Doing Business in DubaiSkyline of Dubai with the Burj Khalifa Dominating

Let’s start at the beginning. Doing business in Dubai is not (!) about:

  • Understanding the local law (although you should always respect it of course)
  • Knowing all the tax rules and tax breaks you can get
  • It is not about making money (what I mean with this is that if you do your business well, the money will come. Trust me)
  • Hiring the right people (although that is important of course)
  • Inspirational Leadership (although, out of the list here, this is the most important)

What is doing business in Dubai about then? The make or break factor is whether you understand the local culture or rather ALL local cultures in Dubai and if you are culturally competent to deal with them.

Information about local law and regulations is something that you can easily find by finding a good accountant and tax advisor. If you understand the local culture and are culturally competent you will be able to hire the right people and you will know how to adjust your management style to get the most out of them.

But if you don’t understand the Dubai culture than doing business won’t be that easy.

What Does Wikipedia say?

  • On its4,114 km2 (1,588 sq mi) live over 2.1 million people
  • Dubai has relatively little oil compared to Abu Dhabi
  • It has the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa
  • Soon it will have the biggest and busiest airport in the world
  • It has the only 7-star hotel in the world, the Burj al Arab

And much more (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dubai)

So if it is the Culture…

Dubai's multi cultural societySo what does this Dubai culture look like?

The thing is, that Dubai is a truly multi-cultural society, where cultures not easily mix. So what you have are overall four different cultures making the whole Dubai business work.

  • At the top, there are the Emirates themselves (about 15% of the population). Generally, they are in top management position in business and/or government
  • The largest Western World expat group are the British with about 5% of the population. The Brits and other Western cultures can mainly be found in higher management positions
  • Indians take up 51%. By far the biggest workforce in Dubai. From management to workers to restaurant owners etc. The Indians, together with the Pakistanis and Bangladeshis keep Dubai running
  • Pakistanis take up 16%
  • Bangladeshis take up 9%
  • Filipinos take up 3%. For some reason the Filipinos are often found working in hotels and other hospitality industry sectors.

If you consider the number above you can see that you’re actually working with 6 cultures at the same time, because if you’re doing business in Dubai you want to keep an eye on what’s happening every step of the way. At least in the beginning of setting up your business.

This article is part of a two-page article on doing business in Dubai. Click here for part two. In the meantime, if you’re interested in becoming more culturally competent in Dubai: Get in touch.

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Chris Smit

I'm passionate about Cultural Difference. I have been helping organizations save time and money when they work Internationally for the last 19 years. I have had the fortunate opportunity to hold lectures, workshops, and consulting projects on this subject World Wide. It has made me understand my own culture much better, and appreciate the differences around the world.
I have a Master's Degree in Organisational Psychology and have lived in the USA, the Netherlands and, currently, in Belgium.
Thank you!

Chris Smit
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