United Arab Emirates

Despite inflation pressures and a large expatriate workforce, the United Arab Emirates continues to boast the second-largest economy in the Middle East.

The UAE is built on oil, and that resource continues to buoy its economy. Oil has also given the UAE a high per-capita income and a large trade surplus, making it the second-largest economy in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia. It is a federation made up of seven states.

The late Sheikh Zayed, president of the UAE at independence in 1971, directed oil wealth into healthcare, education and national infrastructure. More recent efforts to diversify have meant successes in the finance, tourism and construction sectors.

The country’s free trade zones, established in 1985, offer 100% foreign ownership and have attracted foreign investors after the 2009 financial crisis shrunk the economy.

UAE’s challenges include its reliance on oil, its large expatriate workforce (about 80% of the population and more than 85% of the workforce are expats) and growing inflation pressures.


  1. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are the financial centres; Abu Dhabi is the political capital.
  2. UAE ranks 22nd out of 189 countries on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index for 2014.
  3. It’s the world’s 18th-largest exporter out of 223 countries and the 20th-largest importer out of 222 countries.


  1. Dress for success. The UAE has a relatively liberal dress code but women should still dress conservatively and should cover their head at religious sites. Both men and women should wear business suits at the office.
  2. Shake it up. In business situations, men greet their male hosts with a handshake, which tends to last longer than in North America. Don’t withdraw first. Men shouldn’t shake an Emirati woman’s hand unless she extends hers first. Generally, Muslim women won’t shake the hand of a man who isn’t related; rather, they may touch their hearts to indicate conviviality.
  3. Seniority rules. Status is important, as are titles, so make sure you have those right. Arabs use first names on second reference (e.g., John Doe becomes Mr. John). Greet the most senior person in the room first.
  4. Best foot forward, not up. Be careful not to show the bottom of your shoes when sitting in a meeting. It’s a sign of disrespect.
  5. Meeting interruptus. During meetings, your hosts may accept cellphone calls and respond to emails and text messages; unexpected people may come and go.


  1. Warming it up. The sub-tropical climate in the UAE will be warm for Canadians. In January and February, temperatures run in the mid-20s°C. June to September get really hot, with highs of up to 45°C. Humidity levels are also high in those months and it’s sunny most days.
  2. Open culture, but Women are free to drive and move around unescorted, but traditional gender roles tend to be reinforced.
  3. Walk the talk. Most of the expats who run the service sectors of the country (hotels, taxis) speak English well enough to help you.
  4. Gratuitous gratuities. Tips of 10% are included on restaurant bills.
  5. Getting around. There are intercity buses that are affordable and easy to use. Otherwise, you can rent a car.

 United Arab Emirates