The United Arab Emirates is made up of seven emirates, including the thriving business centers of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Islam is the official religion of the U.A.E. and greatly influences everything about the region, including its work culture. It is very important to understand the basic tenets of and to respect Islamic culture in order to conduct business successfully in the U.A.E.. during business traveling. While religious traditions are central to culture and life in the U.A.E., it is a modern, technologically-advanced region, and its companies operate with an open-minded and cosmopolitan take on business. Read on for tips on how to conduct your business successfully in the U.A.E..
Points worth Understanding:
• Business is seen as extension of the personal in the U.A.E., which is why it’s very important to establish a friendly, trustworthy relationship with your business partners there.
• Family connections play a major role in a person’s status at work. Many companies in the U.A.E. are made up of family members.
• Emirati business tends to move slowly, and involves a lot of red tape. Be patient.
• The workweek runs from Sunday to Thursday. Do not plan a meeting during the summer months of July and August as many decision-makers in companies will leave the region during that time to escape the oppressive temperatures.
• Arrive on time for your meeting, but come prepared to wait. Use that time to enjoy some tea or coffee and get to know any Emirati team members who have joined you ahead of time.
• The meeting will also likely begin with drinks and snacks. Hosting and hospitality are a big part of Islamic culture, and your colleagues will take pride in their role as your host. Make sure to accept what is offered and be thankful and complimentary of the food.
• Have your business cards printed in both English and Arabic.
• Your presentation materials should be polished and professional looking, as they will be seen as a reflection of you and your company’s way of doing business.
• People may take phone calls or send e-mails or text messages during the meeting, and a different person may enter the room with a new issue that needs discussing. Don’t take offense. These are all normal and acceptable behaviors during meetings in the U.A.E.
• Emiratis enjoy the back and forth of negotiations. Prepare for this.
• Verbal agreements are taken seriously in the U.A.E. Emiratis are very committed to following through once they give their word. Take note of this for yourself as well—don’t promise anything you don’t intend to follow through with later on.
• Men and women should dress conservatively, always take pride in their appearances, and look professional for work occasions. Women should avoid sleeveless tops, open-toed shoes, or skirts above the ankle, and bring a scarf for situations when it’s appropriate to cover your head.
• A handshake is the typical greeting, and usually lasts a while. Wait for your counterpart to release the handshake before you do. For women, it’s prudent to wait to see if a hand is offered to you, instead of initiating a handshake.
• As the left hand is used for personal hygiene in Muslim countries, always use the right to eat, greet, or pass something.
• Muslim men sometimes hold hands will walking together. If you are being taken somewhere, it might be the case that your hand is held in the process.
• Men should not touch Emirati women as this is considered inappropriate in Islamic culture.
• Your U.A.E. counterparts will feel comfortable being in each other’s personal space. Stepping back to establish your personal comfort zone may be seen as insulting.
• Avoid showing the bottom of your foot or shoe or touching anyone with your shoe. This is considered very rude and disrespectful.
• Avoid pointing with your finger when gesticulating during discussions, as this is considered rude.
More to Keep in Mind:
• If a favor is done for you, understand that you will owe a debt and will be expected to reciprocate at some point.
• Arabic is the official language and all legal documents will likely be in Arabic, so bringing or hiring a translator will be to you benefit.
• You may be invited to lunch or dinner for business discussion. This is part of the culture of hospitality. Reciprocating the invitation will reflect well upon you.
• Muslims do not drink alcohol or eat pork or shellfish. It’s advised to avoid all of these while doing business in the U.A.E..
• When inquiring about the family of your male Emirati colleague, focus the conversation on children if it gets specific. Do not ask about his wife unless he brings her up first.