The UAE is generally viewed as a very rich country thanks to its oil reserves, and rightly so – it was ranked as the world’s sixth-richest country by the International Monetary Fund in 2010. Its residents have the highest average income in the world, with over 50 percent of this wealth coming from the capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi. However, the UAE is not an entirely free market –while there are free trade zones, all other areas require businesses to have at least 51 percent local ownership to be allowed to operate in the country.


UAE facts
Ethnic groups: 16.5 percent Emirati, 23 percent Arabs and Iranian, 60.5 percent South Asian, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese, Filipino, Thai, Westerners

Language: Arabic

Capital: Abu Dhabi (largest city is Dubai)

Currency: UAE dirham

National holidays: New Year (Jan 1), Prophet Mohammed’s Birthday (Feb 15), Israa and Miaraj Night (Jun 29), Ramadan (date varies each year), Eid al Fitr (Aug 30), Arafat Day (Nov 5), Eid al Adha (Nov 6), UAE National Day (Dec 2 and 3), Hijri New Year’s Day (Dec 7)

Business hours: Sunday to Thursday, hours vary between 7.30am and 8pm (employees work eight-hour days in most industries)

In the UAE, flattery is essential. You can expect to receive a lot of compliments (do not be aloof when this happens) and should offer them in return.  Questions that may seem very personal to British people may be asked, for example about family and your religion – however this is normal small talk in the UAE. If asked about your religion, do not say you are an atheist as this may be badly received.

People are often reluctant to give bad news about business in the UAE and may try to avoid the subject with indirect speech. In general conversation, speaking loudly is seen as sincerity although to the British it may seem slightly aggressive. Although you should maintain strong eye contact when speaking to someone, you should wait for them to offer their hand to shake before offering yours.

Business structures

Relationships are of massive importance. Businesses tend to be family-owned and very hierarchical, with older male members of the family in top roles. As such, there is a somewhat paternalistic management style in the UAE. Clear and direct instructions are expected by staff – managers giving instructions may seem very abrupt to non-locals.

The business week in the UAE runs from Sunday to Thursday, so do not try to schedule meetings on a Friday. July and August are the hottest months of the year and many locals will go on holiday over this period. Remember that some areas are Sharia-law compliant – if so, doing business will be extremely different so always check before going and consult with local lawyers.

Although foreign women are increasingly accepted in business, they may still encounter gender bias in many areas. It is very unusual to find local women in senior roles. Of the states in the UAE, Dubai is generally considered the most liberal area.


Meetings in the UAE work very differently to those in Britain. They will often start late, be altered or interrupted and do not generally have a specific end time. As meetings can take a long time it may be best to stick to two per day – one in the morning, one in the afternoon.

There will often be a lot of small talk at the start of a meeting. This is considered very important as it will help to build relationships. If someone is present to serve coffee in the meeting, shake your cup to indicate you have finished or you may receive constant refills!

Team work

Teams usually work as a group of individuals answering to one leader, with each individual given directions. Teams usually consist of family members due to there being so many family businesses – putting together a team of strangers may be difficult due to this.


Revealing clothing must be avoided at all times. Men should wear formal, conservative business clothing and women should ensure that their arms and legs are covered and that they do not wear tight clothes. Shoes should be removed before entering some buildings – follow your host’s lead.