How Expats Can Buy Property in Abu Dhabi

How Expats Can Buy Property in Abu Dhabi

The desire to become property owners in the UAE is steadily increasing each year. Abu Dhabi, in particular, has become a favoured choice for a growing number of foreigners. This preference can be attributed to the city's reputation for safety, its inviting warm climate, efficient transportation connections to neighbouring emirates, and a wealth of promising job prospects. Nevertheless, it's worth noting that the acquisition of flats or villas by foreign nationals is restricted to specific areas within Abu Dhabi. Continue reading for a comprehensive overview of where expatriates can buy or rent property in the capital of the UAE.

Ins and Outs of Buying Property in Abu Dhabi for Expats

According to various estimates, the UAE is now home to over 8.4 million immigrants, a significant portion of whom envision residing in the country for approximately 30 to 50 years. With such prolonged stays in mind, a growing number of expatriates are contemplating real estate purchases within the UAE. It's important to note that in the past, expats encountered limitations on property ownership, restricted to leasehold areas in the Emirates. Essentially, this equated to long-term housing rental, with lease durations extending up to 99 years. This form of ownership remains prevalent across the majority of the emirates. A leasehold agreement stipulates that occupants must return the property to its original owner, often the developer, once the lease term concludes. However, the lease can be renewed for an additional period or transferred to family members for continuation. Alternatively, property sales could transpire before the lease's expiration, with the remaining lease term transferring to the new owner. Until recently, this leasehold arrangement stood as the sole avenue for foreigners seeking to invest in UAE real estate.

Fortunately, in 2019, the UAE government enacted revisions to the real estate legislation that grant foreigners the privilege of purchasing and possessing properties within designated investment zones known as freehold areas. In the Abu Dhabi emirate, several such freehold areas exist, including the islands of Yas, Reem, Saadiyat, Al Maryah, as well as the districts of Al Lulu, Al Raha Beach, Saih As Sidirah, Al Reef, and Masdar City. Notably, expatriates are unrestricted in their choice of real estate, ranging from apartments to townhouses and villas.

How to Buy a Property 

Once you have selected the property you wish to acquire, the next step involves signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between you and the seller. Essentially, this document serves as a formal agreement for the sale and purchase. As part of this process, you are required to make a payment of 2% of the property's value to the real estate agency, along with an additional 2% to the Abu Dhabi City Municipality. 

Purchasing real estate through a mortgage arrangement is also a viable option in Abu Dhabi. The criteria for eligibility differ based on your status. For instance, employed individuals are typically required to possess a minimum of one year's experience in their current position. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, must demonstrate at least two years of operation for their business. As for the initial payment, it ranges from 20% to 25% of the mortgage value if the property is valued at under 5 million AED. For properties exceeding this threshold, the initial payment can escalate to up to 35% of the mortgage value.

Photo: Nick Fewings (Unsplash)

About Freehold Areas

In Abu Dhabi, the freehold zones stand out as dynamic, rapidly progressing regions boasting an array of modern amenities and contemporary residential complexes designed to enhance your quality of life.

For instance, Yas Island stands as Abu Dhabi's premier entertainment hub. Here, you'll discover a sprawling shopping mall, a vibrant water park, clubs, restaurants, and a host of sports events and activities to partake in. 

Saadiyat Island, on the other hand, caters to those with a penchant for refined culture. This upscale locale features five-star hotels, esteemed restaurants, educational institutions, and renowned museums.

Reem Island is characterised by a combination of office spaces, residential buildings, and clusters of townhouses, creating a diverse urban landscape.

Al Maryah Island serves as the financial epicentre of the city, characterised by a mixed development approach that encompasses numerous hotels, commercial properties, and even residential complexes.

For a tranquil coastal retreat, Al Raha Beach emerges as a burgeoning resort destination offering pristine beaches, shopping outlets, restaurants, and select educational facilities. It presents an opportunity to invest in apartments or villas.

Masdar City takes pride as Abu Dhabi's most technologically advanced district. This innovative enclave embraces electric cars as a primary mode of transport, maintaining an outdoor temperature consistently set between 15 to 20°C.

 Saadiyat Island. Photo: Nazar Skalatsky (Unsplash)

Residential Property Prices 

In contrast to Dubai, categorising areas in Abu Dhabi as either affordable or luxurious proves more intricate. The freehold real estate market primarily targets affluent international buyers, resulting in a prevalence of upscale residential developments. When evaluating these locales based on minimum investment thresholds, Al Maryah emerges as an area offering relatively more budget-friendly housing alternatives. Within this vicinity, one can find apartments encompassing up to three bedrooms, as well as penthouses boasting four or five bedrooms. 

Starting at a base price of $123,000, this sum is sufficient to secure a one-bedroom apartment spanning 57 square metres within Al Maryah. Meanwhile, the upper echelons of Al Maryah's real estate market can extend to a pinnacle of $1.7 million for the most opulent properties. 

Masdar City stands as another locale boasting relatively moderate real estate prices. Within this district, a studio spanning thirty-eight square metres is attainable from $143,700. Meanwhile, in Reem Island, studios commence at $147,000, and for those seeking three-bedroom villas, an approximate budget of $790,000 is typically required. 

Masdar City. Photo:

Al Raha Beach is significantly more expensive. You will not find one-bedroom flats here for less than $177,200. 

Saadiyat Island is characterised by even more upscale offerings, encompassing apartments, villas, and townhouses with elevated price points. To illustrate, a one-bedroom apartment within this locale commands a starting price of $231,000. The entry level for three-bedroom villas begins at $885,000, while two-bedroom townhouses start at a base of $1.28 million.

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In a Nutshell

Over the past few years, the UAE government has actively pursued strategies to entice greater foreign investments into the country. To this end, it has demarcated nine freehold areas in Abu Dhabi where foreigners are granted the privilege of purchasing and possessing properties. These designated freehold zones serve as the focal points for prominent developers within the UAE, who undertake the construction of their upscale complexes. Remarkably, each area boasts a substantial number of ongoing projects, with nearly all of them concurrently witnessing the development of two or three, or even twice as many new ventures.

Cover photo: Aravind Sivaraj (Wikimedia)

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