Living in Abu Dhabi

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Welcome to the Abu Dhabi!

Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, is one of the Gulf’s top destinations for expatriate workers, and once you’re settled in you’ll find that it is a city with much to offer.

Abu Dhabi offers a lavish lifestyle that is simply way beyond what many people could expect to enjoy back in their home countries thereby attracting expatriates to this haven of a place. With a high standard of living, tax free salaries and overall inexpensive living costs, life in Dubai allows your money to go a lot further than it would back home. Abu Dhabi ensures a safe living environment, with very low levels of crime, combined with year round sunshine, and its no wonder numerous people are seeking a move to the Emirates. With a large array of nightlife and dinning options from which to choose, and all located in some of the most luxurious hotels in the world, you will certainly be the envy of your friend and family back home.

The UAE's National Flag

Arabic is the official language although English is widely spoken. Most English-speaking expats find that they can get by with virtually no Arabic, especially those working in the major expat cities (e.g. Dubai). However, as in most countries, learning the local language can prove to be a valuable asset and will certainly be appreciated by UAE nationals.

Dubai is often recognised as being the most Westernized of UAE cities in terms of both appearance and attitude but some expats suggest that Abu Dhabi is even more so (accommodation is also slightly cheaper in Abu Dhabi). With the world financial crisis, certain employment fields such as property, construction and financial services sectors have all seen a reduction in manpower, but nevertheless, Abu Dhabi is, compared with most other countries, still booming alleged

Being a first timer to our Capital, there list of things you’ll have to deal with in the first few weeks can be a little daunting, and you may well be in for a lot of form filling, queuing, and coming and going. Try not to let it spoil things though, because you’ll hopefully soon be a fully fledged resident enjoying your new life, and all that boring bureaucracy will be a distant memory.

Some of the key issues you should be covering are listed below.

Residence Visa: If you wish to work and live in Abu Dhabi, an application to the Immigration Department for a residence visa has to be made, endorsed by your sponsor. A residence visa is issued for three years. An application for a residence visa must be accompanied by a health card issued by the Ministry of Health. Applicants testing positive for AIDS are not granted a visa. The residence visa or work permit can be applied for here. Officially, the residence visa is issued in 25 working days, but delays running into a couple of months are common.

Identity Card: A UAE ID card is in the process of being introduced for all residents, which will combine your labour, health and eGate cards in one. All expatriates in Emirates are required to register themselves with the Emirates Identity Authority and apply for an identity card. Foreigners should submit notarized documents with the application. Details of the process and the application form can be downloaded here. The ID card stores all your personal data and can be used in all dealings with the government.

Getting Around/ Travel: The primary means of local transport in Abu Dhabi is taxi hire. There are numerous car rental agencies and private companies operating in Abu Dhabi. Unbelievably cheap and available in profusion, taxis in this city are mainly white and yellow in color. The newly-introduced Al Ghazal Express taxi service is another feather in the cap of Abu Dhabi's local transportation

Bus services are called OJRA. OJRA truly lives up to its name - and symbolises the comfortable, affordable, way to use public transport across the city. The Monthly and Day ‘Ojra’ passes can be purchased at bus stands, and Ojra-branded kiosks at Marina Mall, Khalidiya Police Station, Central Bank, Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank and other selected outlets.(For more information on Bus Services, Routes and Fares). The types of OJRA Bus Pass; One Trip Ticket, Day Pass, Monthly Pass, Senior Citizen and Special Need.

While an International Driving Permit is recommended, although it is not legally required. A local driving licence can be issued on presentation of a valid national driving licence, two photos and a passport.

Setting up a Home in Abu Dhabi

In 2005 Abu Dhabi introduced a new law allowing expats to buy property within designated investment areas of the city. If you want to avoid the financial uncertainty in the rental market, and your long-term future lies in Abu Dhabi, purchasing a home could be an attractive option. In the UAE, it can be a worthwhile investment, as any capital gains or rental income made on the property is all tax free in Abu Dhabi, but not necessarily so in your home country.

The real-estate market is expected to grow, and recent estimates suggest that 250,000 new homes will be needed in the next 10 years to cope with an expected 100% rise in Abu Dhabi’s population. The phenomenal economic growth in the capital and the expected boom in tourism are influencing potential buyers to take the plunge and invest. If you’re thinking of buying you need to seriously consider the extra costs involved, such as estate agent fees, which are usually 1% of the property value, and legal fees. You will also be charged for registering the property and for service and maintenance, which can add up to a substantial amount.

