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.
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 curriculums 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 centre
|Three-bedroom apartment outside the city centre
|One-bedroom apartment in the city centre
|One-bedroom apartment outside the city centre
|Food and drink
|Milk (1 litre)
|Loaf of white bread
|Chicken breasts (1kg)
|Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)
|Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant
|Big Mac Meal
|Bottle of beer (local)
|Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)
|Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)
|Basic utilities (average per month for a standard household)
|City-centre public transport fare
|Gasoline (per litre)
What do expats say about the cost of living in Dubai?
"Most fresh food needs to be imported as nothing much grows in the desert. So the fruit and vegetables are terribly expensive. Alcohol is all taxed so can be costly. Especially if you are drinking at the hotels." Read more of South African expat Clare's interview.
►Banking, Money and Taxes in the UAE provides all the essential information on expat money matters
Are you an expat living in Dubai?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Dubai. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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