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Business Culture in the United Arab Emirates

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There are some cultural aspects to consider when conducting business in the Middle East and in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In general, the Middle East has a similar culture with some local differences. Overall, it is important to be patient, remember that negotiations can take some time and that relationship-building is everything.

MULTI-CULTURAL


Since 89% of of the UAE’s population are ”expats” - immigrated residents from all over the world with work visa’s and residency permits - the business environment is very multi-cultural. Business meetings and negotiations may therefore differ depending on if the local counterpart is from India, England, the Middle East or another country. Be open and ready for different kinds of meeting settings - it is for example very important to understand if the local counterpart would like to socialize initially or directly enter into business negotiations.

GENERAL CULTURAL DIFFERENCES


The workweek in the UAE, and the rest of the GCC countries, runs from Sunday to Thursday. This is especially important to consider regarding communication with Sweden and other countries. The best time to reach governmental entities is before lunch (do not forget to consider the time difference). During the holy month of Ramadan, which takes place during different months every year, some companies might be closed or with constricted hours.
Although Arabic is the official language in the UAE, English is common and used in almost all business-related dealings, especially in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. However, it can be useful to be able to communicate in Arabic if needed.

Greeting and speaking


It is most common to greet by shaking hands. Men should wait until women extend their hand before they greet. If they do not, it is enough to nod and smile, or put the hand over the heart and bow lightly. The same custom is applicable to women. The use of titles is important for people who do not know each other. If titles are not to be used, it is up to the local counter-part to decide when. Business cards are frequently used, and it is common for foreigners to print an Arabic translation on one side.

Dress code


Suit and tie apply for men. Women should dress in long sleeves, no low-cut tops, and wear trousers or skirts that go below the knees. During informal settings and dinners, a woman may in general dress as she wished. If a woman visits holy sites, long-sleeved shirts, long skirts and a veil are used. It is often possible to borrow the long-sleeve dress ”Abaya” at holy sites.

CONSIDERATIONS FOR BUSINESS MEETINGS


All meetings should be confirmed the day before the meeting, at the latest. Local companies may not read or answer e-mails regularly, rather phone or chat applications such as WhatsApp is often used in business, even at a high level. It is always most efficient to call or meet your counterpart. Meetings do not always start according to schedule and may be re-scheduled or cancelled on short notice. Don’t be surprised if your counterpart answers the phone during your meeting, especially high-level individuals.

Muslims pray five times a day. Meetings and events can therefore be scheduled accordingly.

TO BUILD RELATIONSHIPS


To build personal relationships is very important. When tea of coffee is offered during a meeting, it is preferable to accept. It is a way to connect and a way to start conversations. Expect to spend time in conversations, since it is in many cases regarded as more important to establish good relationships then to go straight to talking business. Suitable topics of conversation are culture and sports.
However, officials from ministries, authorities, and larger enterprises appreciate if the informal part of the meeting can be as short as possible, but it is important to know your counterpart.

Regarding other cultural aspects to consider or negotiation techniques, feel free to reach out to us at Business Sweden for more guidance.


Källa: "Oskrivna regler" (2003) från Industrilitteratur och Business Sweden i Förenade Arabemiraten