Understanding the UAE’s business market

02 May, 2022 - BCB

Many businesses enter new markets without familiarizing themselves with the business customs of their host country and quickly find themselves struggling to win new business opportunities.

Cultural awareness is extremely important when dealing with international trade and the influence of local culture is extremely important as it has an impact on every business aspect. An in-depth understanding of local business practices is crucial to international trade success.

The UAE was the UK’s 19th largest export market globally in the 12 months ending September 2021. In the 12 months ending September 2021, total UK exports to GCC amounted to £22.2 billion.

Dubai is a regional hub and commercial capital for the Middle East, North Africa and beyond.

There are over 5,000 British companies operating in the UAE, including BP, Rolls Royce, BAES, Mott McDonald, SERCO, Standard Chartered, HSBC, Waitrose and more. 779 commercial agencies and 4,762 British brands have invested in the UAE. Approximately 100,000 UK nationals live and work in the UAE and 1.5 million people visit each year (pre-COVID).

A few points to keep in mind as part of the business etiquette:

  • Handshakes between men are used a lot, but beware between different sexes, we generally don’t shake hands. If you are dealing with a woman, only shake her hand if she is holding it out
  • The elderly must be greeted first and always have priority when entering a room
  • Meetings are often accompanied by coffee and food: rejection is considered rudeness. So, even if you don’t like an offered dish, force yourself or try to refuse very politely using the proper manners.
  • It is highly appreciated, before discussing business, to ask how the family is doing, to inquire about the children, but it is always inappropriate to ask explicit questions about the wife
  • Always pay particular attention to relationships of friendship and trust, because they are the basis of a business.
  • The usual greeting is “as-salam Alaikum”, which means “peace be upon you”. The answer is the exchange of good wishes: “Wa Alaikum as-salam”, that is, “and peace be upon you”
  • “Inshallah” means “if God wills” and is used when taking leave.

Dubai and the UAE have a diverse and multicultural society that is very modern compared to other countries in the Middle East, making it a prime place for international trade. In the UAE, human relationships are extremely important and building a trustworthy network is something that needs to build one step at a time.

We have seen on many occasions how business owners create certain opportunities by nurturing solid human relationships and cultivating them over time to grow in parallel with the business in Dubai. The reason is very simple: Dubai’s business culture is based on the principle that puts people at the centre of everything, you’ll never know where the next connection could be created, sometimes in the most expected way!

Networking is also a very important point for anyone interested in doing business in Dubai. First of all, it is important to have a physical presence in the market, a sort of certificate and a guarantee of seriousness and success. Travelling to Dubai thus becomes an opportunity to meet the right people and weave new and important relationships. Apart from events, conferences and meetings, there are truly numerous informal occasions where you can find yourself surrounded by the most amazing people.

To conclude, most people are amazed to know aspects or dynamics that are completely different from those of the UK. These are just small examples of what is unknown about Dubai and its identity. In a place where culture has deep roots and customs have gone through time intact, I believe it is better to dispel the false myths one by one in order to then be able to take advantage of all the business opportunities offered by the Emirate in the best possible way.


About the author:

Elena Molinari

Trade & Investment Consultant


LinkedIn: Elena Molinari