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UAE Overview

A general overview of the UAE, including up-to-date information about the healthcare system for expatriates and citizens in the UAE.

United Arab Emirates info

Expatriates moving to the United Arab Emirates may have a lot to learn about their new home. From work to culture to getting around the region, not to mention medical concerns, there’s a lot to know when it comes to the Emirates. For this reason, Pacific Prime Dubai provides the below information for those that need to brush up on their UAE knowledge.

First and foremost, if you are in need of health insurance for while you are in Dubai, please contact our knowledgeable and helpful agents for a plan comparison and free quote. Our services are completely free, and we will gladly answer all of your questions.

United Arab Emirates overview

The UAE has a population of just over 9 million people. Only just over 10% of this population is natural born Emiratis, while the rest are expatriates that moved to the UAE from abroad. This population is growing, too. Even without immigration, the birth rate in the UAE in 2016 was 15.3 births per 1,000 people, while the death rate was 2 deaths per 1,000. Similarly, the migration rate in 2016  was strong at 11.3 migrants per 1,000 people. The life expectancy at birth in the UAE is 77.5 years.

As it exists today, the United Arab Emirates has only been in existence since the end of 1971 and It was at this time that six territories, known as emirates, came together to form a sovereign state. These emirates were Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Sharjah, and Umm Al Quwain. Only months later, a seventh emirate – Ras Al Khaimah – was welcomed into the union. Overall, each emirate exercises a great deal of autonomy, but there is a federal government that has been growing in prominence over the years.

The number one export of the UAE is crude oil, which accounts for 45% of total exports.

United Arab Emirates healthcare system

In 2014 the UAE spent 3.6% of its GDP on healthcare. Generally, the quality of the healthcare received In the UAE is high. There are hospitals enough in the country to provide 1.1 hospital beds and 1.56 physicians per 1,000 people.

The country touts both public and private medical facilities in every emirate. The public facilities, while subsidized and home to good quality healthcare, are available exclusively to local nationals and residents. Non-citizens will have to be content with using the private hospitals the country offers.

Generally, medical costs are higher in these hospitals, but they do not feature the long wait times that may be found at their public counterparts. Fortunately for the large population of expatriates in the UAE, private hospitals significantly outnumber the public ones and significant investment is being put forth to construct even more modern medical facilities.

To cover the costs of private healthcare, expats would do well to secure private health insurance. In fact, in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, health insurance is mandatory. Each of these Emirates has laws in place that require every resident to be covered by a private health insurance plan, which will either be supplied by an employer for those that are employed, or individually for those that are not.

Any resident without health insurance may be subject to fines, or even problems with visa issuance. Dubai even goes so far as to not allow visitors into its borders unless they can provide proof of compliant health insurance. Each of these two emirates has requirements for health insurance plans to meet before they are considered compliant with the law. This includes benefits like maternity, dental, coverage for pre-existing conditions, and specific minimum benefit levels.

Medical tourism has recently become more popular in the UAE, particularly in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. People from all over the region travel to the UAE due to its reputation for high quality medical care, even though the price for this care can sometimes be high. This is likely due to some countries in the region having outdated or insufficient healthcare systems to properly address a given medical issue.

Emergency assistance in the UAE

One of the first things you should learn in a new country is who to contact in the event that an emergency situation arises. With this in mind, here are some invaluable phone numbers that you can use while in the UAE (The country code for calling the UAE is +971):

  • Ambulance: 998

  • Police: 999

  • Electricity & water: 991

  • Fire: 997

  • General information: 101

  • Telephone directory: 180/181

  • Al Ain Hospital: 03-7635888

  • Dubai numbers

    • Municipality emergency number: 04-2232323
    • Al Wasl Hospital: 04-3341111 
    • Rashid Hospital: 04-3371111 
    • Dubai Hospital: 04-2714444 
    • Wellcare Hospital (Private): 04-2827788
    • American Hospital (Private): 04-3367777
    • Taxi: 04-2080808
    • Airport enquiries: 04-2066666
  • Abu Dhabi numbers
  • Emergency number: 344 663
  • Municipality emergency number: 02 777 929
  • Mafraq Hospital: 02-5823100
  • Central Hospital: 02-6214666
  • Sharjah numbers
    • Al Zahra Hospital: 06-5619999
    • ANJAD: 06-5512222
    • Zulehka Hospital: 06-5378866
    • New Al Qassimi Hospital: 06-5386444
    • Dhaid Hospital: 06-8822221
    • Kuwaiti Hospital: 06-5242111
  • Ras Al Khaimah numbers

    • Ghobash Hospital: 07-2223555
    • Saif Bin Ghobash Hospital: 07-2223555
    • Saqr Hospital: 07-2223666

United Arab Emirates visa information

For most people, a visa must be applied for and issued by the UAE before entry into the country is allowed. However, there are 33 nations whose citizens can be issued a free visa on arrival that lasts for 30 days. The countries are: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, USA, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Andorra, Iceland, Vatican City, Monaco, Spain, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Italy, France, and the UK.

