Travel 101: Intro to the United Arab Emirates

Politics and Economy

The UAE is a federation of seven emirates, which are essentially territories with their own monarchs. There are few elements of a democracy. There are elections are held for a federal advisory body, but they are limited.

Political parties are banned and all executive, legislative, and judicial authority ultimately rests with the seven hereditary rulers. The civil liberties of citizens and residents living in the UAE are heavily restricted.

Refined and crude petroleum make up the largest share of the UAE’s exports, but the economy is also diversified. Investment in tourism and infrastructure has helped strengthen the country’s economy overall. Business friendly policies and a legacy of international trade contribute to the growth of its annual GDP.


Emiratis make up roughly 1/10 of the population in the country. Yes, immigrants and foreign workers vastly outnumber UAE citizens. Furthermore, women constitute only about 30% of the entire population.

This is primarily due to the influx of male expatriate workers. Most of the foreign workers are from India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. The majority of the population regardless of national background practices Islam, but due to the expatriate community there is also a sizable community of Christians and Hindus.

Luxury and Poverty

Part of the success in diversifying the economy has been in the investment of high end luxury hotels and the portrayal of the UAE has a place of luxurious relaxation and poolside parties. However, not everyone in the UAE is rich. About 20% of the population lives in poverty, by the standards of the UAE.

The foreign workers from South Asia are a sizable portion of those living in poverty. The wealth gap between rich and poor in the UAE is one of the worst in the world. This is in part due welfare afforded to Emiratis, but comparative economic neglect towards migrant workers.

Becoming a citizen in the UAE is also quite different. Rather than being jus soli (by place of birth), the UAE uses jus sanguinis (by nationality of parents). Naturalization is limited, meaning migrant workers don’t have many opportunities for social mobility in the country.

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