Living in the UAE
Last updated on Feb 06, 2023
Summary: The approximate population of UAE is 9.9 million people. The largest cities in UAE are Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah, and Fujairah. Expats love living in UAE because of the high quality of life, excellent job opportunities, and tax-free salaries. People describe life in UAE as luxurious, modern, and vibrant. Popular foods in UAE include shawarma, falafel, hummus, and kababs. The cons of living in UAE include the high cost of living, the hot climate, and the lack of personal freedom. The average cost of living for an expat is around $2,500 to $3,500 per month, depending on lifestyle and location.
What do I need to know about living in the UAE?
When we asked people what advice they would give someone preparing to move to the UAE, they said:
"Before retiring in the UAE, it is important to understand the financial requirements and cost of living. Retirement income such as pensions or Social Security must be sufficient enough to support a comfortable lifestyle in the UAE. You will also need to meet the requirements for obtaining a residence visa. Healthcare costs and insurance should be taken into consideration, as well as possible taxation on investment income. Generally, the UAE is relatively safe, but it is important to check the latest travel advisories from the US State Department prior to travel to remain informed of any potential safety risks," added another expat in UAE.
"Negotiate a VERY comprehensive relocation package with your prospective employer, including school, housing, transportation and travel allowance, in addition to a generous salary, because the cost of living is not cheap here," remarked another expat who made the move to Abu Dhabi.
How do I meet people in the UAE?
When we asked people living in the UAE about club and activities where newcomers can meet others, they responded:
"You can meet people in the UAE by joining social activities and events hosted by hotels, universities, and other organizations in the area. Another great way is to get involved in digital communities such as Facebook groups and other social media forums. If you're interested in making business connections, you can attend networking events or business meetups. Additionally, joining co-working spaces or professional associations can help you make valuable contacts," added another expat in UAE.
"American Women's Network, Women in Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Womens Group, Abu Dhabi Ladies Group, all send newsletters to members," remarked another expat who made the move to Abu Dhabi.
What is life like in the UAE?
When we asked people living in the UAE what life is like and how people spend their time, they said:
"Life as an expat in the area usually revolves around forming a ‘home away from home’ and meeting new people, something that can easily be done with the myriad of communities that exist here. You’ll find everything from dedicated Facebook groups, expat clubs and websites, to pub nights and group meet-ups. In genereal, the locals are welcoming, and being able to make friends and build a social life is just as important as getting to grips with the bureaucratic stuff. It can also be a great adventure as it offers the chance to explore a whole new culture. From trying new foods to visiting different museums, there’s plenty to keep you entertained. You could even join a language class or take a cooking class and soon be able to fully engage with the locals. In general, living as an expat here is an exciting and rewarding experience, where you truly get to make the most of this diverse and beautiful region," remarked another expat living in UAE.
"Though Abu Dhabi is more traditional compared to its glitzy sister Dubai, and family values/activities are stressed, nightspots are available for singles as well. It's an easier gig for families, as so much of life for an American expat here revolves around the ACS American Community School. They have a veritable cornucopia of activities and events planned for both students and their parents," added another expat in Abu Dhabi.
Is there a lot of crime in the UAE?
We asked people if there is a lot of crime. They answered:
"No, the UAE is one of the safest countries in the world. The UAE has one of the lowest crime rates in the world and has very strict laws and regulations on crime," remarked another expat who made the move to UAE.
Is there a lot of diversity? Are people in the UAE accepting of differences?
"The United Arab Emirates society is known for its diverse population comprised of various ethnic and religious backgrounds and nationalities. The UAE is an accepting and tolerant place, where individuals of different backgrounds can live in harmony and mutual respect. There is an affirmation of these cultural and religious differences, where members of all communities are granted the same freedom and open-mindedness and can coexist peacefully. The UAE government is actively engaged in initiatives to promote tolerance, peace, and prosperity among its population. The UAE is known for its welcoming and embracing attitude towards diversity, allowing all its residents to partake in all forms of social, cultural and economic activities that contribute to their development," remarked another expat who made the move to UAE.
"Very diverse and very tolerant. However, there is not to much mixing among the three major groups, local citizens, western expats and expats from developing countries," explained one expat living in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
What are the schools in the UAE like?
