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Living in the UAE
What You Should Know About Living Costs and More in the UAE
One of the most intriguing facts about the UAE is its overwhelming blend of tradition and modernity. In some ways, the country is ultra-progressive, such as giving its police force the fastest fleet of cars in the world: Bugattis and Lamborghinis. In other ways, the country is rooted in the customs and decrees of Islam, such as the forbiddance of Muslim residents to drink alcohol or any resident to give birth while unwed.
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There are many facts about the UAE that are widely known such as the cost of living is high and much of the rules and customs are dictated by Islam. Nearly all of the public holidays are based in the Muslim religion and the biggest one, Ramadan, even includes fasting. Expats should be aware of this as it is seen rude to eat in front of Muslim coworkers and friends during this time.
This section covers the practicalities you need to remember such as emergency numbers, communication information, and the basics on driving and public transportation. We also list the main embassies and airports you will need to know.
- Ambulance – 998
- Coastguard – 996
- Electricity failure – 911
- Fire Department – 997
- Police – 999
- Water failure – 922
National Early Warning System
In 2017, the UAE established the National Early Warning System (EWS) to ensure the safety of all individuals and property within the seven emirate states. The EWS sends text messages to warn people about dangerous weather conditions and instruct them on procedures to stay safe.
UAE’s hospitals can handle any medical emergency. During medical emergencies, a hospital will accept you for initial treatment and may transfer you to a hospital better equipped to deal with your problem.
The UAE provides standard medical care and visitors can obtain medical treatment from either a private or government hospital. In the case of an emergency, treatment to stabilize the patient is free. Other treatment must be paid for by cash, credit card, or insurance. See our UAE healthcare guide for more details.
The main religion of the UAE is Islam and its religious holidays and observances dominate much of the country. Here are the main public holidays throughout the UAE:
Note that Muslim holidays are subject to the sighting of the new moon. Dates of some holidays may change accordingly.
New Year’s Day
This holiday is celebrated on January 1.
Ascension of the Prophet
This holiday is celebrated on the 27thday of Rajab, the seventh month in the Islamic calendar. It celebrates the date that prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven to learn proper prayer instructions from Allah. This holiday normally falls in April or March.
This holiday—one of the most well-known of the Muslim religion—celebrates the month in which the teachings of the Quran were revealed to the prophet Muhammad. The celebration lasts 29–30 days, with Muslims fasting from sun-up to sun-down. Expats and non-Muslims in the UAE are not expected to fast as well, but it is considered rude to eat in front of Muslim friends and coworkers during the hours they are fasting.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.
Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan. Translated into English it means “festival of breaking the fast.” The exact date is based on when the new moon is sighted by local religious authorities. Because of this, holiday celebrations vary by location.
Arafat Day is celebrated on the ninth day of Dhul-Hijjah, the twelfth month in the Islamic calendar. It commemorates the second day of Hajj: the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
Eid al-Adha follows Arafat Day. Also called the “Festival of Sacrifice,” it celebrates the moment when Ibrahim was to sacrifice his son to demonstrate his loyalty to God, but, at the last moment, was given a lamb to slaughter instead. Many Eid al-Adha celebrations today still include the ritual sacrifice of goats, sheep, or camels.
Hijri New Year’s Day
Also known as Islamic New Year, this holiday marks the beginning of the next Islamic/lunar calendar.
Also called Commemoration Day, Martyr’s Day is always celebrated on November 30. It recognizes Emiratis who have sacrificed their lives for civil, military, and humanitarian services.
UAE National Day
This holiday is celebrated annually on December 2. It commemorates the day all seven emirates unified into one country.
Prophet Mohammad’s Birthday
The Prophet Mohammad’s Birthday is celebrated on the twelfth day of Rabīʿ al-Awwal, the third month of the Islamic calendar.
Level 8, Al Muhairy Centre
Zayed the First Street
Telephone: +971 2 4017500
British Embassy Abu Dhabi
Khalid bin Al Waleed St (Street 22)
Telephone: +971 2 6101100
Embassy of Canada in Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi Trade Towers (Abu Dhabi Mall) West Tower
9th & 10th Floors
Telephone: +971 2 6940300
Embassy of India
Plot No. 10
Off the Airport Road
Telephone: +971 2 4492700
South African Embassy
Cnr Airport Road & 25th Street
Villa No A029
Al Mushref Area
Telelphone: +971 3 4473446
Airport Road at Rabdan (29th) Street
Embassies District, Plot 38, Sector W59-02, Street No. 4
Telephone: +971 2 4142200
- Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC)
- Dubai International Airport (DXB)
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Cost of Living
If you are wondering if it is expensive to live in the UAE, the answer is yes. While the cost of living in the UAE fluctuates depending on the emirate, overall the cost is high. Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai have slipped in the global rankings for most expensive cities for expats. However, in both areas expats can still expect to put half of their paycheck towards rent alone.
