What Is The Cost Of Living In Dubai?

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The numerous highrises pictured hint at the high cost of living in Dubai. The Dubai, UAE, marina in the foreground

Being so close to countries like Saudi Arabia, many initially mistake Dubai as a sister city to the likes of Riyadh–which couldn’t be further from the truth. Whereas Saudi Arabia’s capital of Riyadh is highly conservative and prohibits alcohol, Dubai is quite liberal in comparison, with plenty of nightclubs and beaches. The cost of living in Dubai, however, isn’t nearly as low as any of Saudi Arabia’s cities. Think more along the lines of New York City.

With its relaxing, warm climate, great beaches, and tax-free living, Dubai has attracted the attention of many expats looking to move and work abroad. Its reputation as a luxury vacation destination might make you think that it’s way out of your price range—but as long as you’re not planning to live at an extravagant resort full-time, it can still be very affordable!

The cost of living in Dubai is driven up significantly by its expensive rental and real estate market.

You’d have thought the housing crisis it suffered in 2009 would have lowered rents considerably. All that did was temporarily reduce prices, but they bounced right back up and keep on increasing year-over-year. Overall, a western lifestyle can be quite expensive, and technology is not cheap, but the expat salaries more than make up for it.

Here’s a breakdown of the cost of living in Dubai:

Accommodations

If you’re hoping to live in the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building), you’d better be prepared to drop about $80,000 a year on it. However, there are many other options that can fit quite comfortably into a long-term living budget.

Aerial view of Palm Jumeirah in Dubai, UAE. Some of the costliest homes in Dubai.
If you have several million dollars to spend, “Palm Jumeirah” may be your calling.

As is the case anywhere, housing costs will vary based on how desirable the location is. Here are some basic ideas of the ranges you can expect (with the lower cost typically being in smaller, more remote suburbs and the higher cost in prime locations):

• Hostel Dorm — $15 per night (Dubai’s dorms are pretty crappy)
• Budget hotel or hostel — $40-$100 per night (private room/ensuite)
• High end hotel — $200-$1300 per night (median $400)
• Single room in apartment or villa — $450-$1500 per month
• Studio apartment rental — $650-$1350 per month







• One bedroom apartment rental — $900-$2000+ per month
• Two bedroom apartment rental — $1300-$3000+ per month
• Villa rental (standard to luxury) — $2200-$9000+ per month
• Apartment purchase (varying sizes) — $150,000-$500,000

If you’re considering moving to Dubai long-term and are interested in buying a house, prepare to pay a million dollars or more for a house in a good location.

An aerial view of the costly Dubai Marina District in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Tall skyscrapers and artifical canals.
The Marina district has some of the most expensive condos and offices. Many condos easily rival prices of cities like Paris and Tokyo.

You can easily find houses for half that price, but you’re looking at the suburbs and long commutes in traffic. A positive aspect of the housing cost is that there are no property taxes in Dubai, or in any of the United Arab Emirates.

Food and Drink

This mainly depends on whether you’re the type who likes to cook for yourself or eat out often. Generally, purchasing groceries and cooking your own meals will save you tons and lower your cost of living in Dubai. But there are some great restaurants that are worth checking out. Here’s what you can expect to pay for basic groceries, as well as a typical meal in several types of restaurants:

• Soft drink (one can) – $0.5
• Loaf of bread – $1
• Chicken breasts (1kg) – $7
• Average grocery bill (per person, per week) – $100-$250
• Fast food restaurant – $3-5
• Budget restaurant – $10-20
• Fancy restaurant meal, alcohol included – $50-$200

Clearly, it’s quite possible to eat cheaply in Dubai, as long as you limit your excursions to high-end restaurants. Again, when comparing the cost of living in Dubai to New York City or London, you’ll find a very strong similarity. It is not a cheap place to live in–and home-cooked meals are definitely the way to go for the budget-savvy person. The counterweight to the high cost of food in Dubai are the comfy expat salaries and benefits.

Technology

Dubai is just as modern as the rest of the world and you’ll find top-notch internet and cell phone service.  There are two popular providers which can provide all of your connectivity needs: Etisalat and Du. Their tourist SIMs last for 90 days, and are renewable for a fee. Here’s what you can expect to pay for technology in Dubai:

• Cellular packages (postpaid) – $40 per month (average package w/ 1GB, some plans go as high as $250)
• Local call (prepaid) — 16 cents/minute
• Local SMS (prepaid) –5 cents/message
• International call (prepaid–to most major countries) — 39 cents/minute
• International SMS (prepaid) — 16 cents/message
• 1 GB Cellular Data — $27 per month
• Internet service — $35 per month (average-good)
• Television service (cable and satellite are both available) — $30-$130 per month

There is a wide range of prices depending on whether you choose basic service or prefer all the bells and whistles. Unlike places like Vietnam or Thailand, however, the United Arab Emirate’s technology plans are far more expensive.



