Living in Dubai: Costs, Benefits and Lifestyle Guide

LifestyleBy Eamon
Living in Dubai

Dubai is a modern day miracle. Before striking gold (well…oil) in 1966, it was unrecognisable as a small fishing village on the coast of the Middle Eastern desert. Just 40 years later it was flourishing as a lavish mega city with tourism and business becoming its biggest driver of growth. Today, over 3 million people are living in Dubai and it’s one of the most sought after places in the world. If you want to know why everybody is flocking there, the cost of living in Dubai, and important considerations before you move, this guide breaks everything down for you.

Why move to Dubai?

Before moving to Dubai you need to be sure it’s a match made in heaven or you’re going to be in for one hell of a surprise. There are pros and cons to any location and it’s always best to visit for at least a month before making the move permanent.

Pros:

  • Tax-free income – Dubai does not have income tax, which can result in higher take-home pay
  • Great weather – Dubai has warm and sunny weather throughout most of the year, which can be a big draw for those who enjoy outdoor activities
  • Cultural diversity – Dubai is a unique place where most residents are expats from all over the world so you never feel like an outsider. Others embrace the cultural experience
  • Modern infrastructure – Dubai has modern and well-maintained infrastructure, including highways, public transportation, and telecommunications
  • Safe and secure – Dubai has a low crime rate, and is generally considered a safe place to live
  • Employment opportunities – Dubai is home to many multinational companies, and there are often job opportunities for expats
  • World-class amenities – Dubai has many world-class amenities, including shopping malls, restaurants, and entertainment venues
  • Outdoor activities – Dubai offers a range of outdoor activities, including beaches, parks, and desert safaris

Cons:

  • High cost of living – While tax-free income can be attractive, the cost of living in Dubai is quite high, particularly for housing and transportation
  • Extreme heat – During the summer months, temperatures in Dubai can soar to uncomfortable levels, which can make it difficult to spend time outside
  • Limited freedom of expression – While Dubai is relatively liberal compared to some other countries in the region, there are still restrictions on freedom of expression, which can be a concern for some people
  • Limited public transportation options – While Dubai has some public transportation options, such as a metro system and buses, they may not be as extensive as in some other cities
  • Strict laws – Dubai has strict laws governing behavior and dress, and failure to comply with these laws can result in fines or even imprisonment
  • Limited social freedoms – While Dubai has many amenities and attractions, some people may find that the social scene is limited due to the strict laws and cultural norms
  • Expensive nightlife – While Dubai has a vibrant nightlife scene, it can be quite expensive compared to other cities
  • Limited natural environment – While Dubai has some natural areas, such as parks and beaches, these are limited compared to other cities

Now let’s get to costs because affordability is the biggest factor in whether most people decide to move.

Tax & Cost of living in Dubai

Cost of living in Dubai typically ranges from £28,000 to £74,000 a year. This is high compared to the UK but there is no income tax, saving you several thousand pounds. You can have a modest but enjoyable lifestyle on 30k and still save 10k if you earned 40k. Costs like fuel, transportation, and utilities tend to be cheap. Costs like gym membership, accommodation, and healthcare are expensive. But entertainment, groceries, and eating out has something for every budget.

As everyone is so different, you need to run through a full breakdown and calculate a yearly estimate once you’ve read this guide to get the full picture of how you’ll be living, but for now, here’s an idea of regular costs you’ll encounter:

ExpenseAverage Cost (GBP)
Accommodation (1BR)£780 – £1,560
Utilities£115 – £155
Groceries£225 – £390
Dining out£8 – £30 per meal
Transportation£0.50 – £1.40 per trip
Health Insurance£190 – £800 per month
School Fees£7,500 – £20,000 per year
Personal Care£25 – £80 per month
Entertainment£3 – £15 per activity
Miscellaneous£200 – £500 per month

 

Dubai is famous for its tax-free status. This applies to income tax and, until July 2023, corporate tax which then increases to 9%. It’s still miniscule compared to other places around the world. Prices of most goods and services are higher and subject to 5% VAT so you do end up losing some of that tax benefit. As a general rule of thumb, if you cannot afford to live in the UK then Dubai is not a good alternative. You go to spend more, expand business and boost quality of living – not to save if you are poor. As we discuss later, you may struggle to get approved for a visa without capital or a reliable income.

