Abu Dhabi vs. Dubai: Which Is Better for Living As An Expat

by | Last updated Feb 21, 2022

Globally, UAE was ranked 18th out of 59 destinations for expats to live. The UAE is a thriving nation for the international labor force and tourists, and the region has large numbers of the wealthiest entrepreneurs from Asia. The area is the best place to attract entrepreneurs because of the booming industries, tax-free income, and foreign investment. Made up of seven Emirates, Abu Dhabi is the capital city, whereas Dubai is known as the ‘City of Gold’. Over the past few years, 90% of the UAE population has been foreigners, where the expat community has soared in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Undoubtedly, the UAE is an ideal tourist destination as distinct features and tourist destinations further increase the region’s worth. Not only this, UAE, especially Abu Dhabi and Dubai, are considered perfect destinations for business owners and entrepreneurs for living.

Abu Dhabi vs. Dubai: Which is Better for Expats

Moving away from home is the most challenging part that needs a great source of advice and information for anyone. Let’s compare Abu Dhabi and Dubai as destinations for expats in detail. Let’s explore the differences, opportunities, cost of living, and quality of living.

1.Key attractions

The capital city is situated in the Persian Gulf, near the edge of the Rub Al Khali desert. Many extravagant resorts, apartment blocks, shopping malls, skyscrapers, and the most famous Ferrari World attract tourists. The key attractions also include the natural landscape, such as nesting sports and mangroves alongside the coastline.

Some beautiful places are its beaches and numerous attractive turquoise waters, such as Al Sahil Beach and Corniche Beach. The city also preserves cultural and heritage sites that reflect a deep connection with Islamic tradition and offers an opportunity for tourists to explore the landscape.

Dubai vs Abu Dhabi

On the other hand, Dubai is known as the perfect city of expats. The survey revealed that life in that city is one of the existing experiences one can ever enjoy. Likewise, the city is an excellent destination for tourists that include many beautiful areas like Burj Khalifa, Dubai-Mall, Dubai-Museum, Al Fahidi Quarter, and many more places. Dubai is well-known with ultra-modern buildings luxury living standards and has seen a rapid increase in population over the last few years. Numerous areas with distinct flavours are there for expats such as Downtown, Mirdif, Arabian Ranches, Motor City, Al Barsha, Business Bay, and Jumeirah Islands.


UAE has numerous markets for reasonable shopping ranging from traditional bazaars authentic souks to high-trend shopping malls. Undoubtedly, Dubai offers a variety of shopping places and has become one of the most famous shopping destinations globally.

It is clear to observe that shopping scenes in the city are fun and fabulous as the city hosts numerous shopping-related festivals like DDS. Being the King of Shopping, the city boasts the colour of bazaars and malls and gives the essence of joy to tourists. It is incredible to know that shopping malls in Dubai are of the size of a small city with other facilities like art galleries, amusement parks, theatres, and even mosques. These all are located inside the mall. So whether it’s for tourists or expats, shopping in Dubai is a must. Even if you are out of budget and searching for something reasonable, you can easily find a local mall or souk in Dubai to satisfy your shopping craving.

Shopping guide for Dubai and Abu Dhabi

Expats, as well as tourists, can enjoy traditional Arabic shopping experiences by roaming around sprawling malls. Likewise, the City of Gold, the ginormous malls, and the overwhelming shopping experience in the largest city can be an extravagant affair for visitors. Some of the right places to shop while you are on a trip to Abu Dhabi are Abu Dhabi Mall, Avenue at Etihad, Yas Mall, Marina Mall, Souk Central Market, and the list goes on.


With around 365 days of sunlight and a warm climate, the crystal clear water in the form of beaches is the perfect spot for expats to enjoy and cool down with family, friends, and loved ones. In the UAE, the stunning coastline stretch alongside the Arabian Gulf is enough to attract tourists, and both emirates have private beachfront with luxury hotels.

In Abu Dhabi, there are many public beaches with free entry that increase the opportunity for people to enjoy. These beaches are Corniche, Saadiyat Public Beach, and Al Bateen Beach. All these beaches have a family-friendly vibe, with the facility to do plenty of fun-related activities. The most attractive aspect about beaches in that region is strict protection while considering all environmental measures—the safe and family-friendly beaches in the city suit every traveler. The beaches are a vital source for expats to escape from strenuous life routines. Unlike beaches in Abu Dhabi, Dubai beaches have strict rules.