Buying an Abu Dhabi property does not guarantee you a residence visa; however, various visit or tourist visas can be granted subject to application or on arrival. There are currently two designated investment areas in Abu Dhabi available for sale to all nationalities – Reem Island and Al Raha Beach, which are still under construction. But even with the economic crisis prices are still very high: in February 2009 a very modest four bedroom villa with a small private swimming pool in Golf Gardens cost Dhs 5.5 million.

Rental is still the name of the game in the Abu Dhabi housing market, although the number of options to purchase a property is definitely on the increase. Prior to 2005, unless you were a UAE or GCC national, you could not own property or land in Abu Dhabi. When that law changed, the major real estate companies were quick off the mark to develop properties available for sale to non-nationals.

New residents arriving in Abu Dhabi on a full expatriate package may very well have accommodation included, but don’t be fooled by the charm of the ‘expat lifestyle’ – life here can be more expensive than you think. Rents shot through the roof in recent years, so much so that the government stepped in and put a cap on the amount a landlord could increase the rent by per year. Although they are beginning to fall again as a result of the global economic crisis, they are still proportionally high compared with many other cities.

If you are given the choice of arranging your own accommodation, the options are either to live in an apartment or a villa. There are several compounds of villas with facilities, but they tend to be very popular and the new ones are snapped up very quickly. They usually have higher rents than individual villas to cover the cost of security, the leisure facilities, which often includes swimming pools, gyms, and tennis courts. Many of the recently opened luxury apartment complexes also have health clubs and some even come fully furnished; handy if you’re ready to move straight in.

Renting In Abu Dhabi Employers are legally obliged to provide accommodation or an accommodation allowance, although no guidelines are given as to how much this should be. Some large organisations, like ADNOC, have their own compounds or residential complexes. Other companies have arrangements with particular apartment buildings or compounds and reserve a percentage of the properties for their employees.

Your contract may offer you the option of choosing company facilities, or taking a cash amount. Accepting company facilities will save you a great deal of time, effort, and stress in finding a place to live, and it will probably be well-maintained. Some expats use the company facilities for the first year, until they are settled, and then find something they are happier with.

In general, the rent for most property is paid annually, in advance. Some landlords may accept payment in more than one cheque, meaning that you provide them with an agreed number of post-dated cheques that will be cashed on their due date. There are a number of employers that will arrange to pay your rent payments directly from your salary, which can save a lot of hassle.

With the Rent Cap, rent can only be increased on an annual basis when you renew your contract. Prices have sky-rocketed during the past few years with some properties increasing by as much as 30-50%. In 2006, Abu Dhabi’s government introduced a rent cap to try to control the market. Rental increases are, in theory, limited to 5% or so a year so your annual rent should not rise beyond that. However some landlords get around this by evicting existing tenants, saying that urgent repairs need to be done, and then immediately bringing in new tenants at a higher rent, thereby avoiding the cap for another year.

With the economic downturn, rent-rises have slowed, but by early 2009 the swelling population and slowdown in construction meant rents were still increasing. Finding A HomeUsing an estate agent is the obvious choice to help narrow your search for a home, as they have a good idea of what is available on the market. Agents’ services come at a cost though: the usual commission rate is 5% of the first year’s annual rent. Sometimes dealing directly with the landlord can save you money, but many of them prefer to deal through agents, so you end up paying the commission anyway. Be aware of unscrupulous estate agents who pose as private renters and don’t ever pay a viewing fee – it’s illegal for agents or individuals to charge you to view a property.

To Let signs aid people looking for homes

When you’re looking for a home it is worth checking the classified ads in the local papers, the noticeboards at supermarkets such as Spinneys, websites such as, and, and driving round the areas you are interested in to find the ‘To Let’ signs. Properties nearing completion often do not have signs up, so talk to the watchman as they will be able to provide you with the landlord’s details. Older properties can only be viewed once they are empty, and may not have been cleaned or maintained. Don’t let this put you off as by the time you move in all the maintenance should have been completed.

Rental properties go very quickly therefore you need to move fast. Homes can be taken within minutes of you viewing them so if you’ve found your dream home try and make a decision on the spot. The LeaseIn order for you to get a lease the estate agent will need a copy of your passport and visa, and an initial signed rent cheque. To rent through your company, you will need a copy of the trade licence, a passport copy of whoever is signing the rent cheque and, of course, the cheque itself.

