information for global expats

Where to Live for Expats in the United Arab Emirates

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: March 2014

Finding the right place to live in the UAE depends on many factors. There are practical considerations such as purchase and rental prices, the cost of living and availability of local amenities. Then there are emotional criteria, such as the desirability of a place – whether what you desire is happiness, safety, friendly locals or an active social life.

Eighty per cent of the land area of the UAE is barely habitable desert. As this includes most of inland parts, the vast majority of the population lives near the sea. The demand for labour, both skilled and unskilled, has exploded in Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the last decade or so. This has had a knock-on effect on the other emirates, which have capitalised on the success of the two largest emirates and also have employment opportunities. The accommodation they offer is considerably cheaper on average.

The capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi, is an extremely wealthy city. There is plenty of accommodation available, especially in the high price range; mid-level property can be harder to find. Prices are also increasing fairly rapidly. The city is undertaking ambitious improvement projects, such as making a cultural centre on Saadiyat Island in the city’s north-east. Abu Dhabi has everything you’d expect from a modern city, and as long as you can afford it, it has a great deal to offer.

The second largest city in Abu Dhabi emirate is Al-Ain. This city is different in that it is inland, an oasis city on the eastern border with Oman. Al-Ain has the highest proportion of Emiratis in the UAE, making it attractive to those who want a more authentic cultural experience. The expat community is smaller but developing as employment opportunities increase.

Dubai is also one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, and grants you an opportunity to find out more about people from all over the world. In the past few decades, the city has transformed itself from an obscure fishing port into a world-famous business centre. It is in many ways tailor-made for expats, and contains some extremely desirable property. Prices range from high to exorbitant, for example on Palm Jumeirah, one of Dubai’s three main artificial island complexes. As prices are rising quickly for both rented and bought accommodation in the city, it may be better to look for a place to stay in one of the nearby emirates.

Instead, you could choose neighbouring Sharjah or Ajman. Sharjah city has many museums and other cultural buildings, and commutes to Dubai are relatively quick and easy, at around 15-30 minutes. Sharjah also has its own job opportunities, particularly if your line of work is industry, as the emirate’s industrial output accounts for 40% of the country’s total. However, note that Sharjah is the most conservative emirate – alcohol is completely banned within its borders.

Umm al-Quwain is another possibility for those working in Dubai, though the commute tends to be over half an hour. It is known for its clear beaches, and offers a glimpse of more traditional Arabian customs such as camel racing and falconry. Ras al-Khaimah emirate has the most stunning scenery in the country. Ras al-Khaimah city is considerably cheaper than Dubai or Abu Dhabi, and the climate is cooler, moderated as it is by the nearby Hajar Mountains.

Fujairah is more mountainous and a little rainier than the other emirates. There are plenty of opportunities for sailing, scuba diving, hiking and birdwatching. This emirate enjoys a slower pace of life than the others, and though it is not as cosmopolitan, it is still welcoming.



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