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About UAE

Location, foundation and demographics

The United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven emirates, established in December 1971 in the southeast end of the Arabian Peninsula on the Persian Gulf.  The country borders with Saudi Arabia to the south, Oman to the east and shares sea borders with Iran and Qatar.

The founder and the first president of UAE was late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, referred to as Father of the nation.

Seven emirates that form the federation are: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Ras al- Khaimah, Fujairah and Umm al-Quwain, each of them being governed by an absolute Monarch. Together they form Federal Supreme Council while one of the monarchs is selected to be a President of the United Arab Emirates, shortly also called UAE or simply the Emirates. 

The largest emirate is Abu Dhabi with the same name capital of the UAE, making 87percent of the country's total land mass. Although the most of it surface has been covered by the desert, the emirate is also proud of its numerous islands along 700 km coastline.

The smallest emirate is Ajman.

Population (2014):

-       9,4 million residents

-       Emirati citizens 16% (1,5 million)

-       South Asian expatriates 58% of the population: Indians, Pakistani, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshi

-       9% Western expatriates

-       17% other nationals (other Arab countries, Filipino, Chinese etc.) 

Official language:

Arabic is the national language. All official employees are required to speak Arabic. Official documents are most likely to be given in both languages - Arabic and English.

Widely spoken language is English.When doing a conference or a business meeting, the conversation will most probably run in English. Also, large number of media are available in English and in merchant places it will be more than sufficient.

Given the fact that Hindi and Urdu are the languages ​​of nations of India and Pakistan that represent the majority of the population, you will have the opportunity to hear them often. Malayalam, the language of Kerala, southern state of India, is present almost everywhere, due to the fact that over million Indian workers in UAE come from that state.

Religion:

Islam is the official state religion of the Union declared by the UAE's Provisional Constitution. 

Large expatriate communities of HindusChristiansBuddhistsSikhs and other, non-Muslim groups are free to practice their religion but after obtaining a land grant and permission to build their own house of worship.

Muslims are called to prayer from the minarets of mosques five times daily.

Major cities:

1.    Abu Dhabi
Capital city Abu Dhabi is home to 1.5 million residents and it is the country's political, economic, industrial, cultural and commercial center, making about two-thirds of the total country's economy. Large modern metropolis with broad boulevards and skyscrapers lies on a T-shaped island and is expanding to the inland, highly exceeding the number of 600 000 population that was planned to inhabit the city in 1970.
2.    Dubai
Dubai, the country's largest and most populous city has attracted world attention as the host to expansive tourism and sports events, innovative construction projects and the location of BurjKhalifa - world's tallest man made structure ever built. Luxurious buildings, elegant souks and pompous shopping malls contribute just a part to the splendor of the city that swarms with vividness and diversity.
The metropolis challenging urban plan, fascinating projects and numerous alluring spots has brought Dubai to the list of the most attractive tourist destinations ever. Today's diverse 2 million population counts more than 200 nationalities and several non-Muslim expatriate communities.
3.    Sharjah
With the population around 900 000 residents, Sharjah is the  third most populous city in the United Arab Emirates and the capital of the same named emirate. Together with its neighboring federal states it forms part of the Dubai-Sharjah-Ajman metropolitan area. Sharjah is much more conservative than other states regarding alcohol consumption – it is alcohol dry - and personal conduct.
With a settlement in existence for over 5000 years it was once one of the wealthiest towns in the region of Persian Gulf. Nowadays it remains the cultural, traditional and religious center with numerous museums of natural history, prominent mosques, archaeology, islamic art and heritage.
4.    Al Ain
Also called “the Garden City” or “the Green City” due to comforting greenery of its seven oases, Al Ain remains almost untouched by modernization of the rest of the country. The fourth largest city in the United Arab Emirates that situates more than half million of residents, Al Ain forms a geographic triangle with Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Among distinctive landmarks standtwo prominent museums, the restored forts and the Hili Archaeological Parksite. Famous Mercure Hotel that offers a stunning view of the landscape is settled on the top of the mountain Jebel Hafeetthat dominates the surrounding area with its 1340 meters of altitude. Amusement parks such as Hili Fun City and Wadi Adventure, offer more than historical review of the city that is developing as a tourist destination. 