Dubai Culture and lifestyle

Dubai is home to the best restaurants, shopping malls, activities, and events money can buy. And that’s also part of the problem. Your quality of life is only as good as your budget. It’s one of the easiest places to spend money because there’s so much temptation everywhere you go. Here’s a snippet of the endless fun, from the world’s tallest building to the biggest indoor amusement park and concert arenas hosting the most popular artists of our time.

The extravagance can make Dubai seem superficial but you don’t have to choose the action-packed adventure. The all-year warm weather allows you to enjoy strolls across the beach, desert safaris, and cultural landmarks dotted around the city. Unsurprisingly, there’s an array of quirky cafes or Arabian tea rooms for a more chilled vibe.

Because Dubai is modern you don’t get to experience much heritage but it makes up for that with its unique multiculturalism. The majority of residents are expats from just about everywhere you can imagine. Hence, you end up getting a taste of each culture as well as interesting conversations with people you’d never usually meet. One minute you can find a Legoland, the next a medieval French town and soak in the historic architecture of Europe in the late 1600’s at The French Village. Also, Dubai is family-friendly and heaving with tourists which only adds to the liveliness. Many of the people who move there are enthusiastic go-getters so they value their career. This represents good networking opportunities but keep in mind that many ‘influencers’ and entrepreneurs are there for the glamour, money and status, not necessarily friendship.

If you’re a drinker, you’ll be pleased to know that drinking alcohol without a license is no longer a criminal offence in Dubai, but residents still need one to purchase and possess alcohol. Authorities do not like you being drunk in public spaces, however, the private nightclub and bar scene is buzzing. Drinks are insanely expensive but this works in your favour to regulate consumption. Unlike the UK, there are a variety of outdoor venues that offer swimming pools, yacht parties, and lounges that look like a scene out of The Great Gatsby.

While there is a lot of outside influence, Dubai is a Muslim country and you must respect the religion of Islam and common practices there. During Ramadan (Wed, 22 Mar 2023 – Fri, 21 Apr 2023) many people are fasting so overindulging in public certainly doesn’t help. Other religions are accepted and there are some Christian churches in the city.

Your rights in Dubai

One of the hardest things to accept before moving to Dubai is that you will lose many of the human rights you’re used to in The Western world. Here’s a taste of their traditionally conservative laws.

  • Tax is typically collected for public services but Dubai is tax-free so you have to fork the bill for many entitlements like healthcare and pensions (if not offered by employers).
  • If you have money in one of their banks and it goes under you are not covered. You’ll need to diversify where your money is kept.
  • Failure to pay debt, bounced cheques, and missed bills can quickly get you imprisoned. Always have money and pay on time.
  • Foul language and other social media antics may get you arrested. Don’t use it like Twitter to attack people or post crude content.
  • They have only recently decriminalized consensual premarital sex and now allow unmarried couples to live together.

They have a civil law system and claim due process but there isn’t a democratic process. Whatever the people at the top say, goes. And if you break their laws or rebel against the government you can expect harsh penalties. This sounds scary but understand that Dubai has a reputation to uphold as one of the safest cities on Earth, which is impressive given the population size and flashy displays of wealth. Comparative cities such as London and New York are festered with gangs, drugs, and theft, part of which the issue stems from criminals feeling emboldened. Whereas it’s hard not to respect the authority of Dubai police when they dress like the military and drive supercars.

Dubai authorities take violence, drug use and misbehaviour very seriously to discourage others from doing it, and although ethically questionable, it does work to keep crime down. You won’t be chucked off a building or be imprisoned for life in most cases but expect several months in jail without a fair trial if caught fighting and even a few years for spreading rumours the state do not like. With all that said, Dubai is the most liberal place in the Gulf and has become more lax with enforcing rules since 2020. If you mind your own business, don’t cause trouble, and respect the culture then you will never run into any problems. A full breakdown of key laws to stick to is listed below. Otherwise, skip to the next section: Visas and employment.

  1. Drug laws: Possession, consumption, or trafficking of drugs is strictly prohibited in Dubai. Penalties for drug offenses can range from imprisonment to the death penalty.

