If you are moving to Dubai for work, you should prepare yourself for a different way of doing business. Dubai’s culture differs vastly from what you may be used to at home, and this translates to expats having a new set of rules to learn to succeed in the local boardroom.
You are likely to encounter many other expats like yourself when doing business in Dubai and the mix of nationalities creates a unique business culture as everyone brings their own cultural quirks to the meeting table.
It’s also important to learn about the local business culture and ensure you understand the cultural and social norms. Emirati businessmen take their mandate from Islam and Arab culture. Read the below guide to navigating the cultural differences.
In Dubai, an immaculate appearance matters. Arabs make an effort with their dress, and you should too. It’s generally better to err on the side of ‘overdressed’ than to risk looking too casual.
Modesty is also important. Both men and women should cover their shoulders, arms and legs to avoid offending locals.
Etiquette is everything in Dubai, and how you address others can leave the right or wrong impression. It is customary to use Sheikh (chief) (or Sheikha for a woman), Sayed (Mr.), Sayeda (Mrs.), etc.
When entering a business meeting or encountering colleagues, you should always greet the oldest or most senior person first.
Long handshakes are the norm when doing business in Dubai and etiquette recommends that one waits for the other to withdraw their hand first. For a man introduced to a woman, it is advisable to wait and see if a hand is extended. A Western woman introduced to a Muslim man might also wait to see if he offers his hand.
You should always compliment the host or hostess on their hospitality, as Emiratis pride themselves on lavish displays.
Expats should get used to the working week being Sunday through to Thursday, though it’s often difficult to get anything done on a Sunday.
Expats are expected to be punctual, even if locals aren’t.
Never use the left hand to eat, shake hands or hand something to somebody else. It is considered unclean.
Refusing a beverage or other display of hospitality can cause offence.
You should also never back away during a conversation with someone – Arabs have a less reserved idea of personal space and may be offended if you act surprised.
Men should avoid physical contact with Arab women. It’s also considered inappropriate to enquire after somebody’s female relatives, though you should ask after family in general in polite conversation.
Avoid showing the bottom of your shoes when sitting in meetings.