The United Arab Emirates (UAE)

Life & Work

The United Arab Emirates is a country located in the southeast end of the Arabian Peninsula on the Persian Gulf, bordering Oman to the east and Saudi Arabia to the south, as well as sharing sea borders with Qatar, Iran and Pakistan. Established on 2 December 1971, the country is a federation of seven emirates (equivalent to principalities). Each emirate is governed by a hereditary emir who jointly form the Federal Supreme Council which is the highest legislative and executive body in the country.


The earliest known human habitation in the UAE dated from 5500 BC. At this early stage, there is proof of interaction with the outside world, particularly with civilizations to the northwest in Mesopotamia. These contacts persisted and became wide-ranging, probably motivated by trade in copper from the Hajar Mountains, which commenced around 3000 BC.Foreign trade, the recurring motif in the history of this strategic region, flourished also in later periods, facilitated by the domestication of the camel at the end of the second millennium BC. By the 1st century AD overland caravan traffic between Syria and cities in southern Iraq began. Also, there was seaborne travel to the important port of Omana (present-day Umm al-Qaiwain) and then to India. These routes were an alternative to the Red Sea route used by the Romans.Pearls had been exploited in the area for millennia but at this time the trade reached new heights. Seafaring was also a mainstay and major fairs were held at Dibba, bringing in merchants from as far as China.


The United Arab Emirates is situated in Southwest Asia, bordering the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, between Oman and Saudi Arabia; it is in a strategic location along southern approaches to the Strait of Hormuz, a vital transit point for world crude oil. The UAE lies between 22°30’ and 26°10’ north latitude and between 51° and 56°25′ east longitude. It shares a 530-kilometer border with Saudi Arabia on the west, south, and southeast, and a 450-kilometer border with Oman on the southeast and northeast. The land border with Qatar in the Khawr al Udayd area is about nineteen kilometers (12 miles) in the northwest; however, it is a source of ongoing dispute.Following Britain’s military departure from UAE in 1971, and its establishment as a new state, the UAE laid claim to islands resulting in disputes with Iran that remain unresolved. UAE also disputes claim on other islands against the neighboring state of Qatar. The largest emirate, Abu Dhabi, accounts for 87% of the UAE’s total area (67,340 square kilometres (26,000 sq mi). The smallest emirate, Ajman, encompasses only 259 km2


Emirati people are ethnically diverse, with ancestries from the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, Baluchistan and East Africa. Arab descendants of the Bani Yas, Al Nahyan and Al Maktoum families in Abu Dhabi and Dubai represent the Emirati leadership. Al Qawasim have also played a vital role in the history of the UAE. Most Emiratis in Dubai are of Persian ancestry. Emirati culture is based on Arabian culture and has been heavily influenced by Persian culture. Arabian and Persian inspired architecture is part of the expression of the local Emirati identity. Persian influence on Emirati culture is noticeably visible in traditional Emirati architecture and folk arts.For example, the “barjeel” has become an identifying mark of traditional Emirati architecture and is attributed to Persian influence. Certain folk dances, such as “al-habban”, are originally Persian. Local Emirati culture has also been influenced by the cultures of East Africa and India.


The traditional food of the Emirates has always been rice, fish, and meat. The people of the United Arab Emirates have adopted most of their foods from other West and South Asian countries including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Oman. Seafood has been the mainstay of the Emirati diet for centuries. Meat and rice are other staple foods; lamb and mutton are the more favored meats, then goat and beef. Popular beverages are coffee and tea, which can be supplemented with cardamom, saffron, or mint to give them a distinct flavor. The cosmopolitan nature of the UAE means that food from every continent can be found here. Fast food has become very popular among youth, to the extent that campaigns are underway to highlight the dangers of fast food excesses. Muslims are prohibited from eating pork, so it is not included in Arab menus. Hotels and other establishments frequently have pork substitutes such as beef sausages and veal rashers on their breakfast menus. If pork is available, it is clearly labeled as such. Unlike other Muslim countries, it is not against the law to bring pork products into the country for personal consumption.


