Things to know when doing business in the Gulf

Things to know when doing business in the Gulf

Middle East News


If you want to get ahead in the Gulf region, then you need to understand how business is done, as norms and practices vary greatly from a European or US perspective. The region is so diverse in geography, ethnicity, religion and cultural practice it is necessary to learn the unique details of the economy and culture of each individual country within the Gulf. One thing is clear, no matter how successful your current business approach is, you can’t simply transplant western business practices to the Gulf.

So what are the key areas to consider?

  • Religion plays such a big role in all aspects of life across the Gulf region and wider Middle East, so it’s wise to spend time to learn about Islam.
  • Influential connections are vital, so spend time with Gulf Arabs to learn all you can and exchange ideas. Connections can make or break business deals in this part of the world much more than any other.
  • Ensure you have reliable and knowledgeable local partners to guide you early on, especially in the area of legal. In fact, in many regions it is compulsory to use local partners. Remember in the Gulf it’s not what you know as much as who you know, so pick someone who can open doors and who really spends the time to get to know you and your business. If a Gulf-based organisation comes recommended by a foreign company or somebody you know professionally and trust, that’s a good starting point.
  • Regulations are different for each region and although over recent years reforms have made doing business more friendly, keeping abreast of regulation changes is vital.
  • Thoroughly research any company you plan do business with they do business with in the Gulf, paying particular attention to the company's track record in dealing with foreign companies.
  • The typical sales cycle in certain regions can be protracted and decisions take a long time. It pays to be patient, flexible and prepared to accommodate shifting schedules.
  • Gulf Arabs are exceptionally proud of their language, so learning at least a few words of Arabic is an easy way to demonstrate that a relationship is personally important to you rather than just another business deal. Your effort will be greatly appreciated.
  • Gulf-based organisations can be multi-tiered and difficult to penetrate. If you don’t have a business associate or influential friend who can help you find a way into a prospective customer, consider hiring a professional intermediary to save you time, money and frustration in identifying and reaching the real decision makers you want to target.
  • The best way to communicate is always face to face. Some countries don’t really do serious business by phone with Westerners, so a personal visit is your only option.
  • Remember and remember again that although regions share a common history and culture, there are also many differences in terms of their social outlook and approach to business. Treating all Arabs the same implies arrogance, and coming across as arrogant is just about the worst thing a western business person can do in this part of the world.

Lots to think about, however, if your business plan is solid, you’ve done your homework and you’re prepared to embrace a unique social and business culture, the Gulf offers a rapidly expanding economic zone where you could thrive.