5 Things You Didn't Know About Dubai
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5 Things You Didn't Know About Dubai

A young city with big ideas.

5 Things You Didn't Know About Dubai

Comparatively speaking, Dubai is brand spanking new. It’s glittering, experimental and wild. A city like no other. And yet this city has roots that trace back as far as 3,000 BCE, some 5,000 years ago. It’s remarkable almost no had heard of Dubai until oil was discovered there in 1966.  

What else don’t we know about Dubai? Check out these remarkable facts about this “modern” city.

1. Only 17 percent of the population are Emirati

The rest are immigrants and tourists. According to recent statistics, about 85 percent of the expatriate population in Dubai are Asian, hailing from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Philippines. Another 3 percent are so-called Westerners. These incredible population stats give Dubai the distinction of having the highest ratio of immigrants to nationals in the world (between 5:1 and 12:1, depending who you ask).

Why all the immigrants? During World War 2, Dubai was a small town of less than 20,000 people. Though an important stop along the trade route, boasting some of the largest souks (open air marketplaces) in the Arab world, Dubai was hardly a tourist destination.

The 1960s brought a large influx of immigrants from India and Pakistan, giving new life to the textile industry and increasing trade with the Indian subcontinent. When oil was discovered in 1966, foreign workers flocked from surrounding areas and the population increased threefold.  

Dubai continues to be the fastest growing city in the world. It’s population has doubled again since 1990.  

2. It’s one of the safest places in the world

With all those different races, one might think there’d be some tension. Not so. Religious tolerance is practiced everywhere. Christian churches sit next to synagogues, which sit next to Hindu temples and Muslim mosques.

There is a mistaken belief that the crime rate in Dubai is zero. Though this is obviously not true, petty crime actually very low. Cybercrime, on the other hand, rose 300 percent in 2002, when the UAE was rated one of top 10 most vulnerable countries to hackers. Problems with money laundering, human trafficking and organised crime are still somewhat problematic in this young city.

Carrying large amounts of cash is extremely common in Dubai. One reporter wrote with shock about the unthinkable wads of cash people carry around. One man made the papers when he withdrew 2 million AED from the bank, which he carried out in a plastic bag before being robbed in the street. Another man was robbed after withdrawing 600,000 AED, stowing it away in the glove box and popping out for a 12 AED lunch. Cash transactions are common in Dubai, as evidence shows. It’s not all that uncommon for the bank to give out a bagful of money rather than issuing a check.  

Note that it’s nigh impossible for expats to open a bank account during the interim period before their residency visa comes through. Bring a pile of money. Just don’t leave it in the glove box.

3. There are no street addresses in Dubai

The city is growing so fast that numbers are simply impractical. Perhaps this is why Dubai has no postal delivery service. Mail is delivered to PO boxes only. Fortunately, Emirates Post has about two dozen post offices in Dubai, most of which are open 24 hours. Individuals must contract a post office box and check it regularly.

Most people have mail delivered to their workplace which, ironically, makes this system even more convenient than home delivery.  

International delivery services like FedEx and DHL serve the Dubai area, but without street addresses it’s necessary to describe the location by naming the suite number, building name, its proximity to a more famous building (e.g. a hotel or shopping mall) along with any other details (for example: “Jebel Ali Freezone, Gate 2, First right after entry”).

Hint: always include a phone number. Map drawings are also very common.

4. It’s not all about the oil anymore

Revenue from oil and natural gas account for less than 6 percent of the GDP. The Dubai economy of today thrives on tourism, real estate, and trade.

Dubai is considered the jewelry trading capital of the Middle East. It gained this reputation by creating the longest gold chain in the world - about 44 kilometres and 22 carats.  

Following a decision by the government to diversify from oil-based to trade-based economy, real estate saw an enormous boom from 2004 to 2008. The industry took a major hit during the recent financial crises, when real estate price dropped as much as 50 percent. The hospitality industry and manufacturing sectors, on the other hand, have seen promising growth since the recession.

Shopping is a major part of Dubai culture. The city is already home to the world’s largest shopping mall, Burj Khalifa, and another even bigger shopping centre is currently under construction at Mohammed Bin Rashid City. Shopping is a popular pastime in Dubai. When personal loans increased 3.1 percent earlier this year, the Central Bank put a three month moratorium on “loan shopping” (the practice of transferring loans between lenders).  

5. There’s no personal or income tax

The lack of income tax helps to explain a lot about Dubai. For starters, it explains the 3:1 ratio of men to women - Dubai is an excellent place for foreign workers since they can send a large part of the earnings back home.  

It also helps to explain why there appears to be limitless amounts of money to invest in construction. Not so long ago Dubai had just one skyscraper. Today is has over 400, including some of the tallest in the world. Some report than at least 20 percent of the world’s cranes are operating in Dubai.  The city is also home to the world’s fourth tallest hotel, Burj Al Arab - built in the shape of a sail, and the largest snow park in the world. The world’s largest ferris wheel, the Dubai Eye, is also in the works.


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