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Cost of Living in Dubai for Expatriates

Published 29.07.2021

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How Much Does It Cost to Live in Dubai

Before moving to Dubai, as with any other country, you should prepare a list of your approximate living expenses.
This should include the cost of renting/buying a property unit, utilities, food shop, transportation, cosmetic and cleaning services, medical insurance, and recreation. If you are planning to move with your family and children, you should include expenses for educational institutions as well. It will help you to not only make a balanced decision but to also organize your life in the best way possible for your new life in the city.

The list of expenses strongly depends on the area where you decide to live, your lifestyle, and many other factors. In this article, we will try to answer the most common question - How much does it cost to move to Dubai?

Comparison of Dubai and other cities

Although the official currency of the UAE is AED, the cost of all basic goods is still tied to USD since over 70% of all products, from water to clothing, are imported. Of course, the final amount of expenses depends on many factors. Are you traveling with your family or alone? Do you need to provide childcare or enroll your children into kindergarten, school, or sports clubs? What medical services do you need?

On June 10, 2020, Mercer released its 26th Annual Cost of Living Survey in all the leading cities of the world. Dubai ranked 23rd out of the declared TOP 30 cities with the most expensive cost of living. It's two lines lower than the previous year.

In the table below, we have listed the 5 largest world centers that foreign citizens choose in search of earnings.
According to the information provided, the average cost of living in Dubai, per person is AED 3,444 (USD 938), taking into account the purchase of clothing and entertainment (restaurants, cafes, tickets to the cinema etc.) For a family of 4, this amount can reach up to AED 11,846 (USD 3,225) per month, however this calculation doesn't include the cost of renting/buying a property unit and medical insurance. Next, we will look at the specific items of expenditure.

Real estate

First of all, it's worth noting that as a general rule, the cost of housing should not exceed more than 30% of your monthly income. The price for both renting and buying real estate depends on the location (the closer to the center - the more expensive), the area itself and whether the space is furnished or not. At the same time, it is worth taking into account the accompanying "additional" costs for renting or buying a home:

  1. For rent. The most common format of a lease agreement is for 1 year. Payment for this period can be made by one or more cheques (3, 4, 6, 12) tied to a certain date. Thus, you should have the necessary amount in your account by the specified dates. If you do not have the amount in your bank, you will be fined and lose the status as a `trustworthy tenant`. Also, keep in mind that the more cheques that are needed to pay the rent throughout the year, the less likely you are to negotiate with the landlord to reduce the final cost of rent. It is also necessary to take into account the deposit amount (5-10%), the Ejari registration fee(AED 206 (USD 56)) and the agent's commission (5% of the annual lease cost).
  2. For the purchase. If you purchase a property unit, you have to pay a DLD registration fee (2% or 4% of the housing cost), agent's commission (2-5%), a 5-10% deposit, 5% VAT, a fee for the property rights registration (1% of the housing cost) and obtain an NOC certificate from AED 500 to 5,000 (USD 136 – 1,361).

Rent

A major part of your monthly expenses will be the rental cost, as you have to deposit a fairly large amount of money, if paying in a reduced amount of cheques. In most cases, those who move to Dubai alone or as a couple without children, consider renting a studio or a 1-bedroom apartment.

If you are looking for affordable housing, it's better to pay attention to the following districts:
  • Dubai Production City (IMPZ) and International City - from AED 15,000 (USD 4,084).
  • Remraam - from AED 19,000 (USD 5,173).
  • Dubai Silicon Oasis, Town Square and Discovery Garden - from AED 20,000 (USD 5,445).
  • Dubai Sports City - from AED 22,000 (USD 5,445).
The above-mentioned prices are for unfurnished studios with a minimum total area of 366 sq. ft. If we consider a furnished apartment, you need to add approximately AED 5-15,000 (USD 1,36-4,084) per year. In terms of location, these areas are within a 30 minute drive from the business centers of Dubai – Downtown Dubai, Business Bay, and DIFC.

Although these areas have the most attractive rental costs, those who plan to work in the city center should consider housing options closer to their workplace, for example, districts such as Downtown Dubai, Business Bay, DIFC, Al Wasl, Al Quoz, and Jumeirah all have great travel connections. Here, the rental cost of a studio with a total area of 409 sq. ft starts from AED 40,000 (USD 10,890). A 1-bedroom apartment of 1,151 sq. ft. will cost you AED 165,000 (USD 44,922). Although you will pay more, you will save time and money on commuting.

