Expatriate in Dubai – How Much Does It Cost to Live in Dubai
How Much Does It
Cost to Live in Dubai
Dubai is the city where moving in and out never ends for its residents. The city isn’t just about attracting tourism, as foreigners play a major role in the economy of Dubai. Expats invest heavily in the city’s projects, they run their own businesses in the emirates free zones and come for the employment opportunities in locally-based companies. Expatriates build up around 88% of the population in the UAE. The city provides a high standard of living for both the country’s nationals and its expats, meaning the level of safety, health care and services are some of the best. According to Numbeo’s data, Dubai’s Quality of Life Index is estimated at 158,24, which is considered “very high”. Among other factors, the index includes relatively moderate rates of purchasing power and cost of living.
It has not gone unnoticed that over the past two decades (between 1998 and 2018) Dubai has increased 12.2% in its living standards (due to Mercer’s report). This may be attributed to the continuous efforts of the emirate to improve its infrastructure and create an attractive environment not only for business but for residents as well.
How does Dubai measure up for expats now, after the year of 2020, which has brought so many new entries to the city? In 2020 we saw the city do its absolute best to combat the spread of the coronavirus by quickly closing its borders and introducing lockdowns, just like many other countries around the world began to do the same, which hugely affected the economy all over the globe. As a result, some cities experienced a price increase in property, whereas in contrast, some other nations witnessed a price decline. Dubai stands with the latter. According to Numbeo’s global ranking, which compares 440 major cities, the Arab megapolis has moved to 262nd place in June 2021 from 152nd place in 2020.
Comparison of Dubai Against Other Cities
Comparison of Dubai
Against Other Cities
Based on Numbeo's assessment system, Zurich and Switzerland were the world's most expensive cities from their cost of living in 2020, topping the global ranking scale. New York and the US followed, ranking 11th, and Dubai was 152nd.
As of June 2021, according to the same Numbeo data, Hong Kong, Hamilton, Bermuda and Tokyo topped the world ranking list for cost of living. Dubai, on the other hand, dropped 110 points from the previous year to rank 262nd.
The cost of living per month without rent for a single person in Hamilton, Bermuda is estimated at AED 6,706 (USD 1,826), for a family of four – AED 24,614 (USD 6,701). In New York monthly costs, excluding rent, for a single individual amount to AED 4,949 (USD 1,348), for a family of four – AED 18,197 (USD 4,954).
In London singles will need around AED 4,428 (USD 1,206) without rent, a family of four – AED 15,718 (USD 4,280).
In Dubai, the above mentioned costs are significantly lower and look as follows: monthly budget exclusive of rent for one person is estimated at AED 3,434 (USD 935) and for a family of four – AED 11,842 (USD 3,224).
Coming back to a comparison of Dubai’s cost of living year-on-year, in money terms the negative price movement is about half as low for a single person and around 33% less for a family of four. In 2020 a single person spent AED 8,972 (USD 2,443) on average and a family of four AED 16,478 (USD 4,486). Evidently, living in Dubai has become more affordable in 2021.
Cost of Living in Dubai
What does the cost of living imply? Generally speaking, the notion includes expenses related to one’s bare needs, such as housing and utilities, food, clothing, healthcare and transportation. Everything that goes beyond education, entertainment, traveling, fitness, etc. much depends on one’s status and personal lifestyle and may be a rigid expenditure item in a person’s monthly budget or it may be the next biggest expenditure.
If you plan to move to Dubai, it would be useful to estimate your upcoming expenses and calculate a draft monthly budget. Here we have tried to outline the most common costs an expat can incur to give you a better idea of what the cost of living in Dubai 2021 looks like.
Housing in Dubai is cheaper than in some of the world’s leading cities, both in terms of rentals and property purchases. Though, this is still a hefty amount of a typical income. In Dubai an average monthly net salary equals AED 12,043 (USD 3,279). Below we provide the prices for rent and mortgage payments (if you are buying property) for you to understand the correlation between salaries and accommodation costs.
Important: It’s common practice in Dubai to rent or buy housing with the help of a real estate agency, so, these costs should be accounted for when estimating upcoming expenditures. Brokerage fees for rentals are paid on time and may vary from 2% to 5% + 5% VAT of the first annual rent. The usual commission for the sale is 4% + 5% VAT on the purchase price. Conveyance fee ranges from AED 6,000 to AED 10,000 (USD 1,640-2,730).
