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UAE: Costs expats there should know

The UAE is known worldwide as an expat haven. According to the UN, around 88% of the population comes from abroad so the movement of expats to and from the United Arab Emirates is part of life there.

In this article we highlight some unexpected costs for foreign nationals living in the UAE or preparing to move home. We expose hidden fees to watch out for so that you are in the know and as the saying goes when in doubt, usually there is more to find out - especially when it comes to your money and finances.


The reasons to move to the UAE make sense for expats and their families: a great quality of life, good weather and career opportunities in growing industries. Plus, expats get the chance to save more money in the tax-free UAE.

Paying taxes

If you’re working in the UAE you are enjoying a tax-free income. Depending on your circumstance and visa status, it is worth checking how this could impact your tax bill back home in the short or long term. For example, US expats are required to file a US tax return, regardless of where they are living.


Check if your country is part of a Double Taxation Agreements (DTA) with the UAE. This agreement allows expats to claim exemption from tax in their native country - provided they meet conditions set out by the Ministry of Finance.

COVID-19 costs

In 2020, the world adjusted to staying home to safeguard against the spread of COVID-19. Unexpected expenses like setting up a home office, increased internet and electricity bills have impacted many people’s pockets. Planning ahead and increasing your savings plan to cover future essential costs relating to COVID-19 like flights and quarantine accommodation is worthwhile. However, this means less budget left over to spend on typical daily expenses and non-essential items for expats living in the UAE.


Shop around

Comparing providers can mean big savings on monthly expenses for expats in the UAE. From electricity to phone plans, insurance to internet, putting in the time to find cheaper alternatives can lead to serious savings - some providers could even offer you a better than advertised plan, just to keep your loyalty and custom.

Track when your contracts expire so you can give time to researching who you could switch to. Sites like Pricena, Yallacompare, Yaoota allow you to easily compare prices on consumer goods and services in the UAE.


FX rates

When exchanging your money to pay for bills or responsibilities at home, many expats don’t realise that the exchange rates with their bank are often not the best available rates for them. Banks typically add on a hefty margin to the currency market rate - the rate you see on Google. Meaning customers get less money when they exchange currencies.



TIP: Hidden Fees for Dubai residents. In 2018 two fees were introduced on every government transaction in Dubai above AED 50. An additional AED 10 is charged as the Knowledge Dirham Fee with funds gathered being allocated to the Dubai government’s treasury. Then there is also an additional AED10 Innovation Dirham Fee charged on government transactions to support educational and cultural projects implemented in the emirate. There are exemptions in place and instances where these fees won’t be charged.



While the reasons to move there are clear, world events like COVID-19 can mean personal circumstances change and the plans of many expats are impacted. In certain circumstances, it can lead to them planning a return home earlier than expected.

For anyone preparing to leave the UAE there are costs and fees associated with an early departure that you might not  be aware of. Here are tips to avoid them:


Know your timeline

Setting a departure date and planning back for your remaining time in the UAE will be important. Maybe now is not the time to buy a car or sign a new phone contract if you might need to move home sooner than expected. Also due to COVID-19 restrictions, ensure you are free to travel home or to a new country. Find out what quarantine obligations are in place that you must comply with when you land.

For example, do you need to start saving for the cost of an Airbnb or a hotel (if hotels are open there) to stay in when you land? How long will you need to stay in quarantine? If you are transporting household items and furniture, do you need to send these earlier to have them arrive in time? Are there new requirements for people travelling with pets from the UAE?


Settle your bills

Non-payment of debt in the UAE when leaving the UAE can lead to you being arrested and even receiving a prison sentence. Airport immigration officials have the authority to stop you from boarding a plane if you are flagged for having outstanding balances with providers or banks. To avoid the cost of a new plane ticket or hefty fines, expats preparing to leave the UAE should:

  • Repay loans and close all active credit cards before leaving the UAE.

  • Leave with no liabilities to avoid facing a costly bill or issues returning there in the future.

  • Clear outstanding balances on your bank accounts, TV, internet, water, electricity and phone plans and close the accounts in a timely fashion once the contract duration has expired.

  • Disconnect services in person at the offices of the service provider or supplier.

  • Close your bank accounts and cancel standing orders in good time and ensure there are no fees accrued in the interim that you will have to pay before you leave.

Banking in the UAE has some differences to watch out for. Take having a cheque bounce on your account - this can lead to criminal prosecution in the UAE for something that in other countries would lead to a fine.


Cancel your visa

As soon as you know that you will leave the UAE, you must inform your employer. The process of cancelling your visa as well as your dependents’ visas will then begin.  Be aware - you may have to hand over your passport (temporarily) while your visa is cancelled so ensure you have a copy of your passport saved to use during this time so you are not delaying the cancellation of other plans and paying for the services when you are not living there anymore.

Residents have 30 days to leave the UAE after their residence visa is cancelled. Staying in the UAE after this time could lead to large fines and problems reentering the UAE in the future.


Follow embassy advice 

Many countries have diplomatic representation in the UAE and dedicated websites advising their citizens on what to do when moving to and leaving the UAE. Following their updated guidelines means getting the latest news to inform your long term decisions and ultimately save you money. For more information and advice see:

  • The website for British citizens in the UAE

  • The website for the Australian Embassy in the UAE

  • The website for the Irish embassy in the UAE 

  • The website for the German embassy Abu Dhabi 

Tips to manage FX volatility 

The constant rise and fall of exchange rates throughout a trading day is due to changing economic, political and global events. Tools to manage the financial uncertainty brought about by dramatic market fluctuations enable expats anywhere to manage, plan and save. Consider using these to help you save time, money and to gain control of your money transfers  especially in the uncertain times brought by COVID-19 and its impact on the currency markets.


This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from CurrencyFair Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.


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