Year-round sunshine, pristine beaches, spectacular sand dunes, dramatic mountains and a pulsating cosmopolitan lifestyle define living in Abu Dhabi. Such a rich natural environment, large oil and gas reserves and majestic mosques with towering minarets, along with the distinctive Arab hospitality and a world-class infrastructure, make Abu Dhabi an excellent place to live and work.
The city of Abu Dhabi bursts with dazzling business-cum-leisure facilities ranging from a state-of-the-art convention centre,luxurious hotels, spas and designer golf courses to theatres and very soon, some of the world’s most famous museums. The palace-like shopping malls and indigenous souqs in Abu Dhabi make for a great shopping expedition, offering the best handicraft from local Bedouins to the best of Paris’ or Milan’s high street fashion brands, but without any sales tax. Gastronomic treats further abound from cool and sophisticated cafes to clubs and restaurants. For the fitness conscious, jogging, cycling and rollerblading are a welcome treat especially during the cooler months on the city’s charming corniche or beachfront, just minutes away from the bustling city centre.
Beyond the city of Abu Dhabi are numerous other destinations in the emirate. These include the famous Liwa oasis in the south, which is home to some of the largest and most beautiful sand dunes in the world. It is also the frontier that leads to the legendary Rub Al-Khali (Empty Quarter), a vast expanse of desert that extends through Saudi Arabia and Oman, which has been the object of many explorers’ conquests in the past.
The garden city of Al Ain – lying near the Omani border – is home to one of the famous peaks of the majestic Hajar Mountain and the highest point in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi (Jebel Hafeet), which rises about 1,340m from the desert floor. Cultural sites abound in Abu Dhabi, whose name implies “Father of the Gazelle”, most likely due to the large number of gazelles and oryx that once flocked the Emirate’s arid deserts. These heritage sites provide a glimpse of this Emirate’s storied past – reaching as far back as 5000 BC – and an understanding of its people’s culture, values and aspirations. As the capital, Abu Dhabi also houses embassies and hosts ambassadors from all over the world.
Abu Dhabi straddles the Tropic of Cancer and as a result its climate is subtropical, with temperatures that vary from warm in the winter months to hot in the summer. Sunny blue skies prevail throughout the year and rainfall is infrequent. The weather in Abu Dhabi is mildest between December (where temperatures range from highs of 27°C to lows of 15°C) and March (highs of 29°C and lows of 16°C). January is the coolest month of the year, with highs of 25°C and lows of 13°C. The thermometer starts to climb in April, rising to daily highs of 34°C and lows of 20°C, and continues to climb steadily to record the Emirate’s hottest month in August, where the average temperature is 35°C. The temperature begins to cool down in September (average 32°C) with temperatures in November dropping considerably to highs of 31°C and lows of 18°C. Meanwhile, January is the wettest month of the year, with minimum monthly rainfall of 22mm, followed by the month of March, which registers an average of 17.7mm of rainfall. The months of May through October see very little rainfall, if any.
Abu Dhabi’s geographical coordinates are 24° 28’ 0” North, 54° 22’ 0” East. It is the largest of the seven emirates of the UAE, occupying more than 80% of the country’s total land mass and featuring a coast line that stretches over 700 kilometers. Nearly 200 islands fall under the Abu Dhabi territory including Das, located 170 kilometers northwest of Abu Dhabi city, and Mumbraz and Bani Yas, which are located approximately 180 kilometers west of the capital.
Desert dominates Abu Dhabi’s terrain, covering as much as 70 percent of its land area. The city of Abu Dhabi, which is located on a low-lying island, features a Manhattan like skyline with tree-lined roads and landscaped parks and gardens. Sparkling waters of the Arabian Gulf, which surround the city, complete the scenic vista.
The imposing Hajar Mountain from the east and the vast tracts of arid desert enclose the Emirate’s second city Al Ain. Ironically, Al Ain boasts a highly fertile soil relative to other emirates in the UAE, which has encouraged the growth of vast vegetation in the area. The Hajar Mountain produced copper that was traded by the first tribes that occupied this desert community over four thousand years ago.