    • Possession or consumption of drugs: imprisonment of up to 4 years and/or a fine of up to £2,190
    • Trafficking or selling of drugs: imprisonment of 10 years to life and/or a fine of up to £21,930 to £109,650
  2. Alcohol laws: It is illegal to drink or be under the influence of alcohol in public places in Dubai. Violators can be fined or imprisoned.

    • Drinking or being under the influence of alcohol in public: imprisonment of up to 6 months and/or a fine of up to £1,090
    • Selling alcohol without a license: imprisonment of up to 6 months and/or a fine of up to £1,090
  3. Dress code laws: Dress codes are enforced in public places in Dubai, and it is important to dress modestly and respectfully. Violators can be fined or imprisoned. You can dress casual in t-shirt and shorts but unless you’re at a beach or a pool don’t walk around in bikini and other overly revealing clothing.

    • Violating dress code in public: imprisonment of up to 6 months and/or a fine of up to £1,090
  4. Cybercrime laws: Dubai has strict laws regarding cybercrime, including hacking, online fraud, and cyberbullying. Penalties for cybercrime offenses can range from fines to imprisonment.

    • Hacking or unauthorized access to computer systems: imprisonment of up to 3 years and/or a fine of up to £109,650
    • Cyberbullying: imprisonment of up to 3 years and/or a fine of up to £109,650
  5. Respect for religion laws: It is illegal to disrespect or insult religion in Dubai. Violators can be fined or imprisoned.

    • Disrespecting or insulting religion: imprisonment of up to 5 years and/or a fine of up to £218,130
  6. Swearing laws: Using swear words in public is considered a form of indecent behavior and can result in fines or imprisonment.

    • Using swear words in public: imprisonment of up to 3 months and/or a fine of up to £1,090
  7. Driving laws: Dubai has strict traffic laws, including speed limits, seat belt requirements, and drunk driving laws. Violators can be fined, imprisoned, or have their driving license revoked.

    • Speeding: fine of up to £220 or imprisonment of up to 3 months
    • Driving under the influence of alcohol: imprisonment of up to 6 months and/or a fine of up to £4,380
  8. Employment laws: Dubai has strict employment laws, including regulations on working hours, annual leave, and sick leave. Employers who violate these laws can face fines or imprisonment.

Work & visas in Dubai

Dubai is a prime location for running a business given it has no income tax and only 9% corporate tax. And when you consider the high concentration of investors, the city provides significant opportunity to fund growth.

A typical working week used to be Sunday to Thursday with Friday and Saturday off but Dubai have now adjusted the norm to be Monday to Friday in line with global markets. Employers can choose work shifts to be up to 48 hours and the work culture favours longer hours whether they are obligatory or not. ‘Work hard, play hard’ sums the place up nicely.

To live in Dubai you will need a visa. If you apply for a job there, your employer can sponsor your residence permit application to get you in for 3 years at which point you’ll need to renew it. You just need to supply a copy of the employment contract along with your passport and medical certificate.

If you want to work remotely in Dubai they require a US$3,500 monthly income as well as proof. You pay around £500 for a one-year permit.

If you wish to open a business or invest in property in Dubai, there are residency visas for investors and entrepreneurs. You get to stay long-term for 5 or 10 years but that comes at a price. To invest in property you need AED2,000,000 (approx. £435,000) and businesses need to be existing projects with a minimum capital of AED500,000 (approx. £110,000) behind it.

When dealing with a high volume of money you may want to get an accountant and Dubai-based bank or property consultants involved.

Finding a home in Dubai

Dubai is a prime location for real estate investments so everything is pricey. Residents in Jumeirah Village Circle complain about poor construction quality, cockroaches, thin walls, and a 2 bedroom apartment here cost £250,000. So if you’re planning on buying a house when living in Dubai you need a lot of money in the bank or the ability to pay upwards of £1000 each month for a mortgage.

