Where would you rather live? Abu Dhabi or Dubai? Holborn Asset’s COO and Board Director Simon Parker takes a look at the pros and cons of both cities.

Huge growth

They both have much wealth and beauty in common, despite Dubai being seen as the brasher of the two in character. And they’re both growing spectacularly fast.

When you’re caught up in the middle of energetic UAE living, you don’t see the growth around you. But the figures are remarkable: over the next ten years, the populations of both Abu Dhabi and Dubai will grow by a half again – over a million people each.

The UAE Government is right behind developing the two key emirates in a way that is sympathetic for expats, because it wants investment. Why? Well, because as oil reserves are likely to run out in the next 50 years, the UAE Government has diversified national revenues with great success – meaning that a friendly welcome will always be extended to expats and the businesses they work for, whether in Abu Dhabi or Dubai.

So, which do you choose?

Quality of life

The most important thing, yet in many ways the hardest to define. Both offer an excellent standard of living – Abu Dhabi is quieter and more traditional, while Dubai is all about excitement – it’s a real 24hr city. This one really is down to personal preference, so we’re calling it a draw..


Both cities have vibrant expat communities, as you’d expect, and networking is pretty straightforward. Organisations like https://expatconnect.com/ help to bring people together for regular meet ups in both cities, and groups like The Expats Club will also help you to get introduced to other expatriates at both social and professional networking events in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi.


Abu Dhabi will soon open yet another jewel in the Guggenheim family – a museum that will be a home both to contemporary art and culture, as well as a celebration of the traditions of Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates and the Middle East as a whole. Meanwhile Dubai is set to host Expo 2020 – described as a ‘festival of human ingenuity’ and a spectacular showcase for new ideas. We’re giving this one to Abu Dhabi though.


A typical night out in both cities is unlikely to involve walking through an area dedicated to pubs and clubs – nightlife in both is based mostly around hotels, and of course alcohol is expensive too. Our recommendation is to forget the drinking, and instead enjoy some of both cities’ other highlights – whether it’s night swimming on the beaches, seeing a film or eating at a 24hr restaurant. A draw.

Our verdict

As with anything, much of your choice will come down to personal preference. If you prefer a quieter, more traditional lifestyle, then perhaps Abu Dhabi is for you – but Dubai also has much to offer beyond its brash exterior. Both cities are welcoming, exciting and vibrant places to build a new life – and both are growing and developing at an unprecedented rate.


70% of UAE GDP already comes from business sectors outside oil.

(Statistic tweeted by Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE Prime Minister, in January 2016)

Abu Dhabi had 2.57m people in 2015 – expected to increase by 54%

Dubai had 2.4m people in 2015, expected to increase by 50%

(CBRE Residential, 2017)

In 2015, the average house in Abu Dhabi cost £313,878, compared to £348,969 in Dubai.

In 2015, the monthly rent in Abu Dhabi was £1,698pcm, compared to £1,485pcm in Dubai.

According to Mercer’s Cost of Living City rankings, Abu Dhabi is the 25th most expensive city in the world – while Dubai is the 21st most expensive