The majority of expatriates who live in the Desert City have to rent homes and find accommodation to be the biggest chunk of their salary, eating up more than 30% of an average income. A one-bedroom apartment in a fully-serviced building in one of Dubai’s central districts may be rented out for AED 5,574 (USD 1,518) per month on average. A 3-bedroom apartment for a family of four will cost around AED 10,818 (USD 2,946) per month. Rentals in the city center are always the priciest like anywhere in the world, but this is the expense, that is most in one’s control.
People who work in the center, will probably find it convenient to live close to the office and save on daily travel time, though in many cases you can find yourself overpaying for the privilege of staying in this location. As of June 2021, monthly rents for a one-bedroom apartment in Business Bay start from AED 2,920 (USD 795). A similar unit in The Lagoons in Dubai Creek Harbour may be rented for AED 3,750 (USD 1,020) per month.
If we consider apartments outside of the city center, the monthly cost will average at AED 3,668 (USD 1,000) for a one-bedroom and AED 7,401 (USD 2,015) for a 3-bedroom unit. There is a constant development of communities outside of the city center which is particularly good news for a smart renter. The peripheral location of new neighbourhoods is more than outweighed by onsite amenities and facilities.
Note! The areas with the most affordable rental prices include Discovery Gardens, International City, Dubai Silicon Oasis, Dubai Production City (IMPZ), Town Square, Jumeirah Village Circle (JVC), Dubai Sports City and Remraam.
Along with apartments, villas are another preferred housing option in Dubai. For example, the community of DAMAC Hills 2, located 35 minutes from Downtown Dubai, offers a 3-bedroom villa for about AED 3,333 (USD 907) per month. Affordable rental villas can also be found in Dubai Industrial Park, Dubai South and International City’s; Serena, where you can rent a villa with 3 bedrooms for prices ranging from AED 49,000 to AED 85,000 (from USD 12,300 - 23,200) a year.
Important: When renting accommodation in Dubai, you should take into account that when signing a contract, you must also make a security deposit, which is usually equal to one month's rent. In addition it is customary to pay the rent by a number of cheques, for the whole year at once. The number of cheques can range from 1 to 6 with a pre-written date of payment on each one, depending on the agreement between the tenant and the landlord. The higher the amount of cheques means the more likely it is that the monthly rent price may increase. If the landlord cannot cash the cheque on the due date, it may result in additional penalties and conditions for renegotiation of the rental agreement and further eviction.
According to UAE law, all leases must be registered through the Ejari system which is the transfer of residence ‘ownership’ from the landlord to the tenant or from the previous tenant. The feeis AED 195 for all types of housing and is paid by the tenant(s).
Buying Property in Dubai
Should the circumstances permit, buying a property is always a good idea. Owning a property seems a far more reliable investment than using income for a leasehold, more so that property prices in Dubai are lower than in many leading cities.
As per Numbeo’s data for May 2021, the price per square meter to buy an apartment in the city center averages AED 13,023 (USD 3,545), outside of the city center this is AED 8,946 (USD 2,436). It is actually more affordable than in London, where the “per square meter” price in the center is 77.4% higher, or in Hong Kong – 89% higher.
For example, the average purchase price of apartments ready for occupancy in Dubai Marina is AED 1.4M (USD 404K), in JLT prices are from AED 600K (USD 163K), Arjaan Dubai are AED 440K (USD 120K) and Emaar South Dubai from AED 500K (USD 136K).
When buying a property, you should consider additional costs such as transfer tax (4%), administrative and registration fees and 5% VAT.
Utility costs include monthly charges for electricity, water, sewerage, cooling, garbage and a housing fee of 5%. These services are provided by Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA). Activation will cost AED 110 (USD 30). According to Numbeo’s statistics as of May 2021, the monthly DEWA bill for an 85 sq. m apartment in Dubai averages at AED 669 (USD 182). It should be mentioned that summer and winter bills will vary massively due to the A/C usage in the summer which will be significantly higher than in the winter.
