The population of 2.33 million in Abu Dhabi benefit from a high average income, and in 2007 it was named the world's richest city. Like much of the UAE, Abu Dhabi draws a lot of its wealth from hydrocarbon resources, with most of the country's oil and gas ownership lying within the city.
The UAE has been diversifying its economy in recent years to prevent overreliance on these assets, and Abu Dhabi in particular has benefitted. The fruits of this have been seen in the face of recent price falls, with the city proving resilient in a situation that could have proved far more catastrophic.
Often, it seems that Abu Dhabi is overshadowed by its neighbour and fellow emirate Dubai when it comes to international property investment. However, while Dubai has previously been ranked the world's best city for investment, Abu Dhabi has always followed close behind. High average income, a large community of expat professionals and thriving industry all help to drive up demand.
It can be an excellent source of international investment opportunities that easily rival those in Dubai, and often with less competition from other investors due to Dubai's more prominent reputation. While growth in Dubai has been higher, Abu Dhabi is considered very much the more stable, less risky option which has still turned in very strong performance in recent years.
Travelling to Abu Dhabi is relatively easy. Abu Dhabi International Airport is the second busiest in the UAE and is served by a large number of flights travelling to and from countries across the globe.
As part of its efforts to diversify the country's economy, the UAE government has put a lot of effort into developing tourism in recent years and this has included the expansion and improvement of Abu Dhabi International Airport and its operations.
There are a number of options for getting around while in Abu Dhabi. Choosing to drive can be challenging, however. Traffic is hectic on Abu Dhabi's roads and, even by the standards of other major cities, parking can be a challenge. It is often better to take a taxi. These are in plentiful supply, and can be hired from taxi ranks at certain locations such as the airport or flagged down on the street.
The city is also home to excellent public transport options, particularly bus links. There are a number of bus routes servicing major attractions and different parts of the city, making this a practical way to reach many of the places you might be going.
Since many facilities and attractions can be found fairly close together in Abu Dhabi, it is often possible to simply walk. Even this can have its challenges, however. There are not as many pedestrian crossings as you would see in other, similar cities and if you are not good with heat then this can take its toll.
Abu Dhabi only opted to allow non-UAE nationals to buy properties on a freehold basis much more recently than Dubai, and then only in designated investment zones. However, many of these investment zones represent prime areas, and their properties can represent attractive prospects for buy-to-let purchasers from overseas.
Due to the nature of Abu Dhabi's property market, with foreign investment confined to dedicated zones and large swathes of demand coming from high-income individuals both local and foreign, many of the best opportunities come from large-scale developments. Luxury accommodation complexes and tourist resorts represent some of the best-performing assets available to foreign buyers, as well as accounting for a comparatively large portion of the opportunities on offer.
The seafront is a particularly popular part of Abu Dhabi among tourists and residents – especially new residents coming to the city from overseas. Major developments within beachfront investment zones, such as Al Raha Beach, have distinguished themselves in previous years as among the most high-performing investor opportunities. New Developments such as Oceanscape (residential) and Marine Bay (mixed use) are well-placed to find similar success in the future.
Much of the UAE's national wealth stems from oil and gas resources, and the bulk of this flows through Abu Dhabi. Ownership of 95% of the country's oil interests and 92% of gas resides within Abu Dhabi, and this equates to 9% of oil and almost 5% of gas in the entire world.
While recent months have seen international oil and gas prices fall, Abu Dhabi has weathered the storm well, with its commercial property assets in particular proving resilient in the face of a price drop that affected many of the city's businesses.
This is at least partly thanks to buoyancy as a result of the UAE's economic diversification drive, with other sectors such as tourism, manufacturing and retail helping to ease the region's reliance on this one sector. Now, the majority (64%) of the UAE's economy comes from a diverse mix of other industries, providing important support when individual sectors suffer as they did when oil prices fell so dramatically.
