Going to vacation in Dubai (UAE) and then business trip to Saudi Arabia….?

…First time to Middle East. Help…
Any suggestions or tips on the basic custom, fashion/attire code, mode of transport, what to watch out for, what not to say or do, and most importantly safety issues? Are the two countries very different from each other? If yes, in what ways? Thank you!

Written by under UAE Business Discussions.


  • Mahesh N

    March 11, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    First go on business to Saudi and then vacation in Dubai to really enjoy it. Please don’t spoil it by doing the opposite.

  • Susana Spears

    March 11, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    Yeah, although the both are Arabs but they have huge cultural differences. The traditions in Saudia are a bit strict than in UAE. So, you have to be more careful while traveling to Saudi Arabia but you will also enjoy the both places.

  • H

    March 11, 2010 at 4:44 pm


    swim wear a the beach and “normal” clothes everywhere else. Plenty of cabs are available in Dubai and as a lady you will sit in the back. Have some small AED notes handy, nothing to worry about what to say as long as you don’t swear in public. No falling around being drunk, when driving, zero promille tolerance. Never take any photos of women without asking. Only saftey issue is crossing the streets unless you do it at a traffic light. Cars will not stop at crosswalks without traffic lights!

    Do you have a visa already? If yes, you see me surprised and being glad for you. In Saudi you have to be accompanied with a male guardian. If you say you go on a business trip, I assume that your Saudi sponsor will take care of it. Buy an Abaya while in Dubai because you will have to wear Abaya and cover your hair. Face cover not necessary. No alcohol served in Saudi and when dining out you have to sit in the family sections. Saudi is much stricter then Dubai. How you will feel and what you will do I can’t tell you without knowing where you will stay and with whom you will be with.
    Have your mobile working internationally and always have enough credit on and in Saudi, ALWAYS be dressed properly (covered).

    While in Dubai, try to find the following boock:

    This book is full of very good advices how to do business with Arabs. It also will tell you how to act properly towards Arabs and how to interpred their behavior. Things like: never offer your hand shake to a male Arab unless he offers his hand first. This book is a very great help for any Westerner doing business in the Gulf.

    Take care.

  • plagiarism

    March 11, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    I’m really bothered that, as a woman, you’re going on a business trip to Saudi. I hope to goodness that you’re going there under the protection of the firm that employs you, and you’ll have to be very, very risk averse, obedient to what they tell you, stay where they put you, and keep yourself up to date on a daily basis with the current political situation. My understanding is that there’s a compound for foreigners which is almost but not quite of the same status as Embassy land, but stray out of that and you’re in deep doo-doo. Women aren’t allowed to drive cars; they must be covered from head to foot when out in public (I have a female friend based in the Middle East who runs a business there, and you should listen to her experience of how terrifying it is to walk around wearing a burqa; and there are so many other laws and customs which tend to be enforced by punish first, ask questions later. And from what I understand from my friend, you can’t expect to have your knowledge or opinion respected. With luck, you’ll feel as if you’ve never been there – and the reason for that rather odd phrasing is that I hope all your time is spent in the company of your business associates. Do please be very, very careful.

    Dubai is a horse of a very different colour. They are in process of deliberately setting themselves up as a world tourist destination, and so have relaxed a great many of the rules that used to govern the basis of conduct in an Islamic society. A friend from New Zealand had a holiday there over Christmas and had a great time in terms of what pleased her: that is, good predictable hotels, warm beaches on which to relax with books (don’t know whether she tried the sea), and what sounded to me like a rather generic holiday resort similar to Bali or Benidorm, with of course coach trips to Places of Interest. If you like that sort of holiday, I think you’ll find that’s the kind of holiday you like. (Personally – and I have to flag this as personal) it wouldn’t suit me, because apart from having had one dreadful experience with a holiday in Bali my idea of a holiday is to get to know the locals and then sit in their favourite cafes talking all the subjects under the sun, and then they’ll take me to their favourite spots that are off the beaten track – and under those circumstances it’s probably much more important to find out what the dress and conduct codes are and be careful not to give offence. But the sense I got from my friend is that while you may only know you’re in Dubai because of the contents of the hotel gift-shop, if you want to crash then they’ve built a splendid crashing place – which you may need after Saudi.

    You say it’s a business trip. You might like to read the book Riding the Waves of Culture, by Fons Trompenaars, which is easily the best study of practices in different cultures to the point of being the standard text on the subject. But please be careful in Saudi – careful about things you might not have dreamed you should have thought you needed to watch out for.

    Good luck. It would be nice if you let us know how things went when you return.

  • Theodore

    March 11, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    Dubai is more “trendy” and the Arabian people there support Americans as we are helping them tremendously in that area. If someone treats you unfairly, they can lose their jobs and go to jail. However, the people who you see working there are mostly Indians, Pakistanians, or from Indonesia. You need to dress appropriately–do not show a lot of skin. You will see the usual bikinis, etc. on the beach, and that is about the only place were you will see foreigners showing skin. Women and men do not go around in shorts, etc., elsewhere–it’s inappropriate. As long as you are respectful, you’ll do fine. A lone woman is looked upon with suspicion to a degree as they pretty much think we’re all “loose” and you’ll need to guard against that type of attitude; also, the Arabian people are reserved and polite. If a man addresses you as a woman and starts giving you compliments about your body, etc.–that’s an insult. I pretty much wore slacks, jeans, and short sleeve shirts/tops with tennis shoes when I was there. There is no alcohol sold or available except at the duty-free store at the airport and you do not drink it in public. The roads are great, but there is ALOT of construction and sometimes you have to “go around the world” to get to the building you see from the highway. No speeding–the cameras take pictures and they sent you a ticket in the mail and may come and tow the car away. Most cars are equipped with a beeper that beeps when you go over the speed limit. I loved visiting Dubai–the food is wonderful! Do not give too much personal information about yourself as you must remember that there are terrorists out there looking for perfect hostages. If you work for a large and well known American company, do not say so. Just say your a tourist and some rather bland info……

    As for Saudi, they are MUCH more strict. Women and men do not use the same entrances and women typically need to completely cover themselves when out in public by wearing the abayas. Men have much more mobility in this culture than women. Again, the food is great, and like everywhere in the Middle East (Dubai included) you must barter the prices in the markets and stores. Unlike here, what’s marked is not what is the selling price. There are many more people in Saudi that HATE Americans and you must be extra careful. Again, give as little info to people as possible–be polite, but not chatty. There are taxis available both in Saudi and Dubai that people use–not sure about rentals. They drive like maniacs too and will cut across lanes of traffic without thinking. It’s a scary ride and even scarier if you’re driving either in Dubai or Saudi. English is spoken pretty much everywhere as is French and, of course, Arabic.

    You’ll have a wonderful time. Dress for warm weather, but take a sweater or jacket because they keep it pretty cool inside the buildings.

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