The United Arab Emirates is a marvellously contradictory nation, where conspicuous consumption and ostentation hold hands with traditional Muslim conservatism and a Bedouin culture than continues to thrive in the country’s deserts.
Dubai, the city which invented the ‘shopping festival’, dazzles with its ultra-modern skyline and ever-present glamour. Yet the desert sands beyond tell a different story entirely; sprawling dunes, date-palm oases and ancient forts of burnt ochre and dusty gold appear more like something out of Arabian Nights. The capital, Abu Dhabi, remains modern yet peaceful and the cultured Sharjah, with its array of museums, galleries and theatres unlike anything found in the west, displays yet another side to this enchanting and multi-faceted nation.
One of the richest countries in the world, the per capita GDP is over $45,000. Such wealth has been founded on rich oil deposits – not forecast to run dry until 2100AD – while strategic marketing and infrastructure investment have created a construction boom and a healthy injection of cash from tourism and international investment.
Business laws remain moderately protectionist – for example, local business require at least 51 percent ownership by UAE nationals – but this is due to change as the country strives to meet IMF regulations. The culture is very relationship driven, with a great deal invested in entertainment and building trust. Emiratis are shrewd, though, and excellent negotiators; be careful they don’t soften you up too much or they might take commercial advantage.
The main international airports are at Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with a few going to Sharjah. Many border crossings are closed to non-residents and you should check before travelling if going overland.
Buses are the only form of public transport and coverage is limited. To get around more freely, driving is by far and away the best option.
Climate: Arid. Hot, parched summers and warm winters with a little rain. Temperature: Max 40°C (August), Min 12°C (January). Rainfall: Max 25mm (December), Min 0mm (May-October)
Currency: UAR dirham (AED)
Business etiquette: Suits should be worn. Deadlines are not as rigid as in many western cultures. Emiratis will often negotiate hard and ask questions repeatedly; consistent answers demonstrate that you are telling the truth.
Tipping: 10-15 percent
Duty free: 400 cigarettes; 2kg of tobacco; 4l of spirits or 24 cans of beer; perfume for personal use.
Safety: Very low incidence of crime in UAE.
Laws: Treason may result in the death penalty. Drunkenness and defamation may attract corporal punishment. Drinking or possessing alcohol requires a permit. Preaching non-Islamic religions, harassing women, taking photographs of locals without permission, swearing and making rude gestures are all illegal and may attract fines or imprisonment.
Healthcare: Vaccinations required for hepatitis A and tetanus. Medical facilities are high quality but extremely expensive. Health insurance is essential.
Socket type: Type G