Business etiquette, language & culture

The UAE has a diverse and multi-cultural society taking into consideration that 80% of the UAE population are expatriates. This has meant that the UAE is regarded as relatively liberal within the region and provides schools, cultural centres and restaurants that cater for international cultures.

The national culture mainly revolves around the religion of Islam, although other religions are also respected whereby churches and temples can be found alongside mosques.

The Islamic dress code is not compulsory.Most UAE national (Emiratis) males prefer to wear a kandura, an ankle-length white shirt and most Emirati women wear an abaya, a black over garment covering most part of the body. This attire is particularly well suited for the UAE’s hot and dry climate. Western style clothing is, however, dominant due to the large expatriate population and this practice is beginning to grow in popularity among Emiratis.

More information can be found on the FCO Travel Advice Centre:


Business etiquette

Arabic is the most commonly spoken language, followed by English, French, Russian, Hindi and more. Almost all official documents, forms, laws and decrees are in Arabic. Therefore, it helps to have a working knowledge of the language.

Whilst it is preferable for written correspondence to be in English, Arabic is sometimes preferred within some public-sector organisations. Translators are available, and a list can be obtained from the British Embassy, See the ‘Contacts’ section for more details.

Meetings and presentations
Personal relationships are key to doing business in the UAE. UK exporters are encouraged to have a face-to-face business dialogue with their UAE counterparts. It is essential to obtain legal, financial and taxation advice, along with undertaking necessary research, all of which are critical when considering new markets.

As in other countries, more than anything it is important to target the right person in your contacts, the decision-maker. It is also preferable to establish new business contacts via an introduction by mutual contact, exhibitions, networking receptions or through the Embassy in the form of an Overseas Market Introduction Service (OMIS). Through an OMIS, the Embassy in the UAE can provide a programme-arranging service, whereby your company would be introduced to the most appropriate contact and an appointment can be confirmed on your behalf.

Face-to-face meetings are preferred as phone or emails are sometimes seen as impersonal. Appointments should be made no more than two weeks in advance and confirmed a few days before the actual meeting as priorities may change.

The working week within the private sector is Sunday-Thursday from 9am-5pm and within the public sector Saturday-Wednesday from 8am-2.30pm (some offices are open until 4pm).

There are many exhibitions that take place in the UAE with some of the largest regional events held in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. This is a good opportunity for companies to meet potential partners, distributors and clients.

Personal contact with potential and existing partners/clients and regular visits to the market are of the utmost importance and it is natural for the business relationship to be built with time. It is advised that you consult a lawyer prior to signing an agreement in the UAE. A list of lawyers is available from the British Embassy. See the ‘Contacts’ section for details.

Cultural considerations
Bridging the divide between cultures is based upon understanding the perspectives of each other. It is not a matter of who is right or wrong, but respecting each-others’ beliefs and way of life.

The emirates are a considerably modern country in relation to the rest of the Middle East region. As such, many traditional attitudes and business practices are evolving towards a more westernised approach. Nevertheless, it is still important to be aware and respectful of some of the differences that might exist.

Understanding the unwritten rules to gain the competitive edge
The working week traditionally starts on Sunday and ends on Thursday. Friday and Saturday are the official days of rest, though in some cases, people will work Saturday.

Meetings should be scheduled in advance with extra time allocated in case it should go on longer or start later than anticipated.

The customary greeting is “As-salam alaikum," (peace be upon you) to which the reply is "Wa alaikum as-salam,” (and upon you be peace). When entering a meeting, general introductions will begin with a handshake. You should greet each of your Emirati counterparts individually.

Avoid shaking hands with a woman unless they extend their hand first. When you are in the UAE, especially on business, coffee, as well as tea, will often be offered to you in offices and at Arab's homes. Offering coffee is symbolic of hospitality.


Dos and don’ts

The UAE is a Muslim country and the laws and customs are very different from those in the UK. You should respect local traditions, customs and laws at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend other cultures or religious beliefs, especially during the holy month of Ramadan. Please visit: for more information.

As with any other country, there are certain rules and regulations that must be adhered to in the UAE too, in order to ensure a safe, secular and respectful environment for all.