If you are a heavy user of data and minutes, your cost of living in Dubai will definitely take a hit. Thankfully, it shouldn’t be more than a few extra hundred dollars a month.

Entertainment

Dubai is globally re-known for its entertainment and plenty of major acts have toured the land of sand and stars. The city almost has a Las Vegas feel to it, and if you’re ever in need of entertainment, you’ll find plenty nearby. It tops most major cities worldwide in terms of entertainment; as a result, unfortunately, there is also a widespread prostitution ring.

Two sexy Arabic girls in a night club in Dubai, UAE
So that’s where daddy’s money is going.. 😉

You’ll also find plenty of Gulf Arabs dropping serious money in clubs, and I’m talking tens of thousands of dollars in one night.

Chi The Nightclub in Dubai, UAE
The Chi nightclub has hosted some of the best DJs in the world.

Whether your fancy is kicking back with a beer, catching a movie at the theater, or tearing up the dance floor at a nightclub, concert, or DJ event, you’ll find them in abundance:

• Beer (one pint) — $10
• Beer (24-pack) — $20-$35
• Bar or nightclub (one person, one night) — $30+
• Concert or DJ event — $50+
• Sports game ticket — $35-$250
• Movie ticket (standard to VIP) — $10-$30

Remember, the high prices are off-set by the expat salaries. VIP theaters have recliner sofas which resemble first class seats on airlines; you are also catered to by a waiter/waitress. The prices I listed above are an average. You will find some concerts go for far more than $50, up to $500, depending on the act. The price of going out to a nightclub can also be much higher–it all depends on your boozing habits.

Many clubs also have bottle service, which allows you to buy a bottle of liquor for $300 or more, and have unlimited soft drinks and a private table to sit at. Housing prices aside, the nightlife and entertainment is second greatest driver for the high cost of living in Dubai.

Transportation

Between the Dubai Metro, city buses, and taxis, you won’t have to worry about getting around the city. Long-term expats choose to buy a car, since it is less of a hassle and car prices/finance terms are similar to those in the UK and the US.

Picture taken from the front window of the Dubai Metro. Long rail line leading to Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
A very solid transportation network helps alleviate some of the cost of living in Dubai.

I don’t know if I’d recommend a scooter, since the temperature in late spring-to-fall can get scorching hot. Dubai is in a desert Emirate, which makes for a potential heat stroke on the road. Compound that with terrible local drivers, and you have a recipe for disaster.

• Bus fare — $0.5 per ride
• Taxi fare (depending on length of trip) — $3-$30
• Metro — $1-$3
• Car rental — $20-$30 per day (budget car)
• Gasoline (1L) — 50 cents

Since the United Arab Emirates produces a significant amount of gasoline, petrol prices are very cheap, but not as cheap as Saudi Arabia. Unlike it’s conservative neighbor, however, Dubai’s transportation infrastructure is very modern and highly developed.

The immense difference in transportation infrastructures between (the far richer) Saudi Arabia and the UAE actually has me a little baffled.

Total Cost Of Living in Dubai

I have several cousins and friends living in Dubai, and I was thinking of soon checking out its job market. It really is an oasis of luxury in the desert. But being in the desert, everything must be imported, which is why it is so expensive. The per-month cost of living in Dubai, given average, middle-of-the-road prices, will most likely look like this:

• Accommodations — $1000
• Food and drink — $400
• Technology — $200
• Entertainment — $300
• Transportation — $200

Grand Total — $2100

The cost of living in Dubai isn’t bad at all when you consider that you’re living in one of the premiere expat destinations in the world. If you’re planning a budget visit, you could cut that figure in half. You can shave corners here and there, but it is no cheap backpacker destination.

A picture taken in the underwater acrylic tunnel of the Dubai Mall Aquarium.
Dubai takes its entertainment very seriously–the Dubai Mall Aquarium holds 10 million liters of water 33,000 aquatic animals.

It’s a full-blown experience in the art of high-spending. Just like anywhere else in the world, you’ll always find cheap eateries and free things to do.

But to experience the essence of the city,

You’ll have to let loose on your wallet or purse a little.

You’ll have to give in to the almighty splurge.

 

A few resources you may be interested in:

Have you ever lived in a city with a very high cost of living? How were you able to save money there? Would you consider living in a city like Dubai, despite it’s high cost of living?

 
 

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