Etiquette, Culture & Business in Dubai

September 15, 2023

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Dubai is the fastest growing emirate of UAE. It is a lucrative place with excellent infrastructure and a business environment that provides plenty of opportunities to entrepreneurs intending to start business in Dubai. The population of Dubai is quite diverse and comprises of many different cultures as more than 90% people living in Dubai are expatriates.

If you have not visited Dubai, chances are that you may visit this place sometime in near future since the city is among st the top tourist and business destination. According to a report by Abu Dhabi Tourism and Cultural Authority, business travel market in UAE will double its value in 2020 i.e. $1.4 billion. This will also be due to the fact that Dubai will host Expo 2020.

According to Dubai Customs Report on business sector activity, the city issued 26,707 new business licenses in 2016. Being a gateway to access 1.5 billion consumer markets of Asia, Africa and Middle East, it is essential that you understand business etiquette and dynamics of the complex multi-cultural environment of Dubai before your own business setup.


Islam is the official religion of Dubai and UAE. All social, cultural and professional values are based on Islamic principles. It will be useful for you as a foreigner to have little knowledge of Islam beforehand. Along with Islam, other religions are also practiced and respected in Dubai as the constitution of UAE provides freedom of religion.


Most UAE national males wear “kandura” which is a long white shirt (ankle length) and Emirati women wear “abaya” a black garment which covers all of the body. These garments are preferred by local people due to hot and dry climate of Dubai but as the city is composed mostly of expatriates, Western style clothing is also very popular and dominant. In any case whether male or female, your dress should be stylish and modest.

Business Etiquette

If you are carrying out your business in Dubai, you should have an understanding of norms which are followed by people living here; these norms are called business etiquette. We have explained them underneath.

  • Language: The national and most common language is Arabic which is followed by French and Hindi. All official documents, legal forms and laws are formulated in Arabic. A little knowledge of the local language will help you a lot here. However translators are also available.
  • Working hours: Dubai has typically hot climate with temperature rising to boiling points in summers. That is why taking a break between working hours is common in Dubai offices. Working days typically start from Saturday to Wednesday. Working hours starting from 8 am till 1 pm. Then there is break of 3 hours and businesses resume from 5 pm till 7 pm. During the holy month of Ramadan, each working day is shortened by 2 hours.
  • Dress code: Although Dubai is liberal as compared to rest of emirates; it still adheres to mild conservative dress code. A suit and tie for men to attend business meetings especially looking for a local sponsor, and suit or skirt below knee for women. Non-Muslim women are not required to wear hijab or abaya unless on a religious site.
  • Greeting: You must give utmost respect to introductions in meetings. It is probable that you will not be familiar with rank of every person in the room so you have to be aware of etiquette with respect to addressing people and your social interaction. For example, if you are shaking hands with an Arab, just touching the palms of right hand will do. Handshake should never be firm rather gentle. Also, avoid initiating handshake with women to demonstrate your respect. It would be nice to greet with your Arab host with his native phrase ‘assalam o allaikum’ which means ‘peace be upon you’. If he is a male, call him as Sayed (Mr.) and Sayyeda (Miss.) if a woman. You can translate one side of your business card in Arabic. While presenting to an Arab colleague or client, give it with right hand and with the Arabic side of the card faced up.
  • Conversation: In case of your first meeting, your focus should be mainly on building trust and developing strong foundations of good relationship. Do not jump quickly on business matters rather get to know a person with whom you will carry out your business. A good way is to ask about health or inquire about person’s day or family or weather etc. It’s not just about courtesy; the conversation will help you determine personality of the other person and whether he will be suitable for you in longer run.
  • Dining: Do not ask for alcohol or pork as observant Muslims do not have it. Alcohol may be allowed to purchase after acquiring a license but it cannot be consumed publically. There is zero tolerance policy for drugs and penalties for drug trafficking are quite severe.

Meetings and presentations / casual conversation

  • Personal relationships are the key to do business in Dubai as well as in UAE. You should prefer having face to face conversation rather than e-mail or phone call.
  • Make an appointment before two weeks in advance and also confirm it few days ago before meeting.
  • Keep in mind that people in Dubai have relaxed attitude with respect to meetings so they may not be punctual but it is usually expected form an expat to be punctual.
  • You have to exercise patience at all times especially in case of lengthy meetings, they can be chaotic with phone calls and text messages in between the conversation or the other person discussing some other agenda. Do not expect your meetings to go planned. Rather go with the flow and always think before speaking as you will be working with a diverse group of nationalities.
  • It is common practice to keep business in the family which will affect the way you dealing with them as well as to understand the speed and style of their decision making.
  • Keep personal contact with your potential business partner and build it with time. It is also important to visit market regularly.
  • Before signing any agreement, always consult a lawyer.

Keep controversies apart

Lastly, always be respectful and avoid criticizing your Arab colleague or client as it is considered very rude. You should also avoid sensitive, conflicting and negative talk in public place.

Immerse yourself in new traditions and explore the culture of this glorious city whilst keeping in mind the above rules. If you are looking to start business in Dubai, contact KWSME for business formation services. We specialize in providing complete business setup solution to our clients and have been operating in this industry for more than a decade. Contact our business agents here.

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