Cost of living in Dubai: Is it an expensive place for expats? – Economy Middle East

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Despite being a key hub for millionaires, startups and a booming property market, Dubai is affordable compared to other global metropolises

“Dubai is an expensive place to live in” – that’s a statement we hear very often. After all, the city is the world’s top destination for migrating millionaires and high net-worth individuals. In fact, the UAE is expected to welcome a record net inflow of 6,700 millionaires this year alone.

According to the Henley Private Wealth Migration Report 2024, zero income tax policy, golden visas, luxury lifestyle, and the country’s strategic location are some of the reasons expats from all over the world prefer to make Dubai their home.

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But that doesn’t mean the cost of living in the country is high. In fact, according to two top rankings, Dubai is one of the most affordable global metro cities.

European, U.S. cities most expensive

According to Numbeo’s ‘Cost of Living Index by City 2024 Mid-Year’, Dubai ranks 78th in a list of 218 cities when it comes to cost of living. Geneva tops with list with a Cost of Living Index score of 101.7. Zurich comes second with a score of 100.4, while New York ranks third with a reading of 100. Dubai’s score, meanwhile, is 60.

As many as seven U.S. cities rank among the top 10 on the index, compared to three from Europe.

Rank City Cost of Living Index
1 Geneva, Switzerland 101.7
2 Zurich, Switzerland 100.4
3 New York, NY, United States 100
4 San Francisco, CA, United States 90.5
5 Boston, MA, United States 85.8
6 Reykjavik, Iceland 83.9
7 Washington, DC, United States 82.5
8 Seattle, WA, United States 81.5
9 Los Angeles, CA, United States 80.9
10 Chicago, IL, United States 80.2

Dubai among affordable global cities

Dubai is also more affordable when you look at the sub-indices in Numbeo’s index.

For instance, the city ranks 19th on the Rent Index, 32nd on the Cost of Living Plus Rent Index, 101st on the Groceries Index and 58th on the Restaurant Price Index.

Seven U.S. cities feature on the Rent Index, with New York topping the list at a rating of 100. This is followed by San Francisco, Boston, Miami, London, San Diego, Washington DC, Singapore, Los Angeles and Geneva.

It’s a mix of American and European cities on the Cost of Living Plus Rent Index. New York tops again, followed by San Francisco, Geneva, Boston, Zurich, Washington DC, San Diego, London, Miami and Los Angeles.

Swiss cities have most expensive groceries, restaurants

The trend is similar in the Groceries Index, even though some new cities enter the top 10. Geneva tops the list, followed by Zurich, San Francisco, New York, Boston, Reykjavik (Iceland), Seoul, Chicago, Portland and Los Angeles.

Looking at restaurant prices, Zurich tops the list, followed by Geneva, New York, Reykjavik, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Copenhagen, Washington DC, Chicago and Boston.

Consulting firm Mercer has a similar ranking. According to its Cost of Living City Ranking 2024, Hong Kong ranks highest on the list, followed by Singapore, Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Bern, New York, London, Nassau and Los Angeles.

The ranking lists 226 cities in the world, in order from the most expensive to the least expensive places to live.

“Of the 10 most expensive cities for international assignees, half are located in Western Europe, with Switzerland being home to four. However, it is Southeast Asian cities that lead the list, with Hong Kong and Singapore remaining in the first and second positions, respectively,” Mercer says.

“Dubai has jumped up the rankings to become the costliest city in the Middle East for international employees. It is ranked 15th on the global ranking, up three places from 2023,” the report adds.

Expenses in Dubai

According to Numbeo, there has been a slight increase in the cost of living in Dubai in 2024 compared to 2023 levels.
For instance, a single person would have spent AED3,965.3 ($1,079.73) as monthly expense in 2023. This number has gone up to AED4,064.9 a month in 2024.

For a family of four, monthly expenses averaged AED13,842.1 in 2023, but have increased to AED14,198.6 in 2024.

“Moving through 2024, experts have suggested Dubai residents may see some slight increases in living expenses as the year progresses. This includes rental prices hiking up to 20 percent due to an increasing population as well as an increased influx of investors and professionals. Further incremental increases in costs are expected to be seen with paid parking, Salik tolls, and remittance fees,” according to Dubai Multi Commodities Center (DMCC).

Rental costs

Numbeo has also listed average rental costs for residents living in Dubai. As with all markets, rents are higher in the city centre and come down significantly as you move away from key central locations.

For instance, a one-bedroom apartment in the city center would cost an average AED7,959.77 per month, according to data updated until May 2024, while a three-bedroom apartment could go as high as AED15,243.75. Once you move away from the city centre, the rents come down considerably. A one-bedroom apartment outside the centre costs around AED4,871.70 per month, while a three-bedroom apartment would rent for AED10,354.80.

Cost of education

Dubai’s education regulator, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), lists 228 schools under its purview. Fees can vary over a wide range depending on the curriculum, grade, and most importantly, the KHDA school rating. According to the DMCC data, schools can charge between AED3,567 and AED107,928 per year. This is significantly lower compared to New York, for instance, where school fees average $58,000 a year, according to Numbeo data.

According to price rankings by international primary school, New York is the most expensive city, followed by Chicago, Zurich, Suzhou (China), Geneva, Shanghai, Miami, Singapore, Hamburg and Shenzhen.

Low fuel costs

Fuel prices in the UAE are significantly lower compared to global rates. In the UAE, Super 98 petrol, the highest grade of petrol, cost AED2.99 ($0.81) a liter in June. This is significantly lower than the worldwide average of $1.35 a liter.

According to Numbeo’s rankings of petrol prices, the UAE ranks 77th in a list of 96 countries. Topping the table is Hong Kong, where petrol costs $3.09 a litre. Then come Singapore ($2.11), Finland ($2.09), Albania ($2.08), Netherlands ($2.08), Denmark ($2.06), Switzerland ($2.05), Greece ($2.04), Norway ($2.04) and France ($1.95).

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