This week ELM presents you the last article of the ‘Top Cities to Live and Work Abroad’ series. The region we will be discussing today is the Middle East. Currently, many countries in these parts of the planet are experiencing riots, unrest, and in some cases, civil wars. There are definitely countries to be avoided at the moment, but some locations are still perfectly safe for expats and foreigners to experience life in the Middle East. The three cities we will be looking at today are Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Doha. Let’s take a look at them.
Abu Dhabi is the capital city of the United Arab Emirates. The city is located in the East part of the Arabian Peninsula, touching thePersian Gulf. Abu Dhabi is situated on an island roughly 250 metres from the mainland. It serves as the country’s political centre and main economic motor, producing more than half the country’s GDP.
The other main city of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai is the most populous metropolitan area in the country with a population of about 3.5 million people. The city is closer to Oman and the Indian Ocean than Abu Dhabi. Dubai has emerged as an important centre of business. Although the city’s economy was originally reliant on the oil industry, Dubai’s economy is now based more on financial services, real estate, and tourism.
Doha is the capital of Qatar. The metropolitan area of Doha has a population of more than 1.7 million people (roughly 80 percent of the total population of Qatar), making it the largest city of Qatar. Doha serves as the economic centre of Qatar and the seat of government. The city is situated in the Persian Gulf, west of both Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates miss a common border by about 30 kilometres.
Quality of Living
For determining the quality of living of each city, we will take into consideration the 2010 Mercer’s Quality of Living survey, and we will take a look at HSBC’s Explorer survey to see how expats and foreigners experienced their stay in these cities. The cities that normally score well in Mercer’s survey are mid-sized cities in developed countries with high political and social stability, low population density, and large amounts of recreational activities.
Quality of Living in Dubai
Expats in theUnited Arab Emirates in general find it harder to make friends with the locals compared to other expat destinations. Integrating into the country’s society is hard for expats. They do, however, enjoy a good social life, mostly connecting with other expats. Outdoor activities and sports, especially water sports are very popular amongst expats. Most expats feel they were more active in sports that they were in their home country.
Dubai is highest ranking city from the Middle East, ranking at 75 with a score of 89.3.
Quality of Living in Abu Dhabi
The same things mentioned above are also true of Abu Dhabi, there are, however, some differences. Expats that have experienced living in both cities tend to see Abu Dhabi as a more authentic Arab experience, mostly because Dubai has a lot more expats. Dubai also feels like it has been rushed, or built recently, whereas Abu Dhabi looks more natural. Abu Dhabi is also a smaller city, meaning a shorter commute.
Abu Dhabi does relatively well on Mercer’s Quality of Living survey, ranking at 83 with a score of 87.4.
Quality of Living in Doha
As is the case in the United Arab Emirates, integrating into the local community is very hard for expats. Qatar in general is the location where expats find it hardest to befriend with the locals. Expats feel welcomed at work and enjoy a good social life and review positively their sporting activities while staying in Qatar. Qatar also does fairly well when rated about commute. Expats found it extremely hard to find accommodation, learn the local language, and set up utilities.
Doha ranks at 110 in Mercer’s Quality of Living survey with a score of 76.
Winner – Dubai
Dubai is, in terms of quality of living, the best destination in the Middle East. Abu Dhabi comes very close, and the difference would seem almost impossible to spot. However, Dubai scores a bit better in Mercer’s survey and expats are mostly satisfied with their experience in Dubai.
Cost of Living
For the cost of living we look at Mercer’s Cost of Living survey and look at where each city ranks. Additionally we compare the cost of housing, food, transportation, and healthcare of each of the three cities using the amazing comparing tool at Expatistan.com.
Comparing the cities from the United Arab Emirates to Doha it becomes clear that both Dubai and Abu Dhabi are a lot more expensive than Doha. Dubai and Abu Dhabi rank in mercer’s survey at 55 and 50 respectively, whereas Doha ranks at 146. Doha is by far the cheapest of the three cities.
