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 of expat life in Abu Dhabi far outweigh the cons.
Relocation to any destination has its disadvantages and advantages, and expats will find that Abu Dhabi is no different. The better prepared a person is for the less appealing aspects of life abroad, the more successfully they’ll be able to adapt, and the more they’ll enjoy the positives.
Below, we’ve listed some of the pros and cons of living in Abu Dhabi.
Culture in Abu Dhabi
+ PRO: A mix of cultures
Abu Dhabi is home to a hodgepodge of different nationalities, each contributing to the jumble of languages and dress, not to mention food and cultures. Navigating the mix and mayhem can be one of the best things about living in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, as one can only learn and grow amid so many influences.
- CON: A mix of cultures
With all those nationalities and different languages come communication problems and culture shock. A relaxed attitude, willingness to learn and empathy will equip an expat for life in Abu Dhabi.
Accommodation in Abu Dhabi
- CON: High rents and few living options
Though rent in Abu Dhabi has been astronomical in the past, it’s starting to become more of a tenant’s market. Still, expats should expect to pay a large portion of their salary for a modest one-bedroom apartment in a less-than-exclusive area. Villas with pools are out of most people’s budgets altogether but are still sought after.
- CON: It will be difficult to describe where one lives
Street addresses in Abu Dhabi can be 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 one’s home. It is best to figure out a good way to describe where one lives as soon as possible.
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: the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, destinations throughout the Middle East, much of India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, Turkey, Greece, and so much more. People in Abu Dhabi take a lot of vacations, particularly during the hot summer months.
+ PRO: A wealth of hospitality options
Abu Dhabi is expanding at breakneck speed. 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.
+ PRO: Cheap eats
Abu Dhabi offers a mind-boggling range of cuisine at restaurants at eminently reasonable prices. Pakistani, Indian, Lebanese, Nepalese, Vietnamese, Chinese and Ethiopian are just a few of the national foods on offer. Take-out food is also much less expensive than elsewhere in the world; a network of drivers on motorcycles will rush to get the food delivered to one’s door.
+ PRO: An emerging scene for culture and entertainment
There are a host of incredible new cultural attractions emerging in Abu Dhabi. Saayidat Island has undergone massive transformations to become a world-class cultural and entertainment hub.
Emirates Palace regularly hosts compelling exhibits and a brilliant series of classical performances, and the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority brings in engaging entertainment from around the world. The F1 has made Abu Dhabi a circuit stop, and big concerts and other exciting events are always on the agenda.
- CON: Bureaucracy and inefficiency
From reporting a car accident to getting internet access to hooking up electricity, the ways in which things work – or don’t – in Abu Dhabi can be incomprehensible to an outsider. Again, patience is required.
- CON: Salaries shrinking, rent skyrocketing
The salaries on offer in Abu Dhabi are no longer as attractive as they once were, while rent has shot up disproportionately. Employment packages also don’t contain all the perks they did a few years ago, and prospective employees will have to negotiate for even the basic allowances.
+ PRO: Near constant sunshine, income-tax-free living
In the end, after all the annoyances and differences are factored in, the weather and the lifestyle – and the ability to save money – are what draw people to the UAE and keep them here, many long after they had planned to leave.
Relationships in Abu Dhabi
- CON: Women may feel uncomfortable
Women who move to Abu Dhabi from the West may find themselves receiving attention, even if they dress modestly. Some women get used to this attention, while others continue to feel violated.
- CON: For men, a lack of women
There are definitely more men than women in this country – blame the male-dominated oil and gas industry, for starters – and men who move here often complain that it is difficult to meet women. This can be particularly true for those working for government companies and who mainly socialise with Emiratis. That said, male 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 or ride-hailing service fare is relatively cheap, making getting around easy and accessible.
- CON: The traffic
People have streamed into Abu Dhabi for decades and continue to arrive every day – and the infrastructure has proven unable to keep up. Massive roadworks projects are attempting to ease the flow of traffic, but they are either just finishing or midway through.
The worst of it is in the morning rush hour and when school lets out. Abu Dhabi’s extensive grid system of multi-lane roads, U-turns, crowded backstreets, and a preponderance of aggressive, horn-honking, and light-flashing drivers further contribute to tricky 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 developments out by the Shangri-La Hotel and Qaryat al Beri complex in Musharif.
What do expats say about the pros and cons of life in Abu Dhabi?
"There are always some negatives, but the main thing is how you accept and deal with them. The bureaucracy can be frustrating as can the level of customer service at times – living in a country with so many nationalities and different cultures and 'normals' there's bound to be some room for confusion or misunderstanding at times!" Read more about Lindsey's expat experience in Abu Dhabi.
"I love how diverse Abu Dhabi is – it is home to many nationalities so you never really feel out of place. Whatever your interest is, you can easily find something new to learn or to discover, and you meet people from all paths of life." See Marina's interview for more insights about Abu Dhabi.
►Learn more about adjusting to life in the emirate in Culture Shock in the United Arab Emirates
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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