While grandiose visions of tax-free wealth lure expats to the United Arab Emirates in droves, it is worth noting that the cost of living in Dubai is rather high. The city ranks as one of the most expensive in the Gulf Region.

In the Mercer Cost of Living Survey for 2023, Dubai was placed 18th out of 227 cities worldwide, ranking 25 spots higher than its neighbouring emirate of Abu Dhabi (43rd).

There are no taxes on salaries or wages in Dubai, and sales tax is, for the most part, minimal. Despite the favourable tax climate, living expenses can add up, and many expats spend money on luxuries they would not normally have splurged on back home.

Accommodation, transport and education are the most significant expenses expats moving to Dubai are likely to encounter. In the past, many expats have been able to reconcile these costs by stipulating subsidies and allowances in their expat contracts, but nowadays, these perks aren't as easy to come by. Still, we recommend expats try their best to negotiate inclusions such as housing and school fees, where possible.

Cost of accommodation in Dubai

Although prices have stabilised somewhat with more real-estate developments springing up, the cost of accommodation in Dubai remains expensive. Landlords sometimes even require rent to be paid upfront in advance for a year. Utilities are reasonably priced, but constant air conditioning can add to the cost, especially in the hot summer months.

For expats, different areas of Dubai offer a variety of living experiences, each with its unique cost implications. Popular expat areas like the Dubai Marina and Downtown Dubai tend to be pricier, reflecting their central locations and luxurious amenities. Communities such as Al Barsha and Jumeirah Village Circle offer more affordable options without compromising much on the quality of life.

Domestic help

In Dubai, many people also find they can afford additional luxuries in their homes, such as domestic help and childcare, due to the somewhat inflated salaries. It is commonplace for families to have a nanny and a housekeeper, and others may also have gardeners and drivers. Most villas have small maids' quarters attached. Families who choose to employ a maid are responsible for paying their residence permit costs and healthcare in Dubai.

Cost of transport in Dubai

Having a car is the fastest and cheapest way of getting around Dubai. As petrol and maintenance prices are significantly reduced, many expats find they can buy cars of a better make and model than what they could afford at home. Hiring a car is also an option.

Catching a bus or taxi is also a possibility, while Dubai's metro system also offers expats a reasonably priced transport option.

Cost of groceries and household goods in Dubai

Dubai's supermarkets and local markets offer a wide range of food items, from locally produced to imported goods. While basic groceries are affordable, especially local produce and meats, expats will find imported goods quite pricey.

Smart shopping can significantly reduce monthly grocery expenses. Local markets and supermarkets often have promotions and discounts, which savvy shoppers can take advantage of.

With Dubai's extensive malls, expats will likely be doing more shopping than they ever did before. Gadgets, international fashion brands and everything else in between are on offer in these massive shopping centres. Household electronic goods are generally reasonably priced, but clothing can still be pricey.

Cost of entertainment and eating out in Dubai

Dubai is renowned for its vibrant entertainment scene, which caters to a wide array of preferences and budgets. Many expats enjoy the diversity of options available, whether a night out at a plush rooftop bar or a more laid-back evening at a local café.

The cost of entertainment and dining out can vary greatly. High-end restaurants and bars in luxury hotels tend to be on the expensive side, especially when it comes to alcoholic beverages.

Numerous affordable dining options are also available, particularly those offering local and regional cuisines. Many bars and restaurants also have happy hours and special deals.

Recreational activities in Dubai range from desert safaris and beach days to indoor skiing and theme parks. These activities offer a range of pricing options, allowing expats to choose experiences that fit their budgets. Moreover, Dubai's cultural scene, including art galleries and museums, provides more low-cost entertainment options.

Cost of education in Dubai

Education is a primary consideration for expat families moving to Dubai. Public schools in Dubai are not often used among expats, but there are plenty of international schools in the emirate, offering various curricula, including British, American and International Baccalaureate. While these schools provide high education standards, the fees can be substantial.

Some parents negotiate education allowances in their employment packages, while others consider more affordable schools or homeschooling as alternatives.

Cost of healthcare and health insurance in Dubai

Healthcare in Dubai is known for its high standards and modern facilities. The Dubai Health Authority regulates healthcare and ensures the availability of high-quality medical services. The quality of healthcare services is excellent but can come at a significant cost.

Expats moving to Dubai should know that health insurance is mandatory for all residents. Most expats opt for private healthcare, which offers shorter waiting times and more advanced facilities. However, this also means that costs can be higher than public healthcare services.

Cost of living in Dubai chart

Note that prices may vary depending on the product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for February 2024.

Accommodation (monthly rent)
Three-bedroom apartment in the city centreAED 16,400
Three-bedroom apartment outside the city centreAED 11,900
One-bedroom apartment in the city centreAED 8,300
One-bedroom apartment outside the city centreAED 5,200
Food and drink
Dozen eggsAED 15
Milk (1 litre)AED 7
Rice (1kg)AED 7.97
Loaf of white breadAED 6.17
Chicken breasts (1kg)AED 17
Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)AED 18
Eating out
Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurantAED 250
Big Mac MealAED 34
Coca-Cola (330ml)AED 4.14
CappuccinoAED 22
Bottle of beer (local)AED 10
Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)AED 0.50
Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)AED 300
Basic utilities (average per month for a standard household)AED 860
Taxi rate/kmAED 3
City-centre public transport fareAED 6.50
Gasoline (per litre)AED 2.97

Expat Health Insurance

Cigna Health Insurance

Cigna Global Health Insurance.

Moving your family abroad can be intimidating, but learning about medical options such as family health insurance early on can help you settle successfully.

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  • Paediatric coverage for well-child visits & immunizations
  • Access to dental and orthodontic care
  • 24/7 multilingual Customer Service

Get a quote from Cigna Global (10% off family health plans in June)

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