Introduction to Selecting between Dubai or Abu Dhabi

Choosing between Dubai or Abu Dhabi is not an easy decision, especially if unfamiliar with the country, region and culture.

This publication aims at addressing a number of aspects and how Dubai and Abu Dhabi differ for those of you who may need to make an imminent decision and for those who may be a cultural curiosity.

Size and Population

Dubai is home to approximately 3.6 million residents, including expatriates and national Emiratis. Dubai the most populous city in the UAE and is known for its fast-paced lifestyle and dynamic atmosphere. It spans a larger area compared to Abu Dhabi and is characterized by its iconic skyscrapers, bustling streets, and diverse population.

Abu Dhabi, is turn, is home to approximately 2.9 million residents, including expatriates and national Emiratis. As the capital city, is more spread out and has a slightly lower population density compared to Dubai. It offers a mix of modern developments and traditional Arabian culture, with a more relaxed pace of life

Economy and Industries

Dubai’s economy is driven by various sectors such as tourism, real estate, trade, finance, and logistics. It is a major global business and financial hub, attracting expatriates from around the world seeking career seeking career opportunities.

Abu Dhabi’s economy historically relied heavily on oil and gas revenues, but the government has been actively diversifying into sectors like tourism, renewable energy, aviation, and healthcare. It is home to many government institutions and multinational corporations. Recently ADGM has brought the capital to a new level in terms of corporate volume.

In terms of free zones, Dubai has a greater offering with the following most prominent:

  1. Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (JAFZA)
  2. Dubai Airport Free Zone Authority (DAFZA)
  3. Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority (DSOA) where we comprise IFZA
  4. Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC)
  5. Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC)
  6. Dubai Knowledge Park
  7. Dubai Design District
  8. Dubai Media City
  9. Dubai Internet City
  10. Dubai Sourth
  11. Dubai Healthcare City
  12. Meydan Free Zone

Abu Dhabi’s most prominent free zones are the following:

  1. Abu Dhabi Glboal Market (ADGM)
  2. Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi (KIZAD)
  3. Abu Dhabi Airport Free Zone (ADAFZ)
  4. Twofour54 Abu Dhabi

Costs of Living – Dubai or Abu Dhabi?

Did you know that a simple search in Dubizzle reveals that there are 40,000 properties for rent in Dubai vs 25,000 in Abu Dhabi and that there are 25,000 properties for sell in Abu Dhabi vs. close to 60,000 in Dubai?

If we analized the adds we would highly likely conclude that Dubai’s cost of living tends to be higher than Abu Dhabi’s, particularly in terms of housing and entertainment. Accommodation in Dubai’s prime locations can be expensive, although there are also more affordable options available in suburban areas.

Abu Dhabi generally offers slightly lower housing costs compared to Dubai, making it a more attractive option for some expatriates. However, expenses such as dining out and recreational activities may still be relatively high.


Dubai boasts a modern and extensive transportation network, including the Dubai Metro, trams, buses, and taxis, making it easy to navigate the city. The infrastructure is well-developed, with world-class amenities and

Abu Dhabi also has a modern infrastructure but may have fewer public transportation options compared to Dubai. While taxis and buses are readily available, the city is more car-dependent, although initiatives are underway to improve public transit.


Did you know that there are about 250 nurseries in Dubai, 220 private schools, 30,032 higher education institutions and 1,167 training institutes vs a global 525 registered institutions in Abu Dhabi in reliance of available sources at KHDA and Abu Dhabi’s Department of Education and Knowledge?

The pricing of these centers compares very evenly.

Tourism and Attractions

Dubai is popular for its iconic tourist attractions such as the Burj Khalifa, Palm Jumeirah, Dubai Mall, and Dubai Marina. It offers a wide range of leisure and entertainment options, including theme parks, desert safaris, and water sports activities.

Abu Dhabi’s tourist attractions include the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Louvre Abu Dhabi, Ferrari World, Warner Bros and the Corniche waterfront. It offers a blend of cultural experiences, luxury resorts, and family-friendly activities.

When thinking to visit Dubai or Abu Dhabi a quick look in will reveal the offer of 599 hotels in Dubai vs 96 in Abu Dhabi together with 3,400 short-term accommodations available vs 214 in Abu Dhabi.

Conclusion to Selecting between Dubai or Abu Dhabi

Pursuant to the above we could conclude that Abu Dhabi is more activity focused to activities related to oil and gas, renewable energies, aviation and healthcare paired with all the activities needed to provide for its residents: education, entertainment, dining; whereas Dubai goes beyond in the scope of activities concentrating in more massive activities such as tourism, real estate, trade, logistics and finance.

In terms of culture we can expect Dubai to be perceived as more cosmopolitan and liberal with a difficult to follow nightlife, luxury shopping and a never-ending culinary offering. Abu Dhabi is also very cosmopolitan, the perception is perhaps that it falls behind Dubai as it offers a more reseved atmosphere with a more traditional offering with the impressive Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque as leading cultural attraction.


We hope this publication will help you understand the process and complexity in opening a bank account in the UAE and remain available for any questions regarding this post of general application.

For more information published in English you can visit all our publications at this link as well as the videos in English of our Partner Maria Rubert.

*The information on this page is not intended to be legal advice. This article is intended to provide an initial introduction to opening bank accounts in the UAE.