He subsequently attended Minnesota State University Moorhead.
In 1999, Abdi and his family relocated to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where there is a large Somali community. Before entering the film industry, Abdi sold mobile phones at his brother"s shop at a mall in Minneapolis. He also worked as a limousine driver at a relative"s chauffeur company and a DJ. Abdi made his debut in the 2013 film Captain Phillips.
He played ship hijacker and pirate leader Abduwali Muse.
He was cast following a worldwide search for the lead roles. Abdi and three other actors were subsequently chosen from more than 700 participants at a 2011 casting call in Minneapolis.
According to the casting director, the four were selected because they were "the chosen ones, that anointed group that stuck out". Abdi"s experience in Captain Phillips was his first in the film industry.
He was paid $65,000 for his role in the film.
After production finished, he returned to work at his brother"s store. In January 2014, Abdi read scripts for a television show. He landed a role in an episode of the series Hawaii Five-0, playing former warlord Roko Makoni.
Later that year, he began work on the comedy film Trainwreck, though he did not appear in the finished film.
He also appears in the 2015 thriller Eye in the Sky, playing Jama Farah. Besides acting, Abdi has directed a film, Ciyaalka Xaafada, as well as several music videos.
In 2013, Abdi began to serve as an Ambassador for Adeso, an non-governmental organization founded by the Somali environmentalist Fatima Jibrell. Abdi resides in Los Angeles, California.