For a family of 4, 3-bedroom apartments, villas, or duplexes are probably more appropriate. This can include both residential complexes and integrated communities in which all the necessary amenities (nurseries, kindergartens, schools or universities, parks and playgrounds, etc.) are concentrated within the same area, but not too far from the workplace. From this point of view, good transport accessibility, relatively low prices, and a good infrastructure are combined in such areas as Discovery Gardens, Dubai Investment Park, and Jumeirah Village Circle.

Discovery Gardens is a quiet community which is predominantly a residential development. Dubai Investment Park also has many businesses and offices, while there are schools, shops, and kindergartens closeby - if you work near the EXPO 2020 zone, then this is one of the best options. The cost for renting an unfurnished 3-bedroom apartment starts from AED 65,000 (USD 17,700). A fully furnished apartment will cost you AED 90,000 (USD 24,500). As for villas, you can find a ready-to-move-in 2-bedroom property unit for AED 70,000 (USD 19,100) in the community of Amazonia (Akoya).

For sale

The secondary market offers a faster way to buy ready-to-move-in real estate than off-plan units. However, it's a more complex process with high financial costs. For those who are planning a long-term stay in Dubai, it is of course more profitable to purchase a home rather than rent one. Even if you decide to move to another country in a couple of years or return home, you can always resell the property or start renting it out to pay off the mortgage. In the latter case, your expenses will be paid back in 7-12 years as Dubai real estate offers good liquidity.

The Dubai real estate market offers a variety of real estate options from the middle segment at affordable prices to elite luxurious mansions. You can consider options for purchasing a property unit for the up-front cost, with payment installments, or with a mortgage. Need to know how to get a mortgage in Dubai as a foreign investor? Find out the answer in this article.

You can also purchase real estate under the Rent-to-Own scheme. Thus, the initial contributions will be lower (5-8%), and the purchase will be based on lease principles. Hence, you will sign an agreement and make the appropriate payment according to the established deadlines. The cost itself will be slightly higher than for classic rent. As soon as you make the last payment, you will receive ownership.

In the most affordable areas, the price for a studio starts from AED 180,000 (USD 49,000). These include International City, Dubai Investment Park and Dubai South (near the EXPO 2020 area), Dubai Sports City, and Town Square. A 1-bedroom apartment, in turn, will cost you AED 300,000 (USD 81,700).

Couples with children can consider buying real estate in areas such as Town Square which houses low-rise buildings. The starting price for apartments with 2-3 bedrooms is AED 650,000 (USD 177,000) or a villa or townhouse will cost AED 1,400,000 (USD 381,200). You can also find affordable housing in Dubai Sports City, JVC, Silicon Oasis, or International City.

NB! It's better to hire an experienced real estate agent or contact a qualified brokerage company, which will help you get acquainted with the real estate market in more detail. Based on your preferences, agents will choose the most comfortable type of real estate, as well as the area in which it will be located, to suit your needs.

Payment of utility services

In this case, we will consider the payment for utility services for a property unit with a total area of 915 sq. ft. (apartments with 1-2 bedrooms/villas with 2 bedrooms/duplexes with 1 bedroom).

  • Water, electricity, garbage collection, and central cooling system - about AED 700 (USD 191).
  • Basic residential internet access (20 Mbit/sec) - about AED 360 (USD 98).
  • Mobile communication- AED 30 (USD 8,20) for a basic package with 250 MB of mobile traffic / AED 100 (USD 27,23) for a package with 3 GB of mobile traffic.

Additional expenses may include cleaning of swimming pools and community service charges (depending on residential building type and area).

When buying real estate
, owners are required to register for a DEWA connection:
  • Activation of an account in DEWA – AED 130 (USD 35,40)
  • Installation of counters – AED 110 (USD 29,95)
  • Refundable DEWA deposit: for apartments – AED 2,000 (USD 545), for villas/townhouses – AED 4,000 (USD 1,089)

Note! The tenant must pay for water, electricity, and air conditioning, including its maintenance. All other expenses (security service, pool cleaning, residential internet access) are made by the landlord. For the tenant, the payment of water and electricity amounts to around 5% of the rent.


