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About United Arab Emirates

by: Alan Walsh


Currency: UAE Dirham (A.E.D.)                                               
Capital: Abu Dhabi                                              
Time Zone: UTC + 4 hours 




The United Arab Emirates is a federation of hereditary absolute monarchies. The country is a federation of seven emirates and was established on 2 December 1971. It is governed by a Federal Supreme Council made up of the seven emirs of Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah, Dubai, Ras al-Khaimah and Umm al-Quwain. One of the monarchs (traditionally always the Emir of Abu Dhabi) is selected as the President of the United Arab Emirates.
The U.A.E. is also a member of the Gulf Co-operation Council. The Gulf Co-operation Council or GCC as it is commonly known, is a group of Six Middle Eastern kingdoms, comprising the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Sultanate of Oman, the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Bahrain, the State of Qatar and the State of Kuwait. The GCC was formed through a Charter on 25 May 1981 (G.C.C., 2018).


The UAE has the second largest economy in the GCC (after Saudi Arabia), with a gross domestic product (GDP) of $348 billion as per the latest World Bank Data (World Bank, 2017). The United Arab Emirates has more expatriates than Emirates resulting in multiple cultural influences however the government’s intent is to balance the demographic mix between Emiratis and expatriates by 2021. (UAE Government, 2017) 


Some cornerstones of United Arab Emirate culture


Family, religion and religious harmony are cornerstones of the United Arab Emirates. Family is central to society, resulting in a great emphasis on unity, loyalty. They stand for cohesiveness bound by religious and tribal ties and traditional values of cooperating and sharing. 


When in UAE


Good to know


  • Drugs of any kind are strictly prohibited.
  • Do not use a firm handshake as this is considered rude, dominant or disrespectful. 
  • Handshakes between men and Muslim women should be avoided.
  • Avoid writing in red or the use of capital letters in statements as it shows anger.
  • Always offer to remove your shoes before entering an Arabs home.
  • Use your right hand to receive or handle food and objects.
  • Avoid criticizing Islam and Sharia, Local authorities, Politics, and Palestine.
  • Males will often hold hands in public to show friendship.
  • Avoid prolonged eye contact, it is perceived as staring and impolite.
  • Normal tourist photography is acceptable, but it is considered offensive to photograph Muslim women.
  • Kissing in public is illegal and can result in deportation.
  • Dancing in public is illegal in the UAE.
  • Being “under the influence” of alcohol in public is illegal.
  • An Emirati man greets another Emirati man by rubbing his nose against the other's nose.
  • The relative safety of the U.A.E. is excellent in terms of lack of crime.
  • You drive on the right-hand side of the carriageway.


Dress code


For Men
Formal and smart attire. Local Men may wear the traditional “dish dash” or kandura or a suit or just formal pants and shirt. For foreigners, conservative suits and ties are common for initial meetings.  Darker colors are the way to go. Business casual attire is becoming more and more acceptable in many industries.  


For Women
Local women usually wear hijab or “burkha” while others wear formal business attire like trousers and knee length skirts.  For foreigners, conservative yet stylish is a good choice.  For initial meetings, avoid wearing overly expensive accessories, dresses/skirts cut above the knee, low necklines and sleeveless attire. Pants are acceptable.
Informally, one should dress modestly to avoid offending locals. Usually dress codes are conservative, however more relaxed in bigger Dubai. Usually the rule is to cover your shoulders and to wear trousers or skirts covering your knees.




Islam is the largest and the official state religion of the UAE. The government follows a policy of tolerance toward other religions and rarely interferes in the activities of non-Muslims. By the same token, non-Muslims are expected to avoid interfering in Islamic religious matters or the Islamic upbringing of Muslims.


Special Religious considerations for Ramadan


Special considerations need to be given during the holy month of Ramadan, which occurs between mid-May and mid-June in 2018 (the lunar based Ramadan cycle moves forward by ten days each year). During this period, it is illegal to publicly eat, drink, or smoke between sunrise and sunset. Exceptions are made for pregnant women and children. The law applies to both Muslims and non-Muslims, and failure to comply may result in arrest.


Alcohol consumption


Buying and consuming alcohol is permitted in most emirates of the UAE (except for Sharjah), contrary to common belief. Foreign residents in possession of a permit may purchase alcoholic beverages in specialized shops. Restaurants and hotel bars are also allowed to sell alcohol. Consuming alcohol is only forbidden during religious holidays and the legal drinking age is 21 years old.


