United Arab Emirates

Planning a trip to United Arab Emirates?

Find out what visa options are available for your nationality.
Access requirements, application forms, and online ordering.

Economy of United Arab Emirates

Prior to the first exports of oil in 1962, the U.A.E. economy was dominated by pearl production, fishing, agriculture, and herding. Since the rise of oil prices in 1973, however, petroleum has dominated the economy, accounting for most of its export earnings and providing significant opportunities for investment. The U.A.E. has huge proven oil reserves, estimated at 97.8 billion barrels in 2011, with gas reserves estimated at 214.2 trillion cubic feet; at present production rates, these supplies would last well over 150 years. In 2009, the U.A.E. produced about 2.41 million barrels of oil per day. Major increases in imports have occurred in manufactured goods, machinery, and transportation equipment, which together have accounted for 70% of total imports. Another important foreign exchange earner, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority--which controls the investments of Abu Dhabi, the wealthiest emirate--manages an estimated $600 billion in overseas investments. More than 6,000 companies from more than 120 countries operate at the Jebel Ali complex in Dubai, which includes a deep-water port and a free trade zone for manufacturing and distribution in which all goods for re-export or transshipment enjoy a 100% duty exemption. A major power plant with associated water desalination units, an aluminum smelter, and a steel fabrication unit are prominent facilities near the complex. Except in the free trade zone, the U.A.E. requires at least 51% local citizen ownership in all businesses operating in the country as part of its attempt to place Emiratis in leadership positions. As a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the U.A.E. participates in a wide range of GCC activities that focus on economic issues. These include regular consultations and development of common policies covering trade, investment, banking and finance, transportation, telecommunications, and other technical areas, including protection of intellectual property rights. GDP (2009): 914.3 billion AED (approx. U.S. $248 billion). Annual growth rate (2007): 6.3%. Per capita GDP (2008): over U.S. $53,400. Natural resources: Oil and natural gas. Petroleum (2008 est.): 36.8% of GDP. Mining, manufacturing, and construction, of which manufacturing was 12.2% of GDP in 2008 (est.). Services: 56.1% of 2009 GDP. Trade (2006 est.): Exports-- $157 billion: petroleum, gas, and petroleum products. Major markets-- Japan, South Korea, Thailand, India. Imports-- $126.6 billion: machinery, chemicals, food. Major suppliers-- Western Europe, Japan, U.S., China, India. Foreign economic aid (2009): 8.9 billion AED (approx. U.S. $2.4 billion).

Geography of United Arab Emirates

Location: Middle East, bordering the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, between Oman and Saudi Arabia Geographic coordinates: 24 00 N, 54 00 E Map references: Asia Area: total: 82,880 sq km land: 82,880 sq km water: 0 sq km Area-comparative: slightly smaller than Maine Land boundaries: total: 867 km border countries: Oman 410 km, Saudi Arabia 457 km Coastline: 1,318 km Maritime claims: contiguous zone: 24 nm continental shelf: 200 nm or to the edge of the continental margin exclusive economic zone: 200 nm territorial sea: 12 nm Climate: desert; cooler in eastern mountains Terrain: flat, barren coastal plain merging into rolling sand dunes of vast desert wasteland; mountains in east Elevation extremes: lowest point: Persian Gulf 0 m highest point: Jabal Yibir 1,527 m Natural resources: petroleum, natural gas Land use: arable land: 0% permanent crops: 0% permanent pastures: 2% forests and woodland: 0% other: 98% (1993 est.) Irrigated land: 50 sq km (1993 est.) Natural hazards: frequent sand and dust storms Environment-current issues: lack of natural freshwater resources being overcome by desalination plants; desertification; beach pollution from oil spills Environment-international agreements: party to: Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection signed, but not ratified: Biodiversity, Law of the Sea Geography-note: strategic location along southern approaches to Strait of Hormuz, a vital transit point for world crude oil