Abu Dhabi is generally conservative but tolerant when it comes to dress code. The attitude to dress is relaxed, but visitors (both men and women) are advised not to wear excessively revealing clothing in public places, as a sign of respect for local culture and customs. This also applies to public beaches, where swimmers should avoid excessively revealing swimming suits. Most nightclubs require their guests not to wear shorts, caps or sport shoes on their premises. Unless otherwise indicated, official events usually require non-locals to wear formal dress: a suit and tie for men and an evening dress for women.
As for the weather requirements, lightweight summer clothing is suitable for most of the year (summer, spring and autumn), though a light sweater or cardigan could be handy when visiting a shopping mall, hotel or restaurant where air-conditioning can be quite frigid. Slightly warm clothes are needed for the short winter season, especially in the evening.
Arabic is the official national language, although English, Hindi and Urdu are also widely spoken. Arabic is considered the state’s official business language but English is commonly used from the busy souqs all the way to the executive boardroom of the region’s blue chip companies. As a rule, the farther away you are from a business or city centre, the less English is spoken or understood. Hence, it is not uncommon for restaurant menus, street names and road signs in the UAE to be printed in both English and Arabic. Most government forms and official contracts – e.g., tenancy, residence visa – are in Arabic. Official documents (e.g. university diploma, marriage certificate) that have to be submitted to a government agency for processing or authentication also frequently require translation into Arabic. Designated typing shops that are conveniently located within the proximity of various government agencies, however, can perform translation chores for a minimal fee. Most airlines, hotels, malls and restaurants employ multilingual staff or crew, which are conversant in Hindi, Urdu, Tagalog, Russian, French, German or Chinese, amongst other languages. Taxi drivers are conversant in English, Arabic or Urdu/Hindi.
The emergence of the UAE as a global tourist and business destination in addition to its strategic location between Europe, the Middle East and Africa, on the one hand, and the Far East, Central Asia and Oceania, on the other, has made the UAE one of the world’s busiest air transportation hubs for both passengers and cargo. The UAE responded to the increasing demand on air transport by building world-class international airports which together connect the country in direct flights to more than 180 cities around the world. Today, more than 100 airlines, including two award-winning national airlines and a third locally based, fly more than 50 million passengers through or into and out of the UAE.
More than 34 airlines fly regular flights from Abu Dhabi International Airport to over 150 destinations worldwide. This includes the fast-growing national carrier Etihad Airways. Facilities at the airport include numerous restaurants and cafés, a business centre, post office, prayer rooms, a 24-hour medical centre, banking facilities and ATMs, car hire companies and public telephones, as well as VIP lounges at terminal 2 and at the five-star Abu Dhabi Airport. Located 32km from the heart of Abu Dhabi city (and just minutes from Masdar City), the airport operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week on two runways. The new Terminal 3 opened in the first quarter of 2009 and has increased the airport’s overall annual passenger capacity to 12 million passengers. Terminal 3 serves as base to Etihad Airways. To meet further growing demand, the airport has begun development work on a major new passenger terminal, to be situated between the two parallel runways and known as the Midfield Terminal Complex (MTC). The construction of the Midfield Terminal is a key element of the broader Midfield Complex, which will include cargo and catering facilities, utilities and related infrastructure. In its first year of operation, the planned capacity of this facility is expected to reach 20 million passengers, gradually increasing to 40 million passengers per annum.
Abu Dhabi Municipality operates scheduled regional and intercity bus and taxi services. Abu Dhabi is also taking extended efforts to ensure that timetables and route information are easily accessible. The government is steadily investing in a modern fleet of comfortable airconditioned buses. Bus routes to Baniyas, Habashan and Al Ain are usually busy and fares rarely go above AED 6 per person. There is also a shuttle service offered by Abu Dhabi Municipality to Marina Mall via Hamdan Street.
