Page update - Sep 23, 2022
This review will talk about the people who live and work in the United Arab Emirates. They are the people you will communicate with during your vacation, because they are the ones who stand behind the reception desks in hotels, drive tourist buses and cabs, and lead excursions.
It is useful to understand where these people come from, what are their life levels and interests. The information on this page was updated in September 2022. Unfortunately, not all the data for past 2021 is available, so we will use more old information in some parts of this review.
Before we talk in detail about the population of the United Arab Emirates, we have to decide who we mean by the word "population". Do we mean only citizens of the country or do we also include expat also?
When official sources publish statistics, all people are counted: citizens, people with work visas, and permanent residents from other countries. We will follow that idea.
The last official census took place back in 2005. The population in the UAE is growing very rapidly due to new labor from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and other countries.
In 2005, 4.1 million people were counted during the official census. After the census, the UN made a forecast for 2010 of 7.2 million. At the beginning of 2020, the estimate was 9.89 million. We want to point out that these and following figures are only a rough estimate, not the official statistics.
However, no one knows how the population changed in 2020-2021. During and after the first coronavirus outbreak in March-April 2020, there was a very interesting phenomenon in the UAE: the mass escape of expats. They were leaving by the thousands on special outbound flights. How many flew out? It hasn't been counted yet.
Many of them left for quite objective reasons - to go back to their families. Some of them were sure that the Arab Emirates was going to end. Such rumors were actively circulating at the time. There was mass psychosis all over the world at the time.
During the "delta" stamm outbreak in mid-2021, a similar phenomenon was observed, but on a much smaller scale. During the "omicron" outbreak in early 2022, nothing similar was observed (at least on a visible scale).
How did this affect the population? It's hard to say right now. So far, there is no official data from the authorities, and it is unlikely that this data will appear any time soon. Of the official data, there is a statement by Indian Foreign Minister Vellamwelli Muralidharan in January 2021 that since May 1.3 million people flew from the UAE to India and only 1.15 million have flown back. From these figures we can conclude that the UAE's population in 2021 decreased at least at the expense of Indians.
There are no reliable figures for the entire population yet. So, for now, we will use the end of 2019 figure of 9.89 million. There is also a World Bank estimate for 2021 of 9.991 million. As you can see, the numbers are almost identical. Of course, you can find many other figures on the Internet, but they are all estimated and theoretical. There are no official statistics, and everyone predicts their own numbers.
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Unfortunately, there is no fresh official statistics for population by the emirates. For example, for Dubai you can visit the official web-site of Dubai Statistics Center (www.dsc.gov.ae) and check the data by yourself. On the day of the last update of this page (September 2022) only 2020 data is available.
Some web-sites on the Internet try to imitate the rough estimate data as a fresh official statistics. So, be careful if the population data is important for you.
The most populous Emirate is Dubai, where more than 4 million people live. The population distribution is roughly as follows:
Dubai - 4,200,000
Abu Dhabi - 2,800,000
Sharjah - 1,600,000
Ajman - 500,000
Ras Al Khaimah - 400,000
Fujairah - 250,000
Umm Al Quwain - 80,000
It is an interesting fact that ethnic Arabs (UAE citizens) are by not the largest ethnic group in the country. Indians live the most in the country - from 2.5 to 3 million people, followed by Pakistanis - from 1.2 to 1.5 million.
Citizens are only in third place, with 1,034,568 (the exact figure is only available for 2018). Now (2022) the estimate is out of 1.15 million. Attentive readers will notice that the number of citizens is calculated to the nearest one, and the data on expats is approximate. Indeed, citizens in the UAE are strictly counted, while newcomers are not.
The fourth largest group consists of people from Bangladesh - from 700 thousand to 1 million, followed by the Filipinos - 500-700 thousand, Iranians and Egyptians - 400-500 thousand, Nepalis and Sri Lankans - 400-500 thousand.
Do not be surprised when you do not see an Arab at the hotel reception. Citizens do not work in such low positions. Citizens work in management - banks, police, customs, and other government institutions.
Expats, in most cases, do low-paying jobs. The exceptions are guest managers and high-grade workers from Western Europe, US or other developed countries. Such a various ethnic composition makes the demographic statistics in the UAE very interesting.
In the UAE, there are 2.6 times more men than women. This is the reason why some tourist guides and web-sites do not recommend for women to go to the UAE alone.
But in fact, the UAE is one of the safest countries. Numbeo's Safety Index score for cities around the world is 83.59 (Dubai) and 88.45 (Abu Dhabi). It is an ultra-high safety index. In comparison, London has 46.42 and New York has 51.07 (figures in September 2022).
Cases of sexual violence or harassment someties happiened (it happiens in any country), but there are very few criminal cases.
Previously, in many of such cases the prosecution accused both participants for "sexual relations out of wedlock", and the participants could face up to 2 years in prison. But on November 8, 2020, the law was changed so there is no jail time under this article now. Read more in our review "What Tourists Can't Do in the UAE".
Thanks to expats, the country's population is very young - 55% of the population is between 20 and 40 years old. This is natural, because young people are invited to work, an old man will not be invited to work at a construction site.