Here’s a checklist of essential dos and don’ts:

Dress code
Emirati men or Arab citizens from GCC states usually wear the traditional clothing of their native country. Many Muslim women cover their hair with a scarf and wear a long, black robe called the abaya.

Drugs and alcohol
The UAE adopts a zero-tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol – it is a punishable offence to drink, or to be drunk, in public. To purchase or consume alcohol in the privacy of their homes, residents can obtain a liquor licence. However, the licence will be applicable only in the emirate where it has been issued – a permit issued in Abu Dhabi, for example, is not valid in Dubai. Any alcohol consumption is illegal in Sharjah.

The penalties for drug trafficking or smuggling are severe. The possession and/or import of even the smallest amount of drugs can result in a minimum prison sentence of four years.

Some prescribed and over-the-counter medicines that are available outside of the UAE are considered controlled substances within the emirates. It is best to procure a prescription or prior permission from the UAE’s Ministry of Health before travelling with any such medicine to the UAE. Failure to do this may lead to prosecution under UAE law.

For more information and to view the list of controlled medication, visit the Ministry of Health’s website:

The UAE is very particular about public displays of affection and there have been several arrests for kissing in public. Sex outside of marriage is considered illegal and unmarried couples indulging in adultery risk prosecution, imprisonment and/or a fine and deportation. If an unmarried woman gives birth in the UAE and is brought to the attention of the authorities, she may face severe punishment – ranging from a refusal to issue a birth certificate to arrest and imprisonment. Cohabitation (including in hotels), cross-dressing and homosexual behaviour are also banned in the country.

It is imperative to avoid using obscene language or make rude gestures in public as offenders have, in the past, received six-month jail sentences for such acts. Some have also been deported.

Censorship and photography
Photography of certain government buildings is not permitted. It is advisable not to photograph people (especially women) without their permission. Do not take pictures of military sites. Avoid bringing any magazines, DVDs or books with pornographic content into the UAE. Certain international magazines and newspaper sold in the UAE are censored – all objectionable material is marked in black, while intimate scenes in films shown in UAE movie theatres are censored.

The UAE places no restrictions on bringing pets into the country. However, if an individual opts to rent an apartment, the confined space can prove to be a hassle for both the pet and its owner. Additionally, unfavourable climatic conditions make it difficult to leave pets outdoors. Research and decide on the choice of residence first before deciding to bring pets into the UAE.

It is essential to micro-chip all dogs and cats before their arrival in the UAE. The vaccination card would need to display the micro-chipping details. If handwritten, it would need to be stamped by the veterinarian.

With an influx of nationalities streaming into the UAE each year, catering to multicultural needs and requirements – especially in complex areas such as education – can be a mammoth task. However, the UAE does this with ease. Irrespective of whether an expatriate student is used to an O-level or A-level type of education or has had another educational background, schools in the emirates have courses to suit all.

One of the great things about education and schooling in the UAE is the opportunity to interact with students from various nationalities and backgrounds, which in the long run ensures greater global awareness. This is possible through a wide variety of curricula on offer which includes American, British, Australian, French, German, Indian, Iranian, Japanese, Russian and of course Arabic.

To ensure all schools meet parents’ expectations, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority took it upon itself to grade each school based on performance, facilities and level of education by providing a detailed report on every school each year. Besides a wide variety of primary school options, the UAE also offers the best in higher education facilities.

A dedicated complex for world-renowned universities and campuses ensures expatriates and residents do not have to look elsewhere to offer the best in education to their wards. Also known as the Dubai International Academic City, this educational free trade zone houses some of the most sought after universities with over 400 institutions operating within the city.



Learning to drive in the UAE is relatively easy. As with all nations, there are certain rules and regulations that must be adhered to. In order to procure a UAE driving licence, an individual needs to be 18 or above.

Documents required:

  • A no-objection letter from the sponsor

  • Original passport and copies

  • Copy of a valid residence visa

  • Eight passport size photographs

  • An eye test certificate listing the condition and health

Driving dos and don’ts:
Do follow the rules and speed limits of the emirate you are travelling in at all times. Do not indulge in ‘road rage’ such as rude gestures or verbal abuse when driving or if involved in an accident, as this can attract penalties such as fines, a jail sentence, and possible deportation.