In addition to the financial terms, your lease will also state what you are liable for in terms of maintenance and what your landlord’s responsibilities are. Therefore it is important that you read the contract and discuss any points of contention before you sign on the dotted line.
You should check for the following:

Rent payment – do you have to pay a whole year up front or in regular installments.
Aree who is responsible for the maintenance. Some rents may be fully inclusive of all maintenance and repairs, or you may be able to negotiate a cheaper rent if you carry them out yourself.

Whether water and electricity are included. If not, will they will be billed separately? Some apartments will have a standard fee for electricity.

Landlords do not have to provide parking, so check first to see if there is an additional charge for underground or covered parking.

Whether there is a security deposit required (usually between Dhs.3,000 and Dhs.5,000).
Any restrictions on pets - although cats are usually more acceptable than dogs. There are seldom such restrictions on villas.
Disputes: If you have a disagreement with your landlord over rent you can lodge a complaint at Abu Dhabi Commercial Properties if your property is managed by them (and a great many are). The Department of Social Services and Commercial Buildings office, commonly known as the Khalifa Committee, no longer exists, and ADCP ( is its successor.

The Abu Dhabi Rental Disputes Committee was created to oversee rent disagreements between landlords and tenants. If the case goes to court the Arabic copy of your lease will be referred to, so make sure you get it translated before you sign your lease agreement, in case there are any hidden extras. Full details about settling rental disputes are available on the Abu Dhabi Government's website (under 'Land Transactions') or call the committee on 02 407 0145.

Real Estate Agents

If you need to find your own accommodation, it is generally best to go through an estate agent as they will handle all the paperwork for you. Most of the ads for the larger, reputable companies can be found in the property sections of the newspapers, and will say ‘No Viewing Fee’. However, there are individuals who act as agents who will try to charge you a Dhs.50–Dhs.100 fee for every property they show you, even if it is totally unsuitable. They are not actually allowed to charge a viewing fee so do not pay it.

Real estate agents help people find homes according to their needs

Your employer may have a recommended agent who will help you find a suitable place. Some employers will also pay the agent’s fee, which is a small percentage of the annual rent (5% is the standard), but you need to confirm this beforehand. It’s worth noting that single women may sometimes have difficulty renting apartments, and if this happens to you, you can get around it by putting your employer’s name on the lease.

Al Jar Properties : 8002 5527
Asteco Property Management : 02 626 2660
Aztec Properties :02 645 1672
Better Homes : 02 60052 2212
Cassells Real Estate : 02 681 7666
Cluttons : 04 334 8585
Future View Real Estate : 02 627 2992
Hayatt Real Estate : 02 4480 518
Homestyle Property : 02 672 3220
LLJ Property : 02 495 0500
Sherwoods : 04 343 8002
Silver Lake Property Management :02 676 2465
Main Accommodation Options

Apartments : AbuDhabi apartments come in various sizes, from studio to four bedroom, with widely varying rents to match. Presently the mid-range is Dhs.140,000-Dhs.180,000 per annum. Newer apartments usually have central air conditioning and the older ones have the noisier window A/C where the unit is in the apartment wall or window. Central A/C accommodation is usually more expensive, although in some buildings the air conditioning charge is included in the rent. Top-of-the-range, central A/C apartments often come semi-furnished (cooker, fridge and washing machine), and boast 24 hour security, satellite TV, covered parking, gym and pool. Normally the more facilities that come with the apartment, the more expensive the rent. Depending on the area, parking could be a problem so check to see if you get a space with the apartment.
Villas: Most people’s dream of expat life is to have a beautiful villa where you can spend lazy days by the pool and balmy evenings around the barbie. This lifestyle doesn’t come cheap, and smart villas are snapped up pretty quickly. Average prices for a fairly new three bedroom villa on a compound in 2009 are Dhs.300,000–Dhs.450,000 per annum. The good news is that if you look hard enough and use the grapevine, you might find the perfect villa that won’t break the budget. Depending on the area, size, and age of the villa it may be cheaper than some apartments. Villas differ greatly in quality and facilities. Independent villas are usually older but often have bigger gardens, while compound villas are usually newer and often have excellent shared facilities like security, a pool, and even a gym.
Hotel Apartments: An alternative option is to rent a hotel apartment – ideal if you require temporary, furnished accommodation, although they are expensive. Apartments can be rented on a daily, weekly, monthly or yearly basis. They come fully furnished and serviced (maid service), and usually have satellite TV and excellent leisure facilities. Water and electricity are included in the rent. Rates vary hugely according to the area and facilities provided. They can also fluctuate depending on the time of year, but usually if you take a yearly lease your rate will be fixed for that year.