Please be sure that your passport is more than 90 days from expiry when traveling to the UAE.

Types of UAE visas

  • Visit Visa: This is a visa for people spending less than 30 days in the UAE. They are free at the time of entry.
  • Tourist Visa: This is a special type of visit visa. This non-renewable visa only lasts for 3 days and require tour or hotel sponsorship. The cost for a tourist visa is AED 100. Additional fees may be charged for this visa by the tour operator or hotel.
    • Tourist visas are typically issued to people from the following countries: Cyprus, Malta, China, Singapore, South Africa, Thailand, Palao and other non-defined American nationalities, Jamaica, St. Vincent, Antigua and Barbuda, Martinique, French Guiana, Guyana, Belize, Bermuda, Cuba, Mexico, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, the Hellenic Republic, Russia, Albania, Ukraine, Poland, and Bulgaria.
  • Transit Visa: This visa is for people who are only traveling through a UAE airport. Transit visas are mandatory and must be secured by passengers with a valid ticket for an onward flight by an airline with an office in the UAE. Transit visas are valid for 96 hours from the time they are issued.
  • Multiple Entry Visa: Business people who frequently enter and depart the UAE can be issued a multiple entry visa. This type of visa lasts for 6 months, but an individual stay in the country is not to exceed 30 days with a multiple entry visa.
  • Investor Visa: Expats can obtain this visa if they enter into a partnership with a UAE citizen and invest at least AED 70,000 in the share capital of a UAE company. This visa last for 3 years.
  • Employment Visa: If you are hired to work at a UAE company, your employer will normally arrange this type of visa for you so that you can work in the country.

United Arab Emirates travel tips

  • Those who are just visiting the UAE may want to try to schedule their trips between the months of October and April due to the intense heat of the summer months. If the hot months cannot be avoided, no worries! There are lots of fun indoor activities that you can engage in, including indoor skiing and the world’s largest shopping mall which features an aquarium, a Discovery Center, ice skating, movie theaters, and much more.

  • It’s important to keep important public holidays in mind while in the UAE. This is because there are extra cultural rules that come along with some of them that you need to be aware of. For instance, Ramadan is a major holiday in the Muslim religion. While the dates of the holiday rotate, it is always either in the same month or the previous month from when it occurred the previous year. During Ramadan, all people – both Emiratis and expatriates alike – are expected to fast during the day until the sun goes down. Furthermore, alcohol and tobacco are not consumed at all during this time, and many businesses close during the day when they would normally be open. Violations of Ramadan customs can result in fines or jail time. Make sure to research the holidays that will be going on during your time in Dubai and the customs that go along with them, so as to avoid any cultural issues with UAE natives.

  • Do not take photos of people or government areas in the UAE.

  • When traveling to the UAE, make sure that you are allowed to bring your prescription medication with you. Many drugs that may be legal in your home country may not be so in the UAE. Violations of UAE drug laws can result in fines or even the death penalty.

  • ATMs are readily available in the UAE, and work with most Visa, MasterCard, and Union Pay cards. Keep in mind that most withdrawals will come with a small fee.

  • The UAE Dirham is pegged to the US dollar. The exchange rate is AED 3.67 to USD $1. The country’s paper money always has numerals written in both Arabic and Eastern Arabic numbers. However, coins feature only Eastern Arabic numerals, so it may take some time to learn the denominations of coins for those not from the region.

  • If your credit card is lost or compromised while traveling in the UAE, you can contact the relevant company at the following phone numbers:
    • Visa: 800 4420/331 9690
    • MasterCard: 332 2956
    • American Express: 336 5000 
    • Diner’s Club: 349 8200
    • HSBC: 800 4440
    • Standard Chartered: 800 4884 / 04 3520455
    • Citibank: 800 4000
    • Commercial Bank of Dubai: 800 4474
    • Mashreq Bank: 800 4010
    • National Bank of Dubai: 800 4767/04 223 3166
    • Emirates Bank International: 800 4080

United Arab Emirates culture

Arabic is the official language of the UAE, but English, Persian, Hindi, and Urdu are also languages commonly heard in throughout the country. Most signs will be printed in both Arabic and English, but outside of the major cities there is likely to be little spoken English. As a Muslim country, 76% of residents adhere to the tenets of Islam. Christianity is the second most common religion, with 9% of the population practicing it. As a Muslim country largely influenced by Sharia law, it’s important for those moving to Dubai to understand and adhere to local cultural norms so as to not offend.  Having said that, people familiar with the Middle East that visit the UAE will find that the culture of the UAE is much more open and tolerant than many other countries in the region when it comes to diverse cultures and values.