In Dubai, WiFi and TV services are available from two providers “Etisalat” and “Du”. A basic plan, including 500 Mbps and free-to-air basic TV channels, starts from AED 389 (USD 106) a month (offered by “Du”). As for mobile phones, 1 minute of a prepaid tariff (no discounts or plans) is equivalent to AED 0.47 (USD 0.13). The basic mobile postpaid plan starts at AED 125 (USD 34) per month.
Domestic services are quite affordable in Dubai and very common among both locals and expats. Those interested in house help such as maids, cooks, drivers, nannies, etc. should contact one of the Tadbeer centers, which has now replaced recruitment agencies.
Tadbeer centers provide four types of packages that include 2 kinds of direct sponsorship, Tadbeer sponsorship and time-based options. In simple words, one may hire a full-time helper and sponsor his/her stay in the UAE, meaning they directly take care of the helpers visa and their yearly prolongation, accommodation, health insurance, Emirates ID, etc. or take advantage of the on-demand services under which the helper is sponsored by the company.
For reference, under the category of a Tadbeer sponsorship, an employer should pay a fixed monthly amount of AED 3,500 within the first 5 months, thereafter, the amount gets decreased to the salary for a maid, AED 2,420 for an African national, AED 2,800 for an Indian, etc. For more information, visit the Tadbeer website.
When it comes to food costs in Dubai, it should be mentioned that imported items, which take up the majority of supermarkets’ shelves, are expensive. Still, it is possible to save on costs if buying locally-produced, seasonal products or making purchases at more affordable chains such as Carrefour, Lulu Hypermarket, Union Cooperative (compared to premium supermarkets like Spinneys or Waitrose).
On average, the monthly cost of a staple grocery shop for a single person may come in at around AED 3,436 (USD 935.45) and for a family of four this could rise to AED 11,863 (USD 3,230). This is a rough estimation and subject to correction according to financial capacities and personal eating behaviour and preferences.
For a better understanding, we have provided a shortlist of the prices for common groceries in a supermarket:
A meal in a café costs approximately AED 35 (USD 9,53), while a 3-course dinner for 2 people requires a minimum of AED 250 (USD 68). Fast food options, equivalent to a McMeal at McDonald's comes to around AED 28 (USD 7.62). The prices are average according to Numbeo’s data from May 2021. Buying and drinking alcohol has some specific rules to abide by both in Dubai and throughout the UAE.
Its prices are much higher than in European cities, and it is only available in licensed establishments and specialized stores, such as the African+Eastern and MMI chains. There are not many discounts at all when it comes to alcohol so choose wisely! To possess and consume alcohol privately (at home) foreign citizens over the age of 21 need to obtain a permit (license), which costs AED 270 (USD 74) and is valid for 1 year.
One of the best ways to get around Dubai is by driving. Excellent road infrastructures, reasonably cheap fuel and lots of free parking options make obtaining a car extremely convenient. The satisfaction of traveling by car may only be spoiled by traffic jams, rather hefty parking fines (if you overstay or park in the wrong area) and the necessity to pay for a toll pass for some of the major roads. All vehicles are subject to have so-called Salik Tag on the windscreen of the car and pay a toll of AED 4 (USD 1.1) when passing through the toll gates.
There are a total of 8 toll spots across the city. A Salik Tag costs AED 100 (USD 27.2) + AED 20 for delivery, if purchased online and can be easily topped up online or via an app during usage. To avoid the toll gate, you can take many other routes (reference the RTA app), but this is not always convenient because the duration of the trip may increase.
As an alternative, one can use public transport and save on their everyday commute. Public transport vehicles are all up-to-date, air conditioned and very comfortable. The Dubai Metro is considered as one of the best in the world.
To get around the city, you can use the local buses (196 routes), the tram, water buses, taxis and the Dubai Metro. All modes of transport are covered by the NOL card, which is divided into 4 types depending on the frequency of travel and class of service: Red - for tourists and visitors, Silver - for frequent standard class passengers, Gold - premium class, Blue - individual according to personal needs. All types, with the exception of Red, are valid for 5 years. Silver and Gold cards cost AED 25+ AED 19 (USD 11.98) deposit per trip.
