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Tips for doing business in the UAE

United Arab Emirates

Situated along the Arabian Peninsula, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven city-states, including the oil-rich capital, Abu Dhabi, and lavish, ultramodern Dubai. Welcoming and surprisingly diverse, the UAE offers a thriving economy, a secure, convertible currency and a wealth of opportunity for foreign investment and partnership. As you plan your travels, here are seven tips for success.

 

1. Mind the calendar.

The workweek in the UAE is Sunday through Thursday, and sensitivity to the Islamic calendar is crucial when planning itineraries. Long afternoon breaks are common, but Western business hours are increasingly observed, especially in free trade zones. Work is halted during Islamic holidays and the five times of daily prayer. Smartphone apps and websites such as islamicfinder.org can help you track the Islamic calls to worship and plan schedules accordingly.

2. Master the first meeting.

While business is largely conducted in English, knowing a few Arab phrases demonstrates respect. Status matters, so review titles in advance, and be aware that Emiratis generally use first names after titles. Etiquette dictates graciously accepting food and beverage offerings, always with the right hand, and complimenting hospitality. Expect handshakes between men to last longer and have a lighter grip than they do in the West. In addition, meetings may start late and seem chaotic by Western standards, with frequent interruptions for visitors or phone calls. Initial encounters focus on relationships, so in lieu of a packed agenda, aim to leave with phone numbers for key contacts.

3. Cultivate connections.

Foreigners commonly underestimate the time needed to establish business dealings in the UAE. Personal relationships and mutual trust are the bedrock of transactions, and investing the time to build strong networks and strategic connections can prove invaluable.

It’s also worth noting that the UAE hosts thousands of conferences and trade shows each year, drawing executives from around the world.

 

4. Know how to negotiate.

UAE businesses have a vertical hierarchy, and it is crucial to show deference to the senior decision-maker. Negotiations can be boisterous, and lively meetings often occur over meals. The spoken word is honored, and verbal agreements are considered binding, but a hard sell is never effective. Emiratis value saving face and avoid blunt criticism; their evasiveness often indicates an unwillingness to say no directly, so try to seek mutually agreeable solutions.

 

5. Embrace the expanding role of women.

The UAE is pioneering gender equality in the Middle East. Women are respected for their professionalism and increasingly hold prestigious positions in corporate and government settings. Still, cultural sensitivity is critical. Men stand when a woman enters the room, and both men and women should wait until a Muslim host initiates a handshake with the opposite sex.

 

6. Pack appropriately.

Emiratis value an impeccable wardrobe and flawless grooming, but modesty is paramount. Men should dress in dark suits, or slacks and long-sleeve shirts. Avoid jewelry, especially around the neck. Women should choose skirts or dresses with hemlines below the knee, high necklines and long sleeves. Avoid fitted silhouettes and open-toed shoes, but a headscarf is not generally expected of Westerners, apart from religious sites. When seated, be mindful that showing the soles of shoes is considered disrespectful.

Also keep in mind that summer travel can be unbearably hot and humid.

 

7. Make the most of marketing materials.

Amid so much opulence, it is no surprise that expectations for printed materials are high. Arabic is read right to left, which can affect design layout, and certain images may be perceived as offensive. To avoid issues with marketing materials, conduct a culturally sensitive vetting before production begins, and d on’t forget to include Arabic on business cards – which should not be kept in back pockets or in a pigskin case.