How To Save Money in Dubai
Dubai is a popular destination for tourists, with the world’s tallest building and the Middle East’s biggest airport, and even the very name evokes the image of gold-plated luxury and oil-money excess. Budget travelers need not be scared, though, and with just a bit of care towards spending you can visit on a backpacker’s budget instead. At 3.67 AED to $1 US at the time of writing, you’ll have to pay attention to your spending habits to make sure you keep costs down in the UAE.
Here are some ways to cut expenses on your next trip to the Emirates:
Eating out can be expensive in Dubai, with fancy restaurant from an incredible number of cultures competing for space in the Emirates’ many Malls and shopping centers. To eat on a budget, look to where the lower-earning strata of Dubai’s society eat their meals. Many South and SouthEast Asian guest workers come to Dubai on temporary contracts, and dining options seem to have come with them to cater to their dietary needs as well. For 10 to 15 Dirham you can find a filling dosa or vegetarian curry with a drink, or for a bit more a large thali plate with several different dishes included. Looking to go even cheaper? Many supermarket chains like Lulu and Choithrams sell prepared food from these same cuisines at a counter in the back of the store. Pick up an Adobo or Mutter Paneer with rice for around 5 Dirhams, and save some serious money over the course of your visit.
This is biggest expense you’ll likely have to deal with in Dubai. There are a handful of cheap hotels in the Deira area, but with questionable nightclubs on the ground floor and reports of pretty bad standards for cleanliness these are not necessarily good value even at a good price. There is one Youth Hostel near the Stadium Metro station (about a mile from the airport). The dorms are extremely basic and don’t include lockers, though, and the price still hits 100 Dirhams (~$27 US). Instead, look towards AirBnB and Couchsurfing. For two or more travelers AirBnB can save you tons of money, with rentals all over town showing up for $50 US or less. Couchsurfing is an option too, but it will take some effort. There are nearly 5,000 hosts in Dubai, but many of these are empty profiles with no references. With a bit of digging, you should be able to find a host who seems open to genuinely hosting travelers rather than more nefarious intentions.
The Dubai Metro system is incredibly easy to use, and with a ‘Nol Card’ you can save the 1 Dirham ticketing fee for each trip. As a tourist in Dubai, especially one on a budget, the Metro system will generally get you around town cheaper and quicker than any other form of transportation. If you use it repeatedly in one day, having a Nol Card will also automatically cap your cost at 14 Dirham with a daily pass. If you do need to get somewhere far from the Metro, taxis are actually pretty cheap as well for short distances if you can avoid heavy traffic.
Hitting ‘the sights’ in Dubai can cost a ton. Walking up to the Burj Khalifa for an immediate-entry ticket, for example, costs 400 Dirham per person. A desert 4WD safari can run as low as 200 AED or up to 600 or more. High Tea at the Burj Al Arab starts from 300 Dirhams, and goes up from there. The easiest way to save money on sightseeing is, of course, to simply skip the expensive options in favor of something more budget friendly. Instead of paying 150 Dirhams to rent a private Dhow (traditional boat) on the Dubai Creek, for example, take a ride on the public Abras that act as ferries between Deira and Bur Dubai. Rather than spending time at the Burj Al Arab looking for a sense of glamour, wander through the Gold Souk and gawk at the traditional wedding necklaces and conspicuous shop fronts. If you do want to visit the big ticket sights research beforehand to find the most budget-friendly options. Reserving an entrance ticket for the Burj Khalifa can save 275 AED, for example.
Whether you’re trying hard to save money or just want to get a different feel for the city, also make time to explore the neighborhoods outside of Dubai’s obvious tourist sites. One of the most interesting aspects of Dubai is the huge number of cultural backgrounds it brings together, Indian ad executives and American bankers and Sri Lankan taxi drivers and more. The best way to really get a sense for this is the keep your eyes open on the backstreets and take in the sheer number of different groups being advertised to by local shops. Besides, this is also where you’ll find all that good South Asian food!
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