Climate:

Sub-tropical climate, generally dry and hot, although somewhat cooler in the eastern mountains. The hottest period is usually between June and September, when the temperatures rise up to 45°C (113°F) and the humidity levels increase. 

The coolest month is January. Travel is recommended in the months between October and March.

Important tourist tips and recommendations

Although modern and dynamic, UAE is a Muslim country. Tourists are expected to conduct decently and to not exceed the limits of the cultural standards which slightly vary from a state to state.

However, we strongly suggest you to follow the recommendations of your guide at public areas and while visiting the tourist landmarks.

Please remember:

-       Legal and administrative law processes are significantly different from those in the Western countries so beware of the high importance of respectful behavior towards country's religion, customs, heritage, places of worship and culture.

-       The law on personal conduct, especially in regard to public consumption and possession of alcohol and sexual behavior, are significantly stricter than in non-Muslim countries

-       Elsewhere offensive but not criminal behavior, including verbal harassment, might be considered and violating UAE law and treated as a crime.

-       Do not take any unauthorized photos of the local women, children and men or officials such as military, police, safety guards etc.

-       Do not take photos of the mosques in the background, with yourself or your co-travelers unless your head, shoulders, arms and legs are covered (if you are a woman), or with your legs in shorts (if you are a man).

-       In general, always politely ask for permission before taking a photo, do not photograph military and government buildings and staff.

-       Enter the places of worship only accompanied by your guide and follow his/hers instructions.

-       Limited amount of alcohol is allowed to be brought to the country if you purchase it at the airport duty-free shop.  Apart from Sharjah which is alcohol dry, it is possible to buy alcoholic drinks in the hotels, tourist bars, night clubs and some restaurants of every emirate. For purchase in specialized beverage shops in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Ajman, you might be asked to show an alcohol license that cannot be compensated with passport, while the license is not required in the remaining emirates.

Tipping:

Although tipping is not a compulsory, but is a common practice, it is generally expected to give a tip to the drivers, bag carriers, windscreen washers, street cleaners and hotel cleaners.

Entry visas:

Before travel to UAE, please check for updated information about visa with the reference institutions in your country. The information given below have an informative and not an official value. 

There are several types of entry visas to UAE.

The kind of visa that you require depends on different factors such as your nationality, the purpose of your planned visit and the duration of your stay. Please note that the visa regulations are subject to change so it is always advisable to check with your embassy before travelling.

Citizens of the following countries (including 28 EU member states from 22 March 2014) are eligible for a free-of-charge Visit visa at all UAE airports or other points of entry:  

  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Andorra
  • Belgium
  • Brunei
  • Bulgaria
  • Canada
  • Cyprus
  • Croatia
  • The Check Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • France
  • Finland
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hong Kong
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Latvia
  • Liechenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malaysia
  • Malta
  • Monaco
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Republic of Korea
  • Romania
  • San Marino
  • Singapore
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Switzerland
  • Sweden
  • United States of America
  • United Kingdom
  • Vatican

The visa is valid 30 days, renewable once.

The list of eligible countries may vary from time to time and it is therefore necessary to check with your local UAE embassy or the airline that you are using to fly to the UAE prior to departure. 

If you do NOT fall into one of the above categories, you will require a visa and a sponsor for your visit. The sponsor normally applies for the visa on your behalf.

Valid sponsors may be as follows: 

a)    Hotels & Tourist Companies can apply, on your behalf, for a Tourist Visa (valid for 30 days); or a Service Visa (valid for 14 days); or a Visit Visa (valid for 30 days and can be extended for another 30 days).

b)    Airlines & Airlines Handlers apply on behalf of their crew members for a 96-hour Transit Visa.

c)    Other organizations based in the UAE may only apply for Visit Visas and Service Visas.

d)    Individuals (relatives or friends) already resident in the UAE may, subject to guidelines, also apply on your behalf for a Visit Visa.