Some of the City of Gold beaches, including private and public, are Jumeirah Beach Residence Beach, Mamzer Beach Park, Jumeirah Beach Park, La Mer, Al Sufoh Beach, and many more. One negative aspect of the beaches is the lack of facilities for food and water. Despite this, the city has invested a lot in public beaches that facilitate people to enjoy and upgrade the tourism value of the town.


As per the information, UAE visas are valid for 60 days from the issue date. Before comparing the visa facility of both emirates, you need to note that visa holders of both Emirates cannot travel elsewhere. But yes, Dubai visa holders can land in Abu Dhabi or vice versa. Also, you can apply for a long-term UAE golden visa if you are an entrepreneur, business owner, or startup.

Some of the visa types valid for all Emirates of UAE are;

  • 48-hour type
  • 96-hour type
  • Tourist type– short term (for singly entry)
  • Tourist type – short term (for multiple entries)
  • Tourist type– long term (single entry)
  • Tourist – long term (multiple entries)

All visas have distinct valid duration and rates inclusive of VAT.

  • 48-hour type visa has a duration of 48 hours with the rate of US$10
  • 96-hour visa type has a duration of 4 days from arrival date with the rate of US$30
  • 96-hour visa type has a duration of 4 days from arrival date with the rate of US$30
  • Tourist type– short term (for singly entry) has a duration of 30 days from arrival date with the rate of US$930
  • Tourist type – short term (for multiple entries) has a duration of 30 days from arrival date with the rate of US$175
  • Tourist type– long term (single entry) has a duration of 90 days from arrival date with the rate of US$190
  • Tourist – long term (multiple entries) has a duration of 90 days from arrival date with the rate of US$460

5.Working pattern and opportunities

As a new ex-pat, comparing working patterns and opportunities in Dubai and Abu Dhabi is crucial. Considering the capital city, it is one of the wealthiest emirates with a fast-growing economy. Over the past few years, Abu Dhabi’s policy of tax-free income has opened doors for the high skilled labor force. You can visit the official website of the department of Economics for Abu Dhabi for more details and reports.

Likewise, the City of Gold also has low tax rates and high wages that excite people to want and earn big bucks. Both cities follow Islamic values and prefer to respect relative culture and environment in working practices.

The average wage to work in Abu Dhabi is around 177,696 AED; however, Dubai offers 258,000 AED per year. It is to consider that the capital city is more formal and structured when it comes to the employment contract; however, Dubai is comparatively lenient in this aspect. Apart from this, the most critical factor included as the working pattern is the conservative dress code that everyone should consider while moving abroad for a new country, especially the Golf Arab where there are too many social restrictions on terms of dress and habits.


6.Public Transport

Public transport plays a vital role in encouraging tourists to visit. Before moving away abroad, residents consider the aspect of public tourist as this contributes to improving the mobility, satisfaction related to the destination, and growth of development.

If you are thinking of shifting to the City of Gold, one must have known the best way to get around Dubai by metro or taxi. This source of public transport will give you the freedom to move from one place to another. Although the prices of public transport are high, you can still enjoy the high-quality service of Dubai-Metro.

Dubai Metro is the cheapest way to travel for a comfortable journey and is also considered a standard class. The most beautiful thing about public transport is a separate section for women and various classes like gold, silver, etc. You cannot ignore the bus service network consists of a large fleet of around 1,518 buses. The best way to get around in Dubai is Taxi services (Dubai Taxi Corporation, Uber), bus services (RTA buses), Dubai Metro, boats (Abras, Dubai waterbus), and cars.

Likewise, Abu Dhabi has public transport, which operates over 95 bus routes by offering extensive services in the city. The survey conducted by Laymen revealed a taxi as the best way to get around in the city. The city has different taxi companies that regulate the taxi services and book complete trips to ensure ease and convenience for visitors. It is fantastic to know that the capital city has recently launched free bus services for the public. In between places, people easily travel free by using tickets for a day. On comparing, Abu Dhabi is considered a relatively easy city for public transport and specifically free-traveling. Some public vehicles are Abu-Dhabi Taxi services (TransAd and Careem) and Abu-Dhabi bus service (Yas Express).


