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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

Expats in the UAE Shell Out for Their Convenient Lifestyle

After narrowly missing out on a place in the top 10 in 2023, the UAE is back among the ten best destinations for expats in 2024 — but only just.

Expat satisfaction in the Emirates is very high in three of the five indices we use to map out life abroad: Quality of Life (3rd), Working Abroad (6th), and Expat Essentials (1st). A respectable 16th rank for Ease of Settling In complements the positive experience, while a mediocre result in the Personal Finance Index (33rd) is a clear downer.

How Expats Rate Life in the UAE

Quality of Life: Not Much to Complain About

The three factors that have the highest approval ratings in the Quality of Life Index are the government’s environmental policies, the infrastructure for cars, and political stability.

Nearly nine in ten respondents (86%) agree that the government supports policies to protect the environment (vs. 61% worldwide). Other factors in the Environment & Climate Subcategory, such as the climate & weather and the natural environment, don’t get so much praise (ranking 34th and 45th, respectively).

When it comes to Travel & Transit, 91% rate the infrastructure for cars positively (vs. 73% globally). But cars are not the only way of getting around: satisfaction with affordability (16th) and availability (17th) of public transport has improved compared to 2023.

In the Safety & Security Subcategory political stability has exceptionally high approval ratings: 86% rate this factor positively; worldwide, only 59% of expats say the same about their country of residence.

It’s very safe, especially as a woman. I can go out jogging at night with headphones in and not even think about safety. People leave their front doors open.– Australian expat

Personal safety (4th) is also highly appreciated, but only 48% of expats feel that they can openly express themselves and their opinions, which is considerably lower than the global average of 62%. A Belgian expat shares: “You can’t openly complain. For example: Community management sued community members for posting anything bad about the community.

Healthcare is an important aspect of quality of life, and in 12th place, the UAE does well in this subcategory. The country impresses with good availability (4th) and quality (6th) of healthcare, but not so much in terms of affordability (31st).

Last but not least, we looked at leisure options as an essential ingredient for a good quality of life. Culinary variety (8th) and culture & nightlife (3rd) receive excellent ratings, and 70% of expats are happy with the opportunities for recreational sport (vs. 72% globally).

No Major Obstacles to Settling In

The best leisure options are worth little if you have nobody to explore them with. Luckily, 60% of expats in the UAE say that they are happy with their social life (vs. 52% globally), contributing to 22nd place in the Finding Friends Subcategory. Nevertheless, 23% suffer from the lack of a personal support network (vs. 27% globally). At least the friendliness of the local population or the local culture don’t seem to pose any major obstacles to feeling welcome and at home in the UAE. The country ranks 13th for Culture & Welcome, and 16th in the Local Friendliness Subcategory. Overall, expats rank the Ease of Settling In Index in 16th place.

Expat Essentials Made Easy

One area in which the UAE outshines all other countries in our ranking is the Expat Essentials Index. The country places first in two out of four subcategories: Language and Admin Topics. While learning Arabic is considered neither particularly easy nor difficult, 80% of expats agree that it’s not necessary to get by (vs. only 48% globally). And bureaucratic hurdles, red tape, or complicated immigration laws are not major issues for expats in the UAE.  

This might be linked to the excellent online availability of administrative and government services. The UAE ranks first for this factor in the Digital Life Subcategory. However, another factor in this subcategory is responsible for one of the country’s worst ratings in the whole survey: 11% of expats are unhappy with the degree of restrictions imposed on accessing online services such as social media — nearly double the global average of 6% — landing the UAE 46th out of 53 countries.

Housing, another expat essential, is a mixed bag in the UAE, with a declining performance over the past years. While the majority agrees that it’s easy to find accommodation (64% vs. 45% globally), affordability is an issue: only 37% of expats are happy with the prices (vs. 34% globally). 

Good for Your Career, Bad for Your Finances

Speaking of affordability, the Personal Finance Index (33rd) is the weakest link in the UAE’s efforts to attract expats. Satisfaction with the general cost of living is slightly below average (38% vs. 40%), and only 46% are satisfied with their financial situation (vs. 54% globally). And at ten percentage points higher than the global average, 40% of expats say that their disposable household income isn't enough to allow for a comfortable life.

Quality of life and living standards are pretty good but living costs, including housing, education, and utility bills, are extremely expensive.” – Sudanese expat

This sentiment is also reflected in the Working Abroad Index. Despite ranking 6th, satisfaction with salary, job security, working hours, and work–life balance is below average among expats in the UAE. Only 55% believe they are paid fairly for their work (vs. 58% globally), and in the Work & Leisure Subcategory, the UAE occupies a mediocre 32nd place.

Expats are full of praise though regarding the state of the economy (1st) and the local job market (4th). And a staggering 76% agree that moving to the UAE has improved their career prospects, which is the highest percentage worldwide and 20 percentage points above the global average.

The Typical Expat in the UAE

Further Reading