Peak Translations

Unity in business, unity with United Arab Emirates (UAE)

United Arab Emirates (UAE) is an oasis situated in a vast expanse of deserts in the Middle East, whose two most important Emirates include its capital Abu Dhabi, epicentre to the gas and petroleum industry, as well as the fastest growing city of Dubai, one of the key cities for business, service, tourism and construction.

Although it plays second fiddle to the largest economy in the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia, UAE has become an economic hub of the area as well as a global business centre. As with Saudi, the only way to ‘open sesame’ those doors to the UAE business world is through personal contacts and references, more often than not a commercial agent.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - January 08, 2012: View of Burj Al Arab hotel from the Jumeirah beach. Burj Al Arab is one of the Dubai landmark, and one of the world's most luxurious hotels with 7 stars.

So to help you narrow the cultural gulf and embrace the varying nuances between cultures, here are a few pointers to help you on your way. After all you wouldn’t embark on a treasure hunt without any clues, would you?!

The initial step – arranging business meetings

  1. It is advisable to check the country’s timetable and calendar of public holidays before arranging a trip to the UAE, as you may well want to avoid scheduling meetings during the month-long religious holiday Ramadan. It might be harder to avoid organising them around prayer times.
  2. Unlike in the UK, the official weekend there is Friday and Saturday, although official institutions are not open Thursdays or Fridays.

Greetings and business meeting etiquette

  1. It is good business decorum to greet the oldest person first in a meeting (even if not the host), which shows respect in Muslim culture.
  2. Handshakes between men might seem to last forever, but this is customary. The right hand should also be used in greeting, as the left hand is reserved for bodily hygiene and as a result considered unclean.
  3. Since greetings between men and women in public in Arab countries are rare, it would be best to avoid shaking a female host’s hand. Foreign female negotiators should wait for the man to initiate a handshake when being introduced.
  4. Correct titles should be used with which to greet your hosts as status plays an important role e.g. Sayed (Mr.) followed by first name.
  5. Also, for the reason outlined above, make sure to give and receive the business card with the right hand and have them printed in English and Arabic.

Understanding business language and conversational protocol

  1. Although English is the language of international business in UAE, Arabic is the official language and therefore, it would go a long way to impressing your potential business partners by learning a few phrases in Arabic. Nevertheless, be aware that the Arabic spoken there is of Persian (Farsi) influence and differs from other Arab-speaking Islamic countries.
  2. Useful greeting expressions might include ‘Assalam Gualaikum’ (meaning hello, although literally it means ‘let peace be with you’).
  3. Relationship building and developing trust is important in the Arab business world, consequently, it is important to become acquainted with the person with whom you are conducting business. Asking after your counterpart’s family’s health and wellbeing is accepted, but avoid specifically asking about their wife or daughter.
  4. Although the UAE’s Arabic language is Farsi-influenced, avoid offending your hosts by referring to countries of the area as Persian Gulf States, they are known as the Arab Gulf States.


  1. Emirati businesspeople take their time making decisions. Like the hare and tortoise race, approval of decisions is slow to start, but once made they race to the finishing line. Slow and steady wins the race! Their word is also their bond, whether verbal or written.

Don’t reveal too much

  1. As with any Arab country, modesty is the name of the game when it comes to dress code for women, so don’t wear revealing clothes and be sure to cover up arms, shoulders and legs as well as avoiding open-toe shoes.

Sunset in the Rub Al Khali Desert, Dunes in The Empty Quarter, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

There are so many more cultural considerations to take on board when doing business in UAE, but all in all, doing business there doesn’t have to be complicated. At the end of the day, if you arm yourself with the correct business etiquette and cultural conventions, navigating your way around their culture is plain sailing.

By Madeline Prusmann (Project Manager) December 2016





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