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Brunei Country Information

Travel Advice with Country Information from the CIA.

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Brunei Map

Introduction

Background

The Sultanate of Brunei's influence peaked between the 15th and 17th centuries when its control extended over coastal areas of northwest Borneo and the southern Philippines. Brunei subsequently entered a period of decline brought on by internal strife over royal succession, colonial expansion of European powers, and piracy. In 1888, Brunei became a British protectorate; independence was achieved in 1984. The same family has ruled Brunei for over six centuries. Brunei benefits from extensive petroleum and natural gas fields, the source of one of the highest per capita GDPs in the world. In 2017, Brunei celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Sultan Hassanal BOLKIAH’s accession to the throne.

Geography

Location

Southeastern Asia, along the northern coast of the island of Borneo, bordering the South China Sea and Malaysia

Geographic coordinates

4 30 N, 114 40 E

Map references

Southeast Asia

Area

total: 5,765 sq km

land:5,265 sq km

water:500 sq km

country comparison to the world: 172

Area - comparative

slightly smaller than Delaware

Land boundaries

total: 266 km

border countries (1):Malaysia 266 km

Coastline

161 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

exclusive economic zone:200 nm or to median line

Climate

tropical; hot, humid, rainy

Terrain

flat coastal plain rises to mountains in east; hilly lowland in west

Elevation

highest point: Bukit Pagon 1,850 m

lowest point:South China Sea 0 m

mean elevation:478 m

Natural resources

petroleum, natural gas, timber

Land use

agricultural land: 2.5% (2018 est.)

arable land: 0.8% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 1.1% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 0.6% (2018 est.)

forest:71.8% (2018 est.)

other:25.7% (2018 est.)

Irrigated land

10 sq km (2012)

Total renewable water resources

8.5 billion cubic meters (2017 est.)

Natural hazards

typhoons, earthquakes, and severe flooding are rare

Environment - international agreements

party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Climate Change-Paris Agreement, Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution

signed, but not ratified:none of the selected agreements

Geography - note

close to vital sea lanes through South China Sea linking Indian and Pacific Oceans; two parts physically separated by Malaysia; the eastern part, the Temburong district, is an exclave and is almost an enclave within Malaysia

People and Society

Population

471,103 (July 2021 est.)

note: immigrants make up approximately 26% of the total population, according to UN data (2019)

country comparison to the world: 173

Nationality

noun: Bruneian(s)

adjective:Bruneian

Ethnic groups

Malay 65.7%, Chinese 10.3%, other 24% (2019 est.)

Languages

Malay (Bahasa Melayu) (official), English, Chinese dialects

Religions

Muslim (official) 78.8%, Christian 8.7%, Buddhist 7.8%, other (includes indigenous beliefs) 4.7% (2011 est.)

Demographic profile

Brunei is a small, oil-rich sultanate of less than half a million people, making it the smallest country in Southeast Asia by population.  Its total fertility rate – the average number of births per woman – has been steadily declining over the last few decades, from over 3.5 in the 1980s to below replacement level today at nearly 1.8.  The trend is due to women’s increased years of education and participation in the workforce, which have resulted in later marriages and fewer children.  Yet, the population continues to grow because of the large number of women of reproductive age and a reliance on foreign labor – mainly from Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and South Asian countries – to fill low-skilled jobs.

Brunei is officially Muslim, and Malay is the official language.  The country follows an official Malay national ideology, Malay Islamic Monarchy, which promotes Malay language and culture, Islamic values, and the monarchy.  Only seven of Brunei’s native groups are recognized in the constitution and are defined as “Malay” – Brunei Malays, Belait, Kedayan, Dusun, Bisayak, Lun Bawang, and Sama-Baiau.  Together they make up about 66% percent of the population and are referred to as the Bumiputera.  The Bumiputera are entitled to official privileges, including land ownership, access to certain types of employment (Royal Brunei Armed Forces and Brunei Shell Petroleum), easier access to higher education, and better job opportunities in the civil service. 

