The Palm Jumeirah, Dubai

World's largest man-made island

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From the timeless tranquility of the desert to the lively bustle of the souks, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) offers a kaleidoscope of attractions.

UAE is a bit of an anathema in the Middle East. This union of seven sovereign sheikhdoms called emirates was formed when the British withdrew from the Gulf in 1971, and today it is a modern, trend-setting conglomeration of high-rise cities with state-of-the-art tourist infrastructure, magnificent beaches and a paradise of duty free shopping. Unlike other Arab states the UAE actually courts and encourages tourists, constantly adding and upgrading events and attractions to complement its renown as the shopping capital of the world.

The sun always shines on the UAE and its gleaming cities, the most popular of which is cosmopolitan, wealthy Dubai, which is characterized by a ten-mile long (16km) deep creek that forms a natural harbor. In Dubai resides the Jebel Ali Free Trade Zone, which makes the city a must for shop-a-holics. A major attraction is the annual Dubai Shopping Festival.

Dubai has led the way with phenomenal investment in opulent hotels and infrastructure, opening the world's tallest sky scraper, the Burj Khalifa, in January 2010. Dubai has firmly established itself as a tourism honey pot, where visitors can laze on a beautiful beach, flex their credit card at designer stores or dance the night away to the musical mastery of international DJs.

Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE and one of the most modern cities in the world. Visitors revel in large gardens and parks, green boulevards, sophisticated high-rise buildings, modern communication services and transport, international luxury hotels, rich shopping malls and cultural centers. The city's airport ranks as one of the finest in the world.

Just in case travelers forget they are actually in Arabia, the UAE also offers a host of experiences and attractions that utilise its historic Bedouin heritage, including camel treks, henna tattoos, desert stargazing, 4x4 trips through sand dunes and cruises aboard a dhow.  There are variety of excursions and adventure packages to suit all tastes and persuasions.


The Emirates are bordered to the north by the Gulf and the Musandam Peninsula, to the east by Oman, to the south and west by Saudi Arabia and to the northwest by Qatar. They comprise a federation of seven small former sheikhdoms. Abu Dhabi is the largest emirate, and the remainder (Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Qaiwain) are known collectively as the Northern States. The land is mountainous and mostly desert.

Abu Dhabi is flat and sandy, and within its boundaries is the Buraimi Oasis. Dubai has a 16km (10-mile) deep-water creek, giving it the popular name of ‘Pearl of the Gulf'. Sharjah has a deep-water port on the Batinah coast at Khor Fakkan, facing the Indian Ocean. Ras al-Khaimah is the fourth emirate in size. Fujairah, one of the three smaller sheikhdoms on the Batinah coast, has agricultural potential, while Ajman and Umm al-Qaiwain were once small coastal fishing villages.

Country Facts

Location Middle East.

Language Arabic is the official language. English is widely spoken and used as a second language in commerce.

Area 77,700 sq km (30,000 sq miles).

Time Zone GMT + 4.

Electricity  220/240 volts AC, 50Hz. Square three-pin plugs are widespread.

Population 4.6 million (2009).

Population Density 59 per sq km.

Capital City Abu Dhabi. Population: 1.7 million (2010).

Government Federation of seven autonomous emiratesThe highest federal authority is the Supreme Council of Rulers comprising the absolute rulers of the seven emirates. Decisions reached by the council must have the agreement of at least five members, including Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the two largest members. The council appoints a president to act as head of state. There are no political parties.

Head of Government Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum since 2006.

Head of State

President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan since 2004.

Religion Mostly Muslim, of which 16% are Shiite and the remainder Sunni.

Recent History

Following the sudden death of Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who had been prime minister and Emir of Dubai since 1990, Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, his brother, succeeded him in January 2006. Sheikh Mohammed had been the UAE Defence Minister since 1971 and heir apparent to the throne of Dubai since 1995. People of the United Arab Emirates voted for the first time in December 2006 to choose half of the country's Federal National Council. However, only around 7,000 people (less than 1% of Emirati citizens) were eligible to vote.



Country Code: +971. Main area codes: Abu Dhabi 2; Ajman, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain 6; Al-Ain 3; Dubai 4; Fujairah 9; Jebel Ali 4; and Ras al-Khaimah 7. There is a good local telephone network. Telephone calls within each state are free.

Mobile Telephone

Roaming agreements exist with most international mobile phone operators. Coverage is excellent. Tourists can purchase pre-paid mobile SIM cards.


There are numerous Internet cafés in the UAE and wireless networks abound, but VoIP telephone systems, such as Skype, are officially blocked. The Skype website is blocked, but if you already have the software on your laptop you will be able to make calls. Websites deemed culturally or religiously insensitive are blocked.


The UAE, and in particular Dubai, is trying to establish itself as a regional media hub, with newswires like Reuters and major news stations like CNN International taking up residency, along with numerous English television and radio stations. There is a broad range of English-language newspapers including The National, Gulf News, Emirates Today, Khaleej Times and 7days, along with local versions of international broadsheets and numerous specialist English-language magazines including Time Out Dubai, Time Out Abu Dhabi, What’s On, OK Middle East, Grazia,Harpers Bazaar and Esquire. However, media content is controlled and the government will block or restrict what would elsewhere be considered acceptable subjects or styles of reporting. Foreign publications may also be censored before distribution with the notorious black marker.


