The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a country in Western Asia comprised of seven emirates. The country's location and Islamic roots transcend into a unique mix of ancient customs and modern lifestyles. Once thought as just a stopover city on the way to Europe, the UAE has well and truly distinguished itself as a holiday destination in itself.
The UAE is notorious for having a high cost of living, with many living lavish lifestyles against a desert backdrop. This doesn't mean you can't travel there on a budget, though, quite the opposite. While there are plenty of options for those ready to splash their cash and live like Arabian Kings and Queens, those on a budget can still very comfortably visit and experience everything the UAE has to offer.
Regardless of whether you're weighing up if the UAE is the place for your next holiday, or if you've already booked and are in the thick of planning, our travel budget planner is here to help. It combines Numbeo data with daily exchange rates so you can get the most accurate idea of how much you'll be spending each day in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Ras al Khaimah or any of the seven emirates.
Before we dive into the budget planning, let's take a look at what is included in a travel budget for the UAE.
What goes into a budget for the United Arab Emirates?
While there are plenty of direct flights running daily, there is no denying that getting to the UAE from Australia is quite the trek. The 14-hour flight from the East Coast and 11-hour flight from the West will generally be your most significant expense (unless you're staying in a boujee resort when you land). Expect to pay anywhere between $800 (absolute bargain) and $1800 (a bit of a rip off) for your flights to the UAE.
Once you arrive, the best way to travel between major cities and the Emirates is either bus, taxi or private car. If you're on a budget, the bus network covers most corners of the country and is very affordable, with a trip from Dubai to Abu Dhabi setting you back less than 20 AUD. If you're travelling in luxury or have more cash to splash, book a taxi or private car to drive you around. As a comparison, the same route from Dubai to Abu Dhabi in a taxi is about 100 AUD.
In the cities themselves, you have a few means of transport to choose from.
Buses - The bus network connects you to all major landmarks in air-conditioned comfort. Running every 15-20 minutes, expect to pay around 1-2 AUD for your fare.
Metro - Another popular and affordable way to get around Dubai. Keep in mind the first car is reserved for women and children under 10. Depending on where you travel, fares are between 1 and 3 AUD.
Ferry - In Dubai, catch the water bus from Bur Dubai to Deira for less than 3 AUD.
Taxi - Very popular in the cities, so expect long lines outside malls and major attractions. The initial fare starts at 3 AED (about 1.50 AUD) and then increases by 1.6 AED per kilometre. Taxis are quite affordable for inner-city travel; however, traffic can be pretty hectic at times, causing lengthy delays.
Car hire - The UAE is well known for their fancy cars and relative lack of speed limits and road rules. With this in mind, you can very easily live out all of your fast car fantasies, just be ready to splurge as it isn't cheap.
There are plenty of exquisite accommodation options in the UAE; it really just depends on how much you are willing to spend. You can choose from boutique hotels, lavish private suites, desert camps, the Queen Elizabeth II cruise ship, Airbnbs and hostels.
If money is no issue, there are rooms at Palazzo Versace and Atlantis the Palm that will set you back over $30,000 per night. If that is a bit out of your price range, there are plenty of other accommodation options for every budget. While hotels are still on the costly side of things, more budget-friendly options are opening up as the UAE gains in popularity.
December and January are generally the most expensive months for accommodation, so try and avoid those dates if you are on a budget.
Cuisine in the UAE has a strong Middle Eastern and Indian influence; however, the multicultural nature of the city means you can find something to satisfy any craving. Dining at hotels and top-end restaurants can take quite a chunk out of your holiday budget, so if you are looking to spend less consider some street eat options and shopping at one of the many supermarkets. If you are looking to eat cheaply, make friends with the locals and see where they recommend - chances are they know what's good.
While you're in the UAE, be sure to sample the following:
- Camel milk. Very popular and a great alternative to those lactose intolerant travellers out there. Make sure you dig into some camel milk ice cream - delish. 1L for 16 AED.
- Shawarma. Kind of like the kebabs we are used to at home, shawarma has either chicken, lamb, beef or falafel in flatbread. AED 6 - 10
- Shish Taouk Sandwich. Thin pieces of chicken stuffed in flatbread with spices, herbs, veggies and pickles. AED 10-115
- Oman chips roll. Cheese spread and smashed Oman (potato) chips in a roll. I've never heard anything more Aussie. AED 3 - 5
- Harees. Wheat mixed with meat that kinda looks like porridge. AED 20
- Samboosa. Basically a samosa with a twist. AED 15
- Mananish. Lebanese flatbread filled with cheese, vegetables, meats, oils and spices. AED 15-30
- Luqaimat. A dessert made of crispy fried dough balls with date syrup or honey. AED 10 - 30
- Karak. The national drink of Dubai. Buy for 1 AED at roadside shops.
- Fareed. Meat and potato stew with a twist. AED 20-30
- Falafel. Deep-fried chickpea patty. AED 6 - 30
- Knafeh. Known as the Queen of desserts, this is a pastry dish made with sweet cheese and topped with rose-syrup. AED 20-25
It's also worth keeping in mind that alcohol is costly in the UAE, and is generally only served at hotel restaurants and bars.
In between soaking up some sun at any of the beaches, learning about the local culture and escaping the heat at one of the many extravagant shopping malls, you can fill your time with some of the following activities:
Burj Khalifa observation deck - about 155 AED
Indoor skiing - about 180 AED for 2 hours
Dubai museum - 4 AED
Malls - Prices will vary based on how cray-cray you got at the shops
Sheikh Zayad Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi - free entry
Desert Safari - 200AED to 1000 AED +
Ferrari world - AED 295 adult
Yas Waterworld - AED 250
If you are travelling to the UAE for less than 30 days as a tourist, you can get a visa on arrival. For any stays longer than this, we recommend speaking to a travel agent for more information. It's also worth having a chat with your doctor to see if you require any immunisations.
Don't forget to budget for travel insurance! A must for every traveller regardless of their holiday destination.