Part 2 – Abu Dhabi or Dubai: which Emirate is for you?

Welcome to part 2 of looking at relocating to the UAE and which would suit you best as an expat: Dubai or Abu Dhabi? This time we look at the cost of living in each location.

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By Melanie Clarke

May 19, 2022

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What is the cost of living in each Emirate?

The cost of living can vary and rests heavily on what kind of lifestyle you wish to live whilst you’re in the UAE. Looking at an overall average in 2021, Dubai is approximately 18% more expensive to live in than Abu Dhabi, taking into account general daily costs. This is partially compensated by the average salary in Dubai being around 7.6% higher.

Food

When relocating to the UAE, you will likely want to enjoy some of your favourite brands from back home. It is possible to get hold of many overseas products as the supermarkets cater for their expat audience, but prices are undoubtedly high due to import costs. Buying local brands will bring your food bills down when you hit the shops.

abu dhabi or dubai food
Dubai

The average shop for a family of 4 in Dubai could average around 2,000AED (£400) a month, though where you choose to shop can inflate it up to twice the cost if you can’t let go of imported products. If you do your grocery shop at Waitrose or Choithrams, bills will skyrocket compared to filling your trolley at Lulu or Carrefour.

That said, you may find yourself only stocking up on essentials and any treats you want to enjoy, as the majority of people eat out very regularly. Of course, things can start to get expensive if you decide to visit the higher-end restaurants, but at an average local eatery you can expect to pay between 40 and 100 AED (£8 – £20) on a main dish. Many chains you’ll recognise also have a presence in the UAE, including TGI Fridays, where prices are lower than in the UK.

Abu Dhabi

A meal for one in an inexpensive restaurant can cost you as little as 25AED (£5) which works out cheaper than a basic fast food meal here in the UK. Even if a couple opted for a mid-range restaurant and decided to enjoy 3 courses, it would likely only cost around 200AED (£40).

Of course, if you want to sample the culinary delights of the UAE, there is an inexhaustible range of establishments you can visit. If you want to enjoy some of the best food from around the world, you’ll never be stuck for somewhere new to try.

Food is generally a little more expensive in Dubai than it’s neighbour, but not by a huge amount. Comparatively, it can tend to be more costly for the average person when eating out in Dubai than Abu Dhabi, which expats often do due to the strong social scene. Again it can completely depend on where you choose to eat; you can fill yourself for relatively little if you choose wisely.

Housing

Accommodation is one cost of living where Abu Dhabi is more expensive than Dubai, though only slightly. This could be due to it being the capital, so prices are naturally inflated.

Property can obviously vary in price based on whether you’re in the city centre vs. the suburbs, whether you’re happy in an apartment or looking for something bigger, and how many bedrooms you’ll need. Here’s a look at averages across a cross-section of property types in the two locations:

Dubai

1 bed apartment 56,200 – 96,670 AED

3 bed apartment 105,000 – 190,000 AED

3 bed villa/house 193,180+ AED

5 bed villa/house 298,640+ AED

Abu Dhabi

1 bed apartment 65,780 – 106,630 AED

3 bed apartment 123,890 – 200,630 AED

3 bed villa/house 168,180+ AED

5 bed villa/house 305,910+ AED

Comparisons of living costs to other Emirates the UAE

EmirateMonthly cost in AED (single person) Monthly cost in GBP (single person)
Dubai2,384693
Abu Dhabi2,069600
Sharjah1,802535
Ras al-Khaimah2,340661

Is it a good place for families to relocate to?

Schools

The first thing to note when thinking about relocating anywhere in the UAE with children is that all schools are private. That is, the schools aren’t state sponsored, so you will always need to bear this is mind as a cost when doing your sums. This is often a shock to expats moving here from countries with free schooling available.

There are many international schools in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai, so you won’t be stuck for choice. The fees can vary wildly, but even at the lower end they are expensive, ranging up to eye-wateringly costly.

When choosing a school, it can help to speak to other expat families about their experiences. Each Emirate also has a regulatory board who completes reports on all schools in it’s jurisdiction, so it would be helpful to check a schools ratings out with them too.

In Abu Dhabi, the Abu Dhabi Schools’ Regulator (ADEK) inspects all of the institutions in the Emirate, and in Dubai it’s The Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA).

Whichever location you choose, you won’t be without choice when it comes to education. Many of the world’s most famous education giants have a presence in the UAE, including many UK schools, colleges and universities. The quality of education is excellent and the experience of attending an international school is culturally enriching.

