As many leave Dubai at the end of the year and newbies arrive lured by the promise of wealth in this part of the world, it may be useful to reflect on the true cost of living here in financial terms, not forgetting the emotional cost of leaving family, friends and everything you know and love behind in the cold and rain of your home towns.
It’s worth noting that the really generous salaries that included hardship allowances for living in the harsh climate of the UAE crashed with the world financial crisis of 2009.
The number of people leaving over the last few years tells a tale of hardship with many citing that living in the UK is more affordable than living in Dubai – So what is the financial reality for a typical family of four?
An average standard four bedroom villa in a popular expat area will cost anything from AED 140,000 upwards for communities such as Mira or Mirdif. If you want a pool, garden and maids room you should realistically budget AED 180,000 upwards although you can find cheaper in less popular developments. For something with more of a wow factor you can start looking around AED 250,000 upwards, whereas a 3 bedroom apartment will set you back approximately AED 140,000 upwards per year.
DEWA (Dubai electric and water)
The bills for services can run really high – especially with a large villa and if you have a pool. You can expect bills to be as low as AED 2,000 a month in the winter rising to over AED 6,000 in the summer when the air conditioning is running virtually full blast. Your phone bill for the house will be approximately AED 350 per month and a TV package a further AED 300 a month. You can expect to pay anywhere around AED 300 a month for your mobile phone bill as well.
Depending on what car you want, you should expect to pay about AED 2,500 a month to lease a vehicle including car insurance but if you have purchased a car, depending on it’s value an average amount for insurance would be about AED 5,000 a year that’s calculated on the value of it. Petrol is mercifully cheap and you can expect to budget about AED 600 a month maximum. Your car service will be approximately AED 2,000 every 3-6 months.
School bus services
If you are lucky enough to have a school transport system, then expect to pay approximately AED 4,000 per school term per child, although this can vary from school to school.
This is the big question! School fees vary for British Curriculum schools but on average fees are around AED 60,000 per school year per child (normally less for nursery and foundation years as they increase by year group) and can be over AED 100,000 depending on which school you choose. (Nursery is approximately AED 15,000 per term).
School uniform should be budgeted at approximately AED 1,500 per child (including school shoes.)
School lunches are usually around AED 20 -AED30 a day and a lot of children have packed lunches.
After school activities are normally not supplemented as like in the UK and it is normal to pay up AED 2,000 a term for activities like horse riding that can be approximately AED 250 a lesson, with music and normal tuition fees between AED 200-400 per lesson.
It’s essential to have health insurance and if you are employed your company will provide this for you. Most companies will cover you and your family with a basic package of cover, but if they don’t, be aware that you need to purchase this yourself and the cost is extortionate ranging from AED 25,000 to AED 70,000 for a family (with no special benefits) and much of it will operate on a pay and claim basis in the better hospitals.
Note that most medical insurance does not include dental cover, unless specifically stated. Consultations cost typically AED 400 each and if your child requires braces this incurs an approximate cost of AED 13,000 upwards.
If you have a housemaid it is now mandatory to provide her with private health insurance, which will cost around AED 800 for an essential benefits plan and will be much higher if you choose another plan.
If you have animals, vet fees are expensive and you should budget around AED 2,000 per year for registration and annual injections and vet appointments per pet. Beware that if you relocate your pet, it can cost anywhere between AED 11,000 – AED 60,000 depending on the size and weight of it.
One of the beauties of living in this part of the world is the access we have to inexpensive home help and a luxury which, in many ways defines living here is having a maid and/or driver and gardener.
The cost of this luxury has increased over the years but many still enjoy the privileges of a housemaid service in their homes. To employ a housemaid as an expat you will have to renew their visa and contract every year this cost is approximately AED 7,500. The housemaids salary may be vary but is on average around AED 2,500 -AED 3,000 per month and every two years you are responsible for paying for her flight home although most people do try and do this annually.
If you do not have accommodation in your villa for her to “live in” with your family, you will need to provide a further AED 1,000 – AED 2,000 for her accommodation.
A gardener is approximately AED 500 a month and most people run the risk of employing through a garden service rather than putting theirs on a contract and paying for a visa etc. A full time driver will be approximately AED 7,500 for a visa plus a further AED 3,000 minimum salary a month.
