Expats moving to Abu Dhabi may have a housing allowance stipulated in their contract, depending on their job. In such a case, the employer will either allow an expat to choose their own accommodation in Abu Dhabi or allocate them a home prior to relocating. We recommend expats negotiate the above with their prospective employer if it isn't already included in the contract.
Expats wanting to rent a property in Abu Dhabi will find that lease rates are on the decline, and newer areas of Abu Dhabi may even experience a brief oversupply that will further increase affordability. But rental prices are still expensive, especially in the highly sought-after on-island locations. The most popular areas are Bateen and Karama for houses, and Al Khalidiya and Corniche for apartments.
Before picking an area to live in, though, expats should decide what their priorities are and what they’re willing to sacrifice. Each area of Abu Dhabi has its own unique set of pros and cons; we recommend newcomers speak to other expats about their experiences, and also consider things such as commute times to work and to local schools for those with school-aged children, congestion and noise level in the area, proximity to amenities, and perhaps also which areas are most popular with expat communities.
Types of accommodation in Abu Dhabi
Both furnished and unfurnished accommodation is available in Abu Dhabi, the former being more expensive. In the case of unfurnished apartments, even appliances will be absent, which could mean a hefty start-up cost for expats.
Expats planning to rent an unfurnished apartment should approach their employer about a shipping allowance or a stipend to furnish the property. Those with a housing allowance should make sure there is a separate allowance to cover the costs of purchasing standard household items.
A common choice among expats, apartments are (mainly) smaller self-contained units in larger buildings; referred to as 'flats' in some parts of the world such as the UK. These range from small studios or one-bedroom units to expansive multi-roomed units.
These complexes are similar to apartments but are more luxurious and will generally offer a wide range of facilities. Those at the top of the scale will offer a full suite of facilities including a pool, gym, playground, tennis and squash courts, as well as 24-hour security.
Villas are perfect for expats with families or those with sufficient resources. These come in various shapes and sizes: freestanding villas, semi-detached villas in which properties share one adjoining wall, and townhouse-style villas in which two adjoining walls are shared. Regardless of the type, the properties tend to be large and are most frequently available off-island, in Khalifa City A.
Finding accommodation in Abu Dhabi
Expats are advised to use a real estate agent to help secure housing in Abu Dhabi. Even if one manages to discover a great deal on their own, an agent will likely be present upon signing the lease, and it's best to let them do the legwork as well.
Expats can ask their employer for agent recommendations or consult print and online listings. Tenants pay a five percent commission to agents, as well as a five percent security deposit upfront.
Renting accommodation in Abu Dhabi
Rent is usually paid annually and in advance. Expats can also explore the option of getting a salary advance from their employer to remain debt-free.
Expats who elect to go the house-hunting process on their own without the assistance of a real-estate agent often opt to rent a short-term serviced apartment while checking out an area and deciding on long-term accommodation. This isn’t strictly necessary, though, and with a good agent, long-term rentals can be secured without the need for temporary accommodation.
Making an application
Once expats have found a suitable area that fits their lifestyle and caters to all their priorities, we recommend they research properties online and contact some local estate agents who will then set up viewings. When the right home is agreed upon, an application is submitted to the landlord, and a contract drawn up. Before the contract can be signed, the estate agent or landlord will check references and do some background checks, and check whether the applicant has the required residence visa, passport and proof of income.
It's usual practice in Abu Dhabi for landlords to demand the entire year of rent be paid upfront, in addition to a security deposit. If this is a financial possibility, expats should use it to gain leverage over the landlord and try and bring the price down.
Deposits, usually the equivalent of five percent of the annual rental cost, must be refunded, as it remains the property of the tenant, but landlords are allowed to make deductions from the deposit or keep the whole amount for various reasons. Deposits are sometimes used to cover unpaid rent, for damages in excess of normal wear and tear, other breaches of the lease agreement or unpaid utility bills. Additional fees to consider include the agent’s commission fee (if an agent was employed).
A lease specifies the period of tenancy along with other important terms and conditions that both parties need to agree on. We urge prospective tenants to finecomb the agreement and to make doubly sure that all verbal agreements with the landlord are in print and acknowledged by both parties. The tenant and the landlord should also agree on an inventory list of all items in the apartment/condo/villa at the start of the lease.
At the termination of the lease, the landlord and tenant can either choose to agree to renew the lease or end it. We recommend expats try to sign a renewable lease, and then notify the landlord accordingly when ready to leave, rather than having to restart the painful house search all over again after 12 months.
It is also important for prospective tenants to scrutinise a lease agreement very carefully to ascertain which utilities are included in the rental cost before committing.
There are no council taxes or permit fees associated with accommodation in Abu Dhabi. However, unless an expat is living in a company apartment or house, they’ll have to pay for utilities such as water and electricity in addition to rent. These are generally affordable, but those living in large villas may find themselves footing a hefty power bill due to constant air conditioning.
►For a breakdown of the different expat-friendly neighbourhoods in the emirate see Areas and Suburbs in Abu Dhabi.
"We live in a high-end expat apartment building and the housing is very nice. The amenities are also superb. There is a wide array of housing here from the lower priced studio apartments to the multimillion dollar penthouses or villas." US expat Eddie shares his experience of Abu Dhabi.
"There is a mixture of older and newly built properties in the city, but all have central air conditioning and tend to be pretty spacious. I've found that even most apartments have much larger rooms and living areas than I'd ever been used to in London." Lindsey from the UK talks about her expat life in Abu Dhabi.
Are you an expat living in Abu Dhabi?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Abu Dhabi. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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