Government of United Arab Emirates

Administratively, the U.A.E. is a loose federation of seven emirates, each with its own ruler. Under the provisional constitution of 1971, each emirate reserves considerable powers, including control over mineral rights (notably oil and gas) and revenues. In this milieu, federal powers have developed slowly. The constitution established the positions of President (Chief of State) and Vice President, each serving 5-year terms; a Council of Ministers, led by a Prime Minister (head of government); a supreme council of rulers; and a 40-member Federal National Council (FNC). The FNC is a consultative body with half its members appointed by the emirate rulers and half elected through an electorate chosen by the rulers of each emirate. POLITICAL CONDITIONS While the U.A.E. has worked to strengthen its federal institutions since achieving independence, each emirate still retains substantial autonomy. A basic concept in the U.A.E. Government's development as a federal system is that a significant percentage of each emirate's revenues should be devoted to the U.A.E. central budget. The U.A.E. has no political parties. The rulers hold power on the basis of their dynastic position and their legitimacy in a system of tribal consensus. Rapid modernization, enormous strides in education, and the influx of a large foreign population have changed the face of the society. In December 2006, the U.A.E. held its first-ever limited elections to select half the members of the FNC. Ballots were cast by electors selected by the ruler of each emirate. One woman was elected to the FNC and seven additional women were appointed to be council members. In March 2011, the state news agency announced that elections would be held in September 2011. Government Type: Federation of emirates. Independence: December 2, 1971. Provisional constitution: December 2, 1971. Branches: Executive--7-member Supreme Council of Rulers, which elects president and vice president. Legislative--40-member Federal National Council (consultative only). Judicial--Islamic and secular courts. Administrative subdivisions: Seven largely self-governing city-states. Political parties: None. Suffrage: None. Central government budget (2004): $6.5 billion. Principal Government Officials President, Ruler of Abu Dhabi--Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Vice President, Prime Minister, Minister of Defense, Ruler of Dubai--Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior--Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs--Mansour bin Zayed Al, Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince--Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan Minister of Finance--Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum Minister of State for Finance--Obaid Humaid Al Tayer Minister of Education--Humaid Mohammed Obeid al Qattami Minister of Foreign Affairs--Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan Minister of State for Federal National Council Affairs and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs--Mohammed Anwar Gargash Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research--Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan Minister of Public Works--Hamdan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan Minister of Economy--Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansouri Minister of Foreign Trade--Lubna Al Qasimi Minister of Justice--Hadef bin Jua'an Al Dhaheri Minister of Energy--Mohammed bin Dha'en Al Hamili Minister of Labour--Saqr Ghobash Saeed Ghobash Minister for Cabinet Affairs--Mohammed Abdullah Al Gargawi Minister of Social Affairs--Mariam Mohammed Khalfan Al Roumi Minister of Health--Hanif Hassan Ali Minister of Environment and Water--Rashid Ahmad bin Fahad Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development--Abdul Rahman Mohammed Al Owais Ambassador to the United States--Yousef al Otaiba Ambassador to the United Nations in New York--Ahmad Al Jarman The UAE maintains an embassy in the United States at 3522 International Court, NW, Washington, DC, 20008 (tel.202-243-2400). The UAE Mission to the UN is located at 747 3rd Avenue, 36th Floor, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-371-0480).

