Dubai vs. Singapore: Which City is Better?

Dubai vs. Singapore

Dubai and Singapore have emerged as two of the world’s premier destinations for expats, entrepreneurs, and global businesses in recent decades.

Both cities offer modern infrastructure, business-friendly policies, strategic geographic locations, and a cosmopolitan lifestyle that appeals to people from all over the world.

However, while Dubai and Singapore share some similarities on the surface, they each have unique characteristics that may make one more suitable than the other depending on an individual’s priorities and goals.

In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at how Dubai and Singapore compare in key areas like lifestyle, cost of real estate, doing business as a foreigner, tax rates, and more.


Lifestyle in Singapore vs. Dubai

One of the biggest draws of both Dubai compared to Singapore is the promise of a high quality of life. Both rank as some of the safest and cleanest cities in the world. Crime rates are very low and the streets are spotless.

Singapore edges out Dubai when it comes to green space though. Known as the “Garden City”, Singapore makes nature and parks a key part of its urban planning.

Places like the Singapore Botanic Gardens and Gardens by the Bay offer a lush respite from the concrete jungle. Over 50% of Singapore is covered by greenery.

In contrast, Dubai is a city built in the desert. While there are some green spaces like parks and the famous Dubai Miracle Garden, the environment is more sandy and arid overall. Many of Dubai’s beaches and waterfront areas are manmade as well.

When it comes to diversity and culture, both Dubai and Singapore are melting pots. In Singapore, the main ethnic groups are Chinese, Malay and Indian. This mix is reflected in the incredible variety of food, festivals and traditions celebrated there.

Dubai also has a huge expat population hailing from all corners of the globe. However, Emiratis, the local Arab population, make up only about 15% of the total.

So, while Dubai is incredibly diverse, the local culture and traditions are not as integrated into daily expat life as in Singapore.

Some may find Singapore’s culture a bit more conservative and restrained compared to Dubai’s flashier, more indulgent vibe.

In Dubai, there are certainly still cultural sensitivities to navigate, but the lifestyle for expats generally feels more uninhibited.


Cost of Living in Dubai Compared to Singapore

Both cities have reputations for being expensive cities, particularly when it comes to housing. However, when looking at the full picture, Singapore comes out slightly ahead.

According to Numbeo, consumer prices prices are around 15-30% higher in Singapore compared to Dubai as of 2024. Groceries and restaurant prices are more comparable.

What makes up for this in Singapore is the higher relative purchasing power. Local purchasing power in Singapore is approximately 25% higher than in Dubai.

This means that, while certain things like housing might be pricier, the typical salary in Singapore provides more buying power to afford that higher cost of living.


Singapore Penthouse Condo

Housing costs in Singapore are, by far, the biggest price difference between the two cities. You’ll pay less than half the price per square meter in Dubai compared to Singapore.

Taxation is another important factor. In Dubai and the greater UAE, most expats pay zero tax on their income.

Low taxes in Dubai were a huge draw for many years. However, the UAE introduced a 9% corporate tax in 2023, so the days of Dubai being a complete tax haven are over. 

Singapore, on the other hand, does have a personal income tax that goes up to around 22% for the highest earners, as well as a 17% corporate tax.

Yet there are many incentives, deductions and schemes that can reduce this rate for both companies and individuals. There’s no capital gains tax in Singapore either.

So, while Dubai may seem cheaper on the surface, Singapore can actually be more cost effective when considering taxes and the full financial picture.

The stability and maturity of Singapore’s economy and currency also provides more peace of mind compared to the more volatile nature of a place like Dubai that is still growing rapidly.


Working and Doing Business

Both Singapore and the UAE both have reputations for being extremely business friendly and make it easy for foreign companies to get set up.

However, the World Bank consistently ranks Singapore as one of the absolute easiest places to do business in the world – #2 compared to the UAE at #16.

One key difference is that Singapore allows 100% foreign ownership of companies in all sectors.

Dubai and the UAE have more restrictions in place by comparison, often requiring local Emirati partners to own a certain percentage in industries outside of free zones.

Singapore also makes it very easy to start a business as a foreigner or digital nomad. One can register a company entirely online and open a bank account without even setting foot in the country.

The EntrePass visa allows eligible entrepreneurs to easily get residence in Singapore to operate their business. 

Living in Dubai requires a bit more paperwork and in-person visits to get set up. There are various company structures and visas to navigate between the mainland and free zones.

For entrepreneurs, the UAE does offer a 5-year Green Visa, but the eligibility criteria and costs are higher than Singapore.

Both countries use English as the main business language, but Singapore uses it more universally, while Arabic is still required for some procedures in the UAE.

From taxes to visas to banking, Singapore offers a more transparent, straightforward and stable environment for running a global business as a foreigner.


Real Estate Prices in Dubai vs. Singapore

Buying property is a popular investment choice in both Singapore and Dubai, but there are some key differences to note as a foreign buyer.

In Singapore, foreigners can easily purchase condominiums, but are restricted from buying landed properties like single family homes or townhouses.

This is to keep the limited supply of housing available for citizens, as there’s a far greater scarcity of land in Singapore compared to places like Dubai.

Buying a condo in Singapore is still a very popular investment for expats though, and the local property market has proven as resilient over a multi-decade timespan.

It doesn’t hurt that the Singapore dollar is one of the world’s most stable currencies as well.


Dubai Palm Jumeirah House

Unlike in Singapore, you can easily buy freehold houses in Dubai as a foreigner. The lack of heavy restrictions on foreign land ownership in the UAE is a major plus.

Dubai has more liberal foreign ownership laws compared to Singapore. Foreigners can buy property anywhere in the Emirate in their own name.

Freehold villas and condos in Dubai are popular choices. Many attractive new developments are constantly being launched, appealing to investors who want to buy off-plan.

However, some analysts feel Dubai’s market is more prone to speculation and instability.

There are concerns that an oversupply of condos in Dubai and focus on short-term gains could lead to more volatility in the market compared to Singapore. Dubai’s government has even stepped in to cool an overheated market before.

The tax situation is also important. Dubai has no property tax, which is very attractive to investors.

But there are still various fees involved with buying and holding property that can add up over time. Inheritance laws can also be tricky as an expat in Dubai.

Singapore does have a progressive property tax, and additional stamp duties for foreign buyers. But many see this as a worthwhile trade-off for the stability and maturity of the market.

Just like Dubai, capital gains are also not taxed in Singapore when selling a property.

Overall, Dubai offers more flexibility and options for foreign real estate buyers. But Singapore is seen as a safer, steadier market that is still accessible and profitable for expat investors who can afford the entry point.


Lifestyle Differences and Geography

For some expats and businesses, the ultimate decision between Dubai and Singapore may come down to geographic considerations and personal lifestyle preferences.

Singapore is an island city-state located in the heart of Southeast Asia. Its strategic position provides an ideal gateway to major Asian markets like China, India, Indonesia and beyond.

Large multinational companies that have a focus on the APAC region often base their hub in Singapore. Many expats are also drawn to the tropical weather and proximity to other attractive Southeast Asian countries like Thailand for holidays.

The diversity of food and culture within Singapore itself stemming