Conducting Business in Dubai
By Natalie Horsley
Dubai is one of the business centres of the world and with a government actively trying to attract foreign investors, there has, in recent years, been a massive influx of foreign businesses. Dubai’s favourable laws, almost non-existent taxes, ‘free zones’ are a rapidly expanding population are making it the perfect place for foreign investors. Nearly every market is expanding and ready to accommodate new businesses, with construction, financial services and security some of the best areas for investment – however becoming a licenced business in one of these free zones will take time; business requires patience in Dubai, especially when dealing with the government or bureaucracy.
Whichever sector you are in, the key to business in Dubai is building personal relationships with your business partners. These are built on mutual friendship and trust and often the first meeting with a potential partner will be dedicated solely to getting to know each other. Most meetings will begin with a formal introduction starting with the man of the highest status; it is common to shake hands (when dealing with someone of the opposite sex wait to see if they offer a hand first), exchange business cards and sometimes gifts. Gifts are not expected, but a thoughtful gift related to you in some way may help foster mutual trust. Always use the right hand when shaking hands or giving and receiving any items, especially food. During this first meeting it is expected to make small talk and you should not turn the conversation to business unless your counterpart brings it up first. It is polite to ask about family – although never any female relatives directly – or about Dubai as a whole.
Food and drink are an important part of business in Dubai and refusing the offer of refreshment is considered rude (conversely if visiting during Ramadan, make sure that all eating and drinking, even water, is done in private). Business deals are often done over dinner and although hotel restaurants are one of the few places that serve alcohol, in Dubai ordering alcohol, pork or shellfish at a business dinner is a faux pas. Even to show a picture of pigs, alcohol or provocative images of women to Muslims is considered rude, so check any promotional material such as magazines beforehand.
Modest dress is essential for men and women, and men should be careful not to touch, make prolonged eye contact or make casual talk with Muslim women. It is also considered rude to sit cross legged or show the soles of your feet to anyone. Being drunk or swearing in public, co-habiting, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality and criticising the government or religion is illegal in Dubai; any displays of affection should be kept private and it is best to avoid politics or religion altogether in such a sensitive region.
Business can take time in Dubai; you may be expected to wait for meetings, business meetings are routinely interrupted by phone calls, emails or unannounced visitors and haggling is common. In Dubai your word is as binding as a contract, so be careful what you agree to during the negotiation stages, as going back on this later will make you seem distrustful and deceitful. It is also important not to criticise or even correct someone in public, as this will cause them to lose face. Learning Arabic is not essential as English is the language of business in Dubai, though learning some basic phrases as well as the correct way to greet people by name will help when dealing with local businessmen.
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