New Abu Dhabi resident checklist

Where to live, how to get around, what to do if you fall ill and more

New Abu Dhabi resident checklist
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Don't camp out

Sitting cross legged on an unmade bed eating beans with a plastic spoon does not qualify as settling in – shameful, we know. Workaholics and those who don’t want to ship boxes of belongings across the ocean are especially guilty of this space neglect. Don’t treat your apartment as temporary – it will make you unhappy and rootless. It doesn’t have to be expensive, a trip to Ikea on Yas Island or H&M Home in Yas Mall can kit you out with a few simple bits to make you feel at home. If you’re after stunning but affordable art to forever treasure as parts of your Abu Dhabi life, seek out pieces by Emily Gordon ( and Natasha Kowalski ( Gallery One at Souk Qaryat Al Beri has hundreds of reasonably priced prints and the Souk at the World Trade Centre has piles of beautiful textiles, chairs and rugs in wonderful colours at rock bottom prices.

Be brave and go it alone
Buy yourself a ticket, get dressed up and go by yourself. Most people are courageous enough to move to an alien place, but usually find it worrisome to attend events or even go for a coffee alone. There are plenty of free events in a city where it’s easy to substitute spending for living. Just check out NYU Abu Dhabi for interesting talks and exhibitions and Yas Marina for free movie nights every second Tuesday of the month at 7.30pm (plus regular free watersports tasters). Sporty types can browse the catalogue of sociable fitness classes – some of the best are Sarries Cycle ( which holds rave spinning and ends cycle rides with barbecues, and Vogue Fitness ( which holds free CrossFit tasters. For music mavens, Heroes pub at the Crowne Plaza is always teeming with expats mingling as singletons and enjoying the International Playboys cover band every day.

Build your network
Sometimes we like settling in at a cosy coffee shop with our laptop and a huge coffee – but blogging should not a solitary pursuit. Park Station Café in Mushrif Park, Café D’Alsace in Yas Marina and Living Room Café in Al Khalidiyah are always crammed with writers blogging about their new found experiences and it’s a great way to build a unique community and crowd source problems. We love and written by mother of three, Jo Brett. Put yourself out there and set yourself a goal to get out and meet up with one new person a week, Twitter and BlogLovin are excellent ways of doing this and you’ll have a new crowd of mates in no time. Don’t forget to join your area’s Facebook community group where it’s completely acceptable to post if anyone fancies a meet up for a run or a quick bite to eat over the footy.

Status update:
The cost of living
Doom mongering threatens to pop our sunshine bubble. But tearing off the band aid only confirms what we already knew – the cost of living is up. The price of housing, water, electricity and gas increased during the first quarter of 2015 by 2.48 percent compared with the last quarter of 2014, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

Renting price guide
This month, the average rental price of property in Abu Dhabi is Dhs14,473. Average cost for studio: Dhs8,699; two bedroom, Dhs12,053; three bedroom, Dhs15,877 (according to

However, it’s not all bad news. Rent looks unlikely to keep rising for the time being. There may be relative stability in rental value, as oil prices and stock market shares decrease which may affect the demand for rentals. And although rental prices have increased, they did so at the slowest pace in more than two years during the second quarter, according to CBRE’s Abu Dhabi Market view.

Top tips:
Most rents in Abu Dhabi are paid annually and require one or two post-dated cheques. You will need to secure a bank loan. It’s also worth checking if your company will pay an advance for your rent, where you can pay the sum back from your salary on a monthly basis.

Contacts book: advertises cheaper sublets (not permissible unless the landlord authorises it in writing) but this site can be hit and miss. Need to team up? You can also search for roommates at

Buying price guide
This month, the average for sale price of property in Abu Dhabi is Dhs1,767,640. The average cost for a studio is Dhs1,087,610; two bedroom, Dhs1,788,710; three bedroom, Dhs2,485,010 (according to

After the unsustainable growth surge of the past two years, Abu Dhabi’s housing market is slowing sharply, according to the Global Property Guide. Apartment sale prices fell by 3.4 percent in April 2015 from a year earlier. Villa sales prices rose by a meagre 0.1 percent in April but actually fell four percent when adjusted for inflation. The demand for off-plan properties in investment areas such as Saadiyat Island, Reem Island and Al Raha Beach continue to be popular.

Top tips: Foreigners are now allowed to own property in Abu Dhabi on a freehold basis, in designated investment zones. Before, foreign investors were restricted to lease property for a minimum of 99 years. The Emirate wants to make it easier for long-term foreign property investors. However, that remains to be seen.

Contacts book: is useful for a selection of agency listed properties and to get a clear idea of the different areas.

Status update:
Getting around

The roads may be perilous but driving is a must unless you want to take taxis everywhere. First things first, you must have a UAE licence to rent or buy a vehicle, here’s our simple step-by-step guide.

