Abu Dhabi

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Living in Abu Dhabi

If you are thinking of living in Abu Dhabi, don’t forget to do your homework! This InterNations article on Abu Dhabi helps you to take the hurdles which you might come across during your expat assignment. Find out more about expat life in Abu Dhabi, e.g. healthcare and housing.
Traditional Arab clothing is not a must, but expats should dress modestly.
  • 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.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

Antoine Mariaux

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