The Republic of Maldives consists of 1,192 coral islands which form a chain of 820 km in length and 130 km in width, set in a territorial area of 859,000 sq. km. of the Indian Ocean. The total land area of the Maldives is approximately 300 square kilometres. Sri Lanka and India are the country's closest neighbours, lying 750 km and 600km north and north-east of Maldives, respectively. The islands of the Maldives are formed into 26 natural atolls, which for purposes of administration, are grouped into 20 administrative regions. Most of the islands are quite small and low-lying, with an average elevation of 1.6 m above mean sea-level. The islands are surrounded by shallow, crystal-clear lagoons enclosed by coral reefs. Out of the 1192 islands, 199 are inhabited and 87 islands have been developed as tourist resorts.
The Maldives has a tropical climate. With two monsoons in the year, it is warm and humid throughout. Daily temperatures vary little. The annual mean temperature is 28.3°C with temperatures ranging from 25.1°C to 31.5°C. The average relative humidity ranges from 78% to 85%.
The Maldivians are said to be racially homogeneous. It is a mixed race of predominantly Aryan and Dravidian origins. The estimated population of the Maldives, according to the national census of 2006 is 298,842. The population is spread over 199 inhabited islands. The most populous of the inhabited islands and the centre of commerce is the capital, Male'. The rest of the islands are largely uninhabited, except for 87 islands which have been developed exclusively as luxury resorts. Maldivian society is very cohesive, with one language, one culture and one religion. The official language is Dhivehi, which is unique to the Maldives. However, English is spoken by a majority of the people, and is also widely used in business and commerce. The people are generally enterprising and very hospitable. Approximately 79% of the population is under 35 years of age, and the national literacy rate currently stands at a very impressive 98%, and is the highest in the region.
Historical evidence suggests that people settled in the Maldives more than 2,500 years ago, in 500 B.C. Despite frequent contact with seafarers in ancient times, the inhabitants have remained uniquely homogeneous in terms of language, religion and culture. The Maldivian state has evolved to suit the conditions in the country and the independence of the people. The political system has evolved from Sultanate to a Republic. For most of its history, the Maldives has been fortunate in being an independent country, free from foreign domination. Prior to becoming independent in 1965, the Maldives was a British protectorate from 1887. The Maldives was a Sultanate throughout its known history, but became a Republic in 1968. The Head of State and Chief Executive is the President, elected every 5 years by a public referendum. The Maldives is a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Asian Development Bank, the World Trade Organisation, and several other UN bodies.
The official language is Dhivehi, which is unique to the Maldives. The dhivehi script is know as "Thaana Script". However, English is spoken by a majority of the people, and is also widely used in business andcommerce.
The local currency is the Rufiyaa (MRF). One rufiyaa is divided into one hundred Laaris. Presently the exchange rate is US$ 1= MRF 12.85. The United States dollar is the most widely used foreign currency. Other major international currencies can also be bought and sold at banks and authorised money changers in the country. Major credit cards and traveller's cheques are accepted in resorts, hotels, banks and many retail outlets. The Maldives has never had any restrictions on currency movements and visitors and investors are free to bring in or take out foreign currency as they wish.
The Maldives is in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The most convenient way of getting to the Maldives is by air. The International Airport is located on Hulhulhe' Island, adjacent to Male.'The airport is strategically located close to the centre of commerce and many of the tourist resorts. Several scheduled and charter flights operate to the Maldives. Scheduled flights operate to the Maldives from Sri Lanka, India, Singapore, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and many European capitals. In addition, several charter operators from European and Asian cities, catering mainly to the tourist trade, also operate to the Maldives round the year.
There is no requirement to obtain a visa in advance. A valid passport and health documents are the only travel documents required to enter the Maldives. All visitors receive a 30-day free tourist visa on arrival. Tourist visas can be extended, if need be, by lodging an application to the Department of Immigration and Emigration. A charge of approximately US$ 60 is levied on tourist visa extensions. Firearms, ammunition, narcotic drugs and pornographic materials are prohibited items and should not be brought into the Maldives.
Those intending to work in the Maldives must acquire a work permit, issued by the Ministry of Higher Education, Employment and Social Security. Employers intending to employ foreign nationals in the Maldives are required to apply for a work permit number prior to the prospective employees' arrival in the Maldives. A completed work permit application is processed within a period of one to three working days. Those intending to invest in the Maldives may visit the Maldives on a tourist visa and may carry out any information search and work relating to the approval and set up of the foreign investment in the Maldives. Once an investment is approved by the Government, all foreign employees recruited for the operations should follow the normal process of obtaining a work permit as described above.