Apartment/Villa Sharing: For those on a budget, the solution may be to share an apartment or villa with colleagues or friends. Check the noticeboards in supermarkets such as Abela and Spinneys, or at sports clubs, for people advertising shared accommodation. The classifieds sections in the local newspapers also advertises accommodation. But beware, subletting is illegal without the landlord's specific written approval and you could come home one day to find all your possessions in the street.
Other Rental Costs. Extra costs to be considered are:
Water and electricity deposit of Dhs.1,000 paid directly to Abu Dhabi Distribution Company (ADDC) - but if you personally own the residence there is no deposit. • Fully-refundable security deposit (Dhs.5,000+).

Some landlords also require a deposit against damage (usually a fully-refundable, one-off payment). Real estate commission – 5% of annual rent (one-off payment).

Municipality tax (sometimes) – 5% of annual rent - usually shown separately on the electricity bill.

If you are renting a villa, don’t forget that you may have to maintain a garden and pay for extra water. To avoid massive water bills at the end of every month, some people choose to get a well dug in their backyard for all that necessary plant and grass watering. Expect to pay around Dhs.1,500 to Dhs.3,000 to have a well dug and a pump installed.


If you want a mortgage in Abu Dhabi you’ll find yourself paying up to 9% per annum on an 85% mortgage, currently the norm as a result of the credit crunch. You’ll find the banks more welcoming if you have a stable job (preferably not in banking or property) and want to buy a house or apartment to live in rather than speculate with. The type of customer they don’t want now is the highly-leveraged speculator who bought four properties off-plan and is now woefully over-stretched. If you’re self-employed you have an uphill battle: you’ll need a minimum two years of locally-audited accounts to show you’ve a good track-record in Abu Dhabi.

Mortgage Providers
ADCB : 800 2030
Amlak Finance : 02 446 3770
Barclays :02 495 8555
HSBC : 800 4722
Lloyds TSB Bank : 04 342 2000
Standard Chartered : 04 313 8888
Tamweel : 02 681 8252

Other Purchasing Costs

In addition to the usual costs of buying a property there are other costs involved, such as monthly maintenance charges, property transfer fees, estate agent fees, insurance, pool maintenance and security bills. In a compound or apartment building you may also have to use specified service companies for maintenance tasks and satellite TV.

Real Estate Law

If you are buying property in Abu Dhabi you should certainly seek the advice of a real estate lawyer before committing yourself. The laws surrounding the registration and transfer of property in Abu Dhabi are a complex minefield and change frequently. Whether you are buying freehold and leasehold, a house or an apartment, you should know exactly what to expect. And you should certainly have a will made in both the UAE. Currently non-UAE nationals can purchase property in two Investment Zones, Al Raha Beach and Saadiyat Island.
The Other Basics

Setting Up a P.O. Box

There is no mail delivery to street addresses in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi; all mail goes to P.O. Boxes at the various post office locations. Most residents have mail delivered to their company's post office box, which is collected daily by most companies, and delivered to their employees. Your address is normally accepted as the company's P.O. Box in the UAE.

Private post boxes are situated at all post offices, shelters, a number of commercial buildings and some postal agencies. Any individual or company renting/buying an apartment or office in a commercial building can rent a private post box either from the owner of the building or from Emirates Post directly (In accordance with the conditions laid down in the contract between the building's owner and Emirates Post).

Most people who move abroad for the first time completely fail to plan and prepare adequately for one of the most challenging, stressful experiences imaginable. Even those individuals or families who do try to anticipate the hurdles they will need to overcome often encounter unexpected problems which could easily have been avoided if only they had known more about what to expect. The subscription fee for a new P.O. Box (Individual /company) AED 50.
As post box facilities are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, subscribers can check mail at their convenience.

Looking for Work
The allure of a tax-free salary still draws in expats. Although the increased cost of living means less disposable income, good packages can still be found. Basic benefits, regardless of employment package, usually include around 30 calendar days of leave a year, and most organisations include annual flights back to your home country. Working hours vary quite dramatically within the emirate, and are based on either straight shift or split shift timings. Split shifts are still common in Abu Dhabi; they allow for an afternoon siesta and timings are generally 08:00 to 13:00 and 16:00 to 19:00. The working week generally starts on Sundays and ends on Thursdays with a two-day weekend.