1.    Visit visa:
The Visit Visa applies to tourists who wish to spend more than 14 days in UAE, those coming for family visits as well as those on long-term business visits. It requires the sponsorship of any UAE resident or any company or hotel licensed to operate within the UAE. A refundable guarantee is required from expatriates who wish to sponsor distant relatives.
2.    90 – Day Long–Term Visit Visa (individuals)
E-form application (fees paid) including clear personal photo of the sponsored person approved by the sponsor or authorized signatories (signed and stamped).
Required documents:
Clear passport copy of the sponsor
Clear passport copy of the sponsored person
A copy of the salary certificate or employment contract of the sponsor (resident) must be attached
Proof of family relationship (kinship)
Travel insurance 
3.    Tourist visa
The Tourist Visa is a special category of visa under the Visit Visa type. This can be obtained for individual tourists from Turkey, Ukraine, Albania, Russia, St Kitts-Navis, St Lucia, Mexico, Cuba, Bermuda, Belize, Guyana, French Guiana, Martinique, Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent, Jamaica, Palao, other non-defined American nationalities, Thailand, South Africa, Singapore, China.
The Tourist Visa entitles its holder to a 30-day stay and is non-renewable. The Tourist Visa requires the sponsorship of hotels and tour operators who bring in visitors from the above listed countries.
Required documents:
Clear passport copy of the sponsor
Travel insurance
4.    Multiple-Entry Visas
Multiple-entry Visas are issued to visitors on board cruise ships since their schedule usually includes entering the country more than once in a single trip
Multiple-entry Visas are also issued to business visitors who have a relationship with either a multinational or other reputable local company, and who are frequent visitors to the UAE. This type of visa is valid for six months from the date of issue and the duration of each stay is 30 days. The validity is non-renewable.
The visitor must enter the UAE on a Visit Visa and obtain the Multiple-Entry Visa while in the country. The visa is stamped in the passport.

German citizens

German citizens (tourists and business people) may apply to the UAE embassy in Germany for a one- or two-year multiple-entry visa. No sponsor is required. The maximum duration of stay of visa holders should not exceed three months per year. 

US citizens

US citizens (tourists and business people) may apply to the UAE embassy in the US for one to ten-year multiple-entry visas. A sponsor is required and the visa will be granted free of charge. The maximum duration of stay should not exceed six months per visit.

For further details and other types of visa and the visa prices please contact your sponsor, travel agency or airline company.

Currency:

The official currency of the UAE is dirham, written as AED or Dh. The dirham is index linked to the dollar. Official exchange rate is Dh 3.671 = US$ 1.00.

Almost any foreign currency can be exchanged in exchanged offices, located in all shopping malls.

ATMs are available in all urban areas.

Safety, emergency numbers, health and driving license:

Personal safety

In general, the United Arab Emirates is a safe country.

The state is considered as one of those with the lowest levels of crime in the world.

Recommendations:

-       Beware of possibility of pickpocketing and petty thefts like elsewhere in the cities and take care of your personal belongings

-       Avoid walking alone after dark in lonely and unknown places and take the same personal safety measures like elsewhere

Emergency numbers

Ambulance

998 or 999

Fire

997

Police

999

Health & health insurance

Always when travelling it is important to obtain basic medical information about the country you are travelling to. We strongly suggest you to get the travel insurance in your country before the departure to United Arab Emirates, due to the fact that an emergency can be extremely costly. 

In general, most of the travelers spend their time in UAE without any health complications. The most common troubles that might occur are gastrointestinal infections, fever and respiratory problems, the last one usually only in patients with the preexisting respiratory diseases.

Accidental insurance is recommended.

We are not responsible for the animal and insect bites, the accidents outside our transportation vehicles, eventually caused by our guide; for food poisoning or any other event that may occur during your stay.

Thus, we recommend to:

-      Avoid street fast food restaurants, except within the shopping malls

-      Prior to consuming fresh fruits and vegetables, make sure they are washed

-      Avoid physical contact with the strangers and persons showing symptoms of respiratory diseases

-      Drink enough water and protect yourself of the sun.

Driving

An international driving permit is required for the holders of tourist visa who want to drive in the UAE.

If you use a taxi as public transportation, note that the law requires the taxicab to use the meter. If the driver refuses, do not get into the taxi or get out. You can also call the police.

Brief history:

-       More than 100,000 years ago, the first inhabitants seem to have arrived to Hajarmountains parallel to the east coast of the UAE where their stone tools have been found.