Taxis provide a convenient option for getting around Abu Dhabi city and neighbouring regions.: Daytime (6am – 10pm) metered fares in the city start at AED 3 (approx. US $ 1) and increase by an additional AED 1 for every subsequent kilometre. Night fares are slightly more, starting at AED 3.60 and increasing by AED 1.20 per kilometre. A tip is recommended. Presently, there are plenty of taxis operating in the Emirate, which can be hailed from almost any area at any time. Some operators (e.g., Al Ghazal and National Transport Company (NTC)) also accept advanced booking for their services. Other taxi companies operating in Abu Dhabi city are Al Arabia Taxi, Cars Taxi and National Taxi.
Renting a car in Abu Dhabi is convenient and inexpensive. There is a wide choice of car rental companies to choose from, including major international car rental agencies such as Hertz, Europcar and Avis; a large number of local car rental companies also provide quality services. Many operate offices at Abu Dhabi International Airport and Al Ain International Airport, allowing visitors to arrange their car rentals upon arrival. Increasingly, car rental companies require a valid credit card upon collection of the car, that is either photocopied or the rental amount is blocked. Some companies will accept a valid passport to be left as a deposit. In order to rent a car, drivers must have a valid international driving licence issued by the country from which they’ve obtained their driver’s licence. Additionally, most companies require drivers to be above 21 years of age and to hold a national licence valid for over one year.
The official currency of the United Arab Emirates is the Dirham (abbreviated as Dhs or AED), with each Dirham divided into 100 fils. Dirham notes come in 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1000 denominations, while coins come in AED 1, 0.5 and 0.25. The latter two denominations are rarely used anymore. Cash exceeding AED 40,000 or its equivalent in foreign currency must be declared to airport customs control upon entry to the UAE. There are no foreign exchange restrictions in place in the country, and foreign currency of almost any denomination is readily exchanged. Banks and money exchange bureaus can be found throughout Abu Dhabi, the latter located in most shopping malls and key locations. All major hotels will also readily exchange currency for guests.
The Dirham is pegged to the US Dollar at the official exchange rate of AED 3.6725 to every US Dollar.
Most banks operate five days a week, Sunday to Thursday, from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm while a few others are also open on Saturdays from 8:00 am until 2:00 pm. Branches located in prominent city centres and malls open at 9:00 am, and remain open until early evening, say 6:00 pm.
Credit cards, such as MasterCard, Visa, American Express and Diners Club are widely accepted in the UAE.
Tipping is not expected, but is commonly practiced in the Emirate. Gratuities to staff at hotels are at your discretion. Most restaurants add service charges to the bill (10%). If this charge is not included, add 10% to the total of the bill. Taxi drivers do not expect to be tipped. Supermarket baggers, bag carriers and windscreen washers at petrol stations are generally given AED 2.
Corniche, Abu Dhabi Tap water is perfectly safe to drink in Abu Dhabi, but if you prefer the taste of bottled water, locally bottled mineral water is readily available in supermarkets and grocery stores everywhere.
The electricity supply is 220/240 volts and 50 cycles. 13 amp square pin plugs are used for household appliances.
The weekend comprises Friday and Saturday for government offices and most private companies. There are, however, certain offices that remain open on Saturdays and operate half-day (until 1pm or 2pm) on Thursdays.
It is strongly advised not to photograph women in general, and particularly national women, without their permission. It is always courteous to ask before photographing people. There are few other restrictions on photography in the Emirate – only military, government and airport installations are prohibited from being photographed.
