Doing business

Current business situation

The current economic stance in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is an open economy and market policies. The UAE is actively seeking to diversify its economy away from crude oil and traditional commodities to more diversified market sectors.

Business culture

Business cards in English are acceptable. However, it is a good idea for frequent visitors to the market or those wishing to do business with the government to have business cards in English and Arabic.

It is not unusual in the Arab custom of having a number of people in an office all discussing various matters at once. ‘Small talk’ is vital for the establishment of trust and must not be hurried or dispensed with. In introductory business conversations, talk often centres on the health and wellbeing of the other person, but never about his wife and female relatives. When invited into an office, you will be given a seat, refreshments and be engaged in introductory conversation, after which your host may break off conversation with you and deal with one of his other visitors before returning to you.

Refreshments (e.g. coffee, tea) should always be accepted. Coffee is offered to guests in order of their rank, if known to the host. It is customary to drink more than one cup of coffee or tea, but not more than your host or others present. To decline a further serving, you shake the cup when handing it back to the server.

Refrain from expressing extreme views, as this may be seen as a sign of inflexibility. Rarely will your host initiate the business discussions, you will normally be expected to commence with a proposal and keep descriptions short and to-the-point. Remember, a ‘yes’ does not necessarily confirm agreement, but can merely mean, ‘yes, I hear you’.

In business circles, standard dress for men is a business suit and tie, evening functions, can vary from a sports coat to a business suit with tie and casual occasions, trousers and a shirt are acceptable. Women should wear loose fitting garments, such as a long dress or loose fitting trousers and a baggy shirt. Dress conservatively and avoid wearing short skirts or revealing blouses, the head does not need to be covered.

The exchange of gifts is common practice in business circles, but items are usually limited to small corporate items such as pens and brochures.

Setting up in Market

As a rapidly evolving market, visiting, meeting with potential clients and establishing a local presence is recommended. Finding a suitable local partner or looking to other well established Australian companies in the Middle East would be advantageous. Cultural awareness and etiquette should also be considered.

Banking and finance

The UAE banking and finance sector is highly developed, with both local and international banks providing a full range of services. All institutions are licensed by the UAE Central Bank. The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) was established in 2004 as an economic ‘free zone’, with its own world class legal and regulatory framework. The DIFC offers a zero rate of tax and full foreign ownership.

Links and resources

Government, business and trade

Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Australian Business Council Dubai
Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry
UAE Federal e-Government

Please note: This list of websites and resources is not definitive. Inclusion in this list does not imply endorsement by Austrade. The information provided is a guide only. The content is for information and carries no warranty; as such, the addressee must exercise their own discretion in its use. Australia’s anti-bribery laws apply overseas and Austrade will not provide business related services to any party who breaches the law and will report credible evidence of any breach. For further information, please see foreign bribery information and awareness pack.