What Are the Differences Between Dubai and the UAE

What Are the Differences Between Dubai and the UAE?

Dubai and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) never fails to impress. But it’s also no secret that the country and its most populous emirate have several notable differences.

The main difference between Dubai and UAE is that Dubai is a city while the UAE is a country. Dubai is one of the seven emirates located within the UAE.

The UAE is a country composed of seven emirates: Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Fujairah and Dubai. 

Dubai has its own ruler who’s also the Prime Minister of the UAE, but the country is under the governance of the President.

Dubai is a city and emirate in the UAE 

Dubai is a city and emirate in the UAE

With a population of 2,962,382 in 2022, Dubai is considered the most populous city in all of the UAE according to the Global Media Insight. It is also the capital city of the Emirate of Dubai. 

To get a better idea of the UAE’s composition we compare the population of the different emirates of the UAE in the table below.

Abu Dhabi1,540,000
Ras Al-Khaimah345,000
Al Fujairah256,256
Umm Al Quwain49,159

Dubai started as a small fishing village that eventually became an important port for tradesmen, especially those from Iran who eventually moved to the town. 

It was also known for its pearl exports in the 1930s, but it was the discovery of oil in 1966 that accelerated Dubai’s progress.

From its humble beginnings, Dubai was slowly recognized as a popular oil exploration site bringing an influx of foreign workers and a construction boom in the area. 

After years of feud between Abu Dhabi and neighboring towns, Dubai became one of the seven emirates of the UAE as part of the Act of Union in 1971.

Today, Dubai is one of the most modern cities in the world, the shopping capital of the Middle East, and home to some of the most iconic structures in modern architecture. 

What’s Dubai known for?

What’s Dubai known for

If you’re looking for luxury shopping, a fancy nightlife, and entertainment, you should visit Dubai. The city is known for its massive landmarks and iconic shopping while other emirates are ideal for learning about culture, the arts and politics.

Dubai also offers more entertainment options that both kids and teenagers will enjoy, making it a good destination for family travel.

Some of the must-visit spots in Dubai include:

  • Burj Khalifa
  • The Dubai Frame
  • Dubai Mall
  • Museum of the Future

What consists of the United Arab Emirates?

What consists of the United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates, on the other hand, is a federation composed of seven emirates, each governed by a separate ruler, but the country also has its own president. 

There are currently 10.1 million living in the UAE with its expat population at 8.9 million.

There has been a continuous influx of immigrants in the UAE, especially in Dubai, which explains why there are more expats living in the country than locals or emiratis. 

Abu Dhabi is the country’s federal capital and largest emirate covering 84% of its landmass territory. It’s divided into three regions: the city of Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Al Dhafrah.  

However, Dubai is its most populous emirate, even though it only covers 5% of the UAE without its islands. It is the emirate’s capital with Deira in the north and Bur Dubai in the south.

There are five other emirates in the UAE that cover smaller land areas and are composed of smaller cities and towns.

EmirateLand Area %City/Town
Sharjah3.30%Khorfakkan, Kalba, Dibba, Al Dhaid, and Al Badayer
Ras Al-Khaimah3.16%Ras Al-Khaimah
Umm Al Quwain1%Umm Al Quwain

What’s the UAE known for?

What’s the UAE known for

If you want to immerse yourself in Emirate culture, visit mosques and travel at a slower pace, head to the capital Abu Dhabi.

If you’re traveling on a budget, other emirates like Abu Dhabi offer cheaper options as compared to Dubai, which is for high rollers.

Abu Dhabi and other emirates, on the other hand, are less crowded and more traditional, so they’re good for solo travelers and adventure seekers.

If you’re traveling to the UAE for the first time, Dubai is a good place to start since it offers you an introduction to both the old and new in the Middle East.

But if you’re all about taking the road less traveled and you don’t fuss over massive structures, Abu Dhabi and the other emirates in the UAE will surprise you.

Where is Dubai and the UAE located?

The United Arab Emirates is located in the Western part of Asia in the Middle East. Being in the eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, the UAE shares borders with both Saudi Arabia and Oman. 

It also shares maritime borders with Qatar and Iran in the Persian Gulf. 

Dubai, on the other hand, is a coastal emirate on the Persian Gulf in the northwestern part of the UAE.

It shares its borders with Sharjah in the northeast, Abu Dhabi in the south and the Sultanate of Oman in the southeast. 

What are the forms of government in Dubai and the UAE?  

What are the forms of government in Dubai and the UAE

One key difference between Dubai and UAE is its government since UAE has the main governing body of the country and Dubai is under it.

