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; ultramodern 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 past 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, 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. These include a thriving expat community that dramatically outnumbers the local population, a vibrant lifestyle and an extremely safe environment where crime and theft are rare.
Although most of those living in Abu Dhabi are foreigners, behaviour in the emirate is nonetheless mandated by the Islamic faith, and it's essential that 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 most significant concern expats moving to Abu Dhabi will have is suitable schooling for their children. While several reputable private international schools exist, shortages are common and admission is competitive. It's essential to start the enrolment process as early as possible.
Cost of living in Abu Dhabi
Life in Abu Dhabi is far from cheap – the capital is ranked 43rd out of 227 international expat destinations – and the luxurious lifestyle that was once a given due to hefty relocation packages is no longer guaranteed. 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 most considerable 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 oppressive 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 typical for expats and locals alike to travel abroad to escape the hottest months.
Ultimately, expats tend to fall in love with Abu Dhabi's way of life. 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.
What do expats love about Abu Dhabi?"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.
►Have a look at our list of Pros and Cons of Moving to 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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