The UAE is a highly cosmopolitan well-educated society, familiar with the methods and means of doing business worldwide. However, there are a few points that people new to the Arabian business environment should keep in mind.
Here, more than anywhere else, business is conducted on the basis of personal relationships and mutual trust. It is vitally important to build on these.
Although it is changing rapidly and large firms are structured as in the rest of the world, companies are often a family affair, with the ultimate decision-maker being the head of the family. Even if this is not the case, it is essential to clearly identify the decision-maker. However, your initial meetings will probably be at a lower level. These are also very important as a means of building mutual trust. Print your business card in English and Arabic and make sure that all brochures and presentation material are full-colour and well produced.
Good manners and courtesy are prized attributes. Nevertheless, although you should always arrive on time for a meeting, punctuality is not considered a virtue and you may be kept waiting before or during your meeting. Do not be impatient. Take the time to chat and drink the coffee, tea or soft drink that is always on offer and establish the relationships that will stand you in good stead. Do not be put off if your meeting is interrupted by other guests or telephone conversations. The upfront, hard-hitting approach is generally not welcome. Be aware that what may seem like evasiveness on the part of your host is usually an unwillingness to say no to your face. Nevertheless, once a deal, is made, orally or otherwise, an Arab businessmans word is his bond and you are also expected to perform accordingly, even if the agreement is a verbal one. This can be disconcerting if you come from a business environment where verbal agreements are not binding.
Hospitality is a way of life in the Arab world and business is frequently conducted over lunch or dinner more than likely in a hotel or restaurant. It is also considered polite to return the invitation.
Arabic is the official business language. Most government forms and official contracts – e.g. tenancy, residence visa – are in Arabic. Official documents (e.g. university diploma, marriage certificate) that have to be submitted to a government agency for processing or authentication also frequently require translation into Arabic. However, English is commonly used in business circles.