Dubai is without a doubt one of the most exciting cities in the world. With its impressive skyscrapers, next-level adventure, delectable cuisine, and endless shopping centres, Dubai is unsurprisingly on everyone’s bucket list. The city being a cosmopolitan hub and with its rise in tourism, touring here can be pricey. Compare it with cities in Asia, it is pretty expensive. For budget travellers, like us, frugality is needed but it shouldn’t compromise the whole experience. There is a way to enjoy Dubai on a budget.
Traveling Dubai on a budget is pretty much doable and the enjoyment is kept pretty intact. Locals can definitely give you travel hacks to visit Dubai on a budget and it’s all over the internet. These tips are online for good reasons. Before we travel to Dubai we’ve read and researched how we could possible enjoy Dubai without us coming back broke and everything we’ve read helped us one way or the other. That is why we are paying it forward.
Last month, we flew from Hong Kong to Dubai to meet my brother who is currently working in Abu Dhabi and my other brother with his wife and infant child who are flying from Saudi Arabia. It was a sort of mini-reunion. We were also there to meet my wife’s sister and our three uncles all working in Dubai. We knew beforehand that Dubai is costly so we asked, observed, researched, and verified it ourselves to give you genuine tips on how to enjoy Dubai on a budget.
If you are from one of the countries who need to obtain a visa prior to arrival, a visa fee should be included on your budget. Before obtaining a visa, make sure you know which type of visa you are needing. There are different types of visa and the longer of days of stay, the higher the price. You do not want to get a 30-day single entry visa if you are only transiting or if you are staying for less than 14 days.
There are different ways to apply for a visa and each way offers different price. The cheapest we found is asking your relative/friends in UAE to process your visa in UAE through an accredited agency. Here is for comparison:
This visa is for 14 or 30-day short visit.
Visa through local agency: AED300-320 or USD80-85
Emirates online (tickets should be bought from them): AED330 or USD90 (AED200 for transit, not more than 4-day stay)
Etihad Airlines: USD96
TIP: Please note that you’ll find a lot of agencies on the internet that can process visa for you but it is way too expensive. We’ve seen some agencies charging AED450 to AED500 (USD120-135) for a 14-day visa which was quite outrageous.
This is probably where you’ll spend the most among all other expenses. Depending on where you are coming from, flight tickets can be pretty expensive. Our originating flight is Hong Kong, so this is applicable only if you are coming from around Asia.
We booked our tickets three months in advance via Emirates but through a third-party flight booking, Ctrip and we have monitored it since then. When we booked it, it was cheaper through Ctrip than on actual Emirates site. The total fare for one person is HKD3696 or USD470. It was three months before our flight. During this period, the price has gone only once, but not significantly and it was 6 weeks from our departure.
For comparison, my friend booked his flight ticket almost the same flight as ours a week prior to his departure, also with Ctrip and it cost him HKD5310 or USD675.
TIP: If you are to book your flight, search using a third-party flight booking such as SkyScanner or Ctrip and do not book it close to your departure to get the cheapest possible price.
Hotels are still the most preferred accommodation of tourists, after all you are here to enjoy and relax. But, hotels can be expensive. Hotel prices can range from USD150-250 per night for a 3-star hotels. If you are on a budget you might want to find some alternatives. If you are solo travelling or with friends, you can try booking for a hostel. Amenities you get in a hotel are not available here but you are always outside so that might not matter.
Find the cheapest hotels and hostels below!
Another cheap way of finding accommodation is through Airbnb.
We are a group of 5 with visits from our relatives and we wanted to be together just like home so we opted for a whole apartment type in Airbnb. Since we are also a family, we wanted to cook sometimes, to save money.
Our accommodation is one bedroom with three beds and is good for five people with kitchen and other flat amenities. For our total 6 nights in Dubai we paid USD900 which is like USD150 per night. In comparison, if we booked a hotel room, we either should book for two rooms minimum or a suite which is way expensive. And we had a very nice accommodation with lovely views and amenities, so forget about hotels.
