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Living in the UAE

Discover the Different Emirates of the UAE

The United Arab Emirates consists of seven self-governed emirates, which formed a federation in 1971. Whether you’re thinking of moving to the well-known Abu Dhabi or Dubai or one of the smaller emirates, you can find information about each of the emirates in this guide to help you make a decision.

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  • Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai have large expat populations.
  • Abu Dhabi is the largest of the seven emirates and the federal capital of the country.
  • Dubai is the second-largest emirate and is considered the trading hub of the country.

The United Arab Emirates is fast becoming a top expat destination. In the Expat Insider 2015 survey, expats living in the UAE ranked it 19th out of 64 countries. Arabic is the official language of this conservative, Islamic country, but English is widely spoken, especially in the business world. Depending on where you go, the number of expats and the amount of English spoken will vary greatly. The climate also varies across the seven emirates; Abu Dhabi has little rainfall while Ras Al Khaimah, further north, has somewhat more frequent rainfall.

Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi is the federal capital of the United Arab Emirates and is also the largest of the seven emirates, covering 87% of the whole country. The emirate sits on the Arabian Gulf with 700 km of coastline and is bordered by the Sultanate of Oman to the east, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the south and the emirate of Dubai to the northeast. H. H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan is the ruler of Abu Dhabi and the president of the UAE.

There are two international airports in this emirate, which has many landmarks and malls to keep you entertained if you decide to move here. Some of the most famous landmarks are the stunning Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque (also called the Grand Mosque), the Emirates Palace and the Heritage Village, which will show you what life used to be like here.

Abu Dhabi has a population that is largely made up of expats, who have been drawn to the emirate for various reasons. The emirate has been in the process of diversifying its economy and thus, while it is the eighth-largest producer of oil in the world, there are also many other business sectors on offer if you are considering the move to Abu Dhabi. In this emirate you can find 95% of the nation’s oil reserves and approximately 94% of the gas reserves. This is not just useful for the oil industry though, it has also been an advantage for the petrochemicals industry. Meanwhile, two of the biggest sectors in the Abu Dhabi economy are construction and manufacturing, which have seen much growth recently.

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Dubai is the second-largest emirate in the UAE, located on the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, in the southwest corner of the Arabian Gulf. It has borders with Abu Dhabi to the south, Sharjah to the northeast and the Sultanate of Oman to the southeast. The emirate was established in 1833 and is currently ruled by H. H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is also the vice president and prime minister of the UAE.

Like Abu Dhabi, Dubai is very popular with expats; in 2015, 80% of the Dubai population was expatriates. There are many things that draw expatriates to this successful emirate, one being the lack of income tax (which you will find across the country). There are many international companies, especially in Dubai city, where a number of free trade zones allow foreign nationals to own businesses under less strict regulations.

The emirate is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination with links to over 130 international destinations by air. Some of the most popular destinations to visit when you are in Dubai are the Burj Khalifa, the tallest skyscraper in the world, and the Burj Al Arab, the sail-shaped hotel that has become a symbol of Dubai.


Sharjah is the third-largest emirate in the UAE and is ruled by H. H. Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi. The emirate is located north of Dubai, with two enclaves on the Gulf of Oman: Khor Fakkan and Kalba. The emirate has three main ports.

The key contributors to the economy are gas, tourism, education, healthcare, and logistics. Sharjah is also considered culturally important within the UAE, with Sharjah city having won several awards calling it a “cultural capital” over the years.

Ras Al Khaimah (RAK)

The fourth-largest emirate is Ras Al Khaimah. The emirate is located in the north of the country, stretching along the Arabian Gulf shore and shares borders with Umm Al Quwain, Fujairah, Sharjah, and the Sultanate of Oman. Due to the increased rainfall in this region and the mainly mountainous landscape, agriculture and the cement industry are particularly strong, as is the pharmaceutical industry.

If you choose to move to Ras Al Khaimah or are just interested in visiting after you move to the UAE, there is quite a lot to see with many old forts and castles and the remains of cities demonstrating the traditional housing designs of the country.


Fujairah is another emirate with much to offer. It is the only emirate of the seven to be situated entirely on the east coast of the UAE, on the Gulf of Oman. The emirate has a busy and important port with access to the Indian Ocean.

The emirate of Fujairah may rely economically on trading, manufacturing, ship supply services, transport, storage and agriculture, but it also has much to offer if you are more interested in history and culture than industry. Al Badiyah Mosque, a mud-brick mosque and the oldest existing mosque in the UAE, can be found here and is still in good condition. Fujairah Fort is also another place of interest in the emirate with a fascinating history.

Umm Al Quwain

This emirate is the second smallest and also the least populated of the seven emirates. One of the most important industries here is the fishing industry, with Umm Al Quwain exporting seafood to both Europe and the Middle East. It has much to offer for people who decide to visit or move here, including many islands and Dreamland, the largest water park in the country.


The smallest of the emirates, located in the north of the UAE on the Arabian Gulf coast, is Ajman. Ruled by H. H. Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid Al Nuaimi, the emirate has a variety of important economic sectors and also offers a number of museums and castles, including the Ajman Museum, which presents artifacts of traditional life in the old Ajman Fort.

Updated on: December 06, 2018
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