Despite the region’s volatile social climate, doing business in the Middle East is a common target for international expansion. The region is home to nearly 400 million people and spans from Morocco to the Arabian Peninsula. It includes Iran, Egypt, Turkey, Iraq, the Gaza Strip and the United Arab Emirates. The Middle East’s unique market opens new doors for companies looking to target a diverse audience. Overall, the majority of the region’s people are Muslim (91%) and Arabic speaking (63%), but Dubai in the UAE is made up of residents from across the globe.
The city-state located on the Persian Gulf coast is home to folks from India, Pakistan, United Kingdom and the United States, along with a long list of other regions. The UAE as a whole is also the highest ranked economy in the Middle East, sitting in the 31st spot, and it’s leading the region in reforming business regulations.
If you’re preparing for expansion into the Middle East, it’s clearly different than operating in the West.
Below, we discuss five important components to consider before doing business in the Middle East.
1. The Working Days Vary Throughout the Region
The standard Western work week runs from Monday to Friday, with a weekend on Saturday and Sunday. This is different in the Middle East. Though the particular days vary in each country, Sundays are typically a workday.
In 2013, Saudi Arabia switched its Thursday/Friday weekend to a Friday/Saturday weekend. This change matches the weekend in the UAE and also syncs with the Arab culture. According to Morished al Mutlaq, executive vice president of Saudi Basic Industries Corp., in Arabic Sunday is called al ahed, meaning “the first.”
2. Match Specific Contract Languages for Each Country
In most of the Middle Eastern countries, employment contracts require side-by-side translation in Arabic. This aims to prevent conflict between the English and the native-language versions of the agreement. If an issue does arise, the stipulations laid out in the Arabic version override the English version. Learn more about international employment contracts.
Morocco and Algeria differ from the rest of the region. In these countries, the side-by-side languages are English and French.
3. Consider the List of Paid Holidays in the Middle East
The Middle Eastern countries celebrate different holidays than the United States. Many of these holidays are considered paid, and in most countries, employers must abide. The paid holiday list includes Ramadan, which typically lasts one month. This time of observance allows employees to work reduced hours. Plus, they must not eat in public during the day. This restriction affects non-practicing expats, too.
Some other holidays include:
Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca)
Eid al-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice)
Eid al-Fitr (Breaking the Fast Feast)
Each country treats holidays differently.
4. There is a Required Paid Time Allotment for Daily Prayer
Employees do not have to pray during the day- this a religious preference they can choose- but they must provide team members time for prayer. If any employee exercises this time, it is a paid break by law.
According to the PEW Research Center, three-quarters of Muslims surveyed in countries, including those in the Middle East, say that they perform all five salat daily prayers.
5. Understand the Salary Allocation Requirements in the Middle East
This region requires employers to provide housing, transportation, and supplementary health benefits to all of its employees, especially in UAE and Saudi Arabia. Employers can accomplish this demand by allocating a percentage of an employee’s gross salary to these areas instead of paying additional fees outside of their compensation.