riba (interest) means Muslim businesses avoid transactions involving fixed interest rates on loans or guaranteed profit percentages. Additionally, engaging in ventures marked by uncertainty (gharar) is discouraged, advocating for transparency in all business dealings.

    Sharia law also emphasizes ethical treatment of employees, mandating fair wages, equal opportunities, and decent working conditions. It further restricts investment in industries considered haram, such as alcohol, pork, gambling, among others.

    Muslims are obligated to make zakat contributions, a form of charitable giving, which can impact business revenue and profit strategies. Overall, adherence to ethical business standards is paramount, including avoiding unfair competition, deceitful transactions, and other morally questionable practices.

    The influence of religion on business in the UAE is particularly evident during Ramadan, a sacred month for Muslims dedicated to fasting and prayer. This period brings about changes in business operations, making it essential for those involved to understand and respect these practices.

    Wrapping up

    Starting a company in the UAE offers a valuable gateway to the markets of the Gulf countries, which share a unified customs area with the United Arab Emirates. These nations boast stable and rapidly expanding economies, along with well-established logistical connections to the UAE, making them attractive markets for a diverse array of products.

    By understanding and adapting to the unique business practices and cultural nuances of the UAE, you can maximize your venture's profitability and success. This strategic approach not only facilitates thriving business operations within the UAE but also sets a strong foundation for expanding your commercial activities to other Middle Eastern markets.

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