The UAE follows a unique form of government framework called a federal presidential elective constitutional monarchy that was established in December 1971.This means that the country has a president, but it’s also a federation of absolute monarchies where each emirate is ruled by a member of the ruling royal family in that area.

The UAE’s head of state is its president, which the Federal Supreme Council elects every five years. However, since the laws under the absolute Islamic monarchy states that the ruler of Abu Dhabi, the biggest emirate, is customarily the president of the UAE, this office is hereditary by default.

Federal Supreme Council
(Dubai – EAU, 13/11/2021) Reunião Bilateral com o Emir de Dubai, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum..Foto: Alan Santos/PR

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The country’s political system follows what is stated in its Constitution that explains the goals of establishing the federation and all of its objectives for the people of each emirate. This means that all citizens of the UAE are guaranteed to have equal rights, safety, security, social justice and all opportunities.

Being one of the seven emirates of the UAE, Dubai also has the Government of Dubai where the Ruler of Dubai is the head of government and executive authority, and the Crown prince leads the Dubai Executive Council.

Since Dubai is also an absolute monarchy, the Ruler of Dubai is the absolute monarch with the only authority to amend laws and establish governmental departments.

Who rules over the UAE?

Who rules over the UAE

Another key difference between Dubai and UAE is its rulers.

His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan is the President of the UAE and Supreme Commander of the Union Defence Force.

He took over the Presidency after his father, the Founder of the UAE passed away in 2004.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is the Ruler of Dubai also and Prime Minister and acting Vice President of the UAE.

Dubai and the other emirates in the UAE are ruled by different royal families with leaders belonging to the descendants of the seven founding sheiks of the country.

EmirateRoyal FamilyCurrent Ruler
Abu DhabiAl NahyanH.H Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan
DubaiAl MaktoumH.H Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
SharjahAl QasimiH.H Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi
AjmanAl NuaimiH.H Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid Al Nuaimi
Umm Al QuwainAl MuallaH.H Sheikh Saud bin Rashid Al Mu’alla
Ral Al-KhaimahAl QasimiH.H Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi
FujairahAl SharqiH.H Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sharqi

Who rules over Dubai?

Who rules over Dubai

Dubai, the most progressive emirate in the UAE, is ruled by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum since 4 January 2006 after the death of his brother Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum. 

The following day, the UAE Supreme Council elected him as the Vice President of the UAE.

On 11 February 2006, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, nominated Sheikh Mohammed for Prime Minster and later on took his oath with the members of the cabinet at the Al Bateen Palace in Abu Dhabi.

How should you greet the locals in the UAE and Dubai?

Although the UAE has more expats than locals, it’s still primarily a Muslim country, so you need to be mindful of their local practices and traditions.

For instance, Emirati people are known for their hospitality, so expect some warm greetings when meeting them. 

As-salam alaikum meaning “peace be upon you” is the customary greeting in the UAE and you answer with Wa alaikum as-salam meaning and “upon you be peace”.

However, you’ll see more of this practice in other emirates than in Dubai since the latter is more modernized than the rest of the UAE. 

With many foreigners in the city, a warm “Hi” or “Hello” would suffice.

But wherever you are in the UAE, never attempt to shake hands with Emirati women unless they put out their hands first, whether they’re wearing traditional clothing or not.

How should you dress in Dubai and the UAE?

How should you dress in Dubai and the UAE
Source: HippoPx

When it comes to clothing, Dubai is less strict than the rest of the UAE since you can wear shorts, skirts or sleeveless tops when exploring tourist spots and public places.

But in Abu Dhabi and the UAE, tourists are encouraged to wear pants or shorts that cover the knee for both men and women, and to avoid wearing sleeveless tops.

The same rules apply when visiting places of worship like mosques.

It’s customary for women to wear a long sleeved shirt and a pair of long pants or loose fitting skirt when visiting these holy places.

In fact, you will be offered to wear an “abaya” or traditional robe and a “shayla” or traditional headscarf before entering a mosque in the UAE.

Unlike other countries, the Emiratis hold such high regard for their traditional garments. 

So, unless you’re in the desert or any other place where you’re asked to try their garments, you should never wear it while going around the country if you’re not a local.

Learning the differences between Dubai and UAE

There’s a good reason millions of foreigners now call the UAE their home, and that’s because it is a great country that offers a lot of opportunities even to expats.

Dubai also continues to wow the world with its record-breaking structures and an environment where people can build their careers and enjoy their wealth.

Learning these differences is not only important if you’re traveling to Dubai or the UAE, but they’ll also help you decide if it’s time to move here.

So, if you haven’t been to the UAE and Dubai yet, a visit should be in order.