Expats in Dubai are transient so they often escape to other countries, especially in the summer when it gets very hot. Your best bet is to rent as a resident and buy as an investor. You’ll find a good selection of properties at propertyfinder.ae. Renters should watch out for dodgy landlords who demand upfront payments as they might actually be tenants. Verify the landlord and before transferring funds you should secure a unified Ejari tenancy agreement, which is a legally binding contract that allows the tenant to use a property for a particular purpose and specified time period. Also, bear in mind that you’ll be charged a premium if you pay rent in monthly instalments unlike the UK where that’s standard. Instead, an annual lump sum is how most people pay in Dubai. Now let’s take a look at some of the best areas you can live in for a range of budgets.

Dubai Marina

This is a waterfront community built around a man-made marina. It is a popular area for expatriates and young professionals, with a range of luxury apartments, restaurants, and entertainment options.

  • Take a stroll along The Walk, a popular beachfront promenade lined with restaurants, cafes, and shops.
  • Go on a yacht cruise around the marina and enjoy the stunning views of the city skyline.
  • Visit the Marina Mall, a large shopping center with a range of retail outlets and entertainment options.
  • Enjoy water sports activities such as jet skiing, parasailing, and wakeboarding.

Standard rent costs:

  • Studio: AED 55,000 – AED 85,000 per year (£10,800 – £16,700)
  • 1-bedroom: AED 70,000 – AED 120,000 per year (£13,700 – £23,500)
  • 2-bedroom: AED 105,000 – AED 185,000 per year (£20,600 – £36,300)
  • 3-bedroom: AED 165,000 – AED 280,000 per year (£32,400 – £54,900)

Jumeirah Beach Residence

Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) is a popular residential and tourism development located along the beachfront of Dubai Marina. JBR is known for its iconic tower blocks and beach promenade, and is a popular area for young professionals, families, and tourists. The development includes a mix of apartments, hotels, restaurants, cafes, and retail outlets. The community is known for its lively atmosphere and beachfront activities, including water sports and outdoor events. JBR is also conveniently located close to other major areas of Dubai, such as Dubai Marina, JLT (Jumeirah Lake Towers), and Palm Jumeirah.

  • Relax on the JBR Beach, a popular public beach with stunning views of the Dubai Eye.
  • Take a stroll along The Walk, a bustling beachfront promenade lined with restaurants, cafes, and shops.
  • Visit the Ain Dubai (Dubai Eye), the world’s largest observation wheel with 360-degree views of the city skyline and the Arabian Gulf.
  • Enjoy water sports activities such as jet skiing, parasailing, and wakeboarding.

Standard rent costs:

  • Studio: AED 50,000 – AED 75,000 per year (£9,800 – £14,700)
  • 1-bedroom: AED 75,000 – AED 120,000 per year (£14,700 – £23,500)
  • 2-bedroom: AED 110,000 – AED 180,000 per year (£21,600 – £35,400)
  • 3-bedroom: AED 150,000 – AED 250,000 per year (£29,400 – £49,100)

Downtown Dubai

This is the heart of the city, home to the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building), the Dubai Mall (one of the world’s largest shopping malls), and other iconic landmarks. It is a mixed-use area with a range of residential, commercial, and leisure developments.

  • Visit the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, and take in the panoramic views from the observation deck.
  • Explore the Dubai Mall, one of the world’s largest shopping malls, with over 1,200 retail outlets, restaurants, and entertainment options.
  • Watch the Dubai Fountain, a spectacular water and light show set to music.
  • Visit the Dubai Opera, a stunning venue for concerts, operas, and other performing arts.

Standard rent costs:

  • Studio: AED 70,000 – AED 100,000 per year (£13,700 – £19,600)
  • 1-bedroom: AED 85,000 – AED 150,000 per year (£16,700 – £29,400)
  • 2-bedroom: AED 130,000 – AED 220,000 per year (£25,500 – £43,200)
  • 3-bedroom: AED 190,000 – AED 350,000 per year (£37,300 – £68,700)

Dubai Silicon Oasis

This is a technology park and residential community with a range of apartments, villas, and townhouses. It is a popular area for professionals working in the technology industry.

  • Explore the DSOA Park – located in the heart of the community, this park offers a great place to relax, exercise, and enjoy some fresh air.

  • Play Golf at the Dubai Silicon Oasis Golf Course – the 18-hole golf course is a popular destination for golf enthusiasts and features a clubhouse with a restaurant and pro-shop.