-       Umm al-Nar, a bronze age culture, existed from 2600-2000 BC. The archaeological excavations have been still carried out.

-       Pearl trading starts in the first century.

-       Development of Islam in the region starts at about 630 AD, the post of Julfar in Ras al Khaimah becomes a wealthy pearl trading center

-       16th century brings Portuguese offensive on the Gulf, the BaniYas tribes rise in Liwa villages.

-       By the end of 18th century, Sheikh Abu Falah (Al Nahyan family), the political leader of all the BaniYas members, settles down with his followers in Abu Dhabi, the town that becomes major pearling center.

-       In the 19th century, a branch of the BaniYas tribe settles down in Dubai and establishes the Maktoum rule.

-       Pearling industry flourishes during 19th and 20th century. The majority of the population still lives nomadic and semi-nomadic lifestyle, by riding the camels from the desert to the mountains and sea.

-       The invention of cultured pearl in Japan has bad influence on pearl industry in the region during the Great Depression. After India imposed a heavy taxation on Gulf pearls, the industry faded away.

-       The surveys on petrol oil are carried away in the 1930s and the exportation of oil starts in the 1960s

-       On 2nd December 1971 the UAE is established bythe Trucial States (Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Umm al-Qaiwain, Ajman and Fujairah), that agreed on a Federal Constitution for achieving independence.Ras al Khaimah joined three months later.

Culture:

The Emirati culture is based on Arabic culture. With the arrival of other nations, it has been influenced by Persian and Indian culture through the architecture, folk dances and folk arts. In general, the ethnic diversity of the country with majority of expatriate communities, contrary to the other societies, did not bring cultural or ethnic tensions.

The expression of local identity has naturally remained obvious in Islamic art, religion, clothing, music, traditional family lifestyle and cuisine.

Ramadan endings are always marked by Eid al-Fitr, that are the major holidays in the country.

2nd December, known as the National Day, marks the formation of the union.

The Friday is the holiest day of the week and you will not find many shops or tourist attractions open on Fridays. 

Traditional Emirati architecture

Traditionally, tents provided shelter to the tribes that practiced nomadic lifestyle. Permanent houses were built inland of simple building materials, such as stone guss. They were roofed with palm tree leaves. In coastal regions, the inhabitants used a mixture of lime derived from seashells or fossilized coral.

Dubai's most prominent traditional buildings are Barjeel towers. These buildings are wind towers found throughout Arabian Gulf and the countries with influence of Persian culture, dating back to 3100 BC.The wind towers are known as the first “air conditioning systems” that act as the simple ventilation systems. In hot climate conditions, hot air rises out the top of the tower, while cooler directed winds flow down into the home.

Clothing

A full-length shirt-dress called khandura, most commonly white colored, and sometimes beige, brown, blue or even green, is the local UAE custom that the men wear. Men cover their heads with white githra.

Women in UAE wear the long black robe called abaya. Headscarf in public is an imperative. Some more traditional families prefer that the women cover their face as well as full body including hands, but uncovered female face is also widely allowed.

Music and folk dances

Traditional Arabic string instrument is called rababa (variously spelled).

A variety of folk dances have been performed in the UAE. We will here mention just the most widespread. The most typical dance is Iyala (al Ayyala), a local version of the Aarda, traditionally practiced among Gulf Arab tribes. The dance is performed with intensive accompaniment of drums. Originally, it was organized to represent a battle, with formations of men reciting stirring poetry and waving swards. Nowadays, it has been commonly performed at the weddings.

Another tribal dances are Mated, related to religious tradition, and Liwa folk dance with Omani origin that was brought to Emirati region by nomadic merchants. A ritualistic dance that originates from East Africa is called Nuban, and has a spiritual meaning. 

There are also two recognizable female performances, al Na’ashat and al Radha. At the various celebrations, Bedouin women with beautiful hair rhythmically turn the head left and right.Al Radha is more related to wedding celebration.

Other traditional dances includeAl Harbiyah, Al Yola, Taghrouda, Al Shillah, Al 'azi.

Handicrafts

Female handicrafts that largely predominate in field of national heritage, include embroidery, engaging in culinary, henna painting.

Men's handicrafts are falconry, making weapons and jewelry, wooden furniture and dishes, traditional weapons and equipment.