Back to Top

History of United Arab Emirates

The UAE was formed from the group of tribally organized Arabian Peninsula Sheikhdoms along the southern coast of the Persian Gulf and the northwestern coast of the Gulf of Oman. This area was converted to Islam in the 7th century; for centuries it was embroiled in dynastic disputes. It became known as the Pirate Coast as raiders based there harassed foreign shipping, although both European and Arab navies patrolled the area from the 17th century into the 19th century. Early British expeditions to protect the India trade from raiders at Ras al-Khaimah led to campaigns against that headquarters and other harbors along the coast in 1819. The next year, a general peace treaty was signed to which all the principal sheikhs of the coast adhered. Raids continued intermittently until 1835, when the sheikhs agreed not to engage in hostilities at sea. In 1853, they signed a treaty with the United Kingdom, under which the sheikhs (the "Trucial Sheikhdoms") agreed to a "perpetual maritime truce." It was enforced by the United Kingdom, and disputes among sheikhs were referred to the British for settlement. Primarily in reaction to the ambitions of other European countries, the United Kingdom and the Trucial Sheikhdoms established closer bonds in an 1892 treaty, similar to treaties entered into by the U.K. with other Gulf principalities. The sheikhs agreed not to dispose of any territory except to the United Kingdom and not to enter into relationships with any foreign government other than the United Kingdom without its consent. In return, the British promised to protect the Trucial Coast from all aggression by sea and to help out in case of land attack. In 1955, the United Kingdom sided with Abu Dhabi in the latter's dispute with Saudi Arabia over the Buraimi Oasis and other territory to the south. A 1974 agreement between Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia would have settled the Abu Dhabi-Saudi border dispute; however, the agreement has yet to be ratified by the UAE Government and is not recognized by the Saudi Government. The border with Oman also remains officially unsettled, but the two governments agreed to delineate the border in May 1999. In 1968, the U.K. announced its decision, reaffirmed in March 1971, to end the treaty relationships with the seven Trucial Sheikhsdoms which had been, together with Bahrain and Qatar, under British protection. The nine attempted to form a union of Arab emirates, but by mid-1971 they were unable to agree on terms of union, even though the termination date of the British treaty relationship was the end of 1971. Bahrain became independent in August and Qatar in September 1971. When the British-Trucial Sheikhdoms treaty expired on December 1, 1971, they became fully independent. On December 2, 1971, six of them entered into a union called the United Arab Emirates. The seventh, Ras al-Khaimah, joined in early 1972. The U.A.E. sent forces to help liberate Kuwait during the 1990-91 Gulf War. U.A.E. troops have also participated in peacekeeping missions to Somalia, Lebanon, Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo, and Kuwait. In 2004, the U.A.E.'s first and only president until that time, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, died. His eldest son Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan succeeded him as Ruler of Abu Dhabi. In accordance with the Constitution, the U.A.E.'s Supreme Council of Rulers elected Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan as U.A.E. Federal President. Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan succeeded Khalifa as Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. In January 2006, Sheikh Makotum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, U.A.E. Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, passed away and was replaced by his brother, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (MbR), Ruler of Dubai and U.A.E. Minister of Defense. On February 9, 2006, the U.A.E. announced a cabinet reshuffle. Several ministries were eliminated or renamed, while others were created.

People of United Arab Emirates

Of the total 8.9 million residents, less than 20% are Emirati, more than one-third are South Asian, and a significant number are from Europe and North Africa. The majority of Emirati citizens are Sunni Muslim with a Shi'a minority. Many foreigners are Muslim; Hindus and Christians make up a portion of the U.A.E.'s foreign population. Educational standards are rising rapidly. Citizens and temporary residents have taken advantage of higher education facilities throughout the country. In the 2010 spring semester, U.A.E. University in Al Ain had roughly 12,000 students and American University Sharjah had over 5,000 students enrolled. The Higher Colleges of Technology, a network of technical-vocational colleges, opened in 1989 with men's and women's campuses in each emirate. Zayed University for women opened in 1998 with campuses in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Many foreign universities, including ones from the U.S., U.K., and Australia, also have campuses in the U.A.E. Nationality: Noun and adjective-- U.A.E., Emirati. Population (2009 est., U.A.E. Government): 8.9 million. Ethnic groups (U.A.E. Government): Indian (1.75 million); Pakistani (1.25 million); Bangladeshi (500,000); other Asian (1 million); European and African (500,000); and Emirati (890,000). Religions: Muslim (96%), Hindu, Christian. Languages: Arabic (official), English, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali. Education: Years compulsory-- ages 6-12. Literacy-- 90% for Emirati citizens. Health: Life expectancy-- 78.3 yrs. Work force (2008, World Bank): Total --2.8 million. Agriculture-- 5%; industry-- 60%; services-- 35% (rounded). Female participation rate-- 41.8%.