Best place to stay? Around Dubai Marina and Jumeirah Beach residence which is the best place in Dubai and is very much accessible by METRO.
Dubai has a very efficient METRO system and getting around places is very easy. If you are traveling without kids or elderly, then this is the only way to go. You can purchase a NOL (fare) card the red ticket which is suitable for tourists for AED2. It is rechargeable for up to ten trips or 5 daily passes. A single trip can ranged from AED4 to AED8.
Some parts of Dubai is not accessible by METRO so next option is to take a taxi. Taxis are everywhere and a very convenient mode of transportation. The flag down rate from the airport is AED20 and from anywhere it is AED3 and AED1.6 for subsequent km. For one-week stay in Dubai, we used taxis only three times and we experienced no scams.
Another option of getting around Dubai which proves to be the best, albeit more costly, is renting a car. Remember I told you that we have an infant child and we were a group of 5 adults plus additional 3 adults more? Renting a car was definitely the best and only option for us.
Renting a car from the airport is not a practical idea. We’ve asked car rentals in the airport and they are quoting us a price of AED2000-2600 (USD540-700) for a week. It doesn’t include Salik (toll gate) fees and gas.
TIP: For a cheaper rental fee, head to downtown. Take a taxi for AED30-40 to Abu Hail Deira or other places you know of, where there are a number of rent-a-car shops.
For our tour, we rented a 7-seater KIA from one of the shops in Abu Hail Deira for AED200 for 24 hours. After calculation, we paid AED1200 or USD325 for six days. That was a half the price offered at the airport. Upon the return of the car we paid additional AED200 for Salik (4AED per toll gate passing) and our gas consumption for a week sums up to AED400.
Note that we stayed in International City on our first three nights in Dubai where there is no METRO nearby. We also used the car on our Abu Dhabi trip and we got lost couple of times.
There are endless of activities to do while in Dubai and some are free, some are cheap and some are expensive. Skydiving is pretty expensive and beyond our budget so we got a pass on that. We did, however the Desert Safari tour and we went at the top of Burj Khalifa.
We also went to some places of interests such as Global Village that charged AED15 per person per entry and to Jumeirah Beach, prominent malls, the Promenade, and JBR which are all free.
TIP: Skip some activities like Legoland if you do not have kids, or Miracle Garden which charged AED40 per person if you are not into flowers.
To get the most of the tour, find offers in Groupon or Klook. They have the most discounted prices and the best offer to save money while in Dubai. For our Desert Safari tour, we only paid AED75 per person compare to the regular price of AED125. Avoid Viator for this, they charge USD80 or AED290 for the same set of activities. For best offers check out Klook through this link: Klook Travel
After the flight tickets, food could take up to half of your total expenses. Restaurants in Dubai are pretty expensive except those in Bur Dubai where you can get the cheapest price for some delicious meals.
Another reason why we chose Airbnb is because we can cook. For a group of 5-8 people, dining out every meal is quite expensive and can really break our banks, so we cooked most of the time. We bought groceries from Lulu hypermarkets or Snippeys and we cooked at home. Sometimes, homemade cooks are the best.
TIP: You can also find some promotions like buffet promotions in Groupon, so check the website out. For cheaper food options, you may also go to the food courts of malls. There are a lot of choices and variety of cuisines.
If you are buying some souvenirs, go to dry markets in Satwa or in Old Dubai for cheaper options. Malls, restaurants, and other establishments have free wi-fi, so there is no need to buy for a sim card or pocket wi-fi. Save those instagram pictures for later when you are at your accommodation.
In conclusion, spending less doesn’t equate to enjoying less. You can still explore what Dubai has to offer without spending too much. Live like a local may be a bit pretentious but asking tips from locals can be very helpful.
Know what activities to do and skip those you think are not worth your money or time. Different people, different interest, so prioritize. Lastly, research and read travel blogs about Dubai, everything you read can surely help you.
For those who have been to Dubai, any recommendations or helpful tips? Please do share in the comment section. For those people going there, make sure to have a great time and pin this post! 😉