In case of an accident, alert the police first. It is an offence to leave the scene of an accident before the police have arrived.

Do not drink and drive as this is considered a serious criminal offence. Should an individual be caught in the act, his/her insurance is likely to be invalidated, which means the offender will have to pay the claims of all parties involved in an accident, if any. Offenders caught drinking and driving also risk imprisonment.



The UAE is a Muslim country and the laws and customs are very different from those in the UK. You should respect local traditions, customs and laws at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend other cultures or religious beliefs, especially during the holy month of Ramadan.

Ramadan in the UAE
All individuals are expected to extend basic respect and courtesy to Muslims fasting during Ramadan. A clear guide is available on arrival at all major airports.

Key Points to Remember:

  • Do not eat, drink or smoke in public view during the day (including in the car). This is considered highly disrespectful and is also against the law. Failure to comply could result in arrest.

  • Pregnant, nursing women and young children are exempt from fasting. However, it is advisable to exercise discretion at all times.

  • As per law, during Ramadan almost all eating and drinking establishments will not be operational during the day.

  • Dress modestly. While it is advisable to avoid skimpy clothing at all times, particular caution must be taken during Ramadan so as not offend religious beliefs and the local customs and traditions.

  • Loud music and dancing is considered disrespectful during Ramadan – kindly avoid.

Places of worship
The UAE has some of the most beautiful mosques in the region, with one in almost all major areas and communities. Some mosques, such as the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Jumeirah Mosque in Dubai, have touring options for non-Muslims too.


Health services

Hospitals and health care providers in the UAE offer some of the most advanced and diverse facilities – a testament to the emirates’ thriving health care system. Well-equipped private and public hospitals and clinics offer the best in specialised healthcare through in and out-patient facilities at world-recognised institutions.

Health insurance is essential, irrespective of whether an individual is on a tourist visa or has been sponsored for a visit. Most employers offer insurance coverage at a premium. Insurance can also be bought through different service providers at a fee. It would be advisable to contact your sponsor or agency for a list of health insurance options.

Emergency contacts:

Police: 999

Fire: 997

Ambulance: 998

Abu Dhabi - 02 446 1461

Dubai - 04 229 2222

Sharjah - 06 563 1111


Lifestyle and entertainment

As much as the UAE prides itself on being a hub of culture and tradition, its wide variety of entertainment options is also a testament to the country’s secular nature. Many expatriates make the most of their tax free lifestyle by indulging in high-standard international cuisine at world renowned restaurants. There are numerous night clubs around the emirates too. Some of the clubs attract international DJs, including talent from the Middle East and Asia and the rest of the world. Clubbing facilities in Dubai include sophisticated cocktail lounges serving an eclectic mix of cuisines and drinks and the best in live music and entertainment.

Another feature is the emirate’s emphasis on featuring the best talent of the music industry, be it by way of numerous piano and jazz bars, world-renowned singers or gems from the local talent pool.

Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort
Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort is one of the best conservatories in the region where visitors are treated to a unique glimpse of some of the animals that comprise UAE’s wildlife such as the Arabian Oryx and gazelle. For more information see:

Al Bastakiya-Dubai
Al Bastakiya-Dubai is one of the oldest residential areas in the city, where houses were once built for the Iranian merchants and where once-wealthy traders and pearl divers lived. The area has been protected and is now home to museums, coffee shops and art galleries that are open to all.

Al Mamzar Beach Park
One of Dubai’s most popular parks, Al Mamzar houses an amphitheatre, with plenty of picnic spots and a well-equipped children’s playground. The park is surrounded by beaches that have sheltered areas for swimming with ample security in the form of trained lifeguards. Open Hours: 8am-11pm daily, 8am to 11.30pm on Thurs and Fri. Weds only for ladies.

Atlantis – Aqua Venture
A relatively new venue for watersport activities, including its Leap of Faith ride. See:

Camel Racing
The Dubai World Cup may be one of the richest horse races in the world, but camel racing is by no means less appealing in the Emirates, since the former UAE president, Shaikh Zayed, endorsed the sport and offered financial aid to citizens who cared for the camels. There are 15 racetracks located throughout the country, with races taking place on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays throughout the winter season.

