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 know that the quality of life comes at a high price. This is demonstrated in Abu Dhabi's ranking of 43rd out of 227 cities ranked in Mercer's Cost of Living Survey for 2023.

Many of the allowances included in the UAE 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 luxury exists, as does the chance to get by cheaply and conveniently.

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


Cost of accommodation in Abu Dhabi

The costs associated with accommodation in Abu Dhabi are extremely high. Expats should anticipate their largest expense to be housing; rent can sometimes take up as much as 40 percent of a monthly salary.

On-island accommodation is typically more costly than off-island accommodation, and furnished housing typically costs more than unfurnished.

We recommend that expats 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, but they do add up, especially if expats plan to keep a garden and an air-conditioned villa.


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 pretty economical, but most who have relocated to Abu Dhabi nevertheless prefer to use a car to get around the emirate.

An option that can save a great 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. On the whole, if expats plan 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.

Expats should be wary of the hefty cost of traffic fines for parking illegally and speeding in Abu Dhabi. In an effort to curb illegal behaviour, the authorities have attached steep fines to these violations.


Cost of groceries and clothing in Abu Dhabi

Food and clothing costs have the potential to either eat away great portions of an expat's salary or cost next to nothing. Abu Dhabi has an impressive assortment of cuisine and shopping options to suit all budgets.

Local foodstuffs will always be more reasonably priced than imported goods. Organic food and Western brands can result in a significant grocery bill, so don't be afraid to try the local equivalents to cut costs.

Alcohol is also expensive, so try to buy duty-free products at the airport.

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


Cost of entertainment and eating out in Abu Dhabi

The leisure and dining scene in Abu Dhabi presents a plethora of options catering for varied tastes and budgets.

Numerous affordable dining establishments offer delightful meals for those seeking culinary adventures without breaking the bank – expats on a budget should note that ethnic-style (Indian, Arabic, Chinese and African) restaurants are much cheaper than hotel eateries and bars. Alternatively, fine dining options are abundant, but these come with a higher price tag.

Entertainment options in Abu Dhabi are just as diverse. Abu Dhabi's nightlife is surprisingly vibrant, offering a blend of family-friendly and adult-oriented entertainment at a variety of price points. Social life revolves around malls for cinema and shopping, and hotels for happy hours, dinners and drinks, and nightclubs, featuring international DJs, Arab singers and belly dancers.


Cost of education in Abu Dhabi

Most expat parents send their children to private international schools in Abu Dhabi, which charge hefty fees. The quality of education doesn't always match up to the high cost, although the facilities are usually excellent, so parents are encouraged to conduct thorough research before deciding on a school.

Tuition varies considerably, and there are often additional costs to be covered, such as school uniforms, textbooks, school lunches and bus fees.

Expats moving to the emirate for work should try to negotiate an allowance into their salary package. Although education stipends are less common than they once were, they still do exist.


Cost of healthcare in Abu Dhabi

In Abu Dhabi, employers must legally provide expats and their dependants with health insurance. So, fortunately, this is one cost new arrivals won't need to concern themselves with. That said, some employers use local health insurance, which is not recommended for at-risk individuals with significant health issues.

Older expats or those in poor health may need to maintain health insurance in their home country and ensure their employer finances emergency evacuation insurance. Otherwise, local healthcare is sufficient for minor issues.


Cost of living in Abu Dhabi chart

Prices may vary depending on the product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for January 2024.

Accommodation (monthly rent)
Three-bedroom apartment in the city centreAED 14,000
Three-bedroom apartment outside the city centreAED 9,300
One-bedroom apartment in the city centreAED 6,500
One-bedroom apartment outside the city centreAED 4,200
Food and drink
Dozen eggsAED 14
Milk (1 litre)AED 6
Rice (1kg)AED 6.38
Loaf of white breadAED 5.14
Chicken breasts (1kg)AED 16
Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)AED 21
Eating out
Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurantAED 290
Big Mac MealAED 32
Coca-Cola (330ml)AED 4.75
CappuccinoAED 22
Bottle of beer (local)AED 10
Utilities/household
Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)AED 0.70
Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)AED 340
Basic utilities (average per month for a standard household)AED 800
Transportation
Taxi rate/kmAED 2
City-centre public transport fareAED 2
Gasoline (per litre)AED 3.05

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