Key words to describe Emirati culture: Family / Religion / Harmony / Hierarchy / Relationships



Successful business


Doing business in UAI can be challenging because of : 


Experts Recommendation


Trust is an important aspect and essential in building strong business relationships in the United Arab Emirates, and personal contact via face-to-face meetings with potential partners is required to establish strong relationships. Business cards should be given at the beginning of the meeting. When presenting your business card, always keep the Arabic side of your business card face up with an Arab client. This is considered a sign of respect in the United Arab Emirates. A very light pressure handshake is customary as opposed to the Western strong grip, which shows a strong character. Making decisions can be a lengthy process and requires patience and multiple discussions before a final decision is reached. The reason for this is due to deliberation and consensus that are needed before a decision can be made. Hurrying this process will cause offense and will damage good standing business relationships. Lastly, keep in mind that religious Muslims have certain dietary restrictions, they do not take alcohol and pray five times a day. All business meetings and business entertainment should be organized keeping these religious customs in mind.


The Concept of Face


Sensitive topics should be avoided at all cost. Criticizing an Arab business colleague or client is considered rude. Conflict and negative talk should be kept private, as public humiliation is considered extremely disrespectful. By raising one’s voice or shouting, one is considered as being very disrespectful.


Managing Relationships


Trust and mutual respect are a must for long term relationships with the U.A.E. Courtesy and professionalism are required at all stages. Once an agreement is made it is expected that this will be honoured.


Meeting and Greeting


Relationships should be nurtured as long-term investments rather than short-term gains. Take your time when making introductions, do not rush as it be being disrespectful. When greeting a Muslim use the word ‘As-Salumu Alaykum’ pronounced “Salum – Ali Come” meaning peace be upon you. Business meetings can take place in offices, but they can often be informal and take place in restaurants or cafés. Meetings are rarely private, and interruptions often occur. Offering a coffee or tea before the meeting starts is recommended. Punctuality by the foreigner is essential and is considered a sign of respect.
Business conversations and meetings with Arabs are usually informal and friendly. Conversations are overly polite and generally start by inquiring about family or discussing the weather. The topic of family is generally a good choice to begin a conversation.





Power Distance


The United Arab Emirates scores high on this dimension (score of 90) which means that people accept a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place, and which needs no further justification. Hierarchy in an organization is seen as reflecting inherent inequalities, centralization is popular, subordinates expect to be told what to do and the ideal boss is a benevolent autocrat. Power is centralized, and managers count on the obedience of their team members in return for protection from the power holders. The manager/boss is expected (and often the only authorized party) to make decisions. Titles and proximity to the Royal family play an important role and it helps the Emirati people place their colleagues or counterparts in the hierarchy, allowing them to give appropriate respect to superiors.




The United Arab Emirates, with a score of 25 is considered a collectivistic society. This is manifest in a close long-term commitment to the member ‘group’, be that a family, extended family, or extended relationships. Loyalty in a collectivist culture is paramount, and over-rides most other societal rules and regulations. The society fosters strong relationships where everyone takes responsibility for fellow members of their group. In collectivist societies offence leads to shame and loss of face, employer/employee relationships are perceived in moral terms (like a family link), hiring and promotion decisions take account of the employee’s in-group, management is the management of groups.




The United Arab Emirates score 50 on the Masculinity and can be considered neither Masculine nor Feminine dimension with a score of 46 and is thus considered more Feminine.


Uncertainty Avoidance


The United Arab Emirates scores below 80 on the Uncertainty Avoidance dimension, and thus has a high preference to avoid unpredictability. Countries exhibiting high Uncertainty Avoidance maintain rigid codes of belief and behavior and are intolerant of unorthodox behavior and ideas. In these cultures, there is an emotional need for rules (even if the rules never seem to work) time is money, people have an inner urge to be busy and work hard, precision and punctuality are the norm, innovation may be resisted, security is an important element in individual motivation


Long term Orientation & Indulgence


There are currently no scores available for the United Arab Emirates on these dimensions


For a more detailed analysis on the Cultural Dimensions, and how the United Arab Emirates compares to other countries, please visit Hofstede Insights’ Country Comparison tool


References & Interesting Links


Arab, U. and Population, E. (2018) ‘Worldmeters Population Updates’,
Comparison, C. and Insights, H. (2018) ‘United Arab Emirates’,
G.C.C. (2018) ‘GCC Website’, www..
UAE Government (2017) ‘Population and demographic mix’, The Official Portal of the UAE Government, pp. 2017–2018. Available at:
World Bank (2017) ‘World Bank Data -
Interesting Links
Kwintessential Guide to Dubai & The UAE - Etiquette, Customs, Culture & Business
U.A.E. Government website  -
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – Getting to know your world -
Wikipedia -