Desert Safari
Despite being a trip designed for tourists rather than a true representation of what Bedouin life in the UAE was really like, a desert safari is a popular experience of world beyond the city’s tarmac and towers.

Camel-riding, henna, belly-dancing and traditional food can all be found on the various tours offered from each of the Emirates.

Dreamland Aqua Park
This park put Umm Al Quwain on the world map. Considered one of the largest water parks in the region, Dreamland offers a variety of programmes and hosts special events throughout the year. See:

Dubai Aquarium
Located in the Dubai Mall, this 10-million litre tank is one of the top draws in the UAE, mainly due to its massive size and an underwater zoo tour attraction. See:

Dubai Museum
Located within Al Bastakiya, Al Fahidi Fort is the oldest building in Dubai, having been built in 1899 to defend the emirate against sea attacks. It was expanded on in the 1830s-1850s, and today is considered to be one of the most important historical monuments in the city. The fort has housed the Dubai Museum since 1970, showcasing the cultural history of the area as far as 3,000-4,000 years ago. See:

Ferrari World
A theme park that focuses on cars and racing, Ferrari World is a popular spot irrespective of whether you are a sport enthusiast or not. See:

Heritage Village, Abu Dhabi
Replicating a traditional oasis village, looking at what life used to be like for the Emirati people. Complete with a tent made from goat hair, a falaj irrigation system and a campfire with customary coffee pots, and workshops given by traditional craftsmen to demonstrate skills such as metalwork, pottery, weaving and spinning.

Hili Archaeological Gardens
Located 10km outside Al Ain, historians assert that the most unique feature about this park are the remnants from a Bronze Age settlement (2,500-2,000 BC, excavated and restored in 1995) and a number of national treasures displayed at the museum.

Jumeirah Beach Park (JBP)
The preferred park for most Western expatriates, JBP boasts a beach front and is frequented by tourists who are lured by its clean waters and round-the-clock security. Location: Opposite Chilli’s Restaurant on the Beach Road, Jumeirah. Open Hours: 8am-10:30pm daily. Thurs & Fri until 11pm. Saturday for children and ladies only.

Saadiyat Island
A natural island, Saadiyat is currently undergoing development on a massive scale and once completed it will house the Abu Dhabi Louvre. See:

Sir Bani Yas Island
This island has been named after the Bani Yas tribe, who first inhabited Abu Dhabi. A natural reserve, it also houses a five-star resort. See:

The Creek, Dubai
Splitting the city in two, the Creek (also known as Khor Dubai) was once a lifeline for Dubai’s industry. Still a bustling thoroughfare today, there are plenty of boats, and a number of tours possible, as well as an abra, a cheap taxi boat that will take you from shore to shore.

Tour a Mosque
Two of the best examples are the Shaikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the eighth largest mosque in the world and home to the world’s largest handwoven carpet, and the Jumeirah Mosque in Dubai. Both are open to non-Muslims for guided tours which will offer an invaluable insight into the local religion, plus a unique opportunity to see the exquisite Islamic architecture both buildings demonstrate. Visitors should dress conservatively, though.

Wild Wadi
A water park located between Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah Beach Hotel in Dubai. See:


Getting around

Land transport
UAE’s public transport system is one of the best in the world with a widely connected network of buses, taxis and a Metro link in Dubai. The Dubai Metro connects all major areas of old and new Dubai, with construction underway to launch new routes. Metro users are required to buy a one-time Nol card which needs to be recharged once all funds have been exhausted. It is the most preferred mode of transport within Dubai due to its state-of-the-art facilities, easy access, cheap fares and level of comfort.

Water transport
Also known as Abras, water taxis are a preferred favourite for over 15,000 who commute between Deira and Bur Dubai each day. They are operational from 5am to 12am. See:

Air travel
Brands in themselves, Etihad Airways and Emirates Airline have now become the symbol of the UAE. To make bookings for holiday packages or for convenient travel options, contact: Etihad Airways 02 505 8000 or 800 2277, 02 6939711 /


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