"The schools in the UAE provide educational programs for students in both public and private settings. Many schools provide educational opportunities from early childhood (pre-kindergarten) to secondary level, with some schools offering programs for higher education. Many of the schools offer international and/or American curriculums, providing a range of educational opportunities. The schools strive to provide a high quality of education, which includes keeping up to date with technology, offering extra-curricular activities and teaching best practices in line with modern educational standards and philosophies. Schools typically provide quality facilities including state of the art classrooms, laboratories and sports complexes. The UAE's schools boast a multi-cultural student population, bringing together students from many different backgrounds and nationalities, fostering diversity and understanding within the classroom," commented one expat when asked about in UAE.
"GAA opened in 2011, however there are still many problems till today. Staff and administration are struggling due to lack of wise management," explained one expat in Abu Dhabi, UAE with kids at Gems american academy.
Is the cost of living in the UAE high?
We asked people how much they someone comfortably live on in the UAE, they wrote:
"The cost of living in the UAE can vary depending on the location, type of accommodation, lifestyle, and other factors. Generally speaking, it could be considered high compared to countries like India, Pakistan, and Tanzania, but may be comparable to other countries in the Middle East and Europe," remarked another expat who made the move to UAE.
"Cost of living is pretty high, but there is a huge variety of income ranges and shops that cater to them. You can live a life of opulence and luxury, or get by quite well on a variety of cheaper options. We found that paying for our kids education was the greatest expense," said an expat in Abu Dhabi.
"Fairly high, comparable to New York City and other too metro areas in the states. But like most areas, there are places for all budgets," remarked another expat in Abu Dhabi.
What type of recreational facilities are in the UAE?
When we asked people living in the UAE about recreational activities, they mentioned:
"Golf at yas links golf club, the al ain golf, equestrian and rugby club is popular, crossfit gym with some of the worlds top athletes at Vogue fitness on yas island, a huge array of water parks and theme parks that offer memberships..," commented one expat who moved to Abu Dhabi.
"Abu Dhabi has several golf clubs that we frequent. As well as several hotels that have fun brunches that are fun to attend. There are many hiking and outside activities in the northern Emirates. Not so much in Abu Dhabi. There is one club, the Tourist Club that is very popular with the expat community," said another expat.
What is the weather like in the UAE?
"It is Hot! Summers are stifling and humid, with temperatures exceeding 50 degrees Celsius and humidity hitting 80%. Winter is gorgeous. Temperatures can drop to about 9 degrees Celsius but usually stay in the high teens and low 20's. It very seldom rains, when it does it is a joyous occasion," mentioned another expat inAbu Dhabi.
"Extremely hot and humid in the summer months for 5 months. Winter is very mild. Jan and Feb are potential rain months, but not much," commented one expat who moved to Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Are there good restaurants in the UAE?
"There are a lot of your typical chain reatuarants, pf changs, california pizza kitchen, ruby tuesdays, ihop, McDonalds, burger king etc... just about everything you might want. You can also find local restuarants and really good iranian and indian food," said one expat living in Abu Dhabi.
"You may choose from whatever budget you like. Heavy party scene with uppity people to the chill at the local bar scene. Whatever you want is available. We spend most times at the golf club," mentioned another expat inAbu Dhabi.
Where will I buy groceries and do other shopping in the UAE?
"Most people get their groceries from large chains such as Geant or Carrefour. British brands such as Marks and Spencers, Spinnies and Waitrose are also very popular. Lulu's is hugely popular but seems to be a local brand that import a lot of American products and are quite reasonably priced. As far as clothing stores go, there is very little that you can't get," mentioned another expat inAbu Dhabi.
"Shopping malls are a big deal here. And in most cases there is a large grocery chain attached to each mall. Waiters, Geant and Carrefour are the biggest names. There are other little shops all over the city to grab quick things," commented one expat who moved to Abu Dhabi, UAE.
What are the visa & residency requirements in the UAE?
"You need to have a sponsor, typically your employer sorts this part out. A medical exam with tests for hiv, tb, etc... police record,," added one expat living in Abu Dhabi.
"Not if not all are on work visas but you can get a residency with property purchase. Also, you may register in the free zones as well. Looking at 5-20k for the right to live there," commented one expat who moved to Abu Dhabi.
Are healthcare and health insurance expensive in the UAE?
"Health insurance is covered by the company we work for. We pay a minimal fee per doctors visit but thats it," commented one expat living in Dubai, UAE.
"Like most places, you pay for what you get. My company had our family on a health plan but it continually changed with the company trying to save money every year," remarked another expat living in Abu Dhabi.
About the Author
Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.
Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.