• Jenny Hunt

3 Tips Before Starting A Business In Abu Dhabi

11th September 2014

Its amazing how many people arrive in the Emirates and just expect to start doing business. To succeed in this market and flourish as quickly as possible, it’s essential that you do your due diligence, research the market and put together a business plan including anticipated start up and ongoing operational costs. You need to be aware of any tax implications. Conduct a risk analysis. Determine if you have sufficient resources and if not, how to get them and the cost implications – how do these vary from what you are used to. The UAE is made up of a melting pot of nationalities with different levels of education and approaches to doing business – are you prepared for this? Do you understand how the local culture will affect your business? Will your product or service be a seamless fit into the local market or will it require adaptation? It’s essential to know about the local regulations so that your business can stay compliant once it is up and running and also to know the labour laws and visa regulations so that you can employ staff.


1) Market Research

So, how can you find out all of the information that you need? Desk research online is always a great start – although be very aware that information can be incorrect and out of date, so always be mindful to double check. Make inquiries with your local Embassy – they will have expert trade advisors to help with your market research inquiries and potentially be able to connect you with key business contacts. Join a trade mission to the UAE and participate in the organised schedule of activities where you will get exposure to industry experts to provide you with the current information and who will also share their own experiences. Identify reputable organisations to assist you. Read the local papers to get a feel for what is happening within the country in terms of business opportunities, market feel, regulatory changes etc... Visit the UAE and immerse yourself in the business community. Register with the local business councils to join their events and start to create your network of contacts and information.


2) Create a network of contacts

Don’t undervalue the importance of a good network of contacts. As the UAE is such a transient hub, with a mix people arriving for short business trips, others staying on a two to five year plan and long-timers here for years and years – you will find that faces come and go, so its important to go out networking and to keep networking, even if you feel you have been here for a while and have sufficient contacts. The clue is really in the word ‘network’ – if you need advice, assistance or support and your own contacts don’t have the answers, hopefully they will reach out to their own networks to find someone who can help.

The great thing about living and working in the UAE as an Expat is that most of us have arrived here not knowing anyone at some point – so we have all been in the same boat and understand the importance of meeting people. It really is a networking community here and ‘who you know, before what you know’. Countless times you hear of people securing fabulous new jobs because of a chance encounter with someone. In Abu Dhabi particularly, there is a strong sense of community and people are willing to help each other. Its also worth noting that its often actually very easy to arrange to speak with or meet some very prominent players in the local business market, which just wouldn’t happen in other parts of the world – people are much more accessible here. There are networking events most nights of the week – some are social, some are themed, some are business-focused. Try out a selection and see which ones suit you and your business. When registering for an event tell the organiser that you are new – they will then look after you and introduce you to a few people to get your started. Alternatively tell them the type of people that you are looking to meet, such as people within a specific sector – they are there to help you and make your networking experience as enjoyable as possible. Look out for events arranged by local business councils. Check local publications and social media for events listings.


3) Cultural awareness is key

The UAE is steeped in rich Arabic culture and traditions and Emiratis fiercely defend these. Its worth researching the culture and understanding the business etiquette so that you don’t make any faux pas and inadvertently insult a potential business partner or client.

Whilst Arabic and English are both spoken widely in business, your Emirati and Arab business connections will welcome an attempt if you try to speak their language – even the basic greetings are much appreciated. It’s also a great way to forge a relationship as it shows that you are committed and willing to make the time and effort.


Business is very much conducted in the form of relationships. Arabs spend time getting to know people, feeling comfortable with them and building their trust in them before engaging on business. You are likely to have many meetings with lots of coffee before a deal is struck. I always say to people don’t underestimate the value of a cup of coffee. When I first moved to the UAE I was frustrated at not being able to get down to business straight away – now I’ve learned to adapt to the Arabic way of doing business, enjoying a cup of coffee with my connections and chatting about anything and everything before getting down to business – I’ve learned that strong relationships and trust are built this way. Often business will only be discussed right at the end of a meeting.


Its not necessary for Expat women to dress in the Abaya or wear a Sheyla, as in other parts of the Gulf; however, dressing respectfully is necessary, such as selecting outfits that cover the shoulders and choosing dress/skirt lengths that cover the knee. In the past, I had to attend a notary signing at the courts – that day I was wearing a Western knee-length, tailored skirt suit, but security deemed it as unsuitable and sent me to cover up with an Abaya. Also, certain government departments impose very strict dress codes for women – one particular department stipulates that the skirt length must be at least half way down the calf (I now keep an Abaya in my car, just in case of any unplanned trips to such departments).


The culture is fascinating, but adhering is essential and could be the difference between winning or losing a contract, so do take time to understand and appreciate it. There are numerous centres offering cultural awareness courses, as well as books filled with information about ‘Dos and Don’ts’.

To get started with your company formation in Abu Dhabi, email us info@GatewayToAbuDhabi.com We can assist you in understanding how to set up a company, whether to be onshore or in a freezone, understanding the risks and how to mitigate them, highlight the costs involved, identify the ongoing regulatory requirements and even manage your incorporation. Upon completion of your business setup, we can also process your visas.


Written by Jenny Hunt, Founding Partner & CEO

Gateway Group Of Companies

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