  • Visit the nearby attractions – Dubai Silicon Oasis is located close to several popular attractions, including Global Village, Dubai Miracle Garden, and IMG Worlds of Adventure.

  • Shop at the Souq Extra – this shopping center is located in the heart of Dubai Silicon Oasis and features several retail outlets, restaurants, and a supermarket.

Standard rent costs:

  • Studio: AED 23,000 – AED 35,000 per year (£4,500 – £6,800)
  • 1-bedroom: AED 32,000 – AED 55,000 per year (£6,300 – £10,800)
  • 2-bedroom: AED 50,000 – AED 75,000 per year (£9,800 – £14,700)
  • 3-bedroom: AED 70,000 – AED 100,000 per year (£13,700 – £19,600)

Dubai Sports City

This is a mixed-use development with a range of sports facilities, including a cricket stadium, football pitches, and a golf course. It is a popular area for sports enthusiasts and families.

  • Watch a cricket match at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, a state-of-the-art facility with a seating capacity of 25,000.
  • Play a round of golf at the Els Club, a championship course designed by golf legend Ernie Els.
  • Visit the Dubai Sports City Fitness Centre, a state-of-the-art gym and fitness facility.
  • Enjoy a range of sports activities such as football, basketball, and tennis at the community’s sports facilities.

Standard rent costs:

  • Studio: AED 20,000 – AED 35,000 per year (£3,900 – £6,800)
  • 1-bedroom: AED 30,000 – AED 60,000 per year (£5,900 – £11,800)
  • 2-bedroom: AED 45,000 – AED 80,000 per year (£8,800 – £15,700)
  • 3-bedroom: AED 70,000 – AED 100,000 per year (£13,700 – £19,600)

Getting around in Dubai

There’s no shortage of transportation options living in Dubai but you will most likely have to travel the distance. This is because business districts aren’t close to many residential buildings. So you get a lot of cars commuting into the city centre for work, which like any densely populated area causes traffic congestion. Nonetheless, getting a car is still the best way to travel if you can afford it. Unless you find a central place such as the Marina, everywhere is spread out so being able to hop in a car becomes a blessing for convenience.

Renting or leasing a car is a wise decision for the first year. You can pick up a decent car for £350-400 a month at somewhere like diamondlease.com, which seems expensive until you discover fuel prices. Filling up your car costs just 20p per litre compared to the £1.50+ in the UK, saving you thousands over the year. Alternatively, there are many great deals when buying cars in Dubai because people are always coming and going. Try Dubizzle, a popular online sellers marketplace. There are full kit 22 plate Ford Mustangs with only 7k mileage that you can buy for around £20,000 or more basic cars for £2,500. Parking can be expensive in hotspots but otherwise you won’t have many issues.

There’s no shortage of public transportation in Dubai. For short commutes there are e-scooters and Visa bikes you can simply scan to use if you don’t want to walk. Yellow taxis are cheap at around £6 for a 10km journey taking 28 minutes. Uber still works there as well and although more costly can work out cheaper over longer distances with traffic congestion as it offers a flat rate. Careem is the other local big player and better for short distance.

The metro is great value for money, clean and you only have to wait around 6 minutes at stations. But if you’re commuting to work it gets crowded. I wouldn’t bank on getting a seat. If you want comfort then it’s worth buying an annual Gold Class ticket which covers all zones in the city for 5,340 dirhams (around £1172). While efficient, the metro isn’t the best for time when you consider getting to stations and stops every 60-90 seconds but it operates from 6.30 in the morning till 1 in the night so you are covered all day.

The weather living in Dubai

If you’re from the UK, the beautiful thing about Dubai is the inverse of seasonality. While October to April is usually cold, dark and wet these are the best months to live in Dubai when the city is buzzing and the weather is just right. This makes it the perfect getaway home for Brits in the winter. On the flip side, the Middle East region gets uncomfortably hot from May to October and residents are encouraged to stay inside and only go out for short periods of time. Luckily, most indoor areas are air conditioned so you can still enjoy an action-packed lifestyle during the summer but it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll spend more money as a result.

 

MonthAverage High Temperature (°C)Average Low Temperature (°C)
January2414
February2515
March2817
April3320
May3824
June4027
July4130
August4131
September3928
October3523
November3019
December2616