Airmail letters and parcels take about five days to reach Europe.

Public Holidays

Below are listed Public Holidays for the January 2011-December 2012 period.


  • 1 Jan New Year’s Day
  • 15 Feb Mouloud (Birth of the Prophet)
  • 28 Jun Leilat al-Meiraj (Ascension of the Prophet)
  • 30 Aug - 31 Aug Eid al-Fitr (End of Ramadan)
  • 6 Nov - 7 Nov Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice)
  • 26 Nov Al-Hijra (Islamic New Year)
  • 2 Dec National Day


  • 1 Jan New Year’s Day
  • 4 Feb Mouloud (Birth of the Prophet)
  • 17 Jun Leilat al-Meiraj (Ascension of the Prophet)
  • 19 Aug Eid al-Fitr (End of Ramadan)
  • 25 Oct Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice)
  • 15 Nov Al-Hijra (Islamic New Year)
  • 2 Dec National Day

Muslim festivals are timed according to local sightings of various phases of the moon and the dates given here are approximations. During the lunar month of Ramadan that precedes Eid al-Fitr, Muslims fast during the day and feast at night and normal business patterns may be interrupted. Many restaurants are closed during the day and there may be restrictions on smoking and drinking. Some disruption may continue into Eid al-Fitr itself. Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha may last anything from two to 10 days, depending on the region.


Straddling the Tropic of Cancer, the UAE has a sub-tropical arid climate and is warm and sunny in winter, but hot and humid during the summer months. The humidity is particularly high in the coastal areas. Rainfall is virtually non-existent, with occasional short showers occurring mainly in winter (December to March). Localized thunderstorms sometimes occur in summer.


No vaccinations are required for entry to the UAE, however a certificate is required for cholera and yellow fever if arriving from an affected area. Tap water in the major cities is safe to drink, but elsewhere only bottled water should be drunk. Medical care is excellent in the main cities, but extremely expensive, while medicines and medical care are not always available in the outlying areas. Health insurance is essential; in Abu Dhabi particularly a health insurance law has been implemented that makes it mandatory for all travellers to Abu Dhabi to have health insurance. In general, travellers who require medical treatment will have to cover the cost of any medical fees incurred.


Tipping practices are similar to most parts of the world. Where no service charge is included, 10% is adequate and many hotels and restaurants add a service charge, so it is best to check the bill.


Most visits to the UAE are trouble free. Crime is not a problem, but there is deemed to be a threat of terrorism against Western interests and gathering points, particularly entertainment venues. It is therefore wise to be vigilant when frequenting these. It is also wise to avoid political gatherings and demonstrations. Al Qaeda continues to issue statements threatening to carry out attacks in the Gulf region, including references to attack Western interests, such as residential compounds, military, oil, transport and aviation interests.


The Emirates states are all Muslim, therefore alcohol is not served except in hotels. It is an offence to drink or be drunk in public and penalties are severe. Some prescribed and over the counter medicines from outside the country may be considered to be a controlled substance within the UAE and will not be allowed into the UAE without prior permission from the UAE Ministry of Health Drug Control Department (DCD). A passenger arriving with such medication without permission may be subject to prosecution. Dress and behavior should be modest, particularly during the month of Ramadan when it is disrespectful to smoke, drink or eat in public between sunrise and sunset. Women's clothes should cover the tops of the arms and legs. Cohabiting, adultery and homosexual behavior are illegal in the UAE, and it is an offence to swear or make rude gestures, or show a public display of affection. In general, the country has a tolerant approach to Western visitors, but local laws and sensitivities should be respected.


The United Arab Emirates, although a very warm country, requires formal business attire from both men and women. Women should dress conservatively, being careful to cover up as much as possible; it is unlikely that visitors will come into contact with local women in business, as it is an overwhelmingly male-dominated society. Punctuality is not always observed and it is not uncommon to be kept waiting on occasion, and with interruptions in meetings quite prevalent, patience is expected.

The Arabic greeting of 'Salaam Aleikum' is advisable instead of 'Hello' and politeness helps to build strong relationships. Shaking hands is common, but men should only shake the hand of a woman after she offers it, otherwise a simple bow of the head will suffice. Often agreements are verbal and will be acted upon. Dates in documents should be detailed in both Gregorian dates and the Hijrah date. Gifts are appreciated but not necessary, however be sure to avoid anything involving alcohol or pig-related products, as the UAE is a Muslim country. Friday is the day of rest and most likely very little business will occur on this day. General business hours are 9am to 5pm Sunday to Thursday. During the holy month of Ramadan businesses may halt in the middle of the day and only continue after the fast has been broken in the evening.


Visitors to the UAE do not need to pay customs duty on 400 cigarettes, cigars to a maximum value of 3,000 dirhams and 2kg tobacco; and perfume for personal use to the value of 3,000 dirhams. Alcohol allowances vary. Dubai: 24 cans of beer or 4 litres of any other alcohol; Abu Dhabi and Fujairah: 4 litres of alcohol provided traveller is not Muslim; Sharjah: 2 litres of alcohol and 1 case beer. Fruit and vegetables from cholera infected areas are strictly prohibited.