- Most expensive emirate: Dubai (with Abu Dhabi as a close second)
- Cheapest emirate: Ajman
Average Cost of Living in Abu Dhabi, Ajman, and Dubai
Cost of Living for Single Person
Cost of Living for Family of Four
8,200 AED (2,230 USD)
20,330 AED (5,535 USD)
10,090 AED (2,750 USD)
13,200 AED (3,595 USD)
9,420 AED (2,565 USD)
22,970 AED (6,255 USD)
Living Expenses in the UAE
Compared to rent prices, everyday living expenses in the UAE are not astronomical. The average cost of living for family of four is about about 12,000 AED per month (3,000 USD). Without rent, this includes items such as groceries, transport, leisure activity, and eating out at restaurants. A single person can expect to pay about 3,000 AED (800 USD).
UAE Food and Alcohol Prices
|Loaf of bread||
|One dozen eggs||
|Apples (1 kg)||
|Tomatoes (1 kg)||
Because of Sharia law, alcohol is only sold at certain restaurants, hotels, and clubs. Residents need a special license to consume alcohol. Read more about this in the Crime and Punishment section below. That being said, alcohol is expensive in the UAE. One bottle of will cost around 58 AED (16 USD). Beer is about 16 AED (4 USD).
On average, utility costs for electricity, gas, and water will run about 600 AED (163 USD). Much of this cost will go towards electricity and running the AC. Internet should only run about 300 AED per month (82 USD).
Cost of Education
No matter whether your child goes to public of private school, you will need to pay. Although public schools are free for Emirati nationals, expat families must pay a fee. The annual cost for government schools is about 6,000 AED (1,635 USD). For private and international schools, expats will pay anywhere between 27,640 and 43,790 AED (7,525–11,922 USD). Price varies depending on school and grade level.
While most expats have their housing covered by their employers, it is still a good idea to be aware of the costs. The average rent in the UAE ranges between 30,000 to 50,000 AED (8,100–13,600 USD) per year for a studio apartment. One- and two-bedroom apartments range between 70,000 and 100,000 AED (19,000–27,220 USD). In the most expensive emirate, Dubai, a high-end, one-bedroom apartment will run about 96,670 AED per year (26,317 USD). A low-end, one-bedroom will be about 56,200 AED per year (15,300 USD). For more, read our Housing section.
Just like with education, expats must pay for both public and private health insurance. It is compulsory to have health insurance in the UAE and you cannot receive a residence visa without proof that you are covered. In Dubai and Abu Dhabi, employers are required to cover their employees. If an employer is not covering your health insurance, you must purchase your own.
A reasonably comprehensive health insurance policy in the UAE will cost about 10,000 AED per year (2,720 USD). Basic coverage for a family of four will be around 17,000 AED (4,630 USD).
Travel and Transportation Cost
|Taxi (minimum fare)||10||3|
|Metro (depends on distance)||2.50–6.50||1–2|
|Gas (1 liter)||2||1|
Culture and Social Etiquette
As stated, the UAE is governed under Sharia law and is heavily influenced by Islamic culture and beliefs. Expats should familiarize themselves with the taboos and customs associated with the Muslim religion. Creating an offense against Islam can have serious consequences in the UAE.
Crime and Punishment
Besides its luxury and wealth, the UAE is also known for its strict laws and strict punishments. Offenses such as swearing can result in a fine or even jail time. Alcohol consumption can lead to flogging. For expats, the punishment for most crimes is jail time, a fine, or deportation. However, it does not hurt to be cautious.
Relationships between Men and Women
It is against the law in the UAE for men and women to live together if they are not married. However, many expats do live with coed roommates and do not face any legal issues. Problems will only arise if you bring unwanted attention upon yourself.
Expats should also be aware that public displays are prohibited throughout the UAE. This includes holding hands and kissing, even between married spouses.
Although the UAE supports the education of women and women in the workforce, there are still certain laws and regulations that expat women should be aware of. For example, allegations of rape can also lead to jail time for the accuser if the alleged rapist is found to be not guilty.
Driving in the UAE
Known for fast, reckless driving and six-lane highways, driving in the UAE is daunting to many expats. The best advice is to be cautious and expect to encounter very dangerous driving from other drivers.
How to Get a UAE Driving License
If you have a residence visa, you cannot drive in the UAE on a foreign license or an International Driving License (IDL). You can only drive on a foreign license or IDL if you are a tourist. See the rental car details below for more information.
If you already hold a valid driving license from one of the countries below, you only need to convert your license to a UAE one. You will need to bring a letter from your country’s consulate or embassy certifying your license. You will not need to pass a UAE driving test.
|Australia||Germany||New Zealand||South Africa|
|Denmark||South Korea||Qatar||United Kingdom|
If you do not hold a valid driving license from one of these countries, you will need to enroll in a driving course and pass a test. Once you pass this test, you will be issued a two-year license.