Cleaning services

In Dubai, household services are offered for an affordable price range relative to salaries. Cleaning services can be provided directly by specialized agencies or organized by a property management company.

Those interested in helping around the house, such as maids, cooks, drivers, or nannies can contact any of the Tadbeer centers, which have replaced recruitment agencies. Tadbeer provides 4 packages of services: 2 types of direct sponsorship, Tadbeer sponsorship, and time-based options.

Thus, you can hire a full-time home assistant and become their sponsor in the UAE. In this case, you must take care of:
  • A visa (some resident visas allow the possibility of including not only family members but also home help and their extension).
  • Place of residence.
  • Medical insurance.
  • Emirates ID.
Also, you can use the services of staff on demand. The estimated rates are the following:
  • One hour of maid service – AED 40 (USD 10.90).
  • One-time cleaning service for an apartment of 646 sq. ft (studio/1-bedroom apartment) – AED 100-120 (USD 27.23 - 32.67).
  • The monthly cost of cleaning – AED 500-600 (USD 136.13 - 163.35)
If you choose a package of services (Tadbeer sponsorship), you must pay a fixed monthly cost of AED 3,500 (USD 953) for the first 5 months. Later, the amount will be reduced. Learn more on www.tadbeer.ae.

Food

In Dubai, the price of imported goods, which occupy most supermarket shelves, is high. However, you can save a little bit of money by purchasing seasonal products from local production or by choosing affordable groceries (Carrefour, Lulu hypermarket, Union Cooperative).

On average, the monthly cost of food per person starts from AED 480 (USD 130). For a family of four, this amount can be 3-4 times higher. Please note that this is an approximate cost, which can be adjusted depending on your financial situation and shopping preferences.

According to Numbeo, the average food prices look as follows:
  • Whole milk 1 l – AED 8 (USD 2.18)
  • Bread for 2 people for 1 day – AED 4.31 (USD 1.17)
  • 500 g boneless chicken breast – AED 20 (USD 5.45)
  • Beef 1 kg – AED 38.77 (USD 10.56)
  • Potatoes 1 kg – AED 3.50 (USD 0.95)
  • Water 1.5 l – AED 2.26 (USD 0.61)
  • 1 bottle of quality red table wine – AED 65-105 (USD 17.70 - 28.60)
According to Numbeo data for May 2021, lunch in a cafe costs approximately AED 35 (USD 9.53). The price for a 3-course dinner for two people starts from AED 250 (USD 68.06). An equivalent to McMeal by McDonald's at a fast-food cafe will cost you AED 28 (USD 7.62).

NB! One must have a license to buy, transport, and store alcohol at home. In September 2020, the government introduced new licenses (black and gold) valid for one year. The price to obtain a license is AED 270 (USD 73.51).

Transport

Dubai's transport system consists of 196 bus routes, trams, and the Dubai metro. In recent years, the transport network has been extended with bicycles and scooters to use in larger areas like JLT, Downtown Dubai and Dubai Marina. In the Emirate, there are both public and private taxis, water taxis and monorails (so far only on Palm Jumeirah), as well as car-sharing.

Public transport

The unified public transport system of Dubai includes the metro, buses, land, and river trams. Public transport routes are divided into 7 zones. The price per trip depends on how many zones you cross. In the metro, there are both ordinary cars and superior comfort for travelers. The latter requires extra payment according to the "Gold Class" tariffs.

You pay for trips by using a NOL travel card, which are divided into 3 main types of fares:
  • A single trip within one zone (T1)
  • A single trip that starts in one zone and ends in the adjacent zone (T2)
  • A single trip through more than 2 zones (T3)
The most popular travel card is the Red NOL card. It can be used only for 1 type of transport and can record a maximum of 10 trips. You can also use a Red NOL card as a full-day travel ticket, this is valid for 90 days and costs 2 AED (USD 0,55).

The Silver NOL card, in turn, costs AED 6 (USD 1.63) and you can use it as a one-week travel ticket. The validity period is 5 years with a possible deposit of up to AED 1,000 (USD 272.26).

The Gold NOL card gives the right to travel in high-comfort cars on the metro.

Table of tariffs:

You must tap the card on the validator before and after the trip. If you did not travel in a 'Gold Class' carriage, the cost will be charged at the normal fare.

There are also personal transportation cards - NOL Blue cards. The fine for incorrect fare payment is AED 200 (USD 54,45).

