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A high foreign workforce forms the backbone of the UAE's economy, and it's a wonderful place to meet and work with many nationalities – as well as earn a tax free salary!

Business culture

Like anywhere in the world, doing business in the UAE has its own unique idiosyncrasies.

Doing business in the UAE

Working in the UAE, the chances are that some of your business interactions will be with Emiratis, whether on a customer or client basis. One of the key aspects to realise is that family ties, friendship, honour and trust are crucial. So much so that those who have built good relationships can often see rules bent; the system of favours being given and not forgotten is an integral, if unspoken, part of things. Age, money and social connections are also significant in establishing your status, and older people are treated with respect. Often elders in a room are greeted first and served first at meals.


Warm greetings are commonplace, with long handshakes, effusive compliments and enquiries about the health of families. Avoid enquiring after female family members though, as this is kept extremely private. Similarly, when meeting someone of the opposite sex, it’s likely that a handshake will not be given and is best to refrain unless they extend their hand to you. Always use your right hand to meet, eat or hand over items as Muslims reserve the left hand for bodily hygiene and consider it unclean. Avoid showing the bottom of your shoes in meetings too, as this is considered an insult.


If you’re attending a business meeting at an Arab-owned company, it’s likely that you’ll be served traditional Arabic coffee, or kahwa. Sharing coffee is an important social ritual in the Middle East so you should drink some when offered. Cups should be taken in the right hand and if there is a waiter standing by, replenishing your cup, there are two ways to signal that you have had enough: either leave a small amount of coffee in the bottom of your cup or gently tip the cup from side to side.