Best Places for Expats to Live in Abu Dhabi

Best Places for Expats to Live in Abu Dhabi

The United Arab Emirates is a remarkable country, at the very least because foreigners outnumber actual Emirati passport holders. According to official data, visitors account for almost 90% of the population, and the capital of the UAE is no exception. To explain where expats live in Abu Dhabi, we will tell you about some places in Abu Dhabi where life may not be that cheap, but is definitely comfortable and beautiful.

Can foreigners buy property in Abu Dhabi?

Anyone coming to Abu Dhabi to live or work here can buy real estate in the city and own it legitimately and indefinitely. This is a major development: until recently, only UAE citizens and the residents of neighbouring states of the Arabian Peninsula had this option. Other foreigners could only acquire property on a 99-year lease.

The situation changed in 2019, when the Freehold Property law entered into force.  According to the law, there are some freehold zones where anyone can buy flats, townhouses and villas. 

Officially, there is no published up-to-date list of the capital’s freehold zones. It is known for a fact that initially the list covered only nine areas. However, there are about 20 zones with such a status at present. While this represents a far smaller figure than in Dubai, even the most discriminating foreign buyers will find a number of options in Abu Dhabi.

Interestingly, the owners of real estate worth US 545,000 or more are eligible for a ten-year Golden visa. However, if you want to settle in Abu Dhabi temporarily, you don’t have to buy real estate in the city. You can obtain a residency permit by finding a job or proving that you earn enough money as a freelancer. You can also rent a flat. However, always remember that in the Emirates properties tend to be let for at least a year.

So where is the best for an expat to live in Abu Dhabi? It all depends on your budget and personal preferences. For example, you want a beach right under the window or prefer to be close to the city’s cultural and business centre. While you can have both in the UAE capital, there are still some nuances.

Saadiyat Island

The name of this area means “the island of happiness" in Arabic.In the near future, it is likely to become one of the main cultural centres of the country and the entire region. The Louvre Abu Dhabi opened here in 2017. It is the largest art museum in the Arabian Peninsula. The Guggenheim Museum and Sheikh Zayed National Museum are scheduled to open in 2025.

Photo by Travelvlogus

However, while you may have to wait a bit longer for a fully-fledged island with cultural landmarks similar to Berlin, the NYUAD multi-display arts centre is already operational in Saadiyat. Moreover, a branch of New York University, which focuses primarily on the humanities, relocated here from a business hub in 2010.

However, Saadiyat is not just a cultural cluster. It is also one of the best resorts in the entire Middle East, with a 5.5-mile coastline and six five-star hotels, including Rixos, St. Regis and Park Hyatt.

While Saadiyat has no big shopping centres, it is only a short taxi ride from here to the business hub where there are more than enough department stores.

The area has only one major drawback: the comparatively high prices - and that includes housing. The annual rent of a flat costs at least USD 12,000 for a small studio. It is highly unlikely that you will find a two-bedroom flat for less than USD 22,000 a year. By contrast, if you want to buy a two-bedroom flat, you will have to pay at the very least USD 400,000.

Yas Island

This is the perfect place for sports enthusiasts and fans of concerts and other events. You will find on the island several large amusement parks next to the Yas Marina racetrack which has hosted Formula 1 races since 2009. When not used for racing, visitors can use track for workouts of their choice — from yoga and jogging to cycling.

Yas Marina Circuit. Photo by Planet Labs, Inc.

You will find an 18-hole golf course literally across the road from the track — according to Golf Digest magazine, it is the best in the country. At CLYMB Abu Dhabi you can glide in the world's widest aero tube and climb a 42.5-metre rock-climbing wall. In addition, world-famous singers and musicians perform regularly at The Etihad Arena and Etihad Park Sports and Cultural Complexes.

Yas Island has an eponymous beach and a major shopping area called Yas Mall featuring about 350 global and local brands. Plus, you are only a short drive away from Abu Dhabi International Airport.

You can rent studios on Yas for USD 11,500 per year and a two-bedroom flat for up to USD 20,000. Meanwhile you can buy two-bedroom flats for USD 245,000 and above.

Al Reem Island

You will find a branch of the Sorbonne (University of Paris) in the very heart of the island. A few years ago Forbes magazine claimed that it was the best liberal arts university in the Middle East. Britain’s prestigious Repton School has also opened two branches on the island. One campus is located near Central Park with a beach, while on the opposite side mangroves take pride of place.

Photo by Sa7er90

In February 2023 the island test-launched a large shopping and entertainment centre, Reem Mall. The snow amusement park Snow Abu Dhabi will be a major highlight of the centre for shoppers and tourists coming to the Emirates. In addition to two dozen rides, guests will be able to cool off in below-freezing temperatures and half-metre snow drifts.

Property developers have been actively building skyscrapers in Al Reem, including residential properties. The tallest is the 74-storey Sky Tower with a height of 958 feet. The Sky Tower is part of the Gate Shams Abu Dhabi complex and includes several high-rise buildings that are not as tall, together with the 64-storey Sun Tower.

Three more skyscrapers, all 66 floors tall, are united not only by a multi-level stylobate, but also by a sky bridge with penthouses. A horseshoe-shaped 22-storey high-rise next door looks like a squat building by comparison.

A five-bedroom penthouse in this residential complex will set you back USD 3.5 million to USD 5 million. Meanwhile the annual rent of a small studio in the horseshoe high-rise will cost USD 12,500. However, you will find plenty of other offers on the island: a flat with two rooms, for example, can be found for USD 17,700 a year. To own such flats, you will have to pay at the very least USD 218,000.

Al Maryah Island

This island is in the business centre of the city. The Abu Dhabi Global Market Square is home to the branches of international financial centres and office skyscrapers. However, Al Maryah is not only about work. You will also find here a small beach and a large shopping centre, The Galleria, offering a wide range of brands — from Zara and H&M to Dior and Balenciaga.

Photo by Vprime g

This district is situated between Al Reem and Downtown Abu Dhabi. It is within easy reach of the Abu Dhabi Mall and the iconic Corniche promenade with its fountains, restaurants, bike lanes and a beach.

The pride of Al Maryah is the best hospital in the country — the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. It is the only hospital in the Emirates to be included in Newsweek’s international ratings for 2023.

The annual rent of a two-bedroom flat on the island starts at USD 35,000. You can buy a two-bedroom flat for about the same amount as in other decent areas — from USD 218,000 and above.

Al Raha District

The list of the best places for expats to live in Abu Dhabi would not be complete without the coastal district of Al Raha. Located some distance from the business centre, it is closer to Abu Dhabi International Airport and Yas Island. Here you won’t find prominent landmarks, unlike neighbouring areas. However, that is by and large irrelevant, as you can rapidly access everything you need.

Photo by Serge Bystro

People come to Al Raha to enjoy a more slow-paced life by the sea. The price of six-bedroom villas starts at USD 2 million. It costs USD 95,000 per year to rent a four-bedroom house. However, you can also rent budget-friendly flats of differing sizes.

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In a Nutshell

Abu Dhabi is a big city with developed infrastructure. Foreigners tend to choose a district in UAE’s capital based on their lifestyle. Saadiyat is a cultural area, while Al Maryah is a business district. Yas Island is all about entertainment, while Al Rakha is famous for beach villas. And it goes without saying that there are some other city areas that expats would do well to explore before choosing where to live in Abu Dhabi.

Cover photo: LARRY WILLIAMS (Unsplash)

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