The lifestyle in both emirates has a strong link with the dress code because fashion is a way of life. UAE is officially a Muslim state, but it is lenient on its dress code compared to other nations in the Middle East. But that does not mean that one can walk around in whatever dress or style. Most of the women in both cities wear headscarves and abayas.

Expats found differences in lifestyles of both cities regarding the strictness of cultural and religious aspects. The capital city is more strict than the City of Gold and more cultural, religious, and traditional. There is no enjoyable nightlife for the people of Abu Dhabi like in other cities.

Both cities have a high cost of education that needs to consider by expats before moving to the region. Comparing both emirates, the capital Emirate is a much calmer and traditional city. Unlike Dubai, Abu Dhabi has a good work-life balance; meanwhile, tourists love to visit there to have some fun and relax.


UAE, having a mild, pleasant, and mostly hot climate, the environment mainly falls into humid summers. Likewise, the atmosphere of both emirates depends on scorching hot summer temperatures. Comparing both Emirates, it is pretty clear to decide Dubai is an environment-friendly city to live in or visit. The city has two distinct seasons, winter and summer; however, the other town has a hot climate in which June to September are extremely hot with a maximum temperature of 41 °C. No one likes to survive in harsh physical conditions with drying winds and rocky environments.

In contrast to this, if you think about moving over to Dubai, you may experience the summer season of April to October. Another favorable point to notice is the greenery of a city that boosts the town’s environment. What else does someone wants instead of parks and flowerbeds, palm-lined avenues, luscious lawns, and deserts on the Earth? Unlike, Abu Dhabi has a desert climate with virtually no rainfall.


Although the City of Gold has more weight than Abu Dhabi for the environmental aspect, it is tough to decide which one is better for entertainment. Considering flexible options for nightlife, entertainment, luxury hotels, Dubai is a slightly better place for tourists. However, the city is somewhat more expensive compared to the best option to relax.

On the other hand, the city is more religious, traditional, and ultimately strict with nightlife options and dress codes. These restrictions annoy some of the expats and tourists but still the city’s uniqueness. Both cities are extremely safe to live in safety, even though these emirates are ranked as the safest cities globally. Expats found both cities safe as muggings and crime rates are extremely rare.

10.Cost of Living and Leisure

Comparatively, Abu Dhabi is cheaper than other Emirates because of the overall low cost of living. This includes transport, clothes, entertainment, and even personal care. However, it is believed that the cost of living in Abu Dhabi is high, but as compared with Dubai, the city is around 6% cheaper. Yet, the housing cost in Abu Dhabi is 11% more expensive in comparison. Housing costs in Abu Dhabi set back around 50% of the monthly wage and affordable utilities. As per the rough estimate, the average cost of utilities in Abu Dhabi is 445AED for a month. With the perk of reasonable fuel cost in Abu Dhabi, the city is preferably the choice of expats to live in. ( 1USD=3,67AED on the day we publish this article ).

Abu Dhabi vs Dubai by cost of living

Comparatively to Abu Dhabi, living in Dubai is quite expensive as expats need to earn at least Dh 4,000 per month. It might be difficult for people to survive with little money to lead a decent life. Dubai is ranked as the 23rd most expensive city out of 209 destinations. The cost of utilities in Dubai is 750AED for a month. However, the housing cost is more affordable than in Abu Dhabi. If you are an expat , understanding income tax is one of the significant aspects to consider, but if you are moving to UAE emirates, there is no point of discussion. Whether in Abu Dhabi or Dubai, there is no tax imposed for income in Emirates.


It is not easy to select one city over another as this entirely depends on expats or tourists’ interest in what they want or prefer from the place. By comparing, it can be considered that Dubai is the home for modernization, tall buildings, and entertainment; however, Abu Dhabi is a far more conservative emirate. Despite many differences in both emirates, the best part of living or visiting both cities is the quality of life and the opportunities for affordable life, and the unusual weather.

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