The birth rate greatly exceeds the death rate. According to the latest statistics for 2018, about 100,000 people were born, about 14,000 died. Workers of a young age are invited to work in the country, with good health and minimal risk of death.
Life expectancy is high: 77.44 years for men, 79.46 years for women. By comparison, in the UK life expectancy for men is 79 years, for women 82.9 years. In the US life expectancy for men is 74.5 years, for women 80.2 years.
Tourists usually communicate with Indians, Iranians and other visitors. Let's talk about them in more detail.
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They fall into three categories - illegal, "domestic workers" and workers under the Kafala Sponsorship System.
There are not many illegal workers, because the authorities are very active and successful in catching them. According to official figures, there are about 65,000 illegals in the country. Unofficial figures go up to 135,000. These are people who came on tourist visas and stayed to work. Of course, they work illegally.
"Domestic workers" are in the country on work visas. Their situation is much better than that of Kafala workers. They can change employers, their rights are better protected, and they are under the jurisdiction of the Interior Ministry.
The Kafala system has been in place in the UAE since 1971. Employer companies invite workers from abroad, sign contracts and bring workers into the country. From the moment the worker arrives in the UAE, he/she is under the responsibility of the employer. More often than not, he/she cannot change employers, cannot even break his contract and go home.
These workers are worse off, they are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Labor. Kafala workers are not protected by labor law.
International organizations condemn the UAE for the terrible working and living conditions of workers (pictured above, click on photo to enlarge to full screen). Indeed, the working day is not rationed, workers live in small rooms, often without air conditioning, and wages are small. Workers often have to work outdoors, which is difficult in the severe UAE weather.
It was these living conditions for workers that played a "cruel joke" on the UAE in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began. The virus spread very quickly in the compact living conditions. In Dubai, an entire neighborhood of Al-Ras had to be isolated. Ultra-strict measures were imposed, even allowing only one person from a household to go outside and only once every few days.
On average, a low-skilled worker in the UAE earns about 19,000 dirhams a year (see our page "UAE Currency" for the rate), that's about 430-450 dollars a month. For a UAE citizen, such a salary would be an abuse, but for Indians and Pakistanis it's a lot of money.
In 2012, the authorities introduced labor law reforms. In particular, they forbade employers to take away workers' passports! That is, before 2012 it was perfectly legal to take a worker's passport! Since 2012, the employer's responsibility for non-payment of wages has appeared, while before that time there was no such responsibility at all.
Workers occasionally stage riots in protest. For example, on March 21, 2006, a riot broke out on the construction site of the famous Burj Khalifa tower. Workers began to crash cars and offices. Naturally, the riot was put down by the police, all the participants were deported and banned from entering the country forever.
The life of the guest workers is quite hard; the citizens live much better.
UAE citizens themselves are called either Emirati, or Bani Yasi, or Suwaidi, or Al Shamsi, depending on the origin of the person from a particular tribe. Europeans used to call them Trushals or Trushal Coasters after the name of the region, Trushal Coast.
The majority of citizens are employed, only 10% of citizens are unemployed. The state has a policy of Emiratization. Its essence is the privilege of jobs to citizens. That is, a foreign worker only takes a place if there are no willing citizens. And even the employer is obliged to accept a citizen for a position if he wants it, at a higher salary. This policy is quite official in the UAE, and the authorities see nothing wrong with it.
Citizens enjoy many privileges, most in matters of education. From 20 to 25% of the national budget is spent on educational purposes. In addition, there are payments, subsidies, and interest-free loans to citizens. To put it simply, citizens in the UAE live well, you do not find them in the Dubai Metro, everyone has a car.
It is also an interesting fact that the UAE citizens do not speak the official language of their country at home. How this is possible, read our page "What language is spoken in the UAE".
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The procedure for obtaining the citizenship of the Arab Emirates exists, but only theoretically. Procedures and conditions are regulated by laws: Federal Law 17 (1972) "On Citizenship and Passports", Federal Law 10 (1975) "Amendments to Law 17 of 1972", Decree 16 (2017) "Amendments to Law 17 of 1972".
In order to obtain citizenship, one must have lived legally in the Arab Emirates (any Emirate) for at least 30 years. In addition, one must not be convicted of a crime, have a good knowledge of the Arabic language, and refuse the citizenship(s) of other countries.
Then you have to prove your high legal income and level of education, and pass a security check. At the same time, the laws do not define in any way the exact level of income or level of education. That is, they can refuse ANYONE without giving a reason.
On January 30, the Emirati press reported on a new reform. Now citizenship will be given to "talented and useful to the country foreigners" or simply very rich investors. Also announced the possibility not to give up their current citizenship.
It is only unclear what has changed? Citizenship was already given to scientists or athletes. Just check the composition of the UAE hockey team. Previously, the system of citizenship for the right people for the country worked in "manual mode", and since January 30, 2021 it continues to work in the same way.
In any case, the acquisition of UAE citizenship by foreigners (not of Arab nations) is an extraordinary event.
Have a nice vacation in the United Arab Emirates, and read our interesting pages about the country (see list of pages below).
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