If you are considering where to live in the United Arab Emirates, we give you the lowdown on the most popular expat hubs, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Whether you are single or relocating to the UAE with your family, there are certain areas which continue to attract expats in their droves. This helpful guide provides the following information:
- The most popular expat cities
- Where to live as a family in the UAE
- Living in Dubai as a family
- Living in Abu Dhabi as a family
- Where to live in the UAE when you retire
- Retiring in Abu Dhabi
- Retiring in Dubai
- Where to live in the UAE if you are single
- Single life in Abu Dhabi
- Where to live in the UAE on a budget
- Dubai on a budget
- Living cheap in Abu Dhabi
- Places to avoid in the UAE
- Useful resources
The most popular expat cities
Capital city Abu Dhabi and its neighbor Dubai are the hotspots of the UAE for expat activity. Skyscrapers, a thriving hospitality industry, and the inner-city beaches are attractive places to reside.
Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE and the second largest city after Dubai. If you choose to live here, there are ample options, but one of the decisions you have to make is whether you prefer to live in a villa-style house or an apartment; generally in one of the high-rise buildings.
Each year the Formula 1 Grand Prix brings racing fans from all over the world to Abu Dhabi. Those visiting may also enjoy new attractions, such as Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and Louvre Abi Dhabi.
Dubai may not be the capital of the UAE, but it’s the largest and most populated city in the country. Much like Abu Dhabi, accommodation choices are apartments and villas.
In 2020, Dubai Expo 2020 is to be held in the city, attracting people globally. The main site of the expo is at the Dubai Trade Centre Jebel Ali, which is located halfway between Dubai and neighboring city Abu Dhabi.
Shopping is one of the biggest reasons that people come to Dubai. In fact, Dubai Mall is the largest shopping center in the world. Atlantis, The Palm hotel also draws locals and tourists to the city. Other attractions you might come to visit are the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Creek Park.
The drawbacks to the city are similar to Abu Dhabi and other cities of its size. Traffic congestion is an issue, and prices may seem high comparing with home nations.
Where to live as a family in the UAE
Top of the list for many families moving to a new location is quality schooling, and the UAE provides high quality education all around. Many nations have schools for their expats, and there are plenty of international schools to choose from.
Closeness to facilities such as recreational areas are also important. There are many areas to choose from in both cities, depending on what your family needs are. Not all residential areas are in high-rise buildings, but this might best suit you and your family.
Living in Dubai as a family
This community tops all the lists of family living with excellent schools (including GEMS Royal Dubai School and Star International School), Al Mushrif park, and recreational facilities that feature volleyball, basketball and tennis courts. Located close to the city center, the villas, being reasonably priced, are among the favorite areas for expats. For shopping needs, Mirdif City Centre and Uptown Mirdif have got you covered. For tiny tots, Small Steps Nursery provides some of the best care in the city.
Emirates Living encompasses other communities such as the Emirates Hills, The Lakes, and The Springs, providing residences for families regardless of their budget. The gated community of Emirates Hills is at the higher end of the price-scale and provides a secure place for families. These areas are close to other big school names, including Dubai International Academy and Dubai British School. In addition, member clubs within the community offer services to all signed up. Emirates Living provides a family friendly atmosphere for those looking to settle in a villa-style neighborhood.
This area is popular with expats, and families who are better suited to apartment living will be pleased to know that Motor City has catered to many in the past. Its vibrant town center has all the amenities you could need at your fingertips and spacious apartments are aplenty.
If you want to find a traffic free haven, then the family friendly Green Community is ideal. Located within The Dubai Investments Park, the area is easily accessed by all main roads and offers much for children to do. This includes children’s pools and nurseries, Greenfield Community School, and The Children’s Garden Nursery.
One of the most well-known areas of Dubai, Palm Jumeirah is the residential area for expat families who value convenience and activities galore. With Cirque du Soleil close by, children always have something to amuse them. The area has its own schools and even its own monorail, making it perfect for convenient family living.
Living in Abu Dhabi as a family
Generally speaking, housing is newer off island, and this has seen an increase in the amount of amenities to support residents. But don’t let that put you off living on the island, as this area is rife with facilities for all.
Al Reem Island
The apartments in this area lie along the waterfront. Walkways meander through the surrounding high-rise buildings that are decked out with modern apartments, which are perfect for family living. Well known nurseries such as Mosaic Nursey and Repton are also located here. Al Reem Island is popular among families and young professionals; primarily those who prefer apartments over a traditional villa setting.
Originally consisting of Khalifa City A and Khalifa City B, the residential areas are commonly known these days as Khalifa City and Shakhbout City. These are popular choices due the number of top schools and also because the city is home to what is locally known as ‘pink shops’; where you can find supermarkets and other amenities. Schools are close by, so parents don’t need to worry that they are adding much time to their commute, and there are kids’ play areas close to many of the ‘pink shops’.