The population in Abu Dhabi emirate, inclusive of Al Ain, the Western region and the Islands, stood at 1,572,906 in 2008, as reported in the Statistical Yearbook of Abu Dhabi 2009. This represents one third of the total UAE population. Population grew by a compounded average of 4.4% annually between 2001 and 2005, and the emirate continues to grow at a similar rate. Twice as many people live in urban areas as rural ones, and males outnumber females by a ratio of 2 to 1. In addition to UAE nationals, the population figures include many expatriate residents that live and work in the Emirate and who comprise 75% of the total population. Across the UAE as a whole, UAE nationals comprise roughly 20% of the total population, while expatriate workers’ nationalities include Asians, Africans and Europeans, as well as North and Latin Americans.
The cost of living in Abu Dhabi is moderate and, although it has increased in light of the strong economic growth and influx of expatriate residents, it still remains affordable, with the Mercer 2010 Cost of Living survey placing Abu Dhabi 50th in cost of living. In the survey, Abu Dhabi is more affordable than cities such as Barcelona, Prague, Dublin and Shenzhen. Abu Dhabi restaurants offer an endless choice of menus, ranging from fast food and casual dining to elegant five-star gourmet French cuisine. A Big Mac meal costs about AED 15, while an English afternoon tea in a five-star hotel would cost approximately AED 50. Dining in popular Indian, Asian or Arabic restaurants could cost anywhere between AED 40 and AED 80 per person, whilst a full-course meal in a high-end restaurant would cost no less than AED 150 per person, excluding beverages and service charges. Apartment rents, a major component of Abu Dhabi’s cost of living, moderated during the recent global economic slowdown. As of the second quarter of 2010, average prime building rents for a one-bedroom ranged between AED 75,000-AED 150,000, two bedrooms from AED 100,000-AED 230,000, three-bedrooms from AED 125,000-AED 280,000, and four-bedroom villas from AED150,000-AED350,000.
Education in the emirate of Abu Dhabi is overseen by the Abu Dhabi Education Council, which seeks to develop education and educational institutions in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, implement innovative educational policies, plans and programmes that aim to improve education, and support educational institutions and staff to achieve the objectives of national development in accordance with the highest international standards. There are a number of private, as well as state-run, primary, secondary schools, technical colleges and universities in Abu Dhabi. Non-UAE residents should attend private schools. Private educational institutions offer a wide range of curricula, including the American, British, French and German systems. Education begins with daycare facilities, through elementary and secondary, and on to undergraduate and graduate colleges and universities.
Infrastructure in the UAE is second to none. Telecommunications, including mobile and fixed telephony as well as internet access is on par, if not better, than the world’s largest international business hubs. The road network is constantly upgraded and ports and airports are of world-class standards. In addition, the UAE is creating one of the world’s biggest and most efficient cargo handling centres. To date, the Government has invested heavily in infrastructure development, but it has also opened up its utilities and other infrastructure to greater private sector involvement, so much so that public-private partnerships are now the norm.
Corniche, Abu Dhabi The real estate and construction industry is proving to be a crucial economic sector for Abu Dhabi. The promulgation of a new Property Law in the emirate in 2005, allowing UAE nationals to own and trade land for the first time, GCC nationals to own freehold land in designated areas, and 99-year leases in these areas for other expatriates, provided the much-awaited impetus for the sector. Late as it may be compared to neighbouring Dubai, whose convulsive pace of property development stretched back to 2002-03, Abu Dhabi is quick to compensate for its late entry with the magnitude of real-estate projects that it has set on the horizon. Most of Abu Dhabi’s ongoing multi-billion dollar development projects are found in Al Reem Island and Saadiyat Islands, while the rest are situated along the underdeveloped fringes of Abu Dhabi city (e.g., Al Raha Beach and Khalifa City) or even within the city centre perimeter itself (e.g., The Gate Development and Danet Abu Dhabi). The development of these upmarket residential and commercial towers and villas as well as luxury hotels, however, does not preclude the construction of housing complexes that cater to the low- and mid-market residents of the emirate.
The media industry is particularly vibrant, with large media special economic zones in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai. There are dozens of English and Arabic language daily newspapers, weekly and monthly magazines, and a wide range of radio and TV stations, as well as access to a wide array of satellite TV channels.