It may be true that expats 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.
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.
That said, 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 enrollment process as early as possible.
For those enjoying the single life, or who are yet to have children, relocating is simply a matter of negotiating the right kind of contract in the face of a rising cost of living, waiting for the appropriate paperwork to come through, and then embarking on the period of cultural adjustment that always comes attached to life abroad.
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. In addition, expats living in Abu Dhabi will have to adapt to the stifling summer heat and the artificial air-conditioned cocoon in which the city enshrouds itself in this desert emirate.
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.
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.
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