You’ll find that, in general, people in the UAE are patient when it comes to cultural etiquette and are keen to explain their customs to you. However, there are a few cultural dos and don’ts that you should be aware of to avoid causing offence or landing yourself in trouble with the law.
Wear appropriate attire. Covering shoulders and knees is a safe bet. It’s wise for women to carry a pashmina so they can cover up when necessary.
If you’re offered traditional Arabic coffee (kahwa) during a meeting, it is polite to drink some. Cups should be taken in the right hand.
Introductions and small talk usually start a business meeting, with exchanging of business cards. Treat a received card with respect.
Public displays of affection are a no-no in the UAE and anything more than an innocent peck on the cheek will at best earn you disapproving looks from passers-by.
If you are meeting someone of the opposite sex a handshake may not always be welcome.
Being late for a meeting is considered bad manners, but punctuality doesn’t mean it will start at the appointed time or be uninterrupted.
Traditionally men and women dine separately and meals are eaten sat on floor cushions. Be careful when sitting not to point your feet at anyone or show the soles of your feet.
Eating, drinking, smoking and even chewing gum in public during the daylight hours of Ramadan is illegal. Wait until Iftar to eat, drink or smoke in public.
Don't snap photos without asking permission, particularly of women.
It can be considered rude to enquire directly about someone’s wife, sister or daughter.
The customary nose kiss greeting used between men in the Gulf region shouldn’t be attempted either.
Tipping is not compulsory, but tipping for good service is common, normally around 10% of your bill. For valet-parking at hotels a Dhs.5 tip is average.
All expats must have a national identity card.
Smoking is illegal in many public areas such as shopping malls.
Photographs of government and military buildings shouldn’t be taken.
Some over-the-counter medicines from your home country may be illegal here. The Ministry of Health’s website moh.gov.ae has a list of approved drugs.
It’s completely illegal to use your phone without a hands-free device while driving.
Passing bad cheques is taken seriously in the UAE, resulting in fines or imprisonment.