Reported as the most expensive city to live within the Arabian Gulf, find out if Dubai's actual cost of living makes this city the one for you
1 October 2019| Last updated on 2 October 2019
Living expenses in Dubai can vary, depending on your personal taste for life...
Dubai is the bustling, booming emirate famous for its record-breaking ultramodern architecture, lively night scene, sole districts and expos dedicated to business, and... for being an expensive place to visit, live, and work in. The city was previously ranked as the 19th (2017), 26th (2018) most expensive city in the world, and currently reigns as the top costly city in the Arab Gulf.
For expatriates who have moved to Dubai, it's a common thing to hear a "Wow!" response from back home, usually followed by "Isn't Dubai really expensive?"
The truth about the cost of living in Dubai is that it isn't that expensive at all. As with every other "expensive city" in the world, there are highs and lows to making Dubai your current home, and life in the emirate isn't for everyone.
Ahead, we'll take a look at how much the cost of living in Dubai truly is. Covering average rental costs, how much you'll spend on transport, what you can expect from Dubai's food scene, etc. - this guide is to help you work out if living in this busy city is for you.
Cost of accommodation in Dubai
The biggest outlay for expats in Dubai will be the cost of accommodation.
Rental prices closer to the city centre, such as Downtown Dubai and Dubai Marina, can come with a heavy tag.
As with most other cities, the further outside of the city your home is, the more money one can save on housing - but there are nonetheless some hotspots with affordable prices that are close to areas of Dubai's centre of activity.
Have a look at our dedicated area guides to find which residential community will suit your lifestyle. These area guides cover where the neighbourhood is located in the city, what amenities and facilities are available, average rent or sale price of housings there, what lifestyle you would expect as a resident of that community, and more.
Cost of transport in Dubai
To get around, most people in Dubai find public transport to be the most convenient and cheapest option. The Roads Transport Authority (RTA) operates the majority of public transport in the city, including taxis, trains, buses, water taxis, ferries, metro, etc.
Commuters travel using a top-card pass called a "Nol card" that comes with wallet-friendly fares.
The silver Nol card's (normal card) minimum fare is AED 3 and maxes at AED 7.5; the blue Nol card (students, teachers, disabled) has a minimum fare of AED 1.5 and caps at AED 7.5; the gold Nol card begins from AED 6 and caps at AED 15; the temporary red ticket starts at AED 4 and maxes at AED 8.5.
If driving a vehicle, on top of petrol charges motorists will find additional expenses in the form of road tolls. When driving through a toll gate, or Salik checkpoint, the owner of the vehicle will be charged AED 4 for each crossing.
Gas prices fluctuate, however at minimal changes. The average cost for gas in Dubai are: Super 98 is at AED 2.24 per litre; Special 95 costs AED 2.12 per litre, and diesel prices are at AED 2.41 per litre.
With the public transport's wide reach in the city and to avoid traffic jams, toll gate charges, and public parking fees, it's not uncommon for Dubai residents to avoid owning a car.
Car-hailing services are also available through the apps Uber, Careem, and Hala.
Cost of food in Dubai
While it's home to a plethora of fine dining restaurants, including a wide selection of foods made of actual gold, Dubai also has an assortment of fantastic dining options without breaking the bank.
Diners will find restaurants offering value-for-dirham food for a little more than the average cost of a fast-food meal. Residents are spoiled for choice, and it's well worth taking the time to explore the various restaurants in the city.
Grocery prices in Dubai are largely in line with average pricing, with few supermarket chains charging higher for premium products. Shopping at more upscale supermarkets could cost you AED 20 or more per kilo for tomatoes, whereas less expensive grocers would charge less than AED 10 per kilo of tomatoes. For expats who want fresh produce, Dubai is home to several shops that sell fresh and organic goods.
Food can be ordered to your home, office, or school through the many food delivery apps in Dubai. Delivery charges typically cost between AED 5 - 7 or it's free.
Cost of recreational activities and entertainment in Dubai
If you enjoy the nightlife or prefer socialising in bars and pubs, your spend on beverages would typically start from AED 40.
If you're more into the cinema, the average costs will be AED 35 for a standard ticket.
The average gym membership in Dubai is around AED 300, with the lowest at AED 99. However, most apartment buildings usually have a gym and swimming pool for residents to use.
Public and community parks can be found across Dubai, with free-for-use basketball and tennis courts, football fields, jogging tracks, and cycle paths.
Cost of education in Dubai
Cost of schools in Dubai
The emirate has more than 190 private schools with over 281,000 expat and Emirati students. Curriculums offered range from the UK National, US, Canadian, Australian, Indian, Philippines, etc.
For nurseries, you can find the nearest and most suitable one for your child and lifestyle using our guide to nurseries here.
Private school fees from kindergarten to highschool in Dubai range between AED 9,000 and up to AED 64,000. Have a look at the schools available here.
Cost of universities in Dubai
30 universities operate in Dubai - 27 branch campuses from international universities and 3 federal universities.
The cost of higher education varies as per the chosen course and university picked, with commerce and humanities offering lower tuition compared to courses in science, medicine, engineering, digital studies, IT, and aviation.
Annual university fees in Dubai range from AED 40,000 to AED 200,000.
Cost of owning pets in Dubai
If you'd like to bring your furry companion to the UAE or you're considering adoption while in Dubai, these are your expected costs:
- Registering your pet with Dubai Municipality (mandatory, required annually) - Can cost up to AED 95 at private vets
- Vaccinations for Dhppi/L and Rabies for dogs (mandatory, required annually) - AED 210 at Dubai Municipality Veterinary Services
- Vaccinations for flu/Enteritis and Rabies for cats (mandatory, required annually) - AED 180
- Vet consultations - free at Dubai Municipality Veterinary Services
Other expenses include boarding for your pet in case you can't bring them along while traveling.
Pet-friendly public places and dog parks in Dubai are also available.