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List of GCC countries and nations

Friday 30 January 2015 (UAE)   
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List of GCC countries

List of six GCC (or AGCC) countries, citizen nationalities, nations, or member states is Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE. Yemen is not one of the GCC countries.

  • Bahrain - or Kingdom of Bahrain
  • Kuwait
  • Oman - or Sultanate of Oman
  • Qatar
  • Saudi Arabia - or Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA)
  • UAE - United Arab Emirates
  Bahrain Kuwait Oman Qatar KSA UAE
Capital Manama Kuwait City Muscat Doha Riyadh Abu Dhabi
Ruler Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Al Said Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Title King, since Mar 1999     Emir from Jun 2013 King, since Aug 2005 President, since Nov 2004
Population¹ 728,709 (July 2010, CIA)          
Population¹ 1,106,509 (July 2008, CIO)          
Land Area 741 sq km          
Currency Riyal Dinar Riyal Riyal Riyal Dirham AED
Citizens Bahrainis Kuwaitis Omanis Qataris Saudis or Saudi Arabians Emiratis
  1. Population figures are often unreliable, a second source might be given for comparison.

Country notes, updates

  • New emir from Jun 2013 - Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, replacing Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani.

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)

  • GCC is the acronym for Gulf Cooperation Council (or Gulf Co-operation Council). Full name is Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (CCASG). Also referred to as the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council (AGCC).
  • Secretary General of the GCC is Dr Abdullatif Bin Rashid Al Zayani (Dr Abdulattif Al Zayyani) (last checked 26 Jul 2013).
  • The GCC was founded on 26 May 1981.
  • Yemen (or The Republic of Yemen) is not included although geographically it lies in the same region, sharing a land border with Oman and Saudi Arabia.
  • The "Gulf" refers to the body of water known as the Arabian Gulf in GCC countries, or the Persian Gulf as referred to in many other places.
  • Using the term "Persian Gulf" is impolite at least for GCC countries and nationals, whereas, Iran and many Iranians find the term "Arabian Gulf" offensive. Most other people or countries probably don't care that much one way or another.
  • All GCC countries have part or all of their coastline on the Arabian Gulf. Part of the Musandam Peninsula belongs to Oman.
  • GCC citizens can usually travel freely between member states without the need for visas, or sometimes passports - a national identity card might be sufficient, at least at land border crossings.
  • Arabic for Gulf is Khaleej. The term "Khaleeji" is sometimes used to describe Gulf Arabs, or maybe just UAE Arabs?

GCC union

The GCC countries are in discussion (during 2011 ... 2012 ...) about forming a political, economic, and military union similar to the European Union (EU). A customs union and common currency have been agreed upon, at least in principle. Implementation timeline unknown or undecided.

  • 05 Mar 2014 - Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar as a result of Qatar not halting support for groups which are considered to be a threat to security and stability in GCC countries, the Muslim Brotherhood in particular. Qatar was not planning to withdraw its ambassadors from the other countries at the time of the announcement. A GCC union might need more discussion and study.
  • 02 Sep 2012 - GCC foreign ministers met in Jeddah after studying a plan for GCC unity and said it would need more discussion.
  • 08 May 2012 - at a GCC summit, a proposed plan for greater unity was discussed but GCC members said it would need further study.
  • Dec 2011 - King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was reported to have said during a speech that the six GCC countries should move towards a "stage of unity in a single entity," apparently as a response to the Arab Spring uprisings in the region, and the perceived threat from Iran towards GCC countries.
GCC currency union

A common currency and monetary union between the 6 GCC countries, similar to the EU monetary union and currency, was originally planned with a launch date in or before 2010. That has been delayed to 2015 at least, or indefinitely is more likely.

  • 01 Dec 2013 (Akhbar Al Khaleej - Bahrain) - an anonymous source was quoted as saying that Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia would announce a common currency by end December 2013. The UAE and Oman were not included, both countries had withdrawn from common currency discussions previously. The report also contradicts previous information that the 2010 deadline had been cancelled and replaced by a (vague rather than definite) 2015 target date.
  • May 2010 - a Reuters report said that 2015 might be a revised target, but even that might be optimistic according to Abdulrahman al-Attiyah, Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), who said to Reuters "...I don't foresee the currency to be launched in 2015 ..."
  • 2009 - the 2010 deadline or target date was cancelled.
  • 2009 - the UAE withdrew from the plan after the GCC Central Bank location was proposed for Saudi Arabia instead of Abu Dhabi in the UAE.
  • 2006 - Oman pulled out of the common currency discussions and plan.
  • 1998 (?) - a common GCC currency first discussed.

