22 August, 2023

The Business Culture in Dubai

business culture in dubai

Compared to the West, the business culture in Dubai is a completely different ball game due to the cultural, language and religious differences. The etiquettes of conducting businesses are different, relationship forming is complex and the business sense is derived from the Islamic system which pervades everything in the city. The most important thing to understand about Dubai culture is that it all comes down to respect. You must respect the elders, your business leaders, partners and women. To pay respect is to be on time, wear the proper attire, follow the common culture and always show the right attitude towards those in charge. However, as the time passes and more and more expatriates from all over the world call Dubai their place of work and home, attitudes are changing. But to adapt fast with the contemporary culture, you must understand what exactly is about the Dubai culture that you must integrate in yourself before moving there.

How Business is done in Dubai

Business in Dubai has emerged exponentially in recent years. Just in 2017, the country has registered over 131,000 businesses, most of which were owned or contributed by foreigners. The FDI had also increased to over USD 10.3 Billion as of 2018. But as the new decade rolled, the investment and businesses in Dubai have only grown due to lax tax laws and a welcoming expat culture. Aside from the taxation breaks, the UAE government is heavily aiming at foreign investment by removing restrictions on ownership and offering long-term visas for investors.

Dubai is known for its oil and gas industries, as these were the industries that put the city on the map. However, several other industries are also growing rapidly including renewable energy, automotive industry, and aerospace industry, etc. Tourism has always been a focus of the Dubai economy and is responsible for 20% of its GDP, so hospitality is another industry that is growing rapidly in the city. If you or someone you know wishes to be a part of these growing industries and attain a foothold in the Dubai market, then you must first understand the proper business etiquette in the city and how to best integrate yourself in the local community so that your business prospects can grow to the heights that you wish they would.

Business Culture in Dubai

Since UAE is an Islamic country, all their laws and culture is a derivative of the Sharia Law. This is the reason why the business culture in the city is so conservative as compared to that of US and Europe. The weekdays begin from Sunday rather than Monday and end on Thursday instead of Friday. The weekends lie on Friday and Saturday rather than Saturday and Sunday. For the people, relationships come first and then business is done, and for this reason alone forming real relationships with people and becoming a part of social groups is so important in Dubai. However, as things are changing and more and more people are coming to the city the culture is becoming a melting pot of different cultures.

Due to this blending of cultures, Emiratis are now forgiving to foreigners as they understand that the West has much more relaxed attitudes towards businesses. The most important aspect of the business culture in Dubai is loyalty and thus expats must pay more attention to small talk, etiquettes and respect while dealing with Emiratis.

Working hours in Dubai

Like most western countries, the workday in Dubai rings from 9am to 5pm. However, unlike western nationals the work week runs from Sunday to Thursday. On the other hand, most people only work six hours a day during the holy month of Ramadan. Emiratis are a culture of punctuality and honesty in all relationships. The city also focuses on maintaining a good work/life balance and thus most businesses in the Emirates offer up to 30 days of annual leave and 90 days of sick leave alongside the public holidays. Additionally, women are also allowed up to 45 days of maternity leave at full pay and get special considerations when they return to work.

Dubai’s work culture, traditionally, has been adamant about flexible working arrangements but things are slowly changing. Just in 2019, the government announced two different resolutions to encourage flexible working. The first amendment, regarding part-time work, enables employers to fill labour gaps. The second one is about remote working that came into effect during the pandemic and is aimed to help Emiratis have a better work/life balance.

Business Etiquette in Dubai

The Business etiquette in Dubai is far different from that of the Western nations and its effects are adamant in several aspects including communication, dress codes, official gifting and business card exchange. Following are some of the etiquettes that an expat should know before starting a business in Dubai:

  • Communications: Communication is the most important aspect of the business culture in Dubai and having the right communication etiquette will take you a long way. The conservative nature of the Dubai culture rears its head here and directs all communication to be more formal than what you might be used to in the West. For instance, when you meet someone for the first time, you must always address them as “Mr.” or “Ms. Men should shake hands to start a meeting; but, when greeting a woman, it is always appropriate to wait for her to extend her hand first. Hierarchy is big in Dubai and thus, you must always pay respect to the most senior person first while addressing the team. Be sure to compliment your business partners during the meeting as it is considered a part of the culture. Since formal relationship building is so important in Dubai, always be ready to flatter your hosts during the meetings. Small talk and social conversation on the other hand are the reason why businesses hold so strong in Dubai and thus you shouldn’t shy away from chatting with them about the culture, the country, your family and local food before starting your business meeting. However, be vary from talking about politics or religion as these subjects are still considered taboo.
  • Dress Code: Dress code during business settings are an integral part of the work culture in Dubai. For men, the dishdasha (the long white shift) and for women, an abaya (a black floor-length robe) is customary. However, as an expat, you don’t have to worry about wearing the traditional Arab clothes but must concentrate on being as formal and as modest as possible. Men should wear formal suits and dress shoes while women should wear formal coats and long skirts during the business hours and must keep their shoulders, chest and knees covered at all times. Heavy perfume and flashy jewellery are also a no go for the business culture in Dubai.
  • Gifting: Gifting in business is a huge part of the work culture in Dubai. It is a nice gesture to give gifts while meeting a potential client or customer in the city. Gifting is also a part of religious festival celebration, business events and informal parties. People of Dubai love getting gifts that are from different cultures and especially from abroad so don’t be shy about gifting something from your own culture. For any meeting, snacks like chocolates or high-grade dates are a good choice. For long term relationships, you can choose more expensive gifts such as coffee table books, imported pens and cufflinks from known brands. However, it is best to avoid gifting across genders. If you wish to gift a woman while being a man it is better to allow a woman colleague to gift on your behalf. The same applies to women gifting a male associate. “According to the sensitivity of the Islamic culture, it is best to avoid alcohol, pork products, and dog products while gifting.”