Doing Business in UAE - What Not to Do

Doing Business in UAE - What Not to Do

Abu Dhabi, Dubai, the UAE – a haven for business opportunities and investor. Are you thinking about setting up shop there? Have you done your homework? Five areas you should be concerned with are examined below:

Cultural awareness

Be aware - forging relationships in foreign countries takes time and work, some interpersonal skills and a lot of respect. Understanding and acknowledging the local business etiquette in Abu Dhabi is essential to these relationships.  Such things as women not shaking hands until a hand is offered or not enquiring after one’s family ahead of any business discussion are just two examples of the local cultures. Disrespecting, or not showing a concerted effort at respecting local customs could contribute to lost deals.

Be visible

Incorporating in Abu Dhabi is relatively easy – but managing the business for half way around the world is probably not your best option.  Relationships are very important when conducting business in Abu Dhabi. Providing face time, making business connections, getting to know the people who support your business as well as industry peers will open up new avenues for you to succeed in your overseas venture. Industry peers can enable introductions as well as provide insight on current market trends. Your frequent presence builds a sense of community, commitment, trust and stability – it says you are here; you are part of the bigger scheme in the UAE’s success. A light discussion over coffee will get you in the door and keep you in touch with the market.

Market research

Know your market. Research and learn what is needed – is your product or service a good fit? Can it be adapted so it can be adopted? Who are your clients – how can you market to them effectively?

Get to know your competitors – make pricing adjustments to remain competitive. Learn about the workforce and employment regulations and restrictions. Is your product or service in a growth mode or decline? Remember: Prior Preparation and Planning Prevents Poor Performance.


Acquire any necessary assistance to prepare a business plan and break-even analysis – know your cash flow position every minute of every day. While you may believe you have adequate funds to help you launch your new enterprise, keeping it afloat until it starts producing its own revenue needs careful planning – starting a business can be costly. Know and understand the initial start-up costs: incorporation, licensing, legal fees, premises and finish out. Know and understand your ongoing costs, including marketing and workforce.  Consider what payment terms you will be offering and the impact on your cash flow. Abu Dhabi is a cash-rich environment – funding or loans are not easily acquired.

Don’t forget to list your personal living expenses – rents are prepaid up to a year in Abu Dhabi and there is no public education system. Education will be a major cost of living.


Networking is of the ultimate importance as it takes time to build relationships and secure contracts.  Trying to network on your own can be difficult – consult with organisers and allow them to facilitate introductions. Networking goes beyond these introductions – meeting an important client could be encountered at sports clubs or other activity / interest groups. By keeping this in mind, you will view everyone as a business development opportunity or potential client. Gaining local trust and developing good relationships as well as a stellar reputation will open many doors with people recommending you.

James Swallow is Commercial Director of UAE based PRO Partner Group. PRO Partner Group specialises in providing foreign investors with a seamless and financially efficient means to setting up a profitable corporate presence in the Abu Dhabi and Dubai. We can advise on the best way to set up your business to undertake the relevant activities and access the relevant sections of the market, UAE local market, Government, Onshore, Freezone and Internationally. Contact James direct on for further information.

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