Another form of transport for getting around the city is a city bike. You can rent a city bike for AED 20 (USD 5.45) per day and they have several types of subscriptions:
  • Weekly for AED 50 (USD 13.61)
  • Monthly for AED 75 (USD 20.42)
  • Annual for AED 420 (USD 114.35)
You can also rent an electric scooter for AED 100 (USD 27.23) per week or AED 200 (USD 54.45) per month.

Order a State Taxi (DTC) through the mobile application, by phone, or through the website at a fixed rate of AED 5 (USD 1,36) per km during the day (06:00-22:00) and AED 5.5 (USD 1.5) at night. You will have to pay a fee of AED 10-12 (USD 2.72-3,27) for pre-booking.

If you are traveling from the airport, the price is AED 1.96 per km (USD 0.53), with the cost of boarding at AED 25 (USD 6,81). Private taxis can and do set fares independently.

Buying/renting a car

The cost of buying a car depends on its year of manufacture and condition. For example, a new Volkswagen Golf with a 1.4-liter engine will cost approximately AED 89,500 (USD 24,367). A Toyota Corolla 2021 from an official dealer, in turn, costs AED 72,000 (USD 19,600).

If we consider the option of a second-hand Toyota Corolla 2018 with a mileage of 40,000 km, the price will be AED 50,000 (USD 13,650).

If you are considering purchasing a new car, be ready to pay the following extra costs for the initial setup:
  • AED 420 (USD 115) for registration
  • AED 170 (USD 47) for technical inspection
  • AED 350 (USD 96) for transfer of ownership
  • AED 220 (USD 60) for a travel file (if it's not activated) and other minor fees
Car rental services are also popular in Dubai as it is flexible if someone is only residing in the city for a short period of time. For example, renting a Kia Rio for a day will cost AED 95 (USD 26) and for a month - AED 1,500 (USD 409). Keep in mind the payment of the insurance deposit. For an economy class car, the deposit will cost in the region of AED 1,000-3,000 (USD 273-817).

The cost of street parking varies from AED 2 to AED 4 per hour (USD 0.55-1.10), but this is free on Fridays. A fine for speeding (more than 20 km/h) is AED 500 (USD 137).

In April 2021, prices for fuel increased. Hence, in May 2021, the official price for 1 liter of Special gasoline was AED 2.2 (USD 0.60). At the end of 2020, this was no more than AED 1.8 (USD 0.49) per liter.

Note! In Dubai, the main highway is one long toll road. The fee to go through the toll is charged by a transponder when passing the toll plazas. The fare is AED 4 (USD 1.09). If you are traveling in a rented car, you pay AED 5 (USD 1.36). Therefore, you need to buy a 'Salik' sticker and place it on the windshield. It costs AED 100 (USD 27.23) and AED 20 (USD 5.45) for online delivery. There are 8 toll plazas throughout Dubai..

It's worth noting that if you have a valid international driver's license, then you can exchange it for a Dubai driver's license for AED 850 (USD 232). When doing this, you will need to pay extra fees, which include opening a file and issuing documents. If you don't have a license or it doesn't fall under the international category, you will need to pass a local driving test.

Education

Foreign citizens can send their children to both private and public schools for an annual fee. In Dubai, there are many kindergartens and schools with different languages and educational programmes, to cater to all types of backgrounds, and prices will vary depending on the institution. For example, at Gems Wellington Academy (Silicon Oasis), the yearly cost of study depends on the child's age and varies from AED 37,296 to 82,511 (USD 10,154 to USD 22,464). A year of study at Greenfield International School (IB program) in Dubai Investment Park will cost from AED 31,750 to 76,315 (USD 8,644 to USD 20,777).

The price of attending a kindergarten mainly depends on the equipment, comfort, and staff qualifications (and citizenship). On average, the price for one month attendance for one child starts from AED 1,500 (USD 408) and can reach up to AED 5,000 (USD 1,360).

As for universities, there are more than 60 options for higher education in the region, with 55 of them private facilities. If you are looking for an English-speaking educational facility, you may want to consider the American University in Dubai, The British University in Dubai( BUiD), the University of Dubai or the University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD). The average fee for a year of study under the bachelor's programme varies from AED 37,500 to AED 70,000 (USD 10,210 to USD 19,057). The price for a postgraduate programme starts from AED 54,800 to AED 82,000 (USD 14,920 to USD 22,325).