Overall, Abu Dhabi is the wealthiest of the UAE's seven emirates in terms of both income and GDP. Every year, UAE nationals and foreigners from around the globe contribute a combined total of over US$1 trillion to this economy through investment in a diverse range of sectors, of which property is one of the more prominent. It's attractiveness as an international investment destination is bolstered by fast growth, relative stability, and a very favourable tax climate. Non-residents and companies that are neither banks nor operating in the oil industry benefit from tax-free status.
As the capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi is a bustling, modern city of international importance, with a strong cultural scene and a large number of important construction projects. It is also a city with a long history and a strong heritage. As such, it is home to several prominent landmarks which help define the character of the city and of the emirate as a whole.
One of the most impressive landmarks in Abu Dhabi if not in the entire UAE is undoubtedly the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It is one of the world's largest mosques with more than 1,000 columns, 82 domes, and room for 40,000 worshippers – all surrounded by beautiful reflective pools. It is open to visitors daily, unlike most of the city's mosques, and contains such impressive sights as massive gilded chandeliers and the biggest hand-knotted carpet in the world.
Though the Sheikh Zayed mosque only finished construction in 2007, its architectural style is undeniably traditional. At the opposite end of the architectural spectrum, the glitzy glass of the Etihad Towers has an undeniably contemporary aesthetic. These luxury residential towers are also home to high-quality shopping and dining facilities, and tower over the city as some of its most prominent landmarks.
As far as the emirate's heritage goes, one of the most historically important buildings in Abu Dhabi is Al Jahili Fort. Built in 1891, it offered important protection for the city and for the surrounding pine groves. It served as home to the important military force that was the Oman Trucial Scouts, who guarded important mountain passes and kept peace between local tribes. In more recent years, it has undergone extensive restoration and plays home to an exhibition dedicated to adventurer Sir Wilfred Thesiger.
Abu Dhabi is very different from its arguably more popular neighbour Dubai in many ways, but one thing they have in common is excellent shopping facilities. Abu Dhabi is a prominent centre of commerce, and home to a large number of districts and destinations ideal for shopping trips of every kind.
In particular, the shopping centres and malls of Abu Dhabi are excellent places to go, whether you need to go shopping or simply enjoy a bit of retail therapy. Last year saw the opening of the massive and futuristic Yas Mall – the biggest shopping centre in the whole of the United Arab Emirates. Built on a manmade island, this mall is home to just about every kind of retailer you could possibly need.
Al Khalidyah Mall is another importance retail centre. 160 units offer a complete range of shops, from department stores and fashion outlets to a large, three-story supermarket. These are complemented by a wide choice of leisure facilities including computer games, bowling allies, and soft play for children.
You don't necessarily need to go to the biggest shopping centres to enjoy the busy commercial scene of Abu Dhabi. Many of the city's smaller malls still make for excellent shopping destinations with plenty of choice along with a pleasant atmosphere. The Galleria is a small fairly upmarket mall with a wide choice of retailers offering different categories of goods, and the Mina Centre also packs a lot of choice into a relatively small, two-story space.
Aside from observing restrictions, such as only being able to purchase properties within designated zones, the property purchase process for overseas investors in Abu Dhabi is much the same as in any other part of the UAE.
The first step is simply to contact the seller, developer, or agent that is offering the property and express your interest in buying it. Once it has been agreed that you will purchase the property (different companies will have different processes and requirements put in place before reaching this situation), a contract will be drafted. Once the terms of the contract have been agreed upon and signed by both parties, a deposit will be paid. Do not part with any money before the signing of the contract.
After the contract has been signed and the deposit paid, the seller must check that the property is entirely as advertised while the buyer will need to secure finance (unless paying in cash, of course). Mortgage options are available, or alternatively developers and specialist property investment firms often have their own finance deals which can be more accessible and convenient than turning to an external lender.
Once the final payment has been made (for off-plan purchases, this will usually not be until the property is completed and ready for use), ownership will be transferred to the buyer. Transfer fees will be payable, and potentially also agent fees and fees for registering with local authorities.