As a Muslim country, 76% of residents adhere to the tenets of Islam. Christianity is the second most common religion, with 9% of the population practicing it. As a Muslim country largely influenced by Sharia law, it’s important for those moving to Dubai to understand and adhere to local cultural norms so as to not offend. Having said that, people familiar with the Middle East that visit the UAE will find that the culture of the UAE is much more open and tolerant than many other countries in the region when it comes to diverse cultures and values.

Having said that, people familiar with the Middle East that visit the UAE will find that the culture of the UAE is much more open and tolerant than many other countries in the region when it comes to diverse cultures and values.

UAE etiquette

We all know that we should exercise proper manners when we’re in a new place, but ‘proper’ in one place can be very different form in another.

In the UAE, respect and courtesy to elder generations is of the utmost importance. Furthermore, when dining, it is considered disrespectful to eat with your left hand. Always take your shoes off when a guest in somebody’s home, and when visiting friends, do not remark on how much you like any particular item in their home, as they may then feel obliged to gift it to you. Also, take care to be respectful of women in the UAE. Do not speak with or take pictures of UAE women unless you have received permission from a male family member.

If going out in public or engaging in business, people in the UAE will mostly stick to local garb when deciding what to wear. In more casual settings, however, western wear is commonly worn. Local clothing typically consists of a ‘khandura’ for men – a full-length white garment – and a gutra – a white or red headdress. Women, on the other hand, will typically wear a long black garment known as an abaya, along with a headscarf. Some women also wear a burqa, which is similar to an abaya, except it covers the face.

Those who are clearly not of Middle Eastern descent are generally not expected to wear local clothing, but should still dress modestly. Be careful when showing skin. There are designated areas in major cities where bikinis can be worn at the beach, but venturing outside of these areas while dressed for the beach will likely be a faux pas. Men should always wear a shirt and try to avoid shorts. Women should take care to cover arms, legs, chest, and shoulders.

One major pastime outside of Muslim countries that should also be addressed is alcohol consumption. Unlike many countries in the region that ban the substance outright, the UAE has seen many bars, pubs, clubs, etc. flourish due to the level of tourism coming into the country. People are free to drink in these establishments, which are mostly found in metropolitan areas, but  do not get caught acting drunk in public or hefty fine and jail time may be in your future. More rural areas and certain emirates, such as Sharjah, do not allow alcohol to be served.  As far as drinking and driving is concerned, penalties are severe, so do not get behind the wheel if you’ve even had a single alcoholic beverage.

More rural areas and certain Emirates, such as Sharjah, do not allow alcohol to be served.  As far as drinking and driving is concerned, penalties are severe, so do not get behind the wheel if you’ve even had a single alcoholic beverage.

For drinking at home, non-Emiratis are allowed to purchase alcohol for home use as long as they purchase an alcohol license, which can be purchased from a resident’s local government. Visitors are allowed to enter the country with up to 4 liters of alcohol, which can be purchased from duty free shops at international airports in the UAE.

United Arab Emirates government

The government of the UAE is based on a constitutional monarchy combined with a presidential system, and political parties are banned. While each Emirate has its own ruler there are also federal level executive roles. The emir of Abu Dhabi serves as the country’s president, while the emir of Dubai serves as its prime minister. The seven leaders of the different emirates are all members of the collective Federal Supreme Council, which meets to select a new president and vice-president every 5 years. At this time, the heads of two families - the Al Nahyan and Al Maktoum clans – are the de facto leaders of Abu Dhabi and Dubai respectively, and are likely to remain as such for the foreseeable future. Additionally, the council forms general policy, legislates on matters of state, ratifies federal decrees and laws, ratifies international treaties and appoints new Supreme Court judges.

The seven leaders of the different Emirates are all members of the collective Federal Supreme Council, which meets to select a new president and vice-president every 5 years. At this time, the heads of two families - the Al Nahyan and Al Maktoum clans – are the de facto leaders of Abu Dhabi and Dubai respectively, and are likely to remain as such for the foreseeable future. Additionally, the council forms general policy, legislates on matters of state, ratifies federal decrees and laws, ratifies international treaties, and appoints new Supreme Court judges.

The judicial system of the country is both based on a system of civil law, as well as Sharia law. As such, there are both civil and Sharia courts. The UAE’s Supreme Court consists of five judges, who serve at the will of the Supreme Council of Rulers.

On the legislative side, there is a 22-member Council of Ministers, which the Prime Minister presides over. There is also the 40-member Federal National Council, which is the UAE’s main legislative body. Half of the members of this council are appointed by their respective Emirate’s rulers. The other half are elected by a 6,689 person electoral college whose members are appointed by the emirates. However, these latter members only have two year terms and serve in an advisory role.

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