Medicine

According to the law, anyone living in the UAE is required to have medical insurance, as state insurance is available to local citizens only. For those working in Dubai, it is paid by the employer and can be extended to family members (if it is stipulated in the employment contract). If not, you must arrange insurance for all family members at your own expense.

The minimum level of annual insurance coverage is AED 150,000 (USD 40,840). This is valid only in Dubai and covers up to AED 7,000 (USD 1,910) for maternity services. If the income level is less than AED 4,000 (USD 1,090), the minimum cost of such insurance will be AED 560 (USD 153). If it is higher, the price will depend on the age and gender of the insured person. For example, the Oman Assurance company has an insurance payout ranging from AED 803 for young men to AED 5,990 for older women (from USD 219 to 1,630). Insurance with extended coverage will cost more.

You can also purchase a `Health Card` and waive up to 50% off the treatment expenses. The price for children is AED 120 (USD 33), and for adults - AED 320 (USD 88). The cards are issued for 1 year with a possibility of renewal (no later than one month before the expiration date).

There is an additional insurance system under the `Basic Benefits Plan programme', where low-income workers, dependents, non-working residents, and domestic workers have access to a good level of healthcare at affordable prices. In 2021, the annual package of services costs AED 605 (USD 165).

If there is no insurance, a foreign citizen can call an emergency service free of charge. A 15-minutes visit to a private doctor costs approximately AED 272 (USD 74).

The cost of services

In addition to the above costs, it's also worth considering the most commonly used services such as:
  • Babysitting services: certified nurse – AED 60-80 (USD 17-22) per hour, regular babysitter – AED 30-40 (USD 9-11) per hour.
  • Dry cleaning – from AED 3 to 30 (USD 0.80-08.20) per item, a laundry session in a self-service laundry – AED 8 (USD 2,20).
  • Monthly gym membership – about AED 250 (USD 68).
  • The cost of a women's haircut (with colourist services) is up to AED 1,000 (USD 273), for men – AED 200 (USD 55).
  • The price for a manicure varies from AED 65 to AED 300 (USD 18-82), for a classic pedicure – AED 80 (USD 22)
  • The price for wellness treatments in a mid-range spa starts from AED 350 (USD 96).
  • One session of laser hair removal - AED 59 (USD 16). On average, a full body wax costs AED 349 (USD 95). A whole-body sugar hair removal session – AED 500 (USD 136).
  • Procedures for skin care, depending on the qualification of the master/doctor and for example1 mesotherapy session isAED 399 (USD 109).

Recreation and entertainment

In Dubai, there are numerous options for spending leisure time with both friends, family and children, from shopping to desert safaris. Of course, the price depends on the specific service. For example:
  • The price of a 1-day ski pass with equipment rental in the Mall of Emirates Ski Dubai Snow Park will be AED 250 (USD 68).
  • A day ticket to the Aquaventure Water Park for one adult will cost AED 269 (USD 74).
  • The price for a ticket to the cinema (evening session) varies from AED 50 (USD 14) to AED 130 (USD 36)

You can also consider cheaper leisure options, which will be no less interesting or rich. For example, you can visit Creekside Park. There are lots of entertainment areas that include a barbecue zone, 3 helicopter pads, a planetarium in the Children's Town, a dolphinarium, a 5D and 7D theater, a mirror maze, a trampoline hall, and much more. You won't be bored! The entrance ticket price is AED 5 (USD 1,40) per person.

Conclusion

  1. Dubai ranks 23rd out of 30 in the Mercer rating for the cost of living, as of 2020.

  2. The average cost of living for one person is AED 3,444 (USD 938), for a family of 4, this rises to AED 11,846 (USD 3,225). These sums exclude the costs of renting/buying real estate and medical insurance.

  3. On the surface, it seems that the prices for some services are very high, however, in terms of wages and quality of services, they are quite acceptable.

  4. When planning a move, keep in mind that the cost of renting a property unit should not exceed more than 30% of your monthly income.

  5. Dubai offers the opportunity to increase income. Thus, the average salary there is AED 16,500 (USD 4,493). Also, residents get access to self-development and career growth. On top of that, they have access to the best medical and educational universities, the opportunity to invest at affordable prices and low mortgage rates.

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