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A Comprehensive Guide about Living in Abu Dhabi

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Life in Abu Dhabi

  • Learn to embrace the values and traditions of the UAE’s diverse population.
  • Although there is a new drive to incorporate more English into the school curriculum, international schools are the best option for non-Arabic speakers.
  • Accommodation in the city center can be costly so look at areas surrounding it, for example, the island of Al Reem.

Expats make up more than 80% of Abu Dhabi’s population, enjoying the flair of a modern metropolis with almost 5000 years of tradition. From being the “Father of Gazelles” (the literal meaning of Abu Dhabi) to becoming a home for over 2.65 million people representing many nationalities, this emirate has undergone a great transformation. This becomes apparent in the vast variety of life in Abu Dhabi.

Outside of Abu Dhabi City, this emirate impresses visitors and expats alike with beautiful sand dunes and a desert landscape interspersed by various oases, such as the garden city of Al Ain. Living in Abu Dhabi’s second largest city, you can enjoy parks, palm trees, and the famous nearby Hajar Mountains.

Tradition and Modernity

Life in Abu Dhabi is very much influenced by Islam. Mosques can be found in almost every district of the city. The biggest and most sumptuous mosque in the UAE, the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, is also located here. It is not only a popular tourist attraction, but it also offers space for 40,000 worshippers in Abu Dhabi. In 2015, the mosque received over 50,000 visitors during the morning period of Ramadan alone.

Tourism, in addition to the country’s massive oil reserves, is increasingly becoming a new source of income for expats and Emiratis. Almost everybody’s life in Abu Dhabi is affected by developments in the tourist sector, such as Saadiyat Island or Al Gurm Resort.

In addition to the modern tourist spots and shopping centers, there are traditional souqs offering spices, clothing, jewelry and other goods to expats and nationals. The busiest bazaar, which every expat should visit at least once, is the Grand Souq on Sheikh Hamdan Street.

Public Etiquette

Living in Abu Dhabi may not be as relaxed as the life you are probably used to. Although it is a modern and cosmopolitan city, the rules of a conservative society are prevalent, affecting everybody’s social life in Abu Dhabi.

Smoking, for instance, is prohibited in certain public areas. Expats have to find designated smoking rooms if they can no longer resist the urge to light a cigarette. The Ministry of Health plans to implement even stricter laws by the end of 2016 to confront the problem of the increasing number of (mostly underage) smokers in Abu Dhabi. Their plan is to get rid of designated smoking areas altogether and make it illegal to smoke anywhere in public.

You should make sure to avoid improper and revealing clothing. While bathing suits and shorts are acceptable at the beach, you should choose light clothing with longer sleeves and trousers’ legs for most other occasions.

Healthcare and Housing in Abu Dhabi

Healthcare in Abu Dhabi

According to law, all UAE nationals and residents have to receive health insurance through their employer or sponsor. UAE nationals enjoy special benefits in form of full medical coverage provided by the state. Emergency healthcare is free of charge in all public hospitals, including for visitors to the UAE.

By means of government investments, the UAE has been able to improve its healthcare system during the last few years. At the moment, the government covers the majority of healthcare costs. However, various initiatives to further privatize this sector have been launched. There are already many private hospitals and medical facilities with excellent doctors and an international staff.

Healthcare Facilities

More and more primary healthcare centers open their doors all over Abu Dhabi to cater to the needs of all patients. They are walk-in clinics, offering integrated services 24/7. Public hospitals collaborate with these centers to offer specialized care and transfer patients to different units when needed.

Aside from primary healthcare centers, there are various types of medical facilities in Abu Dhabi offering different services:

  • Ambulatory Care Clinics: Patients can visit these facilities without prior appointment. Abu Dhabi has a comprehensive network of ambulatory care clinics offering primary and specialist care 24/7.
  • Family Medicine Clinics: These facilities have been open since 2009 and have often developed out of primary healthcare centers. Patients benefit from the advantages of trained staff and modern equipment but can be treated by their personal family physician at the same time.

Many of the facilities mentioned above also function as educational institutions to train medical and science students. For a useful search tool for all kinds of medical facilities available in Abu Dhabi, please see the website of the Abu Dhabi Government.


In Abu Dhabi you can find a wide range of high standard hotel apartments, residential apartments and villas. While foreigners were generally not allowed to buy property, in 2005, three years after Dubai, Abu Dhabi’s ruling family opened the market to international buyers. Prices are currently declining on Abu Dhabi Island as people seek out newer communities.

The classified sections of local newspapers are the first places to look when searching for rental property. Popular newspapers and classifieds include the following:

  • Al Ittihad (Arabic)
  • Gulf News (English)
  • Al Waseet classifieds (Arabic)

Registered brokers and Abu Dhabi Commercial Properties can assist with the search as well. These options make sense especially for those expats who do not know their way around Abu Dhabi yet, who are not fluent in the Arabic language or who have no contact or acquaintance to translate for them.

Most expats look to rent an apartment. Between 2013 and 2014, however, Abu Dhabi experienced a sharp rising of house prices due to the lift of a rent cap. Although it now appears that this increase has slowed down, be aware of over-priced properties. As of 2016, the yearly rent for an unfurnished, 2-bedroom apartment can range from 140,000 AED to as much as 220,000 AED, depending on the area you want to live in. The island of Al Reem provides slightly cheaper housing, with similar apartments going for 110,000 to 130,000 AED per year. The villas available in the Al Reef development are popular with families.


Utilities are activated by the Emirates Water and Electricity Company (EWEC). They provide the whole emirate with water and electricity. Once the supply has been activated, tenants receive a monthly bill, according to usage. This, just as any other mail, will be delivered to a P.O. box at the nearest post office. Residents can register for a private or a public P.O. box, with varying requirements.

Education in Abu Dhabi


School is compulsory for all children aged 6 to 12. For Emiratis, schooling is free up to university level. Non-UAE citizens, however, have to pay a fee for their children to attend government schools. Education is taken very seriously in Abu Dhabi, with 25% of government expenditure directed towards education.

Recent reforms of the education system in Abu Dhabi have been driven by attempts to improve English language skills and the use of new technologies. In the course of these reforms, new mathematics and science programs have been introduced, a measure strongly influenced by foreign English-language educational systems.

State Schools and International Schools

All schools and universities that are run by the government are gender-segregated, offering individual instruction to boys and girls. For expat children, however, private international schools, which are co-educational, may better fit their needs. There are schools catering to various expat communities in Abu Dhabi, including Brits, Canadians, Chinese, French, Germans, Japanese, US Americans, and others.

The Ministry of Education is responsible for all kinds of government schooling, as well as the supervision of the private school sector. Private schools of all levels, including international schools, have to acquire a license from the Ministry making sure their educational program is accredited. In order for the Ministry of Education to approve a private school, this school has to offer certain core subjects such as Arabic language studies, Islamic studies, and social studies.


Abu Dhabi has quite a few universities, which are run by the government and overseen by the Ministry of Education as well. While these public universities have a very good reputation, they are only open to UAE nationals, and it is virtually impossible for expatriates to be admitted to one of them.

Abu Dhabi’s private universities, however, are open to all students. They have to be licensed by the Commission of Academic Accreditation. The language of instruction in most universities and schools is Arabic, with some science and technical subjects being taught in English.

Some institutions are beginning to introduce an English syllabus and offer a greater variety of academic programs. At UAE University and Zayed University, English is the primary language of instruction. The universities do not offer additional English or Arabic language courses to help their students keep up in lectures and seminars. Instead, students are expected to be fluent in the language of instruction. Furthermore, New York University Abu Dhabi is planning a second campus in the Marina district.

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