The Unwritten Rules for Doing Business in Dubai

Image 25As one of the most liberal and cosmopolitan cities in the Middle East, not to mention the most economically thriving, Dubai is attracting the attention of western businesses from many countries.  However, the United Arab Emirates are still a country very much steeped in tradition, and to a newcomer the culture surrounding the business world and just daily life can be daunting.  If you are traveling to Dubai for a business meeting or long-term, keep these key rules in mind regarding the Arab business world to ensure that your transition to the Middle East goes smoothly.

  1. Different business hours.  As the Islamic day of prayer and rest is Friday, their typical work week spans from Saturday through Wednesday.  Like many other countries with a hot climate, the Emirates have a brief siesta during their work day, where everybody takes a break around 2 pm during the hottest hours of the day.  Work generally resumes around 4 or 5 and lasts until 7.
  2. Status and Seniority.  The Emirati business world tends to have a very paternalistic culture, and as such you should always give deference to the most senior business partner in the room.  It is polite to address someone as Sayed (Mr.) or Sayeda (Mrs.) or, if they are higher up on the corporate ladder, Sheik (chief).
  3. Handshakes.  When being introduced to business partners, always shake hands with your right, the left being considered unclean.  If meeting a woman, only shake her hand if she offers her hand first.
  4. Nepotism is common.  Appointing family members to high positions in your business is considered a good business model, as bonds of trust are important.  Do not be shocked by this, and on no account should you ever criticize your Emirati business partners.  Causing someone to lose face in public is a grave social error and will not win you any friends.
  5. Business meetings.  Middle Eastern countries are very proud of their hospitality, so a business lunch can be a very personal affair.  Never show the bottoms of your shoes, as this is considered rude, and never order any alcoholic drink.  Do, however, expect plenty of informal small talk before negotiations as your host gauges what kind of a business player you are.
  6. Paternalism.  In a business setting, managers are expected to be strong authority figures.  Generally, if you’re in a position of power you must use it effectively or be viewed as a poor manager.  Similarly, those in lower positions are expected to be obedient to their boss and not question his demands.
  7. Haggling.  Haggling in the UAE is common, both in business dealings and in everyday life.  Don’t settle for your colleagues’ first offer; they will respect you for bargaining with them.

Image 22While all these rules can be overwhelming at first, your hosts will understand that you are a newcomer and trying your best.  As long as you remain humble, polite, and eager to learn, you will do fine adjusting to life in Dubai.  To ease your cultural transition, be sure to get started early in learning Arabic.  Send us an enquiry, or try our online Arabic language level test to see where we can best place you.