• You must have a residency visa registered to Abu Dhabi and be over 18-years-old.

• There are different steps, depending on your prior licence and country of origin, ranging from a driving test to an eye test.

• No licence? Head to Emirates Driving Company (EDC) and open a driving file to participate in a theoretical course of eight, two-hour lessons culminating in a written exam to receive a learner’s permit. The light vehicle education course is Dhs830, and the theory test Dhs50.

• You will need approximately 20-30 hours of practical lessons within a contained driving rink and it is up to your instructor to give you ‘a certificate of readiness’ to present to EDC to book your test. Once you have passed, take your licence to the Abu Dhabi Traffic and Licensing Department in Mushrif. Emirates Driving Company, Mussafah, (02 551 1911).

• If you have an international licence, you must visit the Abu Dhabi Traffic and Licensing Department and transfer it. You will need to take a passport photo, your original passport and one copy of it, Emirates ID, original and one copy of your driving licence, a copy of a valid Abu Dhabi residency visa, a letter of no objection from your employer or visa sponsor, and an Arabic translation of your existing licence (visit any translation services in the city).

• You will also need to take an eye test and pay Dhs200 in processing fees to receive your shiny new licence. For more info, visit Abu Dhabi Traffic and Licensing Department, 2nd and Al Dhafra Street, Al Mushrif, opposite Mushrif Mall (600 577 7777).

Or...hitch a ride

It’s very easy to hail a taxi in the city, but for more remote or residential areas such as Khalifa City A or Saadiyat Island, be sure to book one in advance. There is no minimum charge in Abu Dhabi, unless there is an event or you're coming from the airport. The TransAD hotline is (600 535 353).


The ADCB bike-share is our version of London’s ‘Boris Bikes’ and symbolic of the huge number of the capital’s cycling enthusiasts. You can rent a bike any time of the day from one of the 11 stations between Yas Island and Al Raha Beach. It’s a great (and healthy) way of getting around and hopping back and forward between islands. One days is Dhs15, three days Dhs40 and one month Dhs99.

Local buses
The Orja bus system runs around the clock on nine different routes. Buses five, seven, eight and nine run the width of the city and 32, 34, 44, 52 and 54 operate across the length. Single journey Dhs2, weekly pass Dhs30.

Intercity buses
Head to Dubai, Sharjah, Al Ain, Liwa or Ruwais by heading to Abu Dhabi’s main bus station at Al Wadha Mall on Hazza Bin Zayed Street. It’ll save you big bucks if you’re thinking of getting a taxi from on-island Abu Dhabi. The bus to Dubai runs every 25 minutes and costs Dhs25 each way. and

Abra Water
Take a 25-minute water taxi along Khor Al Maqta and finish up in the Eastern Mangroves Marina in your Captain Tony’s wooden Abra boat. A great way to get some sightseeing done, too. Dhs50 one way adult ticket, return Dhs80. Free between hotels in Souk Qaryat Al Beri. Fri-Sat, runs one trip every hour from 6pm-midnight.

Status update
Saving money

Once you have a residency visa, voila! You can open a bank account and save your hard earned cash. Many banks allow you to apply online or over the phone, although you will need to appear in person to provide your original passport, plus copies of your passport photo and visa pages. You will also need a letter of no objection from your sponsor, and you may need a salary certificate. There are several main points you need to know:

• It is illegal to write a cheque without the funds being available to you. Even if it is a simple mistake or oversight, a bounced cheque is fraud in the eyes of the law and results in jail. During the economic downturn as many as 25 percent of cheques bounced.

• As bank accounts are frozen in the event you lose your job or leave the country, it makes financial sense to make sure you have funds outside the UAE.

• You don’t have to be a Muslim to have a bank account. However, Islamic banking is consistent with the principles of Sharia Law. This means that all forms of interest are forbidden, so instead of your bank charging you to borrow its money, it instead shares risk with you. Therefore, Islamic banks buy the item that you want, and then lease it back to you over a fixed amount of time. Any profits are divided between you and the bank.

Status Update
If you fall ill

Employers are legally required to provide medical insurance and while this varies from basic to comprehensive, it rarely covers dental care. To receive hospital treatment you require a health card and this is obtained with a straightforward blood test, chest scan and a laborious wait in the doctor’s office. Women should remember to dress respectfully because they will be turned away if they have bare legs or shoulders. Unlike convoluted Western processes to get your prescription, most UAE pharmacies sell medication without a prescription, antibiotics included. Most good malls and residential areas, such as Al Bandar and Khalifa City A have pharmacies or medical centres readily available. Opticians are also easy to find and can be found in almost every mall and are of reasonable value.

Need a place to couch surf, stat?

