Etiquette tips for doing business in the UAE


Being a Dutch company by origin, it took us, the employees of The Watermill Consultants, some time to adjust to life in the UAE in terms of private and business. This is why we thought it would be a good idea to write an article on how to behave when on business in the UAE, as it differs from other parts of the world.

The main difference is that the UAE is an Arabic country which influences the daily activities. For example: in Europe we are used to having our weekends on Saturday and Sunday, Sunday being the day of worship and rest. In the UAE the weekends are on Friday and Saturday, Friday being the day of worship and rest. And some of the behaviours which westerners might consider to be normal, will be frowned upon in the UAE, and vice versa.

Arabs usually call people by their first names, even when meeting someone for the first time. So you will be addressed as Mr. Peter for example. Additionally, status is important and the correct title must be used when addressing someone. When doing business in the Middle East, handshakes are commonly used. Etiquette recommends that one waits for the other to withdraw their hand first before doing the same. For a man introduced to a woman, it is advisable to wait and see if a hand is extended. A Western woman introduced to an Arab man should also wait to see if he offers his hand.

When going to meetings it is important to know that as a foreigner, one can pretty much wear what one wants - within limits of course. It is advisable not to wear shorts or short skirts/dresses and it is always recommendable to have the shoulders covered. When you have a meeting with a UAE national, you will notice that they wear their traditional clothing.

Always make sure you are on time for meetings and appointments. However, please bear in mind that your business partner could arrive late. Don’t worry, do not take it as a lack of respect – this is quite a normal practice in the UAE.

Another difference is the importance of personal relationships. More than in western societies, it is very important to build on these in the Arab world. It is always advisable to enquire after the other person’s wellbeing instead of coming straight to the point. In other words, small talk is essential and valuable in order to establish trust. Refrain from expressing extreme views, as this could be interpreted as an insult. Rarely will your host initiate the business discussions, you will normally be expected to commence with a proposal and keep descriptions short and to-the-point. Please note that ’yes’ does not necessarily confirm agreement, but can merely mean ‘yes, I am listening’.

Language will most likely not pose any problems while doing business in the UAE. Even though Arabic is the official language, English is widely used in the business sectors. Even so, it might be useful to have your business cards in English and Arabic – especially if you deal a lot with UAE nationals.

So in conclusion, it is fairly easy to do business in the UAE if you just bear in mind a few differences. There is a large mutual respect between locals and foreigners which makes doing business in the UAE a fun cultural experience, with pleasant contacts! If you are now convinced, do contact The Watermill Consultant today and see how we can get your business in the UAE up and running in no time!

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