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Where Do Expats Live In Abu Dhabi?

Want to know what are the main areas where expats live in Abu Dhabi? Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a fairly large city with almost 1.5 million residents – the vast majority of them being expats. There are several different neighbourhoods in Abu Dhabi and it can be important to choose the area that’s right for you and your needs. Let’s take a look at the popular neighbourhoods in Abu Dhabi that expats often choose to live in and why.

Do expats enjoy living in Abu Dhabi?

On the whole, expats really enjoy living in Abu Dhabi. The city sees year round sun, is extremely safe and has a nice mix of modern buildings and traditional culture. There are plenty restaurants, bars, malls and tourist attractions, and with Dubai being just over 100km away there is always something to keep you occupied whatever your age! As Abu Dhabi is built on islands, it also means there are lots of beautiful beaches to enjoy!

Abu Dhabi is a very diverse and welcoming city, with expats from all over the world coming to live here. The local Emirati people are very friendly and open to welcoming foreigners to enjoy living in their city. Many expats can live a very comfortable life in Abu Dhabi.

abu Dhabi sheikh zayed grand mosque photography


Different neighbourhoods in Abu Dhabi that expats choose to live in

Downtown Abu Dhabi

Downtown Abu Dhabi has everything: plenty of shopping malls, bars, lounges, restaurants, hotels and tourist attractions. Downtown Abu Dhabi is quite large and so it is split into several neighbourhoods:

The Corniche is the promenade that goes for 8km along the waterfront next to the main beach in Abu Dhabi – it is a really nice place to go for a stroll and there are many high-rise residential blocks along here that offer beautiful views of the turquoise sea and white sand.

The nearby lively Tourist Club Area is also a popular downtown area for expats to live in. It is quite busy and full of entertainment options so it may be more suitable for single people or couples without children.

The area of Al Khalidiyah however is a lot quieter and seems to be a very popular area for families to live in.

In downtown Abu Dhabi you can actually walk places which is nice: you don’t always need to rely on a car or taxi! This is in contrast to many of the other neighbourhoods that are too spread out and so to get anywhere you need to drive. There are also lots of buses from downtown that go all around the city. You can even get a bus from Abu Dhabi to Dubai for 25 dirhams (£5!).

Sometimes though the traffic getting into downtown Abu Dhabi can be quite bad if coming from Dubai or the airport during peak hours. On a regular day without traffic it should take around 30 minutes to get from downtown Abu Dhabi to the airport.

Al Reem Island

Al Reem Island is located just to the north east of downtown Abu Dhabi. It is a really nice part of the city and is one of the most popular neighbourhoods in Abu Dhabi for expats to live in. You’ll find everything you need here, from luxurious shopping malls to commercial high-rise office buildings and extremely modern apartments. There is also a lovely waterfront walkway for you to enjoy, and with some very good schools and nice parks here, Al Reem makes the perfect place for families. Al Reem is also popular with young professionals, especially because it is one of the only areas where foreigners can buy properties as leasehold.

Al Reem is a 10 minute drive from downtown Abu Dhabi, close to Al Maryah Island. Public buses also operate from Al Reem to downtown Abu Dhabi.

Schools: Repton School
Hospitals: Burjeel

Yas Island

Fun Yas Island is home to theme parks (Ferrari World, Yas Waterworld, Warner Brothers World), hotels and Yas Marina that hosts several bars and restaurants. You’ll also find the impressive Yas Mall, Yas Beach and the Formula 1 race track here.

Yas Island is a 15 minute ride from the airport and about a 30 minute drive into downtown Abu Dhabi. There are some buses that go from Yas Mall into downtown and other areas around Abu Dhabi.

There are lots of villas and apartments here on Yas Island but they are quite expensive due to all the luxurious amenities nearby. There are also several good schools and hospitals nearby so it is a popular place for families to live.

Best for: shopping, entertainment, nightlife.

Schools: Yas School, Sabis School Yas Island
Hospitals: Burjeel Medical Centre Yas Mall, Avivo National Hospital

Saadiyat Island

Saadiyat Island mostly consists of 5 Star Hotel Resorts and large villa complexes, meaning this is probably Abu Dhabi’s most luxurious and exclusive neighbourhoods. The villas are stunning and offer beautiful sea views but come with a big price tag. On Saadiyat Island you’ll also find Saadiyat Beach Golf Club and Saadiyat Beach Club (formerly Monte Carlo Beach Club) – a popular beach club with a lovely pool and stunning beach with white sand and calm, clear water. There are also lots of nice bars and restaurants located on Saadiyat.

Saadiyat Island is also home to culture: here you’ll find the Louvre Abu Dhabi and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Museum. The New York University Abu Dhabi Campus is also located here.

You can get to Saadiyat Island from downtown Abu Dhabi in about 15 minutes – it is located just past Zayed Port. Abu Dhabi Airport can be reached in about 30 minutes – if you go on the Sheikh Khalifa Highway you can bypass going through downtown. There is also a local bus that goes from The Louvre to downtown.

Best for: entertainment, restaurants, beach.

Khalifa City

In former years Khalifa City was a neighbourhood where you would find mostly Emirati residents, however as rent prices here are significantly cheaper than other areas in Abu Dhabi (despite the houses being very big) it is quickly becoming a popular place for expats to live too.

Khalifa City is located between Abu Dhabi Airport and Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, next to Masdar City and Al Bandar. Both Yas Island and downtown Abu Dhabi are about a 20 minute drive away. So whilst Khalifa City is a bit away from the action, it is perfect for people who want to live in a quiet neighbourhood but still be able to reach amenities easily within a short drive.