Check out Make a profile in ten seconds flat and find a list of verified hosts at your fingertips. Hosts update their status as ‘accepting guests’ or not, advertise private or shared rooms and many have checkable references – some are even city ambassadors. All have fascinating stories – this is a whole new couch surfing community making it their mission to have an incredible journey pit stopping all over the world.

Ask… Catherine Broad, community manager, Expat Woman

How long you have lived in the UAE?

I have lived here for a total of five years, on and off. I lived in Abu Dhabi when I was in high school for three years because my father was in the Foreign Service and his assignments took us here. After three years I moved back to Manila and came back to the UAE two years ago.

Was moving to Abu Dhabi all plain sailing?
The second time I moved to Abu Dhabi, I was already in my late twenties and it was more difficult this time because I was alone and without my family. I needed a major change in my life after losing my father to cancer. The transition wasn’t a smooth process but I did it and I’m glad I made the right choice.

What do you wish you had known when you moved?
I wish I discovered online communities and found people who were transitioning as a new expat like me. Being a newbie expat is difficult especially when your family is miles away. Support groups help a lot because you need to feel that you are not alone and that being lonely the first couple of months is perfectly normal when you’re completely new to a place.

What is your top piece of advice to new expats?
Being lonely at first and wanting to make a U-turn is normal. The feeling will go away once you have familiarised yourself with the environment and new people. You must let your sense of adventure and independence overpower homesickness and the temptation to crawl back into your comfort zone should not be appealing if you transitioned right. Make new friends and familiarise yourself with the city you just moved into and once you have, you will be calling it home in no time. You need an open heart and an open mind to become a seasoned expat.

How can Expat Woman help more seasoned expats?
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been here for one year or ten, has advice, tips and experiences to share with fellow expats. I was nervous when I first went to my first coffee morning, but as soon as I arrived I was made to feel very welcome. The natural cycle of expat life means friends will come and go, and even after living here for many years it’s nice to meet new friends – especially when old friends have moved on. There is also loads of information on our website, for example I recently had to pack up and move to a new apartment. It was my first major move and I had no clue about what to do and where to start. I turned to Expat Woman and true enough, a lot of women have supported each other and exchanged tips on how to do a smooth move. I also found a list of moving companies that was a lifesaver.

Ask… Thomas Dillon, digital manager, Abu Dhabi Paddy

How long have you lived in the UAE?

I’m relatively new, I arrived in Abu Dhabi last September and the time has flown by. I came to be nearer to my girlfriend who moved here a year prior. I visited Abu Dhabi on a holiday in April of last year and knew instantly I wanted to relocate here.

What was your moving experience like?
Moving to Abu Dhabi was exciting but a little scary. I came without having secured employment so it was an uphill battle from the start. I started freelancing as soon as I arrived and it wasn't long before my name got out there and I got a job. Before coming out I connected with Abu Dhabi Paddy founder Brian and expressed my interest in getting involved with the site, and before long I was digital manger. Having a solid network here makes all the difference and there was no better place to start building that network than with the founder of an expat website.

Anything you wish you had known when you first moved?
I wish I had known that Cadburys chocolate here tastes different to home, I suffered severe Dairy Milk withdrawal syndrome when I first moved here, so I now keep a healthy (or unhealthy) supply of imported chocolate in the fridge.

What is your top piece of advice to new expats? Get involved! There’s a wealth of clubs, societies and groups to cater for whatever your interests may be. I play touch rugby with Harlequins, for example – I’m not very good at it but it's a great way to meet people and keep fit.

How can seasoned expats benefit from the Abu Dhabi Paddy community?
The information on covers a lot of bases and caters for brand new expats to ‘almost locals’, it’s all up to date and relevant. You could be living here five years but have just had your first child in the UAE, so you'll probably want to check out our recent blog post 'From Bump to Birth in Abu Dhabi’, or our info page on applying for your nanny's visa. Likewise we hold useful events such as the ‘Know your Rights Evening’ on employee and tenants’ rights which brought a very varied audience of new and seasoned expats. Nothing is overly straight forward out here; moving to a new job, in an unfamiliar culture can be intimidation enough without the hassle of typical procedures like setting up bank accounts, translating documents or completing a tenancy contract.

What places can’t you live without in Abu Dhabi?
There’s a few spots I've become quite accustomed to. Naturally enough, McGettigans AUH is my local and its full Irish breakfast is one of my favourite eats in the city. I also love some of the more traditional Arabic restaurants – Airport Road is a gold mine for these.

Kate Dobinson, Acting Editor

'A few handy hints are that Geant in Yas Mall sells cheap camp beds when you have the inevitable onslaught of guests ‘just dropping by’, you will have many for as long as you live here!

'The American Dental Clinic and Doctor Firas Dental & Orthodontic Centre near Marina Mall are both recommended by expats, not too expensive compared to others and pain free.'

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