Brunei’s Chinese population descends from migrants who arrived when Brunei was a British protectorate (1888 and 1984).  They are prominent in the non-state commercial sector and account for approximately 10% of the population.  Most Bruneian Chinese are permanent residents rather than citizens despite roots going back several generations.  Many are stateless and are denied rights granted to citizens, such as land ownership, subsidized health care, and free secondary and university education.  Because of the discriminatory policies, the number of Chinese in Brunei has shrunk considerably in the last 50 years.  Native ethnic groups that are not included in the Bumiputera are not recognized in the constitution and are not officially identified as “Malay” or automatically granted citizenship.  Foreign workers constitute some quarter of the labor force.

Government

Country name

conventional long form: Brunei Darussalam

conventional short form:Brunei

local long form:Negara Brunei Darussalam

local short form:Brunei

etymology:derivation of the name is unclear; according to legend, MUHAMMAD SHAH, who would become the first sultan of Brunei, upon discovering what would become Brunei exclaimed "Baru nah," which roughly translates as "there" or "that's it"

Government type

absolute monarchy or sultanate

Capital

name: Bandar Seri Begawan

geographic coordinates:4 53 N, 114 56 E

time difference:UTC+8 (13 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)

etymology: named in 1970 after Sultan Omar Ali SAIFUDDIEN III (1914-1986; "The Father of Independence") who adopted the title of "Seri Begawan" (approximate meaning "honored lord") upon his abdication in 1967; "bandar" in Malay means "town" or "city"; the capital had previously been called Bandar Brunei (Brunei Town)

Administrative divisions

4 districts (daerah-daerah, singular - daerah); Belait, Brunei dan Muara, Temburong, Tutong

Independence

1 January 1984 (from the UK)

National holiday

National Day, 23 February (1984); note - 1 January 1984 was the date of independence from the UK, 23 February 1984 was the date of independence from British protection; the Sultan's birthday, 15 June

Constitution

history: drafted 1954 to 1959, signed 29 September 1959; note - some constitutional provisions suspended since 1962 under a State of Emergency, others suspended since independence in 1984

amendments:proposed by the monarch; passage requires submission to the Privy Council for Legislative Council review and finalization takes place by proclamation; the monarch can accept or reject changes to the original proposal provided by the Legislative Council; amended several times, last in 2010

Legal system

mixed legal system based on English common law and Islamic law; note - in April 2019, the full sharia penal codes came into force and apply to Muslims and non-Muslims in parallel with present common law codes

International law organization participation

has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration; non-party state to the ICC

Citizenship

citizenship by birth: no

citizenship by descent only:the father must be a citizen of Brunei

dual citizenship recognized:no

residency requirement for naturalization:12 years

Suffrage

18 years of age for village elections; universal

Executive branch

chief of state: Sultan and Prime Minister Sir HASSANAL Bolkiah (since 5 October 1967); note - the monarch is both chief of state and head of government

head of government:Sultan and Prime Minister Sir HASSANAL Bolkiah (since 5 October 1967)

cabinet:Council of Ministers appointed and presided over by the monarch; note(s)- 4 additional advisory councils appointed by the monarch are the Religious Council, Privy Council for constitutional issues, Council of Succession, and Legislative Council; Sultan and Prime Minister Sir HASSANAL Bolkiah is also Minister of Finance, Defense, and Foreign Affairs and Trade

elections/appointments:none; the monarchy is hereditary

Legislative branch

description: unicameral Legislative Council or Majlis Mesyuarat Negara Brunei (36 seats; members appointed by the sultan including 3 ex-officio members - the speaker and first and second secretaries; members appointed for 5-year terms)

elections:appointed by the sultan

election results:NA; composition - men 33, women 3, percent of women 8.3%

Judicial branch

highest courts: Supreme Court (consists of the Court of Appeal and the High Court, each with a chief justice and 2 judges); Sharia Court (consists the Court of Appeals and the High Court); note - Brunei has a dual judicial system of secular and sharia (religious) courts; the Judicial Committee of Privy Council (in London) serves as the final appellate court for civil cases only

judge selection and term of office:Supreme Court judges appointed by the monarch to serve until age 65, and older if approved by the monarch; Sharia Court judges appointed by the monarch for life

subordinate courts:Intermediate Court; Magistrates' Courts; Juvenile Court; small claims courts; lower sharia courts

