Cost of Living in Abu Dhabi

The cost of living in Abu Dhabi for expats is steep and is only predicted to rise as the emirate’s oil-exporting economy continues to thrive. Though many move to Abu Dhabi to save money in the income-tax-free environment, expats should be aware that the quality of life comes at a high price. This is demonstrated in Abu Dhabi's ranking of 40th out of 209 cities ranked in Mercer's Cost of Living Survey for 2018, placing it as the second most expensive city in the Middle East behind neighbouring Dubai.

Salaries in Abu Dhabi have come down, and many of the allowances included in expat packages of the past are no longer normal protocol. That said, with the right kind of research, expats can accurately estimate their costs and take the appropriate steps to wrangle for a better wage and the lifestyle they may have imagined.

As is the case anywhere, an individual's cost of living in Abu Dhabi is highly variable; the opportunity to live a life of opulence exists, as does the chance to get by cheaply and conveniently.

Accommodation, automobiles and schooling comprise the bulk of expenses, while food, clothing and entertainment are generally affordable.

Cost of accommodation in Abu Dhabi

No matter one's social status, the costs associated with accommodation in Abu Dhabi are outrageous. Expats should anticipate their largest expense to be housing; rent can take up nearly 50 percent of a monthly salary.

On-island accommodation is generally more costly than off-island accommodation, as is the case with furnished and unfurnished housing, respectively.

Don't forget to broach the subject of a shipping allowance or, for those planning to buy most of their household goods upon arrival, a start-up stipend.

Utilities are reasonably priced in Abu Dhabi. However, utilities nonetheless form part of an expat's account, so be prepared to pay, especially if planning to keep a garden and an air-conditioned villa.

House-sharing is a good solution to exorbitant rental rates, but do be careful of renting a room in a villa that has been divided; this is illegal in Abu Dhabi.

Cost of transport in Abu Dhabi

Alongside accommodation, the cost of renting or buying a car will likely be another major expense for expats in Abu Dhabi.

Public transport is available and economical; however, most who have relocated to Abu Dhabi prefer to use a car to get around the emirate.

An option that can save a good deal of money is to ship one's car to Abu Dhabi. Costs vary depending on the location of an expat's home country, and import duties must be paid; but on the whole, if planning to stay in Abu Dhabi for a year, the total cost of both import and export may be significantly less than leasing or buying a car in the emirate.

One unforeseen cost that is impossible to anticipate, but readily avoidable, is the outrageous cost of parking and speeding tickets in Abu Dhabi. In an effort to curb illegal behaviour the authorities have attached hefty fines to these violations.

Cost of schooling in Abu Dhabi

Expat parents with children must certainly work high tuition fees into their annual budget. Private international schools in Abu Dhabi charge a fortune for an education that, some Westerners feel, is hardly worth the extravagant price tag.

Tuition ranges considerably, with additional charges such as school uniforms, annual bus fare, textbooks and a non-refundable enrolment fee, adding to the costs.

Assignees should try to negotiate an allowance into their salary package. Although education stipends are less common, they do still exist.

Cost of health insurance in Abu Dhabi

In Abu Dhabi, employers are legally required to provide expats with health insurance. So luckily, this is one cost assignees won't need to concern themselves with. That said, some employers use local health insurance, which is not recommended for those at-risk individuals who have significant health issues.

Older expats, or those in poor health, may need to maintain health insurance in their home country and make sure their employer finances emergency evacuation insurance. Otherwise, local health care is up to standard for minor issues.

Cost of food and clothing in Abu Dhabi

Food and clothing costs have the potential to monopolise great portions of an expat's salary or cost next to nothing. There is an impressive assortment of cuisine and shopping options in Abu Dhabi to suit all budgets.

Local foodstuffs will always be more reasonably priced than imported goods, and ethnic-style (Indian, Arabic, Chinese and African) restaurants are much cheaper than hotel eateries and bars. Organic food and Western brands can summon a significant grocery bill, so don't be afraid to try the Emirati equivalents to cut costs.

Furthermore, alcohol is expensive, so try and buy duty-free products in the airport.

Clothing from the Carrefour and the downtown shops is incredibly affordable, while the big names and popular labels found in Abu Dhabi's malls will be expensive. Books and electronics also tend to be more costly than expats may be used to, and as a result, many purchase these goods during the odd trip home.

Cost of living in Abu Dhabi chart

Prices may vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for November 2018.

Monthly accommodation (in a good expat area)

Furnished two-bedroom villa

AED 12,000

Unfurnished two-bedroom villa

AED 9,500

Furnished two-bedroom apartment

AED 10,000

Unfurnished two-bedroom apartment

AED 8,000


Eggs (dozen)

AED 12

Milk (1 litre) 


Rice (1kg) 

AED 8.40

Loaf of white bread 

AED 4.50

Chicken breasts (1kg)

AED 25

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro) 

AED 20

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

AED 25 

Coca-Cola (330ml)



AED 20

Bottle of beer

AED 40

Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

AED 220


Mobile to mobile call rate (per minute)

AED 0.50

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month) 

AED 330 

Basic utilities (per month for a small apartment)

AED 400


Taxi rate (per kilometre)


Bus/train fare to the city centre


Petrol/gasoline (per litre) 

AED 2.38

Ann-Marie Our Expat Expert

I am a Canadian journalist working in Abu Dhabi, UAE. I came here two years ago to help set up a new English newspaper. Before that I worked in Ottawa, Canada's capital, as a columnist and blogger for Sun Media.

Expat Health Insurance Partners

Aetna International

Aetna offers award-winning international health insurance plans to more than 55 million members worldwide. Their plans are tailored to meet the individual needs of you and your family while you are away from your home country, living and working abroad. Get peace of mind knowing you and your family will be protected and have access to quality health care wherever you are, where you need it.

* For a limited time, there is a discount of up to 20% on new multi-member policies and up to 10% on single member policies. This offer is valid until 19 June 2020. See website for details.

Get a quote from Aetna International


Cigna Global

With 86 million customer relationships in over 200 countries, Cigna Global has unrivalled experience in dealing with varied and unique medical situations and delivering high standards of service wherever you live in the world.

Get a quote from Cigna Global