If you are willing to go local and eat pulses and rices, as well as cheaper cuts of meat then you can live fairly cheaply. If however you want to eat western important and sometimes specialist food your bill for groceries will be approximately AED 1,000 per week (keeping in mind that a pack of 6 sausages of a UK brand can be around AED 30 and tomato ketchup is nearly AED 17 a large bottle and an imported bag of salad leaves is AED 28 you can see how costs can mount up). It is possible to reduce this shopping around in the cheaper local supermarkets etc rather than those with more comfortable European labels.
While there are some lovely local cafes to try which are less expensive, it is likely that you will want to try the range of fantastic restaurants opening in Dubai. One of the famous lunches will cost approximately AED 500 a head and a meal out will usually be around AED 400 for a family of 4 (with no alcohol) and AED 700 with drinks (as a broad average).
An annual gym membership at the more popular gyms will multiple branches will be from AED 4,000 to AED 7,500 per year depending on the venue and level that you choose.
Things to keep in mind
Many expat packages will pay a housing allowance, utilities allowance and travel allowance too. Be aware that some landlords are flexible with 12 cheques being accepted while some landlords may still ask for the full rent up front, and whilst your company may add the cost of rent to your salary divided over 12 months, it means that you may well have to find AED 150,000+ when you arrive.
You will want to escape the heat of the summer and most expats travel home. The cost of flights obviously rises with demand in the summer and you can expect to pay approximately AED 20,000 every year to visit your families back home in the UK. If you stay here, you can expect to fork out around AED 500 to AED 700 a week for your childs summer camp.
Despite the expense, the lifestyle is fantastic, schools are good and your children will grow up as true global citizens – not to mention the fact you can enjoy sunshine for 365 days of the year.
There are many down sides, but arriving prepared that you are not coming here to make a fortune or to save money for a rainy day but rather to experience something quite extraordinary and expose your families to experiences they will never find anywhere else will make it all the more realistic.
To achieve this, you do however have to make an effort, so joining an Arabic language course, visiting other emirates and respecting a culture that is diametrically opposed to the UK’s where religion and moral standards are paramount and other more modern day requirements are less well established. You have to learn to love the quirkiness and embrace the difference, and if you do this you will love your time here.
So in answer to the income question, it will depend on your lifestyle of course, but a really rough rule of thumb for a family of 4 it is unrealistic to move here on a combined monthly income of much less than AED 45,000 per month (9,000 GBP), and don’t shoot me down of course! Of course you can come here more cheaply but if you are doing that, think really hard about the reasons for coming here, as if you are coming here because you are attracted to the lifestyle, remember that with limited funds you may not be able to enjoy it fully.
Also remember that while you may have visited on holiday and had an absolute blast, the reality of working is not the same; you will see the inside of an air conditioned office all week and you will (funds allowing) party hard at the weekends – but if you are struggling to make ends meet, this is not nearly as enjoyable as the dream would suggest.
Here are the basic costs in AED for a family of 4 living in a standard villa (with no pool).
For some families these costs will be right and for some families they will not be. Be aware that one size doesn’t fit all. The article assumes no costs for non-essential spend such as gym membership, house maids etc.
Here are the basic costs in AED for a family of 4 living in a standard villa (with no pool)
Please be aware that the costs below are non-essential items.
Please note that this is an estimated budget to give you a rough idea of the cost of living in Dubai. Of course, these costs are liable to change depending on your individual circumstances and priorities, for example, if your company provide you with accommodation, a car or health insurance, if you choose to live in an apartment, or only have a baby rather than 2 teenagers for groceries etc, your costs will go down. If you choose to live in a property more than the AED 140,000 budget and now require pool maintenance or you spend more than AED 250 a week on entertainment, your costs will go up. All of these will make a difference to the bottom line figures above.
Do check your employment contracts carefully to ensure they offer the cover for all your family, school fees and travel home, etc, as you will certainly not be able to renegotiate once you arrive it is an employers market.
We wish you good luck and hope that you can enjoy your experience here as much as many of us do.
Our special thanks to British mum Heather Harries who took time to research and write this article.
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