London vs. Dubai: which city is better?

From transport and housing to education and food, we look at the facts to determine which city is the best to live in.

James Reynolds October 11, 2015

Big Ben or the Burj Al Arab? Oxford Street or The Dubai Mall? The London Underground or the Dubai Metro?

The argument over which city is better, Dubai or London, has raged from the moment UK expats first resided in the emirate. Choosing your preference of course all comes down to personal opinions and clearly not everyone is going to agree.

So, instead of making idle comparisons, we decided to do a little digging and use some hard facts to compare the two cities. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the cost of living in both places seems to be the preferred measure of comparison. 

Is Dubai really better than London? Read on and decide for yourself…

Real estate

It’s certainly not a cheap decision to live in the heart of a popular city, or even the surrounding areas for that matter. However, whether it’s the vibrant city lifestyle that draws you in, or the fact you want to be closer to work, we constantly find ourselves paying over the odds in rent or buyout prices just for the convenience.

It’s well documented that London is one of the most expensive and in-demand places in the world to live, and the average monthly rental price of a one-bedroom apartment (AED 9,306 per month, according to cost-comparison database, Numbeo) reflects this.

High rent is also an issue in Dubai, but a similar centrally located property in the emirate is around 25 per cent cheaper at only AED 7,404 per month. When you consider the extras that often come with a Dubai apartment - pool, gym, security, and sometimes more - as well as London properties traditionally being smaller and older, Dubai's rental market begins to look rather attractive. 

It’s the same story for buying an apartment, too. Buyers can expect to pay on average AED 17,088 per square metre for an apartment in Dubai, whereas aspiring London property owners must fork out a staggering AED 91,210 per square metre. 


Getting around the city is always going to be a hot topic, and in that regard both Dubai and London clearly have their drawbacks – as anyone who has ever been stuck in Sheikh Zayed Road traffic or been crammed on the London Underground will attest.

But there are some striking differences when it comes to the transport in both cities. First and foremost is the London congestion charge – a pricey AED 65 for driving in certain zones in the city, whereas the nearest Dubai gets to that is the paltry AED 4 Salik tolls.

Dubai also has a huge edge when it comes to the cost of fuel – even after the recent deregulation – with a litre of petrol hovering around the AED 2 mark in the emirate, compared to the almost AED 6.50 charged in London. The difference is felt in the cost comparison of taxis too, with a Dubai cab being considerably cheaper than its London counterpart, with a AED 12 minimum fare compared to London’s AED 16, and a metre rate of AED 2 per kilometre in Dubai, compared to an equivalent of almost AED 8.5 in London.

In truth though, very few Londoners drive or take taxis, meaning public transport plays a huge role. While Dubai’s combination of the Metro and Tram may have fewer lines and cover less distance than London’s network, at AED350 for a monthly travel pass, it is far cheaper than London’s monthly travel card, which comes it at more than AED 730.

However, London also has a large bus network that is used considerably more than Dubai's equivalent, and it must be said that while the London Underground is nowhere near as well-maintained as the Dubai Metro and often extremely cramped due to the four million people who ride it every day, it does offer a far more comprehensive service, as it spreads across 270 stations throughout London. 


While the UK is generally regarded as a better place to study higher education than the UAE (the likes of world-famous universities Oxford and Cambridge see to that), when it comes to earlier years the UAE really comes into its own.

This year’s IGCSE and GCSE results saw UAE schools achieve significantly higher grades than their UK counterparts, with 42 per cent of candidates awarded grades of A* or A, compared to just over 21 per cent of students achieving the A* or A grade in the UK.

And it’s only going to get better for the UAE, especially Dubai, as Dubai Investments recently released plans to inject AED 1.5 billion into the education system, which should raise standards even higher.

Of course, there is a downside to this success, and in Dubai’s case that is the added expense of school fees. With no state-school option available in Dubai, fees vary wildly from less than AED 10,000 to more than AED 100,000 per year, compared to the free education on offer in the UK capital.

Food and drink

It’s difficult to argue against either city when it comes to the quality of the food, with a diverse selection of cuisines from all over the world, served in both casual and high-end restaurants, widely available in both Dubai and London. One way we can compare them, however, is the price, and again Dubai offers the better value. 

Again, using cost-comparison site Numbeo, it emerges that while some of the cheaper restaurants in Dubai offer a decent meal for as little as AED 30, the London equivalent would set you back more than double that, with an average price of AED 67.50 for a meal in a 'cheap' restaurant. It’s also cheaper to buy soft drinks in Dubai, with the average price of a can just AED 2.50 and bottle of water AED 1.50, compared to the London prices of AED 6.50 and AED 5.50 respectively.

One area where London proves much cheaper than Dubai is for buying alcohol, with the average draught beer coming in at AED 22.50 compared to Dubai’s AED 35. However, with Dubai’s wealth of free-flowing brunches offering great value for money, even those who like a drink don’t suffer.


Many expats in Dubai still claim today that they're only in the country to earn a tax-free salary. If that is true, then it goes to show just how much the human race - or maybe just the Brits - hate paying taxes.

In the UK, people with an income equivalent to AED 14,998 per month or less must pay 20 per cent tax on their income. Those who earn between that amount and AED 70,765 per month must pay a 40 per cent tax, and those who earn more than AED 70,765 must pay 45 per cent.

As for income tax in Dubai, quite simply, there is none. For now anyway... 

So, which city do you think is better?