10 Top Tips for doing business in Abu Dhabi – UAE

24 February 2015 By Northern Lights

10 Top Tips for doing business in Abu Dhabi – UAE image

I was delighted to recently meet the UKTI Women in Business delegation visiting the UAE.


I had been asked to share my experience about what to consider when doing business in the UAE and specifically in Abu Dhabi.

These were my 10 tips:

  1. Remember that in Arab culture you don’t exist until you’re on the ground – don’t be surprised if you don’t manage to set up (too many) meetings before arriving and keep some time to be flexible and open to last minute arrangements.
  2. Abu Dhabi and the UAE are very open and tolerant but it’s still a more conservative culture than it may sometimes seem; dressing modestly, avoiding certain topics, not expressing judgments based on your own culture, being considerate and tolerant towards different attitudes will be appreciated.
  3. Weekends are Friday/Saturday, with Friday being a worship and family day. Be considerate in showing that you understand this and get in touch before Thursday mid-day if you want something before end of the week. Also consider checking your emails on Sundays when it’s the beginning of the week here.
  4. Always find a solution so that people don’t lose face; it’s valid in any culture but here it’s a must. Often it just means a different way of looking at things and even if everybody knows that someone has messed up, it’s critical that everyone can walk out of the issue with their head up.
  5. Keep in mind that for most people, English is not their native language; keep it simple, do short sentences.
  6. In meetings, people will check their emails, pick up their phone, walk in and out – don’t be put off or think they are being rude! People pick up their phone because it would be rude not to respond; it might be urgent! All a question of perspective.
  7. Voicemail/office phones – in most cases, don’t even bother to leave a voicemail on an office phone; they are not picked up and hardly ever returned. Make sure you always get a mobile number – it’s not rude to ask.
  8. Never lose your temper or show that you are frustrated or upset – even if you think it’s going nowhere and you have the feeling of going in circles. Stay calm and friendly. Be firm but look for compromise and offer solutions.
  9. Dealing with the opposite sex – men are very respectful of women and it’s not an issue to do business with them. Competence and professionalism are valued and recognised. Never hold out your hand first for a handshake – if the other person does, that’s fine.
  10. Be open. It’s a complex environment – going from Bedu tribe to a sophisticated metropole in less than half a century gives a different angle on business. It is full of opportunities for people who are serious about their involvement, offering something distinctive and unique and respectful of their UAE partners.

The points they were most interested in were how we look at things from a Western perspective and how they are viewed in the Arab world. There was agreement that it is rude to try and impose our way of thinking, especially around picking up calls in meetings. They also wanted to know about women’s participation at work and the challenges they have to overcome – I explained their challenges are very much the same for working women as they are in Europe and not necessarily the stereotypes that you hear about.  The big difference is perhaps maternity leave allowance at only 45 days in total.

The question that most wanted answered was where to start if you wanted to follow-up from first contacts. My suggestion was to engage on social media – with Twitter and Instagram being the most popular mobile apps today in the GCC, and use it to develop relationships with content developed specifically and addressing current issues that your business can help with.

They also wanted to know if you needed to set-up locally and while I understand the cost associated with setting up a fully fledged business in the UAE, I believe it’s very hard to run a business without a presence on the ground and having a trusted local partner to advise and help. Our own business is a member of the Gateway Group and we have had fantastic support from Jenny Hunt.

What other advice would you add to those looking to do business in the UAE?


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Written by Northern Lights

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