Dubai is one of the seven territories that comprise the United Arab Emirates. This fast-growing, cosmopolitan city-state has the largest population and second largest area in the UAE, and an enormous expatriate community.
Sprawling, brightly lit Dubai is a big city in more ways than one. The emirate contains the world’s largest man-made harbor, Jebel Ali, and has a number of construction projects of the “world’s largest” variety underway. These include Burj Dubai (tallest building), Dubai Mall (largest shopping center), and the Palm Islands (largest man-made islands). These sites are only one factor behind Dubai’s flourishing tourism industry. Vacationers from many countries flock here to enjoy huge international sporting events, world-class cuisine, and hot nightlife. It’s little wonder the New York Times named the city the top international party destination for 2008.
Since becoming a founding member of the UAE in 1971, Dubai has been characterized by rapid modernization and expansion. The city was primarily known for its pearling industry before World War I, but over the past thirty years has ridden the wave of prosperity created by petroleum and natural gas. Dubai itself produces little of these commodities; instead, it relies on the proximity of its oil-rich neighbors to generate wealth from trade, real estate, and financial services. These industries, and its fortunate position between the Middle East and South Asia, have made it a natural global business hub. Thousands of the world’s largest companies have offices in Dubai, and the emirate actively promotes foreign business with a system of industry-specific free economic zones and favorable tax rates.
Naturally, this environment encourages a large immigrant population. A whopping 71% of Dubai’s residents are foreign nationals. Most come from India, Pakistan, and Southeast Asian countries, but there is a sizeable Western community as well. Job opportunities abound for expatriates, ranging from unskilled and semi-skilled work in the booming construction industry to executive positions in powerful transnational corporations. Even the city government is staffed by a large number of foreigners. However, it should be noted that many organizations, including Human Rights Watch and NPR, have reported discriminatory treatment and unfair labor practices toward foreign workers in Dubai, primarily Southeast Asian laborers. Job seekers are advised to research potential employers thoroughly before accepting a job offer, and be very careful when making contractual agreements. In addition, local laws are stricter in some respects than in most Western countries; brushing up on the Dubai legal system before making any travel plans is a good idea.
Arabic is the official language of Dubai, as in the rest of the UAE. The Modern Standard dialect is used in media, government, and public schools. Due to the large number of expatriates, English has gained the status of lingua franca; in addition to being widely spoken, it is taught in most private schools, and English-language media are widely available. Of course, many minority languages are present as well, including Hindi, Malayalam, Urdu, and Persian.