Pros and Cons of Moving to Abu Dhabi

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As with any of the world's cities, life in Abu Dhabi is a mix of swings and roundabouts, peaks and troughs, ups and downs. In the end though, the pros to living in and relocating to Abu Dhabi far outweigh the cons.

Culture in Abu Dhabi

 PRO: A mix of cultures

Abu Dhabi basically feels like the centre of the world; there are so many different nationalities here, each contributing to the Koran to represent culture in Abu Dhabijumble of languages and dress, not to mention food and talents. Navigating the mix and mayhem can be one of the best things about living in the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

 CON: A mix of cultures

With all those nationalities, however, and their different languages, comes communication problems and culture shock confusion. A relaxed attitude and loads of empathy can help equip an expat to navigate their way through setting up life in Abu Dhabi.

For example, your Pakistani taxi driver may have just arrived in the country yesterday, and your patience combined with a light heart will go a long way to helping make the experience less terrifying for him. The Filipina taking your restaurant reservation may never have heard your name before. The delivery man you are trying to direct to your home may not understand the landmarks you provide. You may soon find yourself dropping all extraneous words to help make yourself understood; and still there will be confusion and many sessions of deep breathing and counting to 10. Just remind yourself: Abu Dhabi will not turn me into one of those screaming expat lunatics I've heard so much about.

Accommodation in Abu Dhabi

 PRO: The Corniche

Developed, then redeveloped to host adjacent activities for the Formula One in Abu Dhabi, this stretch of fine white sandy beaches (the sand was reportedly trucked in, less coarse than the native variety) adjacent to the Gulf is one of the best parts of the city. With Al Mina Port on one end and Emirates Palace and Marina Mall on the other, this is the place to be on the weekend. Loved by fitness fanatics, families and swimmers, there are stretches of boardwalk, beaches dedicated to families, showers and washroom facilities, not to mention a host of new shops and cafés, including Seattle's Best Coffee, Sugar Daddy's cupcakes, Yogaday frozen yoghurt and salad and shwarma shops, many with beachside tables. Bicycles and four-wheeled contraptions can be rented by the hour. On the weekends there are frequent art displays and events for children, including puppet shows. And there is almost always sunshine.


 CON: High rents and few living options

Though rent in Abu Dhabi had been astronomical in the past few years, it's starting to become more of a tenant's market. Still, expect to pay at least 2,000 USD a month for a modest one-bedroom apartment in a less than exclusive area. Villas with pools are out of most people's budgets altogether, though, are still sought after.

Many people are moving to neighbouring Dubai, where the high-rises cost less and are complete with fitness centres, parking and outdoor pools; but that 90-minute, twice-daily commute down Sheikh Zayed Road is a considerable obstacle.

 CON: It will be hard to describe where you live

Street addresses in Abu Dhabi can be horribly confusing. Although the city is divided into different zones and sectors, with streets in each sector numbered, everyone generally still relies on a system of landmarks to explain their address. Many people have their mail delivered to their office, but that still leaves food, furniture, guests and a host of other items that need to get to your home. The sooner you sort out your own set of directions that work, the easier your life will be.

Lifestyle in Abu Dhabi


 PRO: Travel opportunities

Some of the most breathtaking and interesting locations in the world are less than a four-hour flight away: Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia; destinations throughout the Middle East; much of India, Nepal and Sri Lanka; Turkey; Greece; and so much more. People take a lot of vacations here, particularly during the hot summer months, and it can be a challenge to come up with one that will impress the veteran travellers surrounding you.

 PRO: A wealth of hospitality options

Abu Dhabi is expanding at breakneck speed, and if the economic downturn is having an impact, it is not entirely obvious. New five-star hotels – and with them a variety of tasty and trendy eateries – are opening all the time, and not just downtown. Yas Island and the area by the Shangri-la Hotel near the Grand Mosque are exploding with new restaurant, bar and nightclub options, so many residents can almost make a game of racing to try them all first. Beware: these are expensive options.

