Business Setup Facts in the UAE

Doing business in the UAE is a multi-cultural experience. The unprecedented boom has brought many expatriates to the country. A wild mix of human behaviors is the result, with the inevitable sharp edges. Without experiencing it, it's hard to imagine what it's like - in the context of your own cultural background and professional experience.

When dealing with UAE government institutions and the bigger companies, there are a few commonalities which help to keep in mind. Basically the working hands in the UAE are Asian expatriates - they make things happen, like creating the paperwork for your Free Trade Zone Company.

Dominant nationalities are Indians, Pakistanis and Filipinos. The managerial level can be either "western" expatriates (US, UK and European countries including former east block countries), local emirates or experienced Asians.

Escalation to get things done

Clearly, most people working at UAE government departments, the bigger companies and most of the Free Trade Zone's have been trained to do their work. However - when getting things done - require initiative, assertiveness or thinking outside the box, chances are that this will not happen - even with encouragement. Most likely work will be delayed, pushed aside, sent back or worse, gets lost and forgotten. Escalation to managerial levels is very common and in most cases the only way to get things done.

Because many government and business processes in this fast rising nation have not really matured, it's possible (and required) to find work-arounds using the right approach. It is the only way, to avoid an endless wait. In exceptional cases it's required to "drink tea" with people of authority and to obtain that leverage to work out a deal. To be in the position to "drink tea", one needs to be sensitive to local customs and behaviors - most of all it takes time.

Cultural backgrounds

For understanding behaviors it helps to have experienced the culture in countries like Pakistan, India or the Philippines, but also the background and Bedouin culture of Emiraties. Knowing their backgrounds and countries makes it easier to deal with behaviors unexplainable to people from "western" regions of the world. Most importantly is to realize that how things are in the UAE, already is a big improvement compared to how it's like in India or Pakistan.

The Process Du Jour

Even more common is people doing your paperwork don't exactly understand their work process and how it relates to others. The benchmark is to ask the same question to at least 3 people in the same work environment. High variance in the answers indicates a sloppy process ahead. However the 'Process du Jour' (Process of the Day) just might be the one that gets things done for you - most likely it's not.

Most common are writing errors in names (persons, companies) in letters, official documents and e-mails. It is exceptional when things are done "first time right" and on time. Same as getting called back as promised with the right information on time.

Follow-up on a daily basis

For crucial steps in the setup process of a Free Trade Zone Company it is important to be on top of it on a daily basis. Specially when national, religious holidays are approaching or when it is Ramadan. Don't expect miracles during national and religious holidays - there are only meant for the privileged few.


Job reality in the UAE

Last but not least, in most blue and white collar jobs at up-to the middle management level, the average salary for the Asian expatriate is low. Work days in most cases are from Saturday to Friday. When the work itself is bad, the average motivation to do a good job can be expected to be low.

It's easy to get fired and the consequences are grave - residence visa, housing, salary are usually gone. In classic structures, decisions are the privilege of top management, don't expect the person on the phone to make that decision for you - there is more at stake than a delay of your Free Zone Company Setup.

It is rare to find well managed personnel with real HR processes aimed at getting the best out of people. With a high supply of workers waiting to take that job, it's easy to understand how the 'Process du Jour' can emerge within such an environment.