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Working in the UAE?

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Peter B. Krehmer

Living in UAE, from Switzerland

"There are so many expats in the UAE, but the InterNations Dubai Ramadan dinners brought some wonderful guests together. "

Suzanne Payne

Living in UAE, from Great Britain

"Dubai is such an overwhelming mixture of tradition and modernity that I was very grateful for all the support from other expats. "

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The UAE at a Glance

Working in the UAE

Before you start working in the UAE, you’ll have to consider various things, from business etiquette to social security, so as to avoid starting expat life with unpleasant surprises. Our InterNations guide on working in the UAE helps you make your entry in the business world of the Emirates a breeze!

Working in the UAE means first and foremost working in the very center of the Middle East’s economic hub. Harbors and free trade zones attract foreign tourists and foreign companies alike. Everyday life in the UAE is also defined by religion and tradition, though. Islam plays a major role in all aspects of life, including business etiquette.

Most expats working in the UAE are sent on assignment by an international company. Dubai in particular has become the off-shore location of many foreign companies and thus the home of quite a few expatriates. Work is mostly available to specialized professionals in finance or the petroleum industry.

The Business Environment in the UAE

Conducting business in the UAE reflects its long merchant history. The Emiratis take pride in their tradition of trading and showing hospitality to foreigners. Expats working in the UAE will discover a great sense of ritual even in the business world, which involves breaks for coffee and tea, smoking and dinner invitations.

Expats may also have to get used to a slower pace of life. Extensions and postponements are often a normal part of work life. This is especially the case during Ramadan, when pious Muslims don’t drink, eat or smoke between sunrise and sunset. Hence, working in the UAE can require some patience, too.

Laws and regulations do determine the basic aspects of the relationship between employer and employee in the UAE. Expats can refer to them if they are unsure about working hours and conditions, termination of the work contract, and the obligations of their employer. According to European standards, labor law is incomplete in the UAE, though. As many details as possible should therefore be negotiated and specified in the work contract.  

Personal Conduct

Expats working in the UAE may encounter a very different form of business etiquette. Meeting, greeting, and appropriate attire may not be rocket science in their home country, but they can turn into huge pitfalls for some expatriates.

The most important aspect of is the correct form of personal conduct. As hierarchy and respect are of utmost importance, it is essential for foreigners working in the UAE to correctly spell and pronounce names and titles of their business partners. Abbreviations are considered rude and should be avoided.

Working in the UAE also means being able to control one’s temper. During long meetings or when faced with nerve-wrecking postponements, it is important to stand one’s ground without losing self-control. Direct criticism or refusal should rather be avoided. Differing opinions are often merely implied and it is common practice to hide disagreement behind evasive statements.


Business meetings often follow the traditions of majlis. The original meaning of the term is “a place for sitting”. It was used to describe sitting rooms where men would gather to discuss business or politics. In such meetings, the host as well as every single attendant is allowed to speak. Everyone can take their time to bring forth their opinion. Majlis can thus be very time-consuming and hence often nerve-wrecking for some visitors from abroad.

Foreigners should never become indignant when these meetings run late or are interrupted for tea and coffee breaks and to shower guests with hospitality and pleasantries. When the host offers food and drinks, guests should never refuse this offer as such a refusal would be extremely impolite.

InterNations Expat Magazine