The cost of living in Abu Dhabi for expats is steep and is only predicted to rise as the emirate’s oil-exporting economy will continue to thrive post Covid-19. 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 39th out of 209 cities ranked in Mercer's Cost of Living Survey for 2020, placing it as the second most expensive city in the Middle East behind neighbouring Dubai.

Salaries in Abu Dhabi are slightly down from a few years ago (and the 2020 pandemic will likely have further detrimental effects), 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 sometimes take up nearly as much as 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.

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.

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, as 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 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 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 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.

One thing that expats should be wary of is the outrageous costs 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 will have to budget for high tuition fees. Private international schools in Abu Dhabi charge a fortune for an education that, some Westerners feel, is hardly worth the extravagant price tag.

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

Expats should try to negotiate an allowance into their salary package. Although education stipends are less common than they once were, 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, 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 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 either eat away great portions of an expat's salary, or cost next to nothing. It all depends on an expat's lifestyle and preferences. 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 result in a significant grocery bill, so don't be afraid to try the Emirati equivalents to cut costs.

Alcohol is also expensive, so try and buy duty-free products at 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 trips home.

Cost of living in Abu Dhabi chart

Prices may vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for June 2020.

Monthly accommodation (in a good expat area)

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

AED 4,600

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

AED 3,700

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

AED 9,200

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

AED 7,000


Eggs (dozen)

AED 10.60

Milk (1 litre) 

AED 6.20

Rice (1kg) 

AED 8.30

Loaf of white bread 

AED 5.10

Chicken breasts (1kg)

AED 25

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro) 

AED 21

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

AED 26.75 

Coca-Cola (330ml)

AED 3.40


AED 18.80

Bottle of beer

AED 40

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

AED 200


Mobile to mobile call rate (per minute)

AED 0.60

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month) 

AED 380 

Basic utilities (per month for a small apartment)

AED 495


Taxi rate (per kilometre)


Bus/train fare to the city centre


Petrol/gasoline (per litre) 

AED 2.20

Expat Health Insurance

Cigna Health Insurance

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William Russell Health Insurance

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William Russell is a boutique insurance company, that values itself on its great customer service and is underwritten by Allianz. They provide health, life, and income protection insurance for expats around the world. With a global network of 40,000 hospitals and doctors, their health insurance plans are designed so that they follow you to whatever country you move to next.

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