Political parties and leaders

National Development Party or NDP [YASSIN Affendi]

note: Brunei National Solidarity Party or PPKB [Abdul LATIF bin Chuchu] and People's Awareness Party or PAKAR [Awang Haji MAIDIN bin Haji Ahmad] were deregistered in 2007; parties are small and have limited activity

International organization participation

ADB, APEC, ARF, ASEAN, C, CP, EAS, FAO, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC (NGOs), ICRM, IDA, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, IMO, IMSO, Interpol, IOC, ISO (correspondent), ITSO, ITU, NAM, OIC, OPCW, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIFIL, UNWTO, UPU, WCO, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO

Diplomatic representation in the US

chief of mission: Ambassador Dato Paduka Haji Serbini bin Haji ALI (since 28 January 2016)

chancery:3520 International Court NW, Washington, DC 20008

telephone:[1] (202) 237-1838

FAX:[1] (202) 885-0560

consulate(s):New York

Diplomatic representation from the US

chief of mission: Ambassador (vacant); Charge d'Affaires Emily M. FLECKNER (since 20 August 2020)

telephone:[673] 238-4616

embassy:Simpang 336-52-16-9, Jalan Duta, Bandar Seri Begawan, BC4115

mailing address:Unit 4280, Box 40, FPO AP 96507; P.O. Box 2991, Bandar Seri Begawan BS8675, Negara Brunei Darussalam

FAX:[673] 238-4604

Flag description

yellow with two diagonal bands of white (top, almost double width) and black starting from the upper hoist side; the national emblem in red is superimposed at the center; yellow is the color of royalty and symbolizes the sultanate; the white and black bands denote Brunei's chief ministers; the emblem includes five main components: a swallow-tailed flag, the royal umbrella representing the monarchy, the wings of four feathers symbolizing justice, tranquility, prosperity, and peace, the two upraised hands signifying the government's pledge to preserve and promote the welfare of the people, and the crescent moon denoting Islam, the state religion; the state motto "Always render service with God's guidance" appears in yellow Arabic script on the crescent; a ribbon below the crescent reads "Brunei, the Abode of Peace"

National symbol(s)

royal parasol; national colors: yellow, white, black

National anthem

name: "Allah Peliharakan Sultan" (God Bless His Majesty)

lyrics/music:Pengiran Haji Mohamed YUSUF bin Pengiran Abdul Rahim/Awang Haji BESAR bin Sagap

note: adopted 1951

Economy

Economic overview

Brunei is an energy-rich sultanate on the northern coast of Borneo in Southeast Asia. Brunei boasts a well-educated, largely English-speaking population; excellent infrastructure; and a stable government intent on attracting foreign investment. Crude oil and natural gas production account for approximately 65% of GDP and 95% of exports, with Japan as the primary export market.

Per capita GDP is among the highest in the world, and substantial income from overseas investment supplements income from domestic hydrocarbon production. Bruneian citizens pay no personal income taxes, and the government provides free medical services and free education through the university level.

The Bruneian Government wants to diversify its economy away from hydrocarbon exports to other industries such as information and communications technology and halal manufacturing, permissible under Islamic law. Brunei’s trade increased in 2016 and 2017, following its regional economic integration in the ASEAN Economic Community, and the expected ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

 

10.04 million Mt (2017 est.)

Communications

Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 91,415

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants:19.98 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 141

Telephones - mobile cellular

total subscriptions: 588,616

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants:128.65 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 171

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: service throughout the country is excellent; international service is good to Southeast Asia, Middle East, Western Europe, and the US; lots of investment given the high GDP per capita; launch of 5G in 2021 anticipated; while fixed-line is slowing down, mobile broadband has taken over in the advancement in the telecoms access market; broadband penetration slow to moderate growth predicted over the next five years to 2023 (2020)

domestic:every service available; 20 per 100 fixed-line, 129 per 100 mobile-cellular (2019)

international:country code - 673; landing points for the SEA-ME-WE-3, SJC, AAG, Lubuan-Brunei Submarine Cable via optical telecommunications submarine cables that provides links to Asia, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Africa, Australia, and the US; satellite earth stations - 2 Intelsat (1 Indian Ocean and 1 Pacific Ocean) (2019)

note: the COVID-19 outbreak is negatively impacting telecommunications production and supply chains globally; consumer spending on telecom devices and services has also slowed due to the pandemic's effect on economies worldwide; overall progress towards improvements in all facets of the telecom industry - mobile, fixed-line, broadband, submarine cable and satellite - has moderated

