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 61st out of 227 cities ranked in Mercer's Cost of Living Survey for 2022.

Many of the allowances included in 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 opulence 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

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 as much as 40 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.


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 cost of traffic fines for parking illegally and speeding 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

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, so parents should be sure to research thoroughly 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 do still exist.


Cost of health insurance in Abu Dhabi

In Abu Dhabi, employers are legally required to 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 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 healthcare 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 local equivalents to cut costs.

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

Clothing from 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 September 2022.

Monthly accommodation

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

AED 6,027

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

AED 3,836

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

AED 9,294

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

AED 7,164

Groceries

Eggs (dozen)

AED 9.99

Milk (1 litre) 

AED 6.32

Rice (1kg) 

AED 6.48

Loaf of white bread 

AED 4.68

Chicken breasts (1kg)

AED 27.51

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro) 

AED 22

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

AED 30

Coca-Cola (330ml)

AED 3.15

Cappuccino 

AED 17.83

Bottle of beer

AED 40

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

AED 200

Utilities

Mobile to mobile call rate (per minute)

AED 0.61

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month) 

AED 381

Basic utilities (per month for a small apartment)

AED 571

Transportation

Taxi rate (per kilometre)

AED 2

Bus/train fare to the city centre

AED 2

Petrol/gasoline (per litre) 

AED 4.05