The Dos and Don’ts of Travelling in the Middle East

Made up of West Asia and North East Africa, the Middle East has long been an important cultural destination for leisure travel. In recent decades, its importance as a business travel destination has rocketed due to the economic growth of many Arab states.

The Middle East is an area our Travel Managers are proud to help our clients do business in, explore and enjoy. Part of that service is helping corporate and private clients understand the area and its customers: so they can succeed in business and revel in the culture.

1. Travelling to the Middle East

The Middle East spans many countries, running from Egypt to Afghanistan and Yemen to Turkey, it is a region of many different cultures and nations.

The first thing to note is that the area is politically unstable, so all travel plans should be prefaced by checking the UK Government’s Foreign Travel Advice website with up to date information on travel news. Whilst some countries in the Middle East are not currently recommended for visitation by Government, many areas are more accustomed to Western tourists and travellers.

Flying to the Middle East will most likely involve a stop at either Dubai or Abu Dhabi airports, the former being a major hub between Europe and Asia. Their locations make them well placed termini for global travel, ensuring the success of luxury Arab airlines like Etihad and Qatar Airways.

2. Customs and Culture

The wide range of ethnicities and people that exist together in the Middle East mean that every country and often even areas have their own set of values and traditions. In Israel, the country shares many Western customs, whereas in Oman they have a much more traditional Muslim attitude towards dress.

It’s clear to see from the cultural and ethnic diversity living in the Middle East that there is not one clear set of rules for etiquette. However, as a Western traveller, perhaps the thing to be most aware of is Muslim law and customs. Islam permeates all areas of the Middle East with traditions that differ from those in the UK.

3. Dress

The most apparent difference to a traveller from the UK to the Middle East is how people dress. In Muslim countries dress is much more conservative. As mentioned before, whilst some countries are accustomed to tourists in shorts and t-shirts, remaining a respectful tourist and covering oneself more is recommended.

For both genders covering legs and arms is a sign of respect and wearing loose fitting clothing that doesn’t hug is equally important. In hotels that are accustomed to receiving and hosting Western guests this will be different, but it’s worth making a note of these dress codes for travelling in public and for potential meetings.

For men, it is advisable to wear full length trousers that cover the legs, and a top that covers the arms, although a shirt exposing the forearms is acceptable. Pack lots of light button shirts and trousers and you’ll be able to keep cool in the heat and not stick out as a tourist.

Dress is much stricter for women and it’s important to be aware of the significance of these rules. Covering the shoulders, arms and legs is essential for nearly all areas of the Middle East. A headscarf is also very important. Views differ from place to place, but the covering of the hair and face is often compulsory. It is advisable to carry a headscarf with you at all times.

4. Prohibited Goods

In most Muslim countries across the world, alcohol is an illegal substance. In Islam, consumption of alcohol is seen as a sin. Pork products are also illegal in many Middle Eastern countries. It is important to observe these differences and avoid any potential awkward or disrespectful situations.

In some Muslim countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, Non-Muslim residents can apply for a liquor license to drink alcohol at home. Many hotels and clubs are also licensed to serve alcoholic beverages. Simplexity Travel strive to make a tailor-made travel package for our clients, so please tell our Travel Managers if you wish to stay explore these options.  

5. Religious Festivals

Muslims are required to pray five times throughout the course of a day. Many will not go to the mosque every day and instead will have an area in their office or home. On every Friday, however, it is compulsory to visit the mosque for congregational prayers. This is important to remember as you will have to arrange meetings around this.

Ramadan is possibly the biggest event in the Muslim calendar. Many companies will try to avoid heavy business over this period of time, and unless it is urgent, rearrange a meeting that clashes with this time may be advisable.

Eid Al-Fitr follows the end of Ramadan, and Eid Al-Adha that comes after the annual pilgrimage. These are national holidays in the countries in which they are celebrated, so business will not operate over these dates.

For a comprehensive guide to business etiquette in the Middle East, see our special guide devoted to global travel etiquette.

6. Greeting

When greeting in the Middle East, always use your right hand to give over gifts and for handshakes. Offering the left hand for a greeting, or handing somebody an object with the left hand, can be seen as very rude and should be avoided. When shaking hands it’s good to know it can last longer than in Europe, as it is customary to wait for the other party to withdraw their hand first.

Although as an international client or business you may not be welcomed in this manner, the formal greeting in Arabic culture is “asalamu alaykum”. This translates to “peace be with you”. The correct response to this is “wa alaykum salam” which means “and peace be with you”. This will help to make an excellent first impression.

If you require any further information please visit the Dubai International Airport website here:


Choosing Simplexity Travel means that you needn’t worry about any aspect of the travel. From flights and transport, hotels and accommodation right through to a complete itinerary, we’ll provide you with an unforgettable visit to a unique part of the world.