Doing Business in Dubai
Doing business in Dubai may be remarkably similar to doing business in New York, London, or even in Paris. The emirate's expat population overshadows that of its locals, and it follows that the working world is dominated by enterprising foreigners who have brought their culture with them.
The UAE is a relatively easy country to do business in, and this has been reflected in many international business surveys. Most notably, the country was ranked an impressive 26th out of 190 countries in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2017. The UAE was ranked in first place for paying taxes, and also scored particularly highly for factors such as dealing with construction permits (4th) and protecting minority investors (9th).
Business customs and practices in Dubai vary from one company, colleague and client to the next, and the most important preparation an expat can make is to be flexible and understanding. That said, it's also important to remember that the UAE is a Muslim country, and Emirati businessmen will still take their mandate from Islam and Arab culture; thus, the guide below will address this aspect of doing business in Dubai.
Business hours in Dubai can vary. The work week runs from Sunday to Thursday, with Friday and Saturday as designated days of rest. Offices generally open somewhere between 7.30am and 9am and close at 5pm; however, the oppressive heat of summer has inspired a ‘split shift’ schedule that includes a three- to four-hour break in the afternoon and extended evening hours. There may also be frequent breaks during the day for Muslim prayer times, so expats should expect and be patient about these interruptions. Working hours during the month of Ramadan are shortened by two to three hours.
Arabic is the official language of the UAE, but English is widely spoken in business.
Business attire in Dubai is generally formal. Women should dress modestly, keeping arms and legs covered. Traditional Muslim attire is not necessary. Local businessmen may wear Western attire or a dishdasha, a flowing robe seen at nearly every type of occasion.
It is not necessary to give gifts to business contacts in Dubai, but a small token with personal significance is not inappropriate.
Men and women are treated equally in business, although senior executive positions are still dominated by men.
A handshake is the usual greeting between men. Placing one's right hand on one's chest after shaking hands marks a sign of respect. If greeting a woman, wait for her to extend her hand first. More devout women may not be comfortable shaking hands with men, and while dress may be an indicator, there is no easy way to gauge this beforehand. The best practice is to allow female business associates to offer their hands first.
Business culture in Dubai
Despite its cosmopolitan veneer, business culture in Dubai has its roots in Arab values and traditions. Along with respecting the all-encompassing effect religion has on everyday activity, expats will need to realise that relationship-building is paramount in the working world.
As is the case in most businesses, initial business dealings will be devoted to developing a trustworthy relationship. Many of the family-owned businesses may even send junior members to forge a connection before troubling their decision-makers with an introduction. Try and remain patient through this period, and allow the interested parties to 'get to know you'.
It's also important to note that verbal agreements carry significant weight in Dubai. Be mindful of what is said, especially when it comes to agreements, conditions and refusals. That said, haggling is a common practice, so be prepared to engage in some good-natured negotiating.
Attitude to foreigners in Dubai
Business culture in the UAE is welcoming to foreign investment. Expat business owners are required to be respectful of Islamic culture and tradition; however, they are not required to practise it themselves.
Dos and don’ts of business in Dubai
Do always dress conservatively and wear a suit and tie
Don't rush into business talk. Emiratis prefer to get to know their business associates before any real negotiations can begin.
Do always respect Islamic religious and cultural practices. Although foreigners are not expected to practice the religion, they should be mindful of the impact it has on everyday life in Dubai.
Do arrive on time, though locals may be late
Don't use the left hand to eat or gesture to another person
Do have one side of a business card translated into Arabic