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The UAE was created as a federation and became a unified independent sovereign state in 1971. In addition to Abu Dhabi, which is the largest constituent in terms of both area and population, its members are Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah.
UAE lies on the south-eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, bordered by Saudi Arabia to the south and west and the Sultanate of Oman to the southeast, while Qatar lies to the northwest. The country’s total land area is about 83,600 square kilometres, where over 80% is occupied by the emirate of Abu Dhabi.
His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the then ruler of Abu Dhabi, became the first President of the UAE. After he passed away in 2004, he was succeeded by his son, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, as the Ruler of Abu Dhabi and President of the UAE.
This unity of the emirates led to an era of security and shared prosperity across the region that had been revolutionized with the discovery of oil and gas in 1958. With the revenue from these, the infrastructure and social services have been dramatically improved and are now amongst the best in the world.
The UAE has an area of 83,600 square kilometers, and 1318 kilometres of coastline on both the Arabian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. The Hajjar Mountains form a backbone down the east of the country with the rest of the landscape comprising sandy beaches, salt flats, gravel plains and vast areas of desert dunes.
The most pleasant time to visit is during the cooler months from November to March when temperatures average around 24C during the day and 13C at night. What little rainfall there is tends to fall during this period. April to October summer temperatures can soar to around 45C
making a refreshing dip in the sea even more inviting. In the summer there is also high humidity but air conditioning helps to soften the impact. Sunny blue skies can be expected throughout the year.
UAE’s population of 4.43 million as of 2006 comprises roughly 20 percent Emirati nationals with the rest accounted for mostly by Asian, African and European nationals. The emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai comprise over two-thirds (67%) of the country’s total population. The population ratio is also significantly skewed towards the urban zones, which host 82% of the country’s residents.
Arabic is the official language but English is widely spoken, especially in hotels and shops.
The attitude towards dress is relaxed but all visitors should show respect for local culture and customs in public places by avoiding excessively revealing clothing. For most of the year, lightweight summer clothing is suitable, although warmer garments may be required in the winter, especially in the evenings. Throughout the year, air conditioning in hotels, restaurants and shopping malls can be a little cold and so a sweater may be required. City hotels are more formal than resort hotels and they may expect guests to dress accordingly.
There is a limited local bus service; however taxis are plentiful and relatively inexpensive, especially in Abu Dhabi. Hiring a car is another option although an international driving license will be required, but it is the best way to explore the country.
Tipping practices are similar to the rest of the world. Taxi drivers do not expect a tip but will always appreciate a little extra. In restaurants, 10% is considered adequate if service has not been included in the bill.
All major credit cards are widely accepted across the country but in the souk, bargaining power is better with cash.
The electricity supply is 220/240 volts at 50Hz. The socket type is the square three-pin system and most hotels will have adapters for different types of plugs.
Passport and Visa Requirements
All visitors except nationals of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries require a visa to the UAE. However, for the nationalities listed below, it is a simple case of obtaining a visit visa on arrival at the airport. Citizens of countries not listed may obtain a 14-day visa but these have to be applied for and approved, prior to travel. Nationals of the following countries can obtain visas on arrival: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States and the Vatican.