Abu Dhabi, the UAE

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By Betsy Burlingame

Last updated on Sep 24, 2021

Summary: Abu Dhabi, UAE: Everything you need to know about living in Abu Dhabi, UAE: Cost of living, Finding a home, Meeting People and more.

What do I need to know about living in Abu Dhabi?

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When we asked people what advice they would give someone preparing to move to Abu Dhabi, they said:

"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 living in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

"Come with an open mind in regards to religion. Leave your cultural and racial baggage back home (figuratively speaking, of course). Show respect for the moderation of dress, even though you might see sooo many who rudely flaunt scandalous and scanty dressing. Be ready to deal with some heavy population and traffic situations that only get worse with time. Talk with an expat living here before you make any decisions about employment, housing, etc. They can give you tips to avoid getting gouged or led in the wrong direction," added another expat in Abu Dhabi.

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How do I meet people in Abu Dhabi?

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When we asked people living in Abu Dhabi about club and activities where newcomers can meet others, they responded:

"American Women's Network, Women in Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Womens Group, Abu Dhabi Ladies Group, all send newsletters to members," explained one expat living in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

"AWN American Womens Network (primarily Americans, but all are welcome...can tend to be a bit highbrow), WIAD Women in Abu Dhabi (A very international flair, this ladies group does some serious traveling!)," said another expat in Abu Dhabi.

What is life like in Abu Dhabi?

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When we asked people living in Abu Dhabi what life is like and how people spend their time, they said:

"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 who made the move to Abu Dhabi.

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Is there a lot of diversity? Are people in Abu Dhabi accepting of differences?

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"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," commented one expat who made the move to Abu Dhabi.

"This is the most diverse city on the planet, along with Dubai. Everyone, and I mean virtually EVERYONE is from somewhere else. Religions and cultures all intermingle peacefully and it's not a big deal to have a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Christian and a Muslim in a group of friends. They all get along just fine. Differences are what make this country the experience it is. Perhaps that's why as many as 60% of American expats who repatriate back to their home country encounter difficulty reassimilating and most find themselves coming back to the UAE for more of that openness," remarked another expat living in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

"This is an extremely tolerant islamic country. All religions are tolerated although not promoted. There are more races, countries and ways of life than I have fingers, toes, legs and arms of counting. Everyone can do their own thing and it is accepted. My friends and aquaintances are British, Canadian, South African, Emirati, Yemeni, Australian, Indian, Pakistani, Jordanian, Palestinian. I think that we are diverse and accepting of differences," added another expat in Abu Dhabi.

What are the schools in Abu Dhabi like?

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"GAA opened in 2011, however there are still many problems till today. Staff and administration are struggling due to lack of wise management," said another parent with children at Gems american academy in Abu Dhabi.

"I would be be very wary of enrolling your child here. The nuclear management of this school is non-existent. The communication from the administration to the parents and teachers and staff is abhorrent. There are no AP courses, and GAA has yet to qualify for IB status, because it is not yet up to IB standards. At the primary level, classes are over-loaded and teachers are unsupported. They are not able to split children by ability so higher-achievers sit bored all day long. It is my understanding some teachers are better able than others to stimulate these children, like anywhere. There are also no science labs to speak of, which is an utter travesty. The facilities are top notch, but the kids rarely utilize GAA's most prized features: planetarium, music tech lab, et al. There is no real technology curriculum yet in place, though parents have been told they are working on it. They do not teach the most basic skill of typing to their students. In the tour, they promised iPads in the classrooms, but that has yet to happen. In fact, kids as young as primary are allowed to bring their own devices. There Wi-Fi in the school is not filtered in anyway. Kids can access social media all day long, and they do. Other schools block sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Kik--not GAA, It's a free for all. Parents are expected to pay for school supplies, field trips, team uniforms, a rather insufficient lunch, et al. In short, nothing is free at GAA despite it having one of the highest tuitions in Abu Dhabi. I will say that the teachers are all fantastic, that is why we stay. There is hope for GEMS American Academy, but it will take some major institutional changes for it to function as well as even the most under-funded American public school. I would like people unfamiliar with the actual American curriculum to know that what GAA offers is nothing remotely like an American curriculum," commented one expat when asked about Gems American Academy in Abu Dhabi.

"Overall the quality of the school is quite poor, the students have no self discipline and my son has come home on several occaisions crying after getting into a fight with someone who was bullying him. When I informed the administration they just said it is his problem for fighting back!!??. The academics seem to be quite sound and challenging but all the good western teachers seem to be filtering out of the school giving way to less qualified arab teachers. The school has very few expat students so if enrolling your child in the school make sure he is ok with it. I wouldn't reccomend the school," explained one expat in Abu Dhabi, UAE with kids at Glenelg School .

"Look past the exterior to the classrooms that though dated show a dedicated staff," wrote an expat living in Abu Dhabi with children attending American International School Abu Dhabi.

"Seek another school in Abu Dhabi. AISA is tending more to be a local school accepting an increasing number of troubled local students who have been removed from other schools in the nation. The tuitions are the second highest in the Emirate, and one of the highest in the nation. This proprietary school is highly profit motivated, since the owners take up to 30% of the tuition as profit. It seems that over the years, tuitions and enrolment have risen excessively while quality of education has decreased. The calibre of education at AISA is mediocre. The student clients are not considered to be important. Classrooms tend to be slum-like with old, inferior furnishings, and are not attractively decorated to stimulate student learning. Student bathrooms tend to smell more pungent through the day, so it appears hygiene is not a major consideration. Bullying of students occurs frequently. AISA is segregated school where boys and girls above grade 4 are forbidden to mix. If boys and girls are caught interacting, the punishments can be severe, including expulsion and/or legal action," said one commented one expat when asked about American International School in Abu Dhabi in Abu Dhabi.

"I am very happy with the school and my eldest son is doing well in college after graduating from AIS. The school doesn't have as many Americans as ACS across town, but its educational standards are great. All the teachers are from the US and Canada," mentioned one expat living in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Is the cost of living in Abu Dhabi high?

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We asked people about the cost of living in Abu Dhabi, they wrote:

"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 one expat living 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," mentioned another expat inAbu Dhabi..

What type of recreational facilities are in Abu Dhabi?

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When we asked people living in Abu Dhabi 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..," said one expat living in 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," mentioned another expat inAbu Dhabi..

What is the weather like in Abu Dhabi?

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"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," added one expat living in Abu 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.

Are there good restaurants in Abu Dhabi?

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"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," commented one expat who moved to 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," said another expat.

Where will I buy groceries and do other shopping in Abu Dhabi?

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"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," remarked another expat living in Abu 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," said one expat living in Abu Dhabi.

Are healthcare and health insurance expensive in Abu Dhabi?

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"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," said another expat.

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About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder of Expat Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Some of Betsy's more popular articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Italy, 12 Things to Know Before Moving to The Dominican Republic and the Living in Panama Guide. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

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Join our UAE forum to meet other people living in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

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Help other expats and newcomers by answering questions about the challenges and adventures of living in Abu Dhabi.

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Expats and global nomads in Abu Dhabi share their experiences with health insurance, healthcare in UAE, local hospitals and specialists, quality of medical care and more.

Abu Dhabi, UAEMoving to Abu Dhabi, UAE

Expats offer advice about everything you need to know before moving to Abu Dhabi: what to bring (and what to leave behind), how to find housing and more.

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Take off your rose-colored glasses and learn what expats and digital nomads have to say about the pros and cons of living in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

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