Monday 31 August 2015

How much does it cost to live in Dubai?

This is a question I get asked a lot. There is an expectation that expats around the world are living the life of riley with over inflated salaries and benefits.

There are two types of expats, those on a local contract and those being paid from their country of origin. For those on local contracts, especially in Dubai, they pay no tax on their salaries, but they are also not allowed to make investments in their home country and pensions aren't available in the UAE. My hubby is on a local contract and makes his pension payments to the company in the UK, but as he isn't employed in the UK he has to make the company contribution also. For others they have to deal with the fluctuating exchange rates, transfer fees and the delay in their salary reaching them.

Salaries may be higher than the UK, but for my husband his salary is based on 30 years service to his employers, stems from him having a degree and just being damned good at his job. There are also housing benefits and a car allowance plus 1 return flight for him, myself and the teen to the UK, but when you're paying school fees, which is the only option in both Dubai and in South Africa where we lived previously, or in our case boarding school fees, it doesn't actually stretch that far, we also pay a mortgage in the UK and although the house is rented out, it is often empty. Don't forget the exchange rate and the cost of transferring the money. We also make more than one trip a year to the UK and the teen comes out 3-4 times a year. We can only afford to buy and run 1 vehicle as we don't do credit cards and loans, never have and never will. Throw into the mix I haven't worked for the past 5 years, we are more than 1 salary down every year.

Being on a local contract has more benefits, mainly being there is no need to keep converting the currencies to work out how much things are going to cost. Although we do have to do that when we travel to the UK as we have no income over there.

It is an automatic response to want to convert and especially coming from South Africa we were in for an initial shock as for the first month we were spending Rand and not Dirhams.

Basically there is no way we can compare our income in South Africa to our income in Dubai. Everything is just 3 times as expensive here as it is over there. When we visited the UK we found it to be twice as expensive as South Africa especially as we were still spending the Rand.

Waitrose is everywhere over here and like the UK very expensive. I picked up a lettuce for AED25/£4.50. it was just an ordinary lettuce. I've now found that if I shop at Carrefour I can buy lettuce for AED10/£1.77

A Starbucks coffee is AED17/£3 a full tank of fuel for a BMW 5 Series was AED100/£17 fuel has increased by 25% since we arrived.

A taxi fare from Dubai Mall to home, through the city, at any time of the day or night is AED35/£6

The train or bus from the mall is AED10.50/£1.95. A pint of beer or glass of wine is AED55/£9. An average meal out is AED400/£70. A Big Mac will cost you AED12/£2.10. Cigarettes cost AED20/£3.40 a packet.

We pay AED17,500/£3,100 per month to rent our villa, there is little difference between living out in the suburbs or in an apartment in the Marina. Rent is also payable a year in advance and we are responsible for all utilities and municipality fees.

We have to pay road tolls, a fee to register the cat and dog. Oh don't forget the Medical Aid, it's not provided free by my husbands employers although they do contribute towards it. The Doctors charge AED100/£17 for a consolation which is not refundable and most practitioners take payment after each treatment and theres a slow and painful process to go through to claim your money back.

It is very difficult to make comparisons when you're paid on a local contract, you spend money differently when you live as an expat. We have relatively low electricity and water bills in the winter, yet the costs are huge in the summer with the air con running all day, around AED2,800/£500

Of course there are plenty of bargains to be found and many offers and deals available especially in the summer when there are less tourists and with the outside attractions, such as 2 for 1 deals with water parks and meals out.
Knock off designer gear is available throughout Satwa and Kamara, but that is off little interest to us. In the Creek and surrounding areas you can find the souks which are wonderful to visit if you want to buy kitchen items, material and have a dress made, a variety of souvenir shops, do your food and clothes shopping, visit the markets for fresh fruit and vegetables at more than half the price but with it being so hot in the summer, we haven't been down those places since the middle of June.
There are the equivalent Pound Stores such as Daiso found in the local and larger malls the AED7 stores, where you can buy stationery, party goods, make ups, cleaning chemicals and equipment, toys.

It just takes some time to find these places, through exploring or word of mouth, it takes time to get used to the new currency and it's actual value, the spending power of the Dirham.

The main thing to remember in Dubai and South Africa is that prices are pretty much standardised when it comes to global products that are manufactured locally and under licence. A bottle of Coke for example is AED9 regardless of wherever you buy it, unlike the UK where the price varies depending on location. i.e service station, cinema, garage, corner shop or supermarket where prices fluctuate greatly.

i'm not complaining about the cost or standard of living in Dubai, I'm merely answering some questions that are put to me on a regular basis.


  1. Thanks for writing this Suzanne - that answers my questions perfectly, I hope you don't mind that I asked. £4.50 for a lettuc at Waitrose sounds a lot like Iceland prices when we honeymooned there 8 years ago- £7 for a loaf of bread blew my mind at the time!

    1. you're welcome Annie, made sense to blog than message you and I do get asked this question rather a lot. it's the exchange rate that's the biggest problem, when you're on holiday you have to use it, but when you're paid in the local currency it's proportionate. £7 for a loaf of bread??? and i'm assuming it was sliced white and not artisan

  2. What!!!! I knew things were expensive but not that much!!! And to think that when I first moved to SA I used to assume everything was over priced. A trip back home made me realise it wasn't actually that bad though with the current exchange rates your rands don't go too far these days :(

    1. we found South Africa to be very cheap after we'd settled in, initially we were spending pound with the rate of 11 to 1, when we left SA and sold the car and got our deposit back it was 18 to 1 but then we had it converted to AED and lost an awful lot with the exchange rate