Abu Dhabi business during Ramadan - What you need to know
Updated 11th February 2024
Ramadan impacts a variety of business practices and regulations, as well as everyday life in Abu Dhabi for everyone. Whether you're a Muslim or not, seasoned resident or a newcomer, this is your essential, updated guide to navigating the Abu Dhabi business landscape during Ramadan.
Let’s start with a quick introduction to Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, which is considered the holiest month of the year. Ramadan is when Muslims fast during daylight hours and abstain from bad thoughts and intentions. It is a time for charity and Muslims will give parts of their salaries to charity (known as Zakat), volunteer in community projects and help the needy.
Moving on to Abu Dhabi business during Ramadan. Here’s what you need to know.
Ramadan working hours UAE
Throughout the month of Ramadan, regular working hours are reduced by two hours each day*. The reduced working hours apply to everyone, both Muslims and non-Muslims, working in the public and private sectors. Monthly salaries remain unchanged.
Typically, UAE federal government departments and ministries revise their Ramadan timings to between 9am and 2:30pm, Monday to Thursday, and between 9am and 12 noon on Fridays. Private businesses typically close mid-afternoon during Ramadan.
UAE Ramadan Retail Insights
Shopping mall timings vary, but most extend their opening times late into the night, with some even staying open until the early hours of the following morning. Note that some shops will close for Iftar.
Ramadan is one of the UAE retail sector’s busiest times of the year. According to the results of a Ramadan consumer behaviour survey (in the UAE) by Toluna, published on Arabian Business, Ramadan spending was forecast to increase 33% in 2023, with spending on clothes and toys shifting to e-commerce.
Pre-Ramadan promotions commence from six to eight weeks before Ramadan starts, focusing on getting ready for Ramadan.
Ramadan offers and Ramadan sales are in abundance throughout the month of Ramadan to encourage spending. According to Toluna’s survey results, 42% of respondents preferred brand advertising to be inspired by the spirit of the month and focused on charity and donations, while 41% preferred brand marketing to be centered on positive values.
Supermarkets stock up on sweet goods, such as Vimto, Tamarind juice, dates and apricots. Groceries are often bought on a daily basis. Nowadays supermarkets often provide delivery services for convenience.
Ramadan and Eid are the gift giving season in the UAE. Clothes for Eid and sweets are popular gifts for children. Hampers, trays of dates and chocolates are popular corporate gift choices.
Abu Dhabi Ramadan Hospitality Insights
Restaurants in the UAE traditionally closed during the day throughout Ramadan. Those which opted to open required a special Ramadan permit and had to cover their windows or hide eating areas in food courts with partitions. Since 2019, restaurants in Abu Dhabi can open as usual.
Traditionally, alcohol couldn’t be served until after Iftar, but since 2018, licensed outlets in Abu Dhabi, can apply for special permits to serve alcohol in daytime during Ramadan. These permits assist to maintain the attractiveness of Abu Dhabi as a tourism destination to non-fasting tourists during Ramadan.
Catering to the festive needs of residents, whilst offering tourists a taste of traditional Ramadan culture, hotels and restaurants offer fixed-price Iftar buffets each night during Ramadan, which usually last for a couple of hours. Iftar is the meal at sunset when Muslims break their fast. They also offer Suhoor dining, the meal Muslim’s have before the break of dawn.
Abu Dhabi Ramadan Business Etiquette Insights
Greet people saying ‘Ramadan Kareem’ or ‘Ramadan Mubarak’
Only schedule essential, decision-making meetings during Ramadan.
Schedule Ramadan meetings in the morning when fasting individuals are likely to be most alert.
Keep Ramadan meetings as short as possible.
Be flexible and understanding.
Host clients, colleagues and suppliers for an early evening Iftar
Dress modestly in public during Ramadan. Loose attire with long sleeves is appropriate. For ladies, skirt and dress lengths should be midi or maxi. For men, opt for trousers over shorts.
In the workplace, designate a room or partitioned area where non-fasting employees can eat and drink away from their Muslim colleagues.
Understanding the impacts of Ramadan will enable you to prepare for it, ensure your business complies with Ramadan rules, forge stronger relationships with your stakeholders, and position your brand embracing the spirit of Ramadan.
Throughout my experience living and working in the UAE, I've observed first-hand the evolving dynamics of business operations during Ramadan. I remember many coffee shops in Abu Dhabi were closed during the day; over time the years they opened, carefully hiding behind swathes of material; and now, it’s business as usual and acceptable to sit in a coffee shop, cup-in-hand, watching the world go by.
When Ramadan coincided with the summer months, business definitely slowed down. This was attributable to the school holidays and the departure of many residents for the summer season. The advantage of remaining in Abu Dhabi at that time, was the reduced number of applications being processed at government departments, which often resulted in processes happening more quickly.
With each year that passes, I notice that Ramadan seems to have a lesser impact on business. However, for international businesses and business owners operating in Abu Dhabi, Ramadan continues to be a unique opportunity to demonstrate your company’s commitment and recognition of the value of local culture and Islamic heritage. Embracing this will enable your company to position itself appropriately and positively, create more meaningful connections, and provoke long-term commitment to your brand.
If you are thinking of setting up a business in Abu Dhabi, don't be put off about starting the process during Ramadan. Business doesn't come to a halt.
Arranging your company setup and trade license during Ramadan sets your business up to hit the ground running immediately after the Eid Al Fitr public holiday.
Set up for success. Gateway Group's streamlined Abu Dhabi business setup service removes the anxiety of the unfamiliar.
Scan the QR code to send a Whatsapp message to Awais Chughtai, he's ready to help you get started.
Further Ramadan Reading:
Mastering Ramadan: A Guide for Doing Business in the UAE in 2024
5 Ways To Help Your Business To Show Sensitivity And Cultural Respect During Ramadan
Countdown to Ramadan: Q&A Guide to Timings in the UAE
Preparing Your Business For Ramadan In The UAE This Year
Ramadan Permits no longer needed for Restaurants in Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi business during Ramadan - What you need to know
Ramadan Timings Abu Dhabi: Useful changes you need to know.
Business As Usual In Abu Dhabi During Ramadan (well almost)
Working During Ramadan In Abu Dhabi - What To Expect
*As per Cabinet Resolution No. (1) of 2022 on the Implementation of Federal Decree Law No 33 of 2021 Regarding the Regulation of Labour Relations article 15, clause 2.
First published on 17th May 2018.
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Written by Jenny Hunt
Founder, Gateway Group, Abu Dhabi & Dubai, United Arab Emirates
FORBES' Top 100 Most Influential Women in the Middle East