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Business Culture in the United Arab Emirates

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There are many things to consider when wanting to conduct business in the Middle East. Negotiations can be slow and it is futile trying to force discussions since relationship-building is everything.

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 in regards to communication with Sweden and other countries.

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. 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 Emirati 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 not have low-cut tops, but rather dress in long sleeves and wear trousers or skirts that go below the knees.

Considerations for business meetings

All meetings should be confirmed the day before the meeting, at the latest. Meetings do not always start according to schedule and can be cancelled on short notice. Expect to spend time on conversation over a cup of tea or coffee, since it is in many cases regarded as more important to establish good relationships than to go straight to talking business. 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. Come well-prepared and adapt your presentation according to the person you will meet.

Negotiation techniques 

Consider the following:

  • Negotiations are lengthy and details are discussed. Do not stress or force a decision.
  • Negotiations are usually done in personal meetings.

  • Local companies do not use e-mail communication as frequently as in Sweden. Therefore, communication by e-mail should be minimized during negotiations. Call or meet with your counterpart, and do not be surprised if more informal social media such as Whatsapp is used.

  • It is important to not show irritation or criticize your counterpart if a negotiation gets stuck. Instead, show an ambition to overcome the obstacles.

  • Agreements are confirmed by written contracts.

  • Contracts should be precise and detailed, and it is recommended to have lawyers participating in the drafting of the contracts.

  • Payments are most often late, which is good to keep in mind when drafting instalment plans.

  • It is not uncommon that your counterpart answers the phone during your meeting.

Other considerations


  • Suitable topics of conversation are culture and sports.
  • Muslims pray five times a day. Meetings and events can therefore be rescheduled.

Source: "Oskrivna regler" (2003) from Industrilitteratur and Business Sweden in the United Arab Emirates.