Khalifa City is fairly residential, with several parks and a few shops, restaurants and hospitals. There are lots of nurseries and schools here which makes the area popular with families.

If you want to live near to Khalifa City but crave a sea view or a bit more liveliness, nearby Al Raha could be the perfect option for you.

Schools: Al Ittihad National Private School, Canadian International School Abu Dhabi, GEMS American Academy Abu Dhabi, Redwood Montessori Nursery, Disney Nursery,
Hospitals: Mediclinic Khalifa City, Amana Healthcare Medical.

Al Reef

Al Reef is a popular neighbourhood for Etihad Flight Crew and married cabin crew to live in due to it’s close proximity to Abu Dhabi Airport. It is located very close to Yas Island, and just behind the airport and on the way to Dubai, making it easy for people who also need to regularly go to Dubai.

You will need a car to get around as the area is mostly residential, however prices here are fairly cheap.

Mohammed Bin Zayed (MBZ) City

Mohammed Bin Zayed City is a neighbourhood that is located on the edge of Abu Dhabi. It is quite far from the city and other lively islands such as Yas and Saadiyat. It is located near to the industrial area of Musaffah (where many male low-skilled workers live together in shared accommodation) and a few kilometres from Khalifa City.

There are a couple of malls in MBZ City such as Dalma Mall and Mazyad Mall however compared to other areas in Abu Dhabi, I would say there are more convenient and glamorous places to live as here you aren’t really near to any beaches or any evening entertainment options. It is however a lot cheaper to stay in this area compared to other parts of Abu Dhabi.

Mohammed Bin Zayed City is about a 30 minute drive from downtown Abu Dhabi and a 15 minute drive from the airport.

Masdar City

Masdar City is the world’s most sustainable urban community.

Nowadays Masdar City is where the majority of Etihad cabin crew live. A few years ago they were all dotted around in different accommodation buildings provided by the airline around Abu Dhabi, but now most of them reside in company provided accommodation at Masdar City. In Masdar City you’ll also find accommodation for students at Khalifa University as part of the campus is here, as well as a small mall with a handful of shops, cafes and restaurants.

Currently accommodation in Masdar City is only for Etihad crew and Khalifa University students.

Masdar City is less than a 10 minute drive from Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) and Etihad Plaza, and less than 15 minutes from Yas Island.

Do expats always get to choose the area in Abu Dhabi that they can live in?

To bear in mind:

  • Some jobs will give you an annual housing allowance. This means you find your own accommodation and your company will then pay for your accommodation, providing it is within the housing allowance budget you are allocated. Usually the higher the job role, the higher the housing allowance. Some people in certain roles are allocated a very generous housing allowance.
  • In other jobs you are provided with company accommodation. You won’t have a choice about which neighbourhood you get to live in, and depending on the company and the job depends the quality of the accommodation.
  • The remainder of jobs do not contribute towards living costs.
  • Abu Dhabi operates under Sharia Law, meaning technically it is illegal to live with someone of the opposite sex if you are not married or related. Many unmarried couples do unofficially live together though.

Cost of living in Abu Dhabi

Rents are often paid yearly in Abu Dhabi. Below are starting rental prices – I have placed them in order of most affordable to most expensive areas so it is easy for you to compare.

Mohammed Bin Zayed City:

Starting price for a 2 bedroom apartment: 40,000 dirhams yearly rent.
Starting price for a villa: 50,000 dirhams yearly rent.

Khalifa City:

Starting price for a 2 bedroom apartment: 53,000 dirhams yearly rent.
Starting price for a villa: 60,000 dirhams yearly rent.

Al Reef:

Starting price for a 2 bedroom apartment: 68,000 dirhams yearly rent.
Starting price for a villa: 78,000 dirhams yearly rent.

Al Reem Island:

Starting price for a 2 bedroom apartment: 67,000 dirhams yearly rent.
Starting price for a villa: 90,000 dirhams yearly rent.

Downtown: (Al Khalidiya, Tourist Club Area)

Starting price for a 2 bedroom apartment: 70,000 dirhams yearly rent. (105,000 dirhams in Corniche area).
Starting price for a villa: 170,000 dirhams yearly rent. (200,000 dirhams in Corniche area).

Yas Island:

Starting price for a 2 bedroom apartment: 108,000 dirhams yearly rent.
Starting price for a villa: 210,000 dirhams yearly rent.

Saadiyat Island:

Starting price for a 2 bedroom apartment: 140,000 dirhams yearly rent.
Starting price for a villa: 290,000 dirhams yearly rent.

Living in Abu Dhabi vs Dubai

Often Abu Dhabi gets overlooked by it’s larger neighbour Dubai, but in fact rent in Abu Dhabi is more expensive than rent in Dubai!

If you have a partner and one of you works in Dubai and one of you works in Abu Dhabi, you will need to compromise about finding somewhere to live. With a lot of families where this is the case, they choose to live in Al Ghadeer. This is a residential area part way between Abu Dhabi and Dubai and your housing allowance can be covered here.

So which area of Abu Dhabi should you live in?

It does depend a lot on: 

  • where abouts in Abu Dhabi your job is – you don’t want to spend too much time commuting.
  • If you will be living with your partner and where they will be working.
  • What is your housing allowance/budget?
  • If you have children (will determine schools/nurseries).
  • If you want to have a sea view (more expensive).

Either way, there are so many nice parts of Abu Dhabi to discover, and despite the city being large it never takes too long to get from one part to another!

For all the information you need to visit Abu Dhabi as a tourist, click on the link for The Complete Guide to Abu Dhabi – an article I wrote for the popular travel website We Are Travel Girls.

For all the best photo spots in Dubai – click here.

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