It may be true that expats tend to move to Abu Dhabi for the tax-free wealth, but the reasons they stay are manifold. Azure waves gently lapping on pearly beaches; gorgeous mosques with towering minarets contrasted by glittering skyscrapers and surrounded by green spaces; a vibrant cosmopolitan metro infused with Arab tradition and hospitality; year-round sunshine; uber-modern shopping and entertainment venues... The list goes on. It's no wonder expats stay far longer than they initially anticipated.
Living in Abu Dhabi as an expat
Once a desert outpost dependent on pearl diving and fishing, the United Arab Emirates' capital and largest emirate has grown tremendously in the last two decades and emerged as an attractive destination luring foreigners from around the globe. Having made an effort to diversify its economy over the last few years, and particularly since oil prices dropped so dramatically in 2015, there are many work opportunities available in Abu Dhabi in various sectors.
Expats who are drawn to Dubai will find that the two emirates share many of the same characteristics, including a thriving expat community that greatly outnumbers the local population, a vibrant lifestyle and an extremely safe environment where crime and theft are rarities.
Though the majority of those living in Abu Dhabi are foreigners, behaviour in the emirate is nonetheless mandated by the Islamic faith, and it's essential expats familiarise themselves with what to expect and learn to respect traditional Arab culture.
Expat families and children
Life in Abu Dhabi progresses at a slower pace than in Dubai, and the city is often characterised as being more family friendly and better suited to those looking to settle down and stay a while. Not to mention, the UAE's capital is less built-up and boasts broader patches of greenery.
The largest concern expats moving to Abu Dhabi will have is suitable schooling for their children. While a number of reputable private international schools exist, shortages are common and admission competitive. It's important to start the enrolment process as early as possible.
Cost of living in Abu Dhabi
Life in Abu Dhabi is far from cheap, and the luxurious lifestyle that was once a given thanks to hefty relocation packages is no longer a guarantee. The increasing rarity of such packages, along with the continuously rising cost of living, means that expats need to be smart about how they spend their money in the emirate.
Accommodation will be an expat's largest expense, and those with children will need to ensure there's plenty of room in their budget for international school fees and other school-related expenses. Transport is another concern. While petrol is cheap in the UAE, cars aren't. In some cases, shipping one's car from home can be more cost effective than buying or renting a car in Abu Dhabi.
Climate in Abu Dhabi
In addition to getting used to the cultural climate, expats living in Abu Dhabi will also have to adapt to the stifling summer heat and the artificial air-conditioned cocoon in which the city enshrouds itself in this desert emirate. The emirate's sweltering weather is one of its less appealing attributes, and it's common for expats and locals alike to travel abroad to escape the hottest months.
Ultimately, though, expats tend to fall in love with Abu Dhabi's way of life, and even though salaries in the emirate might not be as astronomical and alluring as they once were, expats still make it work – many for the long haul.
►Have a look at our list of Pros and Cons of Moving to Abu Dhabi
Expat Interviews"I love that it's always sunny and that tends to make people much more smiley than I was used to back home. The quality of life is far better here than I could ever imagine at home." Read more about Scottish expat Lindsey Parry's experiences here.
"In the UAE, the population is 80%+ expats, so there is a diverse community and broad acceptance by local Emiratis." American expat Mark shares his insight here about 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.
Expat Health Insurance
For anyone starting a new life abroad, ensuring access to good quality healthcare is essential. Cigna Global are specialists in providing international health plans for expats, ensuring you have access to quality care and support whenever you need it. Cigna’s health plans can be tailored exactly to meet the individual needs of you and your family.
Sirelo has a network of more than 500 international removal companies that can move your furniture and possessions to your new home. By filling in a form, you’ll get up to 5 quotes from recommended movers. This service is free of charge and will help you select an international moving company that suits your needs and budget.