How to Master Business Etiquette in Yemen

For more than a century, Yemen has suffered from the ashes of poverty due to the adoption of Marxist economic policies and corrupt government officials. Although the country has kept afloat due in part to its oil reserves, Yemen has been known as a low-income nation for quite some time. That distinction is starting to change, though it is still engulfed in hostilities.

Petroleum has accounted for two-thirds of government revenues and one-quarter of gross domestic product. However, amid concerns over dwindling resources, the government has attempted to install a more diversified economy, which has been slowly improving the overall economy.

In addition to oil production, Yemen has incorporated textiles, metals, leather and food processing into its economic model. It now enjoys a $62 billion GDP, but there is still a long way to go until it improves its 35 percent unemployment figure, 45 percent poverty rate and 12 percent inflation rate.

Despite these negative statistics, Yemen is beginning to embrace business and offering a long list of new opportunities that could turn the country around in the coming decades.

If you wish to be successful in Yemen then it is important to understand and follow its own unique business etiquette.


Arabic is the official and dominant language of Yemen as it maintains a 99 percent Muslim population. There are other languages that are gaining momentum because of the rising Jewish and Christian populations.

Maintaining a couth and polite presence is of the utmost importance in Yemen, particularly if you’re a tourist or immigrant. Yemenis prefer to be indirect in their conversational tone as they want to avoid confrontation as much as possible. Overall, every conversation is generally relaxed, calm and courteous.

Throughout conversations, the length of personal space really depends on your relationship with the other person. For instance, if you have just met the opposite individual then it’s wise to be at least an arm’s length away, but if you’re intimate with the person then it’s permitted to be less than an arm’s length away.

Furthermore, it’s quite common to see a lot of touching between males as well as females because it signifies friendship. However, there is usually no physical interaction between men and women in public places –lot of hugging and kissing in the public realm is frowned upon by society.

Direct eye contact is important during conversations. It should be noted, however, that foreigners should avoid eye contact with Yemeni women and vice versa.

Dress Code

Yemen maintains a conservative dress code. Men usually sport business casual consisting of lightweight fabrics. Women will wear lightweight fabric clothing, too, but most local women will wear a headscarf and a long black robe that covers their entire body – foreign women are not required to sport black robes, but it is recommended to cover the arms and legs.


Men will greet other men with a simple handshake. It may linger for a while and even lead into hand holding, which represents a liking and friendship. Women will often follow the same route with other women. When men and women meet then there is absolutely no touching – a woman may hand out a sleeve-covered wrist or hand for a shake.

Professional Titles & Business Cards

Superiors and strangers are to be addressed by Mr. and Mrs. For those who are colleagues or close then a first name basis is permitted. In certain business and social situations, the terms “sheikh” and “Excellency” are crucial because Yeminis view titles and authority figures as a form of respect.

There are no specific protocols to follow when receiving and distributing business cards.


Although being on time is very much appreciated, personal aspects are far more important than keeping up with schedules and deadlines. Also, be prepared for a slow moving atmosphere as things are sluggish in business and social settings.

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Yemen is very much different than Western countries as views of time are indifferent, the population is religiously conservative and personal interactions are immensely diverse than what can be found in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom or Australia. But if you follow the rules above then you should have a much more fruitful experience when conducting business in Yemen.

Have you previously conducted business in Yemen? Let us know in the comment section.


Image: istock




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