Abu Dhabi is certainly geared to offering a relaxed, family-friendly environment and I’d say the opportunities available to my son, George, here compared to the UK are far more positive and plentiful. I can genuinely say it’s a great place for anyone to relocate to, as there is a huge choice of things to do here for families. It’s also incredibly safe.

Christian Gallagher

Business Development Manager at Vital Certificates UAE

Health Care

Another thing to bear in mind, whether with a family or not, is private health insurance. This is another facet of life which isn’t covered by the state (unless you’re an Emirati national) and every individual will need to organise their own cover. This should be included in your employment package, but you will need to ensure you check what, and more importantly who, it covers.

Some employers will provide a package which covers your entire family but some will only include you personally. It really pays to understand what you have and if required, get the rest of your family sorted as soon as possible, as it’s a legal requirement for all residents of the UAE to have some form of active cover.

Your employer is only legally required to offer you basic cover, too. Check what it involves, as you may decide to upgrade it or take out your own policy if you don’t feel it’s particularly good.

If you do decide to upgrade your health insurance to something more comprehensive, in terms of pricing it’s generally equal across the UAE. There aren’t really many factors which can create huge differences in premiums based on location.

Safety

Dubai is regularly named as the safest city in the Middle East to live. Crime is almost non-existent, and the laws which are broken are mostly white-collar. This reputation is shared by it’s neighbour, with Abu Dhabi being equally ranked as extremely low risk when it comes to crime rates.

Either Emirate can give you a strong sense of security if you’re thinking of relocating there. The police are very present and there is a strong sense of security even after dark.

Dubai even has its own police app which gives live information on traffic accidents and other incidents, as well as the ability to report crimes straight from your phone. This community-led effort to achieve zero crime is really pushed by the government and residents are encouraged to contribute towards the effort.

Abu Dhabi also has an app for their Police force, though it’s more administrative in its focus. You can do things such as view fines and tickets, but there are other features including traffic updates and locating your nearest police station.

Both Emirates come out on top in the safety stakes, ranking near the top of the tables globally. You could feel completely safe walking around alone, even at night, whichever you decide to go for.

Travel

One of the major bonuses of living in the UAE is that there is suddenly an endless choice of new and exotic locations on the doorstep. Dubai airport is also one of the best flight hubs on the planet, serving over 239 airports across the globe, with the most major flight routes passing through here than any other airport. At peak times, there can be up to 800 planes landing in Dubai every day. If you want to go somewhere, it’s likely you won’t have much hassle!

The longest non-stop route from Dubai is the 5,480 mile trip to Auckland, New Zealand. There are daily flights to many popular destinations including London, Manchester, Paris and New York. If you want to explore closer to your new home, there are plenty of opportunities to do so with flights to Doha, Kuwait City, Riyadh and Bahrain Island.

If you’re leaning towards Abu Dhabi, you still won’t feel restricted at all when it comes to non-stop flight destinations. There are plenty of international routes out of Abu Dhabi airport, ranging from shorter journeys such as Doha and Riyadh, to long-haul flights including London, Manchester, Melbourne, Paris and New York.

Flights from Dubai can sometimes be cheaper, due to the popularity and regularity of the flights compared to it’s neighbour. If you are settled in Abu Dhabi and decide to save some money by flying from Dubai, it’s only just over an hours drive!

The airports are both extremely well-connected hubs, so whether you intend on flying for pleasure regularly, or just want to make sure you can easily make those visits home, you won’t find either locations to be inadequate for your needs.

Our round-up points!

Abu Dhabi

  • Great work/life balance
  • Family-focused
  • Slower pace of life
  • Feel settled very quickly
  • Friendly town-like feel
  • Strong Expat community
  • Lots of wonderful outside spaces
  • Idyllic white sandy beaches

Dubai

  • Lively city feel
  • Strong Expat community
  • Mix of traditional and progressive
  • Wide variety of activities and experiences
  • Many global events happening
  • Constant development
  • Huge range of restaurants & bars
  • Friendly and safe community
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Melanie Clarke

Melanie is a Marketing Coordinator at Vital Consular. Before taking up a Marketing role, she spent 3 years building up a rich knowledge of global legalisation processes on the operations team. When she's not working, Melanie enjoys attending music events and pursuing many creative interests including screen printing and merchandise design.

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