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The UAE is a thriving nation for expats, driven by tax-free income, booming industries and foreign investment. Made up of seven emirates, the capital and largest emirate is Abu Dhabi along with the emirate of Dubai, Sharjah, Ras al Khaimah, Fujairah, Ajman and Umm Al Quwain. The expat population in Dubai and Abu Dhabi has soared over the past few years, with around 90% of the total UAE population being expats.
There are large numbers of expats from India, Pakistan and Asia, but the British expat community is the largest for Westerners accounting for around 250,000. Many British expats reside in Dubai with Abu Dhabi being a close second.
Dubai is hugely popular with expats and has been established as the financial, economic and cultural hub of the Middle East. It’s rapidly growing economy, lavish and vibrant lifestyle draws thousands but how does Abu Dhabi compare?
Where Dubai offers glitzy, luxury resorts, endless skyscrapers, shopping malls and attractions for visitors, Abu Dhabi is a modern city known for being calmer, slightly more traditional and community led than Dubai.
Abu Dhabi is situated on the edge of Rub Al Khali Desert and off the mainland in the Persian Gulf.
While there are extravagant resorts, skyscrapers, apartment blocks and shopping malls, and the famed Ferrari World; Abu Dhabi also preserves natural landscapes such as mangroves and nesting spots for turtles along the coastline.
Abu Dhabi offers beautiful turquoise waters and numerous beaches such as the Corniche Beach, Yas Beach, Saadiyat Beach, and Al Sahil Beach offer a great weekend getaway just soaking up the sun or to enjoy some water sports. Along with stunning coastline there are many cultural and heritage sites preserved in the city, deeply rooted in Islamic traditions, mosques, temples and stunning desert landscapes to explore.
Abu Dhabi is one of the wealthiest emirates with a fast-growing economy. Oil and gas are key business sectors with Abu Dhabi holding nearly 10% of the world’s oil supply and owning 95% of the UAE’s oil production. Other key sectors include property, tourism, construction, trade and food manufacturing.
This attracts many expats to relocate here; however, where the tax-free benefits of Abu Dhabi and surrounding areas used to be a huge draw for foreigners, rising housing costs along with salaries not increasing respectively has slowed down the expat numbers.
Take home salaries in some cases can be lower than what you’d pocket in your home country with the average salary being around 123,063 AED (£26,337). Where financial gain was previously a huge draw, this is becoming less of a contributing factor for expats and most tend to stay for the lifestyle.
Many expats moving to Abu Dhabi do so with a contract of employment already in place. Numerous corporations have relocated their business to Abu Dhabi, allowing expats to move with their employer. Alternatively, you can browse local recruitment agencies or network via expat forums to find employment.
It tends to be easier for those with specialist skills or languages to find work. The government has started to advocate for an official policy of Emiratisation, which encourages businesses to hire nationals to help unemployment rates and improve opportunities for local graduates, making it more difficult for expats to find employment.
Cost of living in Abu Dhabi is high, the city is ranked 40th out of 209 in cities Mercer's Cost of Living Survey for 2018 and it’s the second most expensive place to live in the Middle East along with Dubai.
Compared with Dubai, Abu Dhabi is approximately 6% cheaper to live overall, considering food, clothes, transport, personal care and entertainment. However, housing costs are 11% more expensive than in Dubai.
Housing costs are very steep and will set you back around 50% of your monthly salary. On average a 1-bedroom apartment in the city centre will cost 5088 AED (£1088), and just outside the city 3805 AED (£814). Utilities are reasonable, on average costing 445 AED (£95) a month. Some expats choose to rent in Dubai and commute to work in Abu Dhabi to save on rental costs.
Another big outgoing is purchasing a car. Public transport links are improving, yet, most expats prefer to use their own car to get around. Buying or leasing a car is hugely expensive, so it’s worth taking your time to shop around. Most dealerships run offers based on the time of year. Although fuel costs are considerably lower than the UK, which balances out the cost of car ownership.
If you’re thinking of moving to Abu Dhabi the lifestyle is very much influenced by Islam and is much more conservative than you may be used to. The main laws and customs to be aware of are:
We recommend you research the laws fully here prior to moving anywhere in the UAE.
There’s no question that the lifestyle in Abu Dhabi alone attracts many expats every year; amazing weather, great beaches and just 130km from the glamour of Dubai, it’s a popular place to relocate to.
If you’re looking to move, unless you’re in a skilled profession or secure employment prior to moving you may find it difficult to get a job in the current climate.
Living and working in Abu Dhabi is expensive; where it was once enjoyed for being tax-free, rising property prices and salaries not increasing respectively has meant less financial gain for expats. Even so, the lifestyle is enough to drive thousands there every year.
If you’re researching a move, get in touch with our relocation specialists who can offer everything from packing, shipping and customs clearance.