Required documents for a driving license vary slightly from emirate to emirate, but, in general, these are the documents you will need:
- copy of your passport with a valid visa
- No Objection letter from a sponsor
- health certificate
- five passport-sized photographs
- an eye test (can be arranged at Driving Center)
You will apply for the license at the Road Transit Authority. The cost is between 200 to 300 AED (54 to 86 USD).
Driving Rules in the UAE
Driving rules in the UAE are fairly similar to European countries and the US. If you are caught driving without a license you could face a fine of up 5,000 AED (1,360 USD). Talking on a mobile phone while driving is strictly prohibited.
Other driving rules include, but are not limited to the following:
- Cars drive on the right side of the road.
- If you exceed the speed limit by 80 km/h (50 mph) you will incur a fine of 3,000 AED (817 USD) and have your car impounded for 60 days.
- All passengers in a vehicle must wear a seat belt.
- Front seat passengers must be at least 145 cm tall (4’7”) and older than ten years.
- Other violations to be aware of:
- sudden swerving
- overtaking on the shoulder
- driving a noisy vehicle
- crowding accident sites
If you get into an accident in the UAE, you must leave your car exactly where it is. This applies even if the accident is in the middle of the road. Only in Dubai are you permitted to move your car to the side of the road.
Drinking and Driving
The UAE has a zero-tolerance policy for drinking and driving. Given the UAE’s already rigid stance on alcohol, this is a serious offense and it carries stiff penalties for both Emirati nationals and expats. Penalties include a 20,000 AED (5,445 USD) fine, jail time, suspended license for up to a year, and impounding your vehicle. Expats can even face corporal punishment.
Age for Driving in the UAE
You can legally obtain a driving license at 18 years old. You can begin training at 17 years and six months.
Driving a Rental Car
In the past, the UAE required every visitor to have an International Driver’s License (IDL) in order to rent a car. Now, visitors from the following countries may drive on their home license as long as it is not expired:Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, GCC, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, Spain, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Only tourists (not UAE residence visa holders) may drive or rent a car with a foreign driver’s license.
Other Considerations when Renting a Car in the UAE
You must be at least 25 years old to rent a car. All rental companies are required to ask for a deposit at the beginning of your contract. This deposit will be for a specified amount, and it will be held on a credit card until you return the car in proper condition.
If you plan to drive your rental car to other neighboring Gulf Coast countries, you will need to inform the rental company and take out extra insurance. However, this is also dependent upon your rental company as some companies strictly forbid taking their cars to another country.
Dubai has an electronic toll system called Salik. All tolls must be paid through a pre-paid card. There are no toll booths on the highway, so paying during your drive is not possible and going through a toll without paying can lead to hefty fines.
You can purchase a Salik tag online, at service centers, or in some banks. Be sure to ask your rental company about this. The initial purchase of a tag is 100 AED (27 USD), 50 of which goes towards tolls. Tolls are 4 AED (1 USD). You can easily top-up your tag through mobile phone apps or at kiosks around the city. Your rental company may also invoice you at the end of your contract.
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Public Transportation in the UAE
As the most developed emirate, Dubai has the most expansive public transportation system in the UAE. Metro, monorail, and tram lines connect all areas of the city. Dubai even implements a Nol Card, which is a method of electronic ticketing for each mode of transportation.
Other Ticketing Options
The cost of public transportation ranges between 6 and 8 AED (2 USD) per trip.
How is Public Transportation in the UAE?
Public transportation around the rest of the UAE is primarily through air-conditioned buses. The network of buses is widespread, covering many corners of the UAE. Fares are reasonably priced, ranging between 3 to 8 AED (1–2 USD) for a single trip and 8 to 17 AED (8–5 USD) for a pass. The cost varies dependent on your zone and trip type. Tickets can be purchased through the Nol Card.
Taxi is the most popular way to get around each emirate. Taxis are regulated through the RTA and come at a fairly affordable price. Most fares start at around 20 AED (5 USD) and go up 2 AED per kilometer (less than 1 USD). A 10 km ride (about 6 miles) will cost around 32 AED (9 USD).
There are several taxi companies operating throughout the UAE, so finding a cab at any hour of the day should not be difficult. All taxis are regulated through the RTA.
Women and Children
Abu Dhabi and Dubai have pink taxis, which are driving by women and are only meant for female passengers and children under ten. Sharjah also has taxis only for women, but you must call and reserve one (600525252) or book online.
Abu Dhabi and Dubai also have parking spots just for women. These are marked with pink paint.
In Dubai, the front train car is reserved for women and children under ten.
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