As many leave Dubai at the end of the year and newbies arrived excited by the promise of starting a new life in this part of the world, it’s important to understand the true cost of living here in financial terms as well as emotional costs too. Whilst at first it can take time to settle and adjust, there is a fantastic expat community here and it won’t take you long to feel at home, with the great expat lifestyle, amazing weather (winter months are perfect!), a very safe city and great education choices for your children.
Dubai is a constantly growing and evolving city and there are many opportunities across plenty of industries. Dubai is an expensive place to live, so you do have to make sure you do your homework and research to ensure that living here will suit you and your family. So, what is the financial reality for a typical family of four?
Rates have fallen considerably over the last few years and the real estate market now falls favourably towards renters. An average standard four-bedroom villa in a popular expat area will cost anything from AED 110,000 in a community such as Mira or Mudon, whereas you’d be looking at AED 150,000+ in Arabian Ranches. If you are looking at larger villas with a private pool and maids’ room, you should budget AED 180,000 – 200,000+. For something with more of a WOW factor, you can be looking at AED 250,000 upwards. There are great deals to be had in some of the newer, upcoming communities or less popular areas, and you can even get 2 bed apartments on The Palm for under AED 100,000.
Bayut is the leading property website in the UAE, with the largest portfolio of properties available in the market. It is the perfect place to start your search, get a feel for the different communities and find the best properties for sale and rent in Dubai. Members of British Mums Dubai can take advantage of a priority service offered by Bayut exclusively for our members, using which you can reach out to a dedicated expert. All you have to do is email email@example.com with the link of the property you are interested in, along with a screenshot of your first message to the particular agent/agency and they will ensure you have the best experience and service when it comes to looking for a new home!
DEWA & Bills
The bills for services can run really high, especially if you have a large villa and a pool. For a 4-bedroom villa you’d be looking at an average of AED 4,000 over the summer months when the AC is pretty much on constant, but nearer AED 2,000 per month in winter. This will increase substantially if you have real grass or a pool. Don’t forget that DEWA require an AED 4,000 deposit to set up too.
DEWA now have a great app that you can use to manage your household and you can receive alerts if they notice a sudden spike in your usage which could indicate a water leak for example.
TV Packages with Du start from around AED 400 per month and mobile phone bills can start from AED 200 for basic packages but can be up to AED 500-600+ for the latest phone, data and minutes.
Virgin Mobile offer flexibility with no contracts, family plans and free SIM delivery within 1 hour, so a great option if you don’t want to be tied into a long contract or pay more than you might use.
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 its value, an average amount of insurance would be about AED 3,000 per year (average amount for a Nissan X-Trail). Petrol is still relatively cheap and for a small car you can expect to spend as little as AED 400 per month, which can increase to nearer AED 1,000 depending on how far and often you drive. Car service is approx. AED 1,500 – 3,500 every 3-6 months.
There have been many new schools opening in Dubai over the last few years in particular, giving more options for parents than ever before. This is great as it means school fees are more competitive and some schools are even offering discounts for founding families. School fees vary for British Curriculum schools but on average they start at AED 45,000 for FS1 per school year per child and can be over AED 100,000 in secondary, depending on which school you choose.
Some nurseries also offer FS options and are approximately AED 15,000 per term.
School uniform should be budgeted at approximately AED 2,000 per child (including school shoes, PE & Swimming Kits).
School lunches are usually around AED 20 – AED 30 a day and many children have packed lunches.
After school activities are normally not supplemented 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 hour.
Many schools offer a school transport system, and this is separate to the fees you pay. You can expect to pay AED 4,000 per school term per child, although this varies from school to school.
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 can be 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 – AED 1,000 or 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, annual injections and vet appointments per pet. Beware that if you relocate your pet, it can cost anywhere between AED 7,000 – AED 60,000 depending on the size and weight of your pet.
Housemaids / Home Help
A benefit to living in this part of the world is having access to inexpensive home help, a luxury which, in many ways defines living here is having a maid and / or driver and gardener.
To employ a housemaid as an expat, you will have to renew their visa and contract every year, and this cost is approximately AED 12,000. A housemaid’s salary may vary but is on average AED 2,500 – AED 3,500 per month and every two yearsyou are responsible for paying for her flight, 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 per month for her accommodation.
A gardener is AED 300-AED 500 per month and most people employ one 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, 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 by shopping around in the cheaper local supermarkets 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 in Dubai. One of the famous brunches 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). There are now lots of discount and promotional apps available to help save money on eating out and takeaways.
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 package 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 14,000 – 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 child’s 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 some down sides of course like anything but arriving prepared and knowing you will experience something quite extraordinary and expose your family to experiences they will never find anywhere else, will make it all the more enticing.
To achieve this, you do however have to make an effort, so join an Arabic language course, visit other emirates and respect the culture. 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).
Of course, you can come here on a more modest salary, but if you are doing that, think really hard about the reasons for your move. 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 may not be quite the same; it’s not uncommon here to work 10-12 hour days 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.
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 employer’s market.
If you are looking to send money back to the UK or elsewhere, sending or receiving international transfers with your bank can mean you might lose money on lower exchange rates and pay additional fees. Consider using a company such as TransferWise for spending in any currency, receiving money for free and sending money internationally with low transparent fees.
We wish you good luck and hope that you enjoy your experience here as much as many of us do! The British Mums Dubai Facebook group has over 13,200 active members and is the perfect platform to ask any questions you may have about Dubai life!
Our special thanks to British mum Heather Harries who took time to research and support us in writing this article.
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