Your guide to expat life in United Arab Emirates

Working in the UAE

With a small local population, the UAE’s economy depends on qualified expats who move here to boost their income. It came fifth in the economics category of our 2016 Expat Explorer Survey, with high rankings for disposable income, wage growth and career progression.

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Doing business

With more than 80% of the UAE’s population made up of expats, you’ll find yourself in a dynamic work environment. Despite its cosmopolitan feel, business here still has its roots firmly in Arab culture - so you should always respect Islamic rules and traditions.

Its strategic position in the Middle East, strong banking sector, diverse economy and stable political system make the UAE an attractive place for business. The country was ranked 31st out of 189 countries in The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2016, coming first for paying taxes and scoring well for dealing with construction permits and enforcing contracts.

The UAE has managed to weather the global economic downturn and its economy is growing steadily, with non-oil sectors now making up about 70% of its GDP.

Dubai will host the World Expo 2020, which is likely to boost the economy over the next few years. The event is expected to create many new job opportunities in the hospitality and construction sectors.

You may face some challenges doing business in the UAE. Each emirate has its own regulations when it comes to certain business matters, which can be confusing if you work in different parts of the country. English is widely spoken in business, but Arabic is the official language - so you may need an interpreter to translate some documents.

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Business culture

The business culture of a company in the UAE will depend on its origins. An international organisation is likely to adopt the culture of its home country - and you’ll find yourself doing business mostly with expats. Local organisations may be more traditionally Arabic and are often family owned. Nepotism is common and many members of one family usually work in the same organisation.

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Trust

Emiratis like doing business with people they trust - so it’s good to get to know your colleagues and build lasting relationships. Small talk is common and making connections with the right people is vital. Business structures are hierarchical and decisions are made from the top. Because class and family can play a role in these structures, make sure you know who sits where on the corporate ladder.

Meetings

You’ll need to be flexible when you do business in the UAE. Meetings may sometimes be interrupted by personal phone calls, text messages, or people coming into the boardroom to discuss unrelated matters. Be patient, and do not take this as a lack of respect.

Communication style

Emiratis prefer face-to-face meetings. They are concerned about the feelings of others, preferring not to give criticism or bad news – and don’t be surprised if you’re asked questions about your family or wellbeing.

Call to prayer

Muslim prayers happen five times a day - you may have to take this into account when you schedule meetings.

Fast facts

Business Language

Arabic is the official language, but English is widely spoken.

Business hours

Between 7.30am and 9am to 5pm, Sunday to Thursday. The summer heat has inspired a ‘split shift’ schedule that includes a three to four hour break in the afternoon with extended evening hours. Office hours are shortened during Ramadan.

Dress

Work clothes are formal and conservative. For men, suits and ties are expected in most industries. Women should dress modestly, covering their arms and legs and wearing closed-toed shoes.

Greeting

A handshake (using your right hand) is the usual greeting between men. Placing your right hand on your chest after shaking hands shows respect. If you’re greeting a Muslim person of the opposite sex, wait for them to extend their hand first – a simple bow of the head is acceptable if you’re not sure.

Gifts

Gifts aren’t always expected. As the UAE is an Islamic country, avoid giving alcohol or pork products. Always give and receive gifts with your right hand.

Gender equality

Men and women are treated equally in business, but men still hold most senior executive positions.

It's a great opportunity to earn more money, see the world and meet different people.

Expat Explorer Survey respondent

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Making life easier for expats

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All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by expatarrivals.com, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in August 2016. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.

Always remember to ensure you are aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.