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The Cost of Living

If this time last year, you had told me that I would be embarking on my first Ramadan experience as a newbie expat in Dubai, I would have said you’re crazy. But here I am, sitting in an air-conditioned apartment in Dubai Marina, reading up about Ramadan and how best to conduct oneself during the holy month.

Now let’s talk about the cost of living. I have nearly completed a month in Dubai and thus have gained a pretty good idea about the general costs of everyday life in Dubai. And I have to say, I don’t think it is as expensive as everyone says or the Internet would have you believe.

Accommodation Costs

Your major expense will be rent for your house or apartment in Dubai. For a decent one-bedroom apartment, you can pay anywhere between 55,000 AED and 120,000 AED, depending on the location. In a good location such as Dubai Marina, which has easy access to the beach, the metro, supermarkets, restaurants and bars etc. you will pay approximately 90,000 AED, which when you do the math is around 14,500 GBP a year. When you put it into perspective and you think that living in Dubai Marina is like living on the River Thames, it’s pretty good.

The problem for many expats is that rent in Dubai has to be paid, upfront, usually in one of two cheques, post-dated and given to your agent upfront, which in some cases means paying a whole years rent in one go. Lots of companies assist their employees in one way or another, offering some compensation, or a loan for the first cheque, which is then deducted from your salary; an important point to bring up with future employers.

Utilities are rather reasonable, with water, electricity and internet for a 1 bedroom apartment averaging 400 AED a month, approximately 65 GBP. That’s based on my experiences though and luckily for us, we do not pay for the air conditioning, otherwise known as cooler. In Dubai, cooler is an essential obviously and it comes in an industrial form, even in residential buildings. As part of our tenancy contract, the landlord pays the cooler fees to the building management along with the other building fees the landlord, by law, is required to pay. It’s important to ensure your landlord has paid their fees, because it may mean you are unable to utilize communal areas such as the pool and gym, if they have not.

Transport, Food, Entertainment

So we have established that the biggest chunk of your salary will go on rent, but what about the rest? Petrol is ridiculously cheap here, as in a litre of petrol is cheaper than a bottle of water. And the metro fares are also extremely reasonable (compared to my spending on the London Tube) with a trip from Dubai Marina to Dubai Mall (about a half an hour journey) costing around 6 AED, which is a mere 95p. And you guessed it; taxis offer equally good value for money, with a 20km journey averaging at 50 Dirhams, just 8 GBP.

Food and entertainment will probably be the other big chunk of your paycheck, or maybe not, depending on your lifestyle. I don’t find food shopping any more expensive here than England, but I am quite savvy when it comes to buying locally produced brands and locally grown produce, which cuts the cost of products in half sometimes. Eating at a restaurant is quite reasonable too, depending on the style and quality you opt for. But what will push up your bill is alcohol. A glass of wine will average 55 AED (9 GBP), which may be a little or a lot, depending on where you are comparing it to.

However most bars, all of which are located in hotels due to licensing laws, have a happy hour (or a happy 4 hours in reality) and Tuesday is ladies night across many venues which means ladies get several free drinks. And if you’re savvy, there is a whole range of membership cards and voucher booklets, which can offer you a range of discounts at loads of venues around town.

What’s Dubai Really Like, Then?

To sum Dubai up in a few words I would say it’s shiny, humid, energetic, and interesting. The skyscrapers that line Sheikh Zayed Road will have you mesmerized as they glisten in the pounding sunshine that batters the city on a daily basis. The humidity will quite literally take your breath away and will result in steamy sunglasses, but the constant source of vitamin D casts a spectacular sense of satisfaction across the day.

This city moves fast; the cars hurtle down the 6 lane highways, the metro is never late and the service is quick and always of a high standard. Dubai is a city of opportunity with a plethora of activities, events and shopping malls to explore. The culture intertwines with expat life and you can’t help but be intrigued by the calls echoing across the city from the many mosques, or spend hours getting lost in the markets of Old Dubai.

If you come here with the aim of saving, the tax-free living certainly makes that possible. And you can enjoy a modest life, without scrimping on the fun. If you want to live a luxurious lifestyle you can hire a Porsche, eat at 5 star restaurants and shop at the cities many designer shops. But there is a fine line. The Dubai “bubble” can easily suck you in and more often than not, it will spit you out, debt-ridden and lonely.

Dubai is most definitely what you make it.


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Peter B. Krehmer

"There are so many expats in the UAE, but the InterNations Dubai Ramadan dinners brought some wonderful guests together. "

Suzanne Payne

"Dubai is such an overwhelming mixture of tradition and modernity that I was very grateful for all the support from other expats. "

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