Football is a popular sport in the UAE. Emirati football clubs Al-Ain, Al-Wasl, Al- Shabbab ACD, Al-Sharjah, Al-Wahda, and Al- Ahli are the most popular teams and enjoy the reputation of long-time regional champions. The United Arab Emirates Football Association was first established in 1971 and since then has dedicated its time and effort to promoting the game, organizing youth programs and improving the abilities of not only its players, but of the officials and coaches involved with its regional teams. Cricket is one of the most popular sports in the UAE, largely because of the expatriate population from the Indian subcontinent, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Formula One is particularly popular in the United Arab Emirates, and is annually held at the picturesque Yas Marina Circuit. The race is held at evening time, and is the first ever Grand Prix to start in daylight and finish at night. Other popular sports include camel racing, falconry, endurance riding, and tennis.


UAE has the second largest economy in the Arab world (after Saudi Arabia), with a gross domestic product (GDP) of $377 billion (AED1.38 trillion) in 2012. A third of the GDP is from oil revenues. The economy was expected to grow between 4–4.5% in 2013, compared to 2.3–3.5% over the past five years. Since independence in 1971, UAE’s economy has grown by nearly 231 times to AED1.45 trillion in 2013.The non-oil trade has grown to AED1.2 trillion, a growth by around 28 times from 1981 to 2012. The UAE has a relatively high Human Development Index among the Asian continent, ranking forty-first globally. In 2011, UAE is ranked as the 14th best nation in the world for doing business based on its economy and regulatory environment, ranked by the Doing Business 2011 Report published by the World Bank Group. With one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, the UAE is a breeding ground for internationally operating companies.

Living in Dubai

There are no taxes on salaries or wages in Dubai, and sales tax is for the most part minimal. Despite the favourable tax climate, living expenses can add up, and many expats find themselves spending money on luxuries that they would not normally have splurged on back home. Accommodation, transport and education are the biggest expenses expats living in Dubai are likely to encounter.

Some helpful points for living in Dubai

Dubai is a city determined to retain its heritage while racing at breakneck speed to embrace the 21st century. As a vibrant, international city, it encompasses all the good, bad and ugly of any large city. The experience of living and working in Dubai can be most enjoyable and a great adventure if expats leave themselves open to the experience and abide by a few simple rules.

Cultural awareness in Dubai

It’s important to always remember that Dubai is an Arab emirate. While it’s the most liberal of all the emirates, there are a few cultural restrictions of which expats must be aware. The call to prayer five times a day can mean that non-Muslims may have to wait a bit to continue their business until Muslims return from prayer. During the holy month of Ramadan work slows to a crawl and most restaurants will be closed during the day or serve a limited menu. No alcohol will be served until the fast is broken at sunset. Important cultural restrictions to be aware of: modest dress is required (minimum is being loosely covered from neck to elbow to knees); drunkenness, drug use, dishonest behavior, foul language and public displays of affection are all criminal offenses with severe punishments.


Expats should not bring their family members over until they have their work visa, which allows them to sponsor family resident visas. The UAE does not recognize unmarried unions. If you wish to join your partner in Dubai, you will need to acquire your own visa. This can only be done by being sponsored by an employer or, in some cases, by purchasing property.

English is widely spoken and the nightlife scene is vibrant

English is a common language in Dubai, and spoken and understood by most people in the emirate. People are generally very friendly and eager to make new friends and, since it’s an international city, expats will have the opportunity to make friends from all over the world. Dubai is a fun city that caters to the young. Nightlife is lively but doesn’t start until after 9pm and goes on to the wee hours. Big name entertainment and parties are advertised all the time.


Getting official paper work, i.e. resident and work visas, utilities set up, bank accounts opened and mobile phones connected can be a bit frustrating as it can be difficult to navigate bureaucracy in Dubai. Many documents will have to be translated into Arabic. Be sure to use a reliable company.

Good public transport

Dubai Metro – if it is going where you want – is a nice, clean, affordable way to move around the city. There is a system of feeder buses offered at most of the major stations. Taxis are cheap and plentiful. For air travel, once expats have their residence visa, they can get an E Pass which expedites clearing customs.

Driving license for Dubai

Depending on your country of origin one can drive on an existing drivers license. Those from Europe, Australia and the US do not have to take the test. Instead you must go to the Roads and Transport Authority with your existing licence, passport and resident permit. There you will be required to take an eye test before being issued with your UAE license. Prior to receiving your residence permit you may drive a rental vehicle using your license from your home country. A comprehensive list of who is exempt from retaking the test is available from the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority.

Healthcare in Dubai

There is good healthcare available across Dubai with certified healthcare providers and hospitals. A wide variety of alternative medicines are also available in Dubai, including Ayurveda and acupuncture.