Dubai’s monorail, which operates in Palm Jumeirah, is not included in the NOL card system and has its own tariffs. A single trip starts from AED 10 (USD 2.7) and a round trip for a family of four costs AED 100 (USD 27.2). Numbeo’s statistics state that an average one-way bus ticket comes to AED 5 (USD 1,36) and a monthly bus pass will cost AED 300 (USD 81.67). Taxis start at normal tariff costs equivalent to AED 12 (USD 3.27), each additional kilometer is priced at AED 2.45 (USD 0,67).
Buying a Car
Prices for cars depend on the condition and year of manufacture. One of the most widely used vehicles in Dubai is a Toyota Corolla Sedan and it can be purchased for AED 70,581 (USD 19,215) or a Volkswagen Golf 1,4 90 KW Trendline is priced at AED 89,500 (USD 24,366). When buying a used car, depreciation reaches around 20% - 40% of the market price.
Adding to the purchase price of the owner’s new car, they will have to pay AED 420 (USD 115) for car registration and AED 220 (USD 60) for opening a traffic file. Those who buy second-hand vehicles are charged differently: AED 420 to register the car, AED 170 (USD 46) for technical inspection, AED 350 (USD 100) for ownership transfer and AED 220 for traffic file (if not activated) as well as other minor fees.
The price for gasoline in the UAE is relatively stable and lower than in some other countries – 1 liter costs AED 2.02 (USD 0.55).
Note: Those who have a valid international driver's license can transfer to a Dubai driver's license (certain countries only). To do this you need to pay around AED 870 (USD 237) and other relevant fees, which include opening a file, issuing licenses, etc. Obtaining a license from scratch requires the payment of more money and compulsory training and exams in official driving centers.
There are many kindergartens and schools with different languages and curricula concentrated in the multicultural city of Dubai. There are public and private educational institutions and expat children can attend both, although in all cases parents will have to pay schooling fees as free education is only available to UAE citizens.
The monthly payment for private daycare facilities reaches AED 2,313 (USD 629,69). Education in an international primary school averages around AED 43,555 (USD 11,858) per annum. Schooling fees for senior kids vary greatly depending on the status of the institution and curricula.
Note: The fee is different for each grade and parents should bear in mind that in many cases fees can increase year on year.
Higher education in Dubai is offered in over 60 colleges. Tuition fees for an undergraduate degree ranges from AED 37,500 (USD 10,210) to AED 70,000 (USD 19,058) per year and for a postgraduate degree programme the costs are between AED 54,800 to 82,000 (USD 14,920-22,380) accordingly.
There are two types of clinics in Dubai: public and private. Foreign citizens can go to any of them, but, in most cases, the clinic is assigned by the insurance company whose policy is issued to that patient. A short visit to a private doctor (15 minute appointment) costs around AED 272 (USD 74). But residents may be serviced at public hospitals as well. Having acquired the so-called “Health Card” the non-native holders receive a 50% discount for medical treatment. Health cards for children will cost AED 120 (USD 33), the fee for adults from 18 years and senior citizens – AED 320 (USD 87). The cards for non-GCC and UAE-nationals are valid for 1 year and subject to be renewed no later than one month before expiry.
There is an additional health programme called “Essential Benefits Plan” within the confines of which lower-income workers, dependents, non-working residents and domestic help have access to a good level of healthcare at reasonable costs. Every year Dubai Health Authority announces premium ranges within this sector, of which insurance providers must comply with. Packages for 2021 start from AED 650 (USD 177) per year.
Routine expenditures in one’s everyday life go far beyond housing and transportation and can involve many other things.
To make the picture of living costs in Dubai complete we’ll provide prices for the most commonly used services:
Dubai is the place where the art of entertainment is honed to perfection. There are hundreds of options for a nice weekend, from shopping at the malls to extreme sports such as races, desert safari or diving. Cost for these types of activities varies largely. A one-day pass, including ski slope session and equipment/outfit rental, at the Mall of Emirates Snow Park can be booked for AED 250 (USD 68). A day ticket to Aquaventure Waterpark for one adult is available for AED 269 (USD 74).
Don’t forget to add any additional expenses you might have like enjoying a good cup of coffee or watching a movie. One ticket in an IMAX cinema costs AED 40 (USD 11) and a Cappuccino at a restaurant can cost up to AED 18.80 (USD 5.12).