The cost of living in Dubai

The cost of living in Dubai

26th July, 2013

The basic costs of everyday life can make all the difference between a comfortable expat lifestyle and a struggle.  It makes sense to find out about the cost of living in the country or countries you are thinking about moving to. I thought I would look at Dubai this time, since it’s a popular option with so many new expats – so much so that an impressive 80% of Dubai’s working population is made up of expats. 

The comparative cost of living in Dubai

Until recent years a very expensive place to live, recent research reveals Dubai is getting cheaper. And it has been getting steadily cheaper for a decade. The prices of a range of everyday items are being held down, and a stronger US dollar makes it relatively affordable. This is good news for existing expats and people thinking about moving there, although there are some signs that the cost of living is starting to rise again.

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) 2013 Cost of Living survey shows how Dubai’s cost of living reduced from 94th out of 131 cities surveyed to number 96 in 2013, another reduction following a sharp drop of 16 positions the year before. Ten years ago it sat at number 56.

Dubai versus London

  • Consumer prices in Dubai are just over 35% cheaper than London
  • Rent is 22% lower than London
  • Restaurant prices are 34% lower
  • Groceries cost 29% less

Dubai versus Singapore

  • Dubai consumer prices are 29% lower than Singapore
  • Rent is 33% lower than Singapore
  • Restaurant prices are 6% higher
  • Groceries are 28% lower

Dubai versus New York

  • Consumer prices are 29% lower than New York
  • Rent is 35% lower
  • Restaurant prices are 34.5% lower
  • Grocery prices are 38% cheaper

It really helps to compare prospective places to live with cities in your home country. You can compare Dubai’s cost of living with more cities worldwide here, on the Numbeo website.

Renting a home in Dubai

Renting in Dubai means finding a reputable broker or agency, someone officially registered with a Broker’s Registration ID card and licensed by the Department of Economic Development. Real Estate agents are paid 5% of the annual rental, due when you sign the lease.

You can’t arrange a fixed tenancy agreement in Dubai if you only have a temporary visitor visa. But it’s possible to opt for short-term lease accommodation. Whatever you rent, you will need to present your passport, residence permit and proof of income from your employer. You will also need to pay a year’s rent up front and pay a security deposit.

Like anywhere else, rent varies depending on the area, type and location of the property. On the expensive side, you can pay as much as 100,000 AED a year for a smart two bedroom apartment in an area popular with expats.

Alternatively, if you are single you can share a flat with other people in the same boat and cut the cost. The Easy Room Renting website offers rooms for rent and flatshare right across the Middle East.

Electricity and water

You need to pay the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority around AED 1,000 connection fee for a standard apartment and about 2,000 for a larger property.


There are plenty of schools in including state and private schools, day schools and boarding schools, nurseries and childcare facilities. There is a wide variety of curricula and educational approaches, too. Most English language schools start in September and all schools close during the hottest time of year, July and August. International schools are usually private, and are often expensive. The fees vary depending on the type of school and the facilities they provide.


You need to have a medical examination and blood tests to qualify for a residence visa and labour card. Then you can apply for a health card, valid for a year and renewable online, which entitles you to basic medical care at public hospitals and clinics. Because the card only covers the basics, international health insurance comes highly recommended, giving you access to treatment at Dubai’s many excellent private hospitals.


You can rent or buy a car and there are plenty of websites to search for the best car rental deals in Dubai. Alternatively the Dubai public transport network includes a Metro service, buses, water buses and taxis.  Taxis are good value at 3 AED with an extra 1.60 AED for each km travelled.

Eating out and socializing

You can expect to pay about AED 30 for a meal out in a reasonable restaurant. But the alcohol side of life is very expensive. Alcohol is available in most hotels, some restaurants and clubs but a bottle of beer costs about 32 AED and a glass of wine around 36 AED.

A simple Dubai cost of living calculator

The Casual Expat site includes a useful little cost of living calculator to help you figure out whether the salary you can command in Dubai will be enough to live comfortably on.

One important thing to bear in mind; there is a zero tax rate in Dubai, so you can use your net salary to calculate the cost of living.

Discover our expat country guides

Would you like to know more about expat living? Why not download our free eBook, The New Expat? It goes into detail about the medical side of expat life, family matters, accommodation, financial arrangements and more, designed to make your life easier in all sorts of ways. We also produce specific Country Guides each month, from A to Z, full of details to help you make the most of your exciting new life.

Join the conversation

Do you already live in Dubai? Do you have any advice for our readers? We’d love to share your experiences. You can join the conversation by leaving a comment below, or connect with us on Twitter: @now_health or on the Now Health Facebook page so we can share them with our readers.


Image source: Andrey

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Alison Massey

Group Marketing Director

Now Health International

Alison Massey is a 15-year digital marketing veteran, who has spent the last seven years using social media to help expats and soon to be expats find out what to expect from a life overseas. An expat living in Hong Kong herself, Alison is the Group Marketing Director of Now Health, the award-winning international health insurance provider.

Contact Alison Massey

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