Located centrally in Abu Dhabi, Al Karamah is ideal for families who want to be in the middle of the action. Close by, Al Wahda Mall boasts shops, restaurants, and other activities to keep the family busy. For shorter commutes, Al Karamah is a great option, and there are many schools and nurseries to choose from here.
Al Mushrif is Abu Dhabi’s suburbia, making it ideal for young families. Living here, you would never know that the high-rise buildings are so close. Amenities are plentiful too; and for outdoor recreation, Umm Al Emarat Park has got you covered. Al Mushrif is quieter than other residential areas, which is ideal for raising children, and you will find top schools here, too.
Schools in Al Khalidya include Al Mashreq Private School and the American Community School of Abu Dhabi. The area boasts some of the best apartment living for families. Here, everything is close by, and residents enjoy all aspects of city living. Apartments come with superb waterfront views, and beach lovers will no doubt enjoy relaxing at Al Sahil Beach.
Where to live in the UAE when you retire
With the UAE introducing a new five-year visa for over 55-year-olds, the country is an excellent prospect for retirees. Those applying have to meet certain criteria, but it will allow pensioners greater options throughout the Emirates.
For those retiring, access to facilities is paramount; along with being able to dine out well and enjoy all their hobbies while having their home nearby. Easy access to healthcare is important, and you can read more about how healthcare works in the UAE, as well as how to arrange health insurance in our guide to The healthcare system in the United Arab Emirates.
Retiring in Abu Dhabi
Hidd Al Saadiyay
No home in Hidd Al Saadiyay is more than 300 meters away from the sea, with Saadiyat Beach on one side and a lagoon beach on the other. The villas were built along a narrow peninsula, and within the community are a pool, gym, and yacht club, as well as shopping centers, restaurants, and cafes.
Azure (Al Reem Island)
Azure on Al Reem Island is located minutes from Reem Mall and The Galleria Al Maryah Island. The complex boasts a large infinity pool with views of the Louvre, and residents will find no shortage of activities within the development. There are barbecue areas and outdoor seating, and residents can enjoy seafront views from the one or two-bedroom flats.
Retiring in Dubai
Some of Dubai’s finest property is located on the Emirates Hills. Those with extra cash can spend up to AED 100 million – should they feel inclined. The area was named after Beverly Hills, however the homes there are priced well above their Californian counterparts.
Where to live in the UAE if you are single
When you are single, being close to the action is important. Having quality places to exercise and socialize – while staying close to work – are all aspects single people care for when looking at places to live.
In Dubai, one-bedroom apartments vary in price, however generally, they will set you back AED70,000 – AED100,000 annually. The Jumeriah Beach Residence and Jumeriah Lakes Towers are close to offices, but also restaurants and gym complexes. Meanwhile, The Marina is ideal for party animals, as you will discover regular yacht parties and public transport that will get you to work quickly.
Single life in Abu Dhabi
One-bedroom apartments in Abu Dhabi will cost between AED 70,000 and AED 90,000 each year. Again, Al Reem Island is a popular spot for singles as there is so much to do locally. Khalifa City is another popular location with many shopping centers, hotels, and restaurants.
Where to live in the UAE on a budget
Finding cheap accommodation in the UAE is often easier said than done. However, throughout Abu Dhabi and Dubai you can find many areas that are easier on your bank balance, without sacrificing everything. Some areas may have longer commutes or less facilities, but are still worth looking at.
Dubai on a budget
Located away from central Dubai, Silicon Oasis offers many top schools including the Kensington Nursey and RIT Dubai. Many apartment complexes include gyms and swimming pools. However, as this area isn’t serviced by a metro station, public transport is limited. Therefore, you may need a vehicle to live here. Dubai Academic City is nearby, which is ideal for those who are studying. Silicon Oasis also has a health clinic, technology park, retail area, and running track around the lake.
Rent is much cheaper in International City. However, when deciding where to live, make sure to factor in that you may need to purchase a car, as public transport can be limited. As rents are low, the grounds are not as well maintained as the upper end complexes. Furthermore, as this is a low-income area, retail businesses are not as plentiful. That said, you should be able to find all you need.
At the Greens, you will find stylish apartments at a reasonable price (compared with other locations). This might not be the most aesthetically pleasing area in the city, but if you live there, you can enjoy nearby facilities such as gyms and swimming pools. Some accommodations are near the Metro station (in Emaar Business Park), but most have good bus links.
Living cheap in Abu Dhabi
Mohammed Bin Zayed City is becoming the most affordable area in Abu Dhabi. It is located in the periphery and is often a popular choice for those wanting to be near Abu Dhabi, while also in close proximity to Dubai.
Places to avoid in the UAE
All in all, there are no places to avoid in the UAE. Crime is low in comparison with other nations and amenities are top quality. Sewage was an issue when Dubai was rapidly growing, however the municipality now has the issue under control.