 PRO: Cheap eats

Middle Eastern brunch to represent lifestyle in Abu DhabiAbu Dhabi offers a mind-boggling range of cuisine at restaurants at extremely reasonable prices. Pakistani, Indian, Lebanese, Nepalese, Vietnamese, Chinese and Ethiopian are just a few of the national foods on offer. Takeout food is also much less expensive than elsewhere in the world; a network of drivers on motorcycles will rush to get the food to your home or office and you will soon learn to rely on your favourites.

 PRO: An emerging scene for culture and entertainment

Residents still tend to complain that there is not enough to see and do in Abu Dhabi, particularly during the hot summer months when the capital all but shuts down, and it seems like the shopping mall is the only option.

That said, there are a host of incredible new cultural attractions. Saayidat Island has undergone massive transformations to become a world-class cultural and entertainment hub. The Abu Dhabi Louvre is a recent addition, while the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, a performing arts centre and a maritime museum are all being built.

Furthermore, although you might be unlikely to attend the symphony or a Formula One race in your home country, you might be more tempted to step outside your comfort zone in the UAE.

Emirates Palace regularly hosts compelling exhibits and a brilliant series of classical performances, the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage brings in interesting entertainment from around the world. Also, Womad, the F1 and Ultimate Fighting Championship have all made Abu Dhabi a circuit stop, and big concerts are always on the agenda.

 CON: Being environmentally friendly is much more of a challenge

The municipality has launched a door-to-door recycling pilot project, and promises a city-wide plan is on the waycon: no recycling in Abu Dhabi. For now, attempting any recycling is an arduous process. There are several drop-offs around the city, although it seems many of them are not in proper condition, prompting one to wonder if what is left there is recycled at all. Most expats who vow to be responsible in this area find themselves loading up their cars with bags of cans, bottles and newspapers and dropping them off at the Spinney's grocery store depot, down by the Corniche.


 CON: Bureaucracy and inefficiency

From reporting a car accident. to getting Internet access. to hooking up electricity, the way things work – or don't – in Abu Dhabi can be incomprehensible to an outsider. Again, patience i required.

 PRO: Near constant sunshine, higher-than-the-West salaries for professionals and tax-free living

In the end, after all the annoyances and differences are factored in, the weather and the lifestyle – and ability to save money – are what draws people to the UAE and keeps them here, many long after they had planned to leave. 

Relationships in Abu Dhabi

 CON: For women, you are on display

Women who move to Abu Dhabi from the West will find themselves being undressed by the eyes of men from more countries than they thought possible. Even if you dress modestly and cover your shoulders and much of your legs, this will continue to be an issue for the duration of your stay. Men will also honk at you, while others will stop to offer you a ride, lingering a little too long after you decline.

Some women get used to this attention, others continue to complain and feel violated. A healthy dose of compassion – for men who are either far away from their wives and children in countries such as India and Bangladesh, or the many bachelor labourers who live in camps and have little hope or experience interacting with women in Abu Dhabi – can go a long way to moving on. It also helps to pretend you are famous.


 CON: For men, a lack of women

There are definitely more men than woman in this country – blame the male-dominated oil-and-gas industry, for starters – and men who move here often complain that it is hard to meet females. This can be particularly true for those working for government companies and who mainly socialise with Emiratis. That said, expats working in private ventures will find themselves outnumbering the ladies too. Joining one of the many expat organisations, gyms and social clubs can help.

Getting around Abu Dhabi

 PRO: Cheap taxi fare

A standard taxi fare in one of the city's sleek new silver cabs is usually less than 5 USD. Rates start at approximately 1 USD and increase by less then 50 cents per kilometre.

 CON: The traffic

People have streamed into Abu Dhabi for decades now – and continue to arrive every day – and the infrastructure has not been able to keep up. Massive roadworks projects are attempting to ease the flow of traffic, but they are either just finishing or mid-way through. The long and short of it is, if you move here, expect massive gridlock downtown.

The worst of it is in morning rush hour (8am-ish) when school lets out (1.30pm to 3pm) and for some reason, most of the evening. Abu Dhabi's large grid system of multi-lane roads, U-turns, crowded back streets and preponderance of aggressive, horn-honking, light-flashing drivers further contribute to tough driving conditions.

The closer to downtown and the Corniche, the worse it is. Many people move out to less congested areas, such as Khalifa City off the island, and the new developments out by the Shangri-la Hotel and Qariyat al Beri complex in Musharif.

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