Compared to Doha, housing in Abu Dhabi is 49 percent dearer, while other costs are mainly cheaper, such as food, clothes, and transportation. A similar picture appears when comparing Doha to Dubai.
Winner – Doha
Doha is without a doubt the cheapest destination of the three cities. Housing, which normally accounts for a large percentage of living costs, is far cheaper in Doha than in both cities in the United Arab Emirates. In addition, the city ranks extremely well in Mercer’s Cost of Living survey.
To determine how the economic environment looks like in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Doha, we will look at the most important business sectors of each city, the economic output of each city, the expected economic growth in 2011, and the unemployment rate.
Economic Environment in Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi owns almost all of the country’s oil and gas. The United Arab Emirates has 9 percent of the world’s oil reserves and 5 percent of the world’s natural gas. However, Oil GDP amounts to just one third of total GDP. Abu Dhabi has made substantial investments in other sectors such as industry, tourism, and real estate.
Abu Dhabi’s GDP is 104 billion Euros, which is expected to grow in 2011 by 3.8 percent. The unemployment rate is between 11 and 13 percent.
Economic Environment in Dubai
Dubai is the other main economic centre of the United Arab Emirates. The big difference being that the hydrocarbon industry is a lot smaller. Oil and gas only represent 6 percent of Dubai’s GDP. The port of Dubai is important for the city’s economic activity, especially used by Western companies. Important sectors are tourism, the industrial sector, IT, and finance. In an attempt to change the focus of Dubai’s economy from an oil economy to a service based economy, the local government made large investments in tourism and real estate, making construction a very important sector.
Dubai’s GDP is about 47 billion Euros, which is expected to grow in 2011 by 3 to 5 percent. The unemployment rate in Dubai is around 12 percent.
Economic Environment in Doha
Doha is the economic centre of Qatar. The city’s economy is mostly a product of the region’s large oil and gas reserves. Government, however, is trying to make the switch to an economy that isn’t dependent on hydrocarbon revenue.
The real estate industry has experienced immense growth in the last couple of years, partly due to a quick increase in population. As a result construction has been growing rapidly. The most important sectors are the hydrocarbon industry, real estate, and construction.
Doha’s GDP was 80 billion Euros in 2010, and is expected to be the fastest growing city in the world in 2011, growing at a rate of 20 percent. GDP in 2011 could end up reaching 106 billion Euros. The unemployment rate is 0.5 percent.
Winner – Dubai
Dubai is the city in the Middle East that has been most successful in leading an economy that is hardly based on oil or gas. The variety of the different business sectors makes it more attractive for different type of people. Even though Doha has great potential, we feel that it still has some progress to make in terms of modernising its economy.
Overall Winner –Dubai
Expats in Dubai enjoy the best quality of living in the Middle East. On top of that, Dubai probably has the best economic environment in the region, having an economy that is not based on the hydrocarbon sector. Even though it is more expensive than Doha, Dubai is definitely one of the best expat locations you can find.
Honorary Mention –Muscat
The capital of Oman is probably far less popular than the other cities in the Arabian Peninsula. Normally the two cities from the United Arab Emirates and Qatar get all the attention. It would, however, be a mistake to overlook this charming Arabian city. The economy of Muscat is predominantly based on trade of oil and gas, dates, and fish. Muscat ranks at 100 on Mercer’s Quality of Living survey and 176th on the Cost of Living survey.
The GDP of Muscat is around 40 Billion Euros, which is expected to grow in 2011 by 3.4 percent. If you’re interested in this region of the world, you might want to take a look at Muscat as well.
For more information about living and working in some of these cities, check out our career guide on the United Arab Emirates.
That concludes our series of “Top Cities to Live and Work Abroad”. We took a look at the different continents in the world and chose the top locations for expats and foreigners to live and work abroad. If you liked this article, you might be interested in reading the other articles on North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Oceanic region. We hope you enjoyed the series. Make sure to keep a look the coming weeks for new blog posts from Expertise in Labour Mobility.
Joseph Cavanna, ELM Team