Doing business in the United Arab Emirates

Formed in 1971, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven states and is one of the most successful markets for Northern Ireland companies.

Key Facts

  • Population: 9.5 Million - only 13% are UAE Nationals and 58% South Asian
  • Capital: Abu Dhabi
  • Largest city: Dubai, the commercial centre
  • Languages: Arabic (official), English is widely spoken

Dubai is the regional office for the Invest Northern Ireland India, Middle East and Africa team. The team provides advice and support for Northern Ireland companies looking to do business in the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman. Northern Ireland was the first region of the United Kingdom to establish a dedicated trade office in Dubai in 1994.

Dubai is a global business and logistics hub, the gateway to markets as far as Africa. It is also the location for international exhibitions such as Gulf Food, Arab Health, Big 5 and GITEX


Value of trade from Northern Ireland to UAE - £80 million (2013)

The UAE is committed to international trade and is a relatively open marketplace, but always remember that it is a Muslim country and as such is governed by Islamic law and traditions. The UAE is an extremely multi cultural environment: more than 80% of the population is non-Emirati. You are just as likely to do business with an American as an Australian, an Indian or an Iranian as you are with an Emirati. There are over 200,000 UK citizens living and working in the UAE.

UAE at a glance

The Economy

  • GDP growth 4%
  • Unemployment 2.4%

Main Industries

  • Oil and Gas exploration and refining - the UAE has the world's largest reserves
  • Tourism
  • Regional trading
  • Aluminium
  • Construction
  • Mega infrastructure and lifestyle projects
  • International Exhibitions and Conferences
  • Major Sporting Events

Business Opportunities

  • Manufactured goods especially food
  • Healthcare products and services
  • Education and training
  • Information and Communications Technologies
  • Construction and infrastructure development including architectural services, quantity surveying, mechanical and electrical professional services
  • Aerospace

Northern Ireland companies trading in UAE

Recent businesses successes - Heartsine TechnologiesAJ Power and Ulster Carpet Mills.

Using UAE as their regional sales hub, Northern Ireland companies have established onshore and freezone offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Wrightbus International, Lagan Construction and Delap and Waller have offices in Abu Dhabi and Ulster Carpet Mills, First Derivatives, Integrc, Kitchenmaster, Careersports, Liddell, Caterpillar (FG Wilson), Lowe Refrigeration and AJ Power have sales offices in Dubai and many other companies are represented by agents and distributors.

The success of Northern Ireland's flourishing food sector has also hit the UAE with food companies including Mash Direct, Pure Roast Coffee, Irwin's Bakery, Graham's BakeryKettyle Irish Foods, Glenarm Organic Salmon and Heavenly Tasty Organics selling products on the shelves of supermarkets and in high end hotels and restaurants.

Top tips for doing business in the Emirates


Be culturally aware - As in any international market, show respect for the local culture and dress code.

Be personal - Business is often conducted face to face or over the phone with less reliance on email. Don't launch straight into a sales pitch; ask after family and the well being of the person you are meeting first. People buy from people they genuinely like and trust.

Be prepared to negotiate - You will not always achieve your first price in the UAE.

Build a network and visit often - Referrals and word of mouth are some of the best marketing tools in the UAE. There are numerous professional networking groups to help you with this.

Be flexible and patient - Business meetings are often rescheduled or start later than planned, so be prepared to be flexible. Confirm your meetings before you arrive in-market and call the day before to confirm again and get directions. If you are using a taxi get them to speak to your taxi driver. Meetings are often confirmed at last minute so don’t expect a schedule in advance – that’s the way the market works and people travel a lot regionally.

Arranging meetings - Always arrive early. If you are travelling to the company or a location outside the hotel, get directions in advance from the customer or from your hotel. Always ask for a land mark as very few people know street names. When in meetings avoid pointing the soles of your shoes at your counterparts as this could be seen as rude. Always use you right hand to pass documents, refreshments, business cards. When dealing with women, always wait for the woman to offer her hand before offering yours or just put your hand across your chest.

Business cards - Carry plenty. It is customary to present these at every meeting with someone you have not met before. Your card should have English with Arabic on reverse and always include your business title.

Family links - UAE companies are very family-based and remember Northern Ireland is the same. You could find several family members in the same meeting. Company structures will reflect this family-orientation through a strong sense of hierarchy. Try to find out the hierarchy of your counterpart - and look into who the real decision-makers are. Your business contacts will also want to know a bit about your family.