More about the United Arab Emirates

The UAE is an exciting country, blending Arabic and Western culture: you hear the prayer call five times a day, and beautiful mosques and stunning modern architecture is seen throughout the major cities.


Independence Day of the United Arab Emirates: December 2, 1971 (December 2 is celebrated as a national holiday each year)

Member States: The United Arab Emirates, formerly known as the Trucial States, is comprised of seven individual Emirates: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, and Umm al-Qaiwain.

Location: In the Middle East, bordering the countries of Saudi Arabia on the south and west, and Oman on the south and east. The UAE also borders on the Persian Gulf to the north and the Gulf of Oman to the southeast. See our map of the UAE.

Size: approximately 82,880 square km (32,000 square miles), or slightly smaller than the state of Maine

Capital City: Abu Dhabi

Population: approximately 5.3 million, of which it was estimated in 2011 that 74% were non-nationals

Government Type: federation (of seven Emirates) (see our article on the Political System of the UAE

Language: Arabic, though English is widely spoken in medical, business, and social circles

Currency: the Emirati dirham (Dh; also AED), which is tied to the US dollar at a rate of US$1=3.67Dh

Major Cities: The best-known cities, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, are about 150km (93 miles) apart, so in good traffic, it takes about 1.5 hours (but it can definitely take longer) to drive between the two.

For more information, see: the CIA World Fact Book (UAE).



Islam is the official religion of the UAE, but other religions are respected and in the major cities, there are Roman Catholic, Protestant, and/or Orthodox churches that serve the expatriate community. (For information, see our FAQ question "What religions are practiced in the UAE?"?

Sunni Muslims make up approximately 80% of the Islamic world, and the majority of Emirati citizens are Sunnis. Approximately 16% of Emiratis are Shi'ite.

Sunnis and Shi'ites have much in common. For example, both sects believe in the Five Pillars of Islam, which include:

  • the profession of faith (shahada), which in English may be translated as: "There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is the Prophet of Allah";
  • prayer (salah), which is to be conducted five times daily (at dawn, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset, and nightfall) and can last up to a half an hour; during prayer, shops and restaurants often closse;
  • almsgiving (zakat);
  • fasting (syam), which is to be performed by healthy adults, from dawn to dusk, during the holy month of Ramadan (some people are exempted, e.g., pregnant women);
  • pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj), which must be done once by those who are fit enough, and financially able, to perform it.

The Prophet Mohammed

Mohammed was born in the year 571 CE, and he experienced his first revelation and began his role as a prophet in 610 CE. In 622 CE he had to flee from Mecca to Medina, and it is from this year that the Islamic calendar is calculated. The prophet Mohammed died in 630 CE.

The Islamic, or Hejira Calendar

The UAE follows the Islamic, or Hejira calendar, which is a lunar calendar, whereas the standard calendar used in the West (the Gregorian calendar), is based on one solar year. The Islamic calendar has 12 months, which are 29 or 30 days long, so the Islamic calendar year is 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar year which is 365 days (or 366 each leap year). The weekend is Thursday and Friday, with Friday being the holy day.


The UAE constitution guarantees equal rights for men and women, and women's basic rights are enshrined in Islamic law. Also, the UAE Women's Federation (headed by the wife of the country's president), was founded in 1975 to encourage women to play a full role in society. Emirati women work in roles including: civil servants, university professors, teachers, lawyers, engineers, doctors, entrepreneurs, administrators - and members of the police force and the army. A May 24, 2010 article in the UAE paper, The National reported, "According to government statistics 77 per cent of women go onto universities, and three quarters of university students are women. However this does not translate into the workplace: women make up only 25 per cent of the Emirati workforce."


The UAE educational system (for both males and females) ranges from primary level to college/university. Education is free for Emirati citizens, including university education. Students can also pursue higher education abroad at the government's expense. With one area of emphasis in the UAE being on women's education, women's literacy rates are estimated to be higher than men's (81.7% versus 76.1%), and as noted above, there are more women than men in university.


Oil was first found in Abu Dhabi only in 1958. Now, the CIA World Factbook (data retrieved 2/2012) puts the UAE at #8 in world oil production and #19 in world natural gas production.

Climate & Topography

The UAE has 1,318 km (818 miles) of coastline, but the majority of the inland area consists of sandy desert, salt flats, and gravel plains. There is a mountain range (the Hajar Mountains) to the east, which is also in Oman. Rainfall is irregular, but occurs usually in the winter, and averages 5 inches (12-13 cm) per year. In the major cities on the coast (e.g. Abu Dhabi and Dubai), it is generally sunny, hot and humid, with August highs averaging around 106-118F (41-48C), plus humidity. January temperatures average around 75F (24C) during the day and 56F (13C) at night.

Would you like information about working in the UAE?

See our Frequently Asked Questions page.

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