Broadcast media

state-controlled Radio Television Brunei (RTB) operates 5 channels; 3 Malaysian TV stations are available; foreign TV broadcasts are available via satellite systems; RTB operates 5 radio networks and broadcasts on multiple frequencies; British Forces Broadcast Service (BFBS) provides radio broadcasts on 2 FM stations; some radio broadcast stations from Malaysia are available via repeaters

Internet country code

.bn

Internet users

total: 426,234

percent of population:94.6% (July 2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 157

Broadband - fixed subscriptions

total: 49,452

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants:11 (2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 135

Transportation

National air transport system

number of registered air carriers: 1 (2020)

inventory of registered aircraft operated by air carriers:10

annual passenger traffic on registered air carriers:1,234,455 (2018)

annual freight traffic on registered air carriers:129.35 million mt-km (2018)

Civil aircraft registration country code prefix

V8

Airports

total: 1 (2020)

country comparison to the world: 215

Airports - with paved runways

total: 1 (2019)

over 3,047 m:1

Heliports

3 (2013)

Pipelines

33 km condensate, 86 km condensate/gas, 628 km gas, 492 km oil (2013)

Roadways

total: 2,976 km (2014)

paved:2,559 km (2014)

unpaved:417 km (2014)

country comparison to the world: 162

Waterways

209 km (navigable by craft drawing less than 1.2 m; the Belait, Brunei, and Tutong Rivers are major transport links) (2012)

country comparison to the world: 96

Merchant marine

total: 102

by type:general cargo 18, oil tanker 2, other 82 (2020)

country comparison to the world: 88

Ports and terminals

major seaport(s): Muara

oil terminal(s):Lumut, Seria

LNG terminal(s) (export):Lumut

Military and Security

Military and security forces

Royal Brunei Armed Forces: Royal Brunei Land Force, Royal Brunei Navy, Royal Brunei Air Force (2020)

Military expenditures

3.3% of GDP (2019)

2.6% of GDP (2018)

2.9% of GDP (2017)

3.5% of GDP (2016)

3.3% of GDP (2015)

country comparison to the world: 22

Military and security service personnel strengths

the Royal Brunei Armed Forces is comprised of approximately 6,500 total active troops (4,500 Army; 1,000 Navy; 1,000 Air Force) (2020)

Military equipment inventories and acquisitions

the Royal Brunei Armed Forces imports nearly all of its military equipment and weapons systems; the top supplier since 2010 is Germany (2020)

Military service age and obligation

17 years of age for voluntary military service; non-Malays are ineligible to serve; recruits from the army, navy, and air force all undergo 43-week initial training (2019)

Military - note

Brunei has a long-standing defense relationship with the United Kingdom and hosts a British Army garrison, which includes the Gurkha Battalion and a jungle warfare school; Brunei also hosts a Singaporean military training base

(2020)

Transnational Issues

Disputes - international

per Letters of Exchange signed in 2009, Malaysia in 2010 ceded two hydrocarbon concession blocks to Brunei in exchange for Brunei's sultan dropping claims to the Limbang corridor, which divides Brunei; nonetheless, Brunei claims a maritime boundary extending as far as a median with Vietnam, thus asserting an implicit claim to Louisa Reef

Refugees and internally displaced persons

stateless persons: 20,863 (2019); note - thousands of stateless persons, often ethnic Chinese, are permanent residents and their families have lived in Brunei for generations; obtaining citizenship is difficult and requires individuals to pass rigorous tests on Malay culture, customs, and language; stateless residents receive an International Certificate of Identity, which enables them to travel overseas; the government is considering changing the law prohibiting non-Bruneians, including stateless permanent residents, from owning land

Illicit drugs

drug trafficking and illegally importing controlled substances are serious offenses in Brunei and carry a mandatory death penalty

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