Newspaper supplements are excellent resouces for people looking for jobs or properties.

If you do not have a job upon arrival, an employment supplement is published in Gulf News on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, and in Khaleej Times on Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays.

Walking into a job is not as easy as it used to be, with many expats now relocating to the Gulf. However, there are opportunities available, and you will find skill sets are not as rigid as some other countries, making a career move more of a viable option.

The UAE government is strongly encouraging the private sector to give preference to Nationals when employing staff for white-collar management positions – a process referred to as Emiratisation.

Word of mouth can be invaluable in Abu Dhabi when it comes to finding a job, so try to use expat websites and make as many friends as possible! There are a number of recruitment agencies working in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. Many agencies only accept CVs via email and then contact you for an interview. For the interview, you will need your CV and usually two passport photographs. Invariably, you will also have to fill out an agency form summarising your CV.

There is no shortage of internationally recognised banks in Abu Dhabi, all offering the full range of standard services. It is always easy to access your money, with ATMs available at most banks, major shopping malls, supermarkets and a number of petrol stations.

Most cards are compatible with other UAE banks so can be used in the majority of machines across the country (a few also offer global access links). To open an account at most banks in Abu Dhabi, you need to have a residence visa or have your residency application underway. The majority of employers will recommend a bank to you and may even help you to open an account.

You will need to present the banking advisor with your original passport, copies of your passport (personal details and visa) and an NOC (No Objection Certificate) from your sponsor. Some banks set a minimum account limit, so it’s wise to shop around.
Financial Planning
Many expats are attracted to the UAE for the tax-free salaries and the opportunity to put a little something away for the future. There are many options for saving that you may want to seek professional advice about before squirrelling (or squandering!) away your hard-earned cash. There are several banks in the UAE that offer offshore banking, together with independent financial advisors.


The quality of medical care in Abu Dhabi is high, and residents should have little trouble getting appropriate treatment. The government has also introduced mandatory private medical insurance for foreign residents and their families, so, by law, all employers have to provide health insurance for staff. In essence, the only ’free’ medical care in Abu Dhabi is emergency treatment; everything else needs to be paid for or covered by insurance.

You can still get treatment in both government and private hospitals, but the fees will be similar regardless of which type of hospital you choose. Generally, dental care and screening tests aren’t usually provided as standard.

In Abu Dhabi, you do not register with a clinic or surgery on arrival in the city. If you are unwell, you can ring the hospital or clinic of your choice for an appointment, or you can just turn up and be seen by a duty doctor. You will need to show your insurance card and health card and you will be given a copy of the bill for your treatment.

Personal recommendations are the best way to find out which hospitals are best, but if you’re new to the city and do not know who to ask, try the Dr McCulloch Clinic. It offers sound advice in English, Urdu, French and Arabic (02 633 3900). The Health Authority of Abu Dhabi manages all government hospitals; for more information on the services provided, see
Most pharmacies are open Saturday to Thursday, and some open with shorter hours on Fridays. There are a number of pharmacies which are open 24 hours a day – the locations and telephone numbers are printed in the daily newspapers. Many of the less harmful drugs that require prescriptions in the UK or the US can be bought without prescriptions in Abu Dhabi. However, some drugs, especially those containing addictive substances, may be hard to find.

Register with your embassy – this is often overlooked but it could be a life-saver.

Socialise – Once the hard part is over you can relax and meet people; consider joining a social group.

Till then, United Arab Emirates welcomes all, with open arms to the 'Land of Oppurtunity'.

Photo Credits: Megna Kalvani


Masud said...

It is an excellent brief which covers almost all critical issues faced by an expatriate. Thanks Megna.
One question I like to raise is:-
Does the employer contract cover the medical of Ex-pat's parents if they happen to live or visit him /her for 3-6 months(on valid Visa) in Abu Dhahbi?

Megna Kalvani said...

Thank you Masud.

To answer your question, I think it depends on your employer's contract and what kind of medical insurance you would get.
Although, I think you should consult an expert in an health/medical insurance agency to give you the right advice or you may ask your colleague working with you or better still clarify with the department who is in charge of medical contracts of the company.

Here's a link that entails on FAQ's on medical insurances in the UAE:

I hope it helps.=D

Good luck.

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