GCC countries shared economics, politics, culture, religion

  • GCC countries have a significant economic dependence on oil export. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Abu Dhabi in the UAE in particular. Qatar has a large natural gas industry, Oman and Bahrain have much less dependence on oil.
  • All GCC countries are Islamic states with all citizens (or almost all) belonging to the Muslim faith. Citizens who are not Muslim probably keep that fact to themselves as it is possible they run the risk of punishment from the state (the penalty for apostasy is death in some or all GCC countries). Expat residents of other faiths are accepted to varying degrees depending on the country - the UAE allows churches and other religious buildings to operate, Saudi Arabia does not for example.
  • Most citizens of Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and UAE are Sunni Muslims but there are significant proportions of Shia (Shiite) Muslims in all countries. Bahrain has a majority of Shi'a Muslims? Oman has a majority who are Ibadi/Ibadhi Muslims.
  • All GCC countries political and legal systems are based on the Islamic religion. Sharia (Sharia'a, Shariah) law is in place for the most part, and applicable to citizens but sometimes not to expatriate residents.
  • Citizens of GCC countries usually share the same or similar dress code - a black abaya for women, a white dishdasha for men. The style might vary amongst individuals and/or countries, and the dishdasha might be different colors, especially in Oman.
  • All GCC countries operate as a monarchy of some sort with an autocratic system of leadership. Governments and parliamentary bodies are usually unelected although some GCC nations are introducing a greater degree of democratic government - for example the Council of Representatives (or Chamber of Deputies) in Bahrain, the National Assembly in Kuwait, and the Federal National Council (FNC) in the UAE.

GCC tourist visa

  • 26-27 Aug 2013 - news reports said that the GCC was considering a unified tourist visa valid for all GCC member nations. An unknown source was quoted by the Al Rai, a Kuwaiti newspaper, as saying "The plan to have a GCC tourism visa, similar to the Schengen visa in Europe, is about to be implemented after obstacles have been cleared." The source (or another one) also said "... the GCC visa could be issued in mid-2014" which some reports interpreted as more likely than indicated by the quote with headlines similar to "Unified visa for GCC countries by 2014" or "GCC visa expected in mid-2014"
  • 26 Aug 2013 - Emirates 24-7 clarified or confused the time-frame for the unified visa, saying The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is headed towards a unified tourist visa as early as 2014 ... According to Al-Shobaily, no timeframe has been set for the implementation of this single visa for the region. Referring to Abdullah Al-Shobaily, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Matters at the GCC, who apparently said to Al Hayat, a Saudi newspaper, "The GCC is currently striving to set up a computer system to exchange data in order to facilitate the issuance of a unified tourist visa for the entire region."
  • Given the restrictive entry requirements for visiting Saudi Arabia, the largest, and arguably the most influential GCC country, it sounds optimistic to us that a unified GCC tourist visa will become reality for most nationalities as soon as 2014. Perhaps 2024 is a more likely target date for such a scheme. Or a unified visa agreement between some of the GCC countries - for example the UAE, Oman, and possibly Bahrain and Qatar.
  • GCC nationals can already travel between GCC countries without needing a passport or visa.

GCC nationals in the UAE - data and statistics for 2009

From report issued by the GCC and Arab Countries Affairs Department at the UAE Ministry of Finance (MOF) (press release 28 August 2010):

  • Number of GCC nationals living in rose from 5,608 in 2008 to 7,650 in 2009.
  • Government loans granted to GCC nationals to establish industrial projects rose from AED 5.5 million in 2008 to AED 20 million in 2009.
  • Number of GCC nationals owning property in the UAE - 22,706 in 2009.
  • Number of licenses for professional and commercial activities granted to GCC nationals - 1,884 in 2009.
  • Number of commercial GCC banks operating in the UAE - 4 in 2007, 7 in 2008 and 2009
  • Number of GCC nationals working in the UAE private sector up from 2,117 in 2008 to 3,080 in 2009
  • Number of GCC nationals employed in UAE federal government entities - 605
  • Number of GCC nationals employed in local governmental bodies - 1,932
  • Number of GCC nationals employed in UAE semi-government sector - 207
  • Number of GCC nationals benefiting from insurance protection increased from 2,992 in 2008 to 3,589 in 2009
  • Number of GCC students studying in UAE schools rose from 15,476 in 2008 to 16,463 in 2009, of which 12,892 were in public schools and 3,571 in private schools.

Living and working in the GCC

A guide to living in and working in any GCC country will vary depending on the target audience. Life is very different depending on where you come from and what sort of work you do.

  • GCC nationals will find it relatively easy to live and work in any GCC country. There are few or no bureacratic restrictions on residency and crossing borders. Some religious differences between branches of Islam might be a concern but normally on a personal level only. Violence similar to what occurs in Iraq between different groups is unheard of in GCC countries. The unrest in Bahrain during 2013 was related to dissatisfaction with government authorities, not religious differences.
  • Muslim Arab nationals and Iranian Muslims will also find it relatively easy to live in and work in GCC countries generally, at least from a cultural and religious perspective. Bureaucratic procedures regarding visas and work permits can be problematic at times, for example Syrians find it more difficult to enter GCC countries during 2013 and 2014 as a result of the unrest in Syria. More liberal Arab Muslims might find some of the lifestyle restrictions undesirable, in which case see the section about Western expats for comments on tolerance levels in each country.
  • Muslims of other nationalities will find there is not so much adjustment to make with respect to living and working in the Gulf countries from a religious perspective, but cultural differences are more noticeable, for example for Central Asian, Indonesian, Malaysian, Pakistani Muslims.
  • Arab Christians will find the UAE and Oman the most tolerant, and easiest places to live in. Possibly Bahrain. Other GCC countries might be less comfortable, especially for Arabs who have converted from Islam to Christianity or another religion.
  • Apostasy is illegal and punishable by death in some GCC countries, although it is rare that it is carried out. Conflicting information found about which countries have the death sentence, with the exceptions of Saudi Arabi (has death penalty) and Oman (no death penalty). Some sources seem to indicate that apostasy for other religions is also a crime in GCC countries. Wikipedia for example: "In 2011, 20 countries across the globe prohibited its citizens from apostasy; in these countries, it is a criminal offense to abandon one's faith to become atheist, or convert to another religion." However, it is rare (or possibly illegal) for a citizen of a GCC country not to be a Muslim in the first place, and it is not clear if the laws apply to only citizens, citizens and resident expats, or citizens and only Muslim expats. Anyway, in reality, conversion from other religions to Islam is acceptable, and welcomed in GCC countries.

Below is a very brief guide to GCC countries for Western expats and other nationalities who want to wear what they like, eat pork, drink alcohol, and/or have sex outside marriage. Those three issues are singled out (or tripled out?) because they seem to be the most frequently asked about by westerners thinking of moving to a GCC country. In all GCC countries it is illegal for unmarried people to have sex, and for married people to commit adultery. Punishments according to the law are severe (jail and deportation at least), tolerance and risk of getting caught varies significantly; women, especially Muslim and/or Asian women, are often treated more harshly if caught.

  • Bahrain: Reasonably tolerant, alcohol and pork are restricted but legal.
  • Kuwait: Avoid, is quite conservative, although not as much as Saudi Arabia.
  • Oman: Reasonably tolerant, alcohol and pork are restricted but legal. Bars and nightclubs exist legally.
  • Qatar: Consider but with reservations, is relatively conservative although not as much as Saudi Arabia.
  • Saudi Arabia: Avoid unless living on a company compound where those activities occur (they are still illegal). Pork and alcohol are illegal. Dress code very conservative. Significant restrictions for women - driving a car is illegal for example (also motorcycles and bicycles, but not aircraft). Some variation between cities and regions - Riyadh is more conservative than Jeddah for example.
  • UAE: Mostly tolerant, significant variations between emirates. Dubai is the least restrictive, Sharjah the most. Except for Sharjah, all emirates permit pork sales and alcohol consumption, with some restrictions. Living in Dubai, you could easily think you are living in a western city at times. Avoid living or working in Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Sharjah unless you have a good reason to. Al Ain, Ras Al Khaimah, and Fujairah are appealing in some ways but think twice before going there - they are not the same as Dubai or Abu Dhabi.

Country notes


  • Driving licence ban for expat laborers introduced 2013. Might be extended to other expats (under consideration in 2014).

Saudi Arabia

  • Women are banned from driving cars, although technically it seems that they are banned from obtaining a driving licence. However, women with foreign driving licences will still be in trouble if they try to drive. Why are women banned? According to Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz ibn Abdullah Al Shaikh, as reported by Saudi news site An7a in May 2013 ... "Women driving would lead to more accidents. When women are in danger, they don’t know how to act. How are they going to deal with accidents?"
  • From early 2013 women were no longer banned from riding motorcyles or bicycles, but only in recreational areas under the supervision of a male guardian or relative.
  • Woman are not banned from driving aircraft: Prince Al Waleed bin Talal of Kingdom Holding Company (KHC) has a female pilot for his private jet (Hanadi Zakaria al Hindi - recruited in 2004, qualified in 2005). Comments and reports seen that Saudi Arabian Airlines has female airline pilots "... Saudi Arabian Airlines recruited its first female pilot in 2005 ..." but confirmation not found. Might be references to Iran Air which does have female airline pilots, but in Iran they can drive to work, or to Hanadi al Hindi who started flying for KHC in 2005. Another Saudi female pilot often mentioned, Yasmin Al Maimani, has a pilot's licence but does not fly for SAA (yet ... she wants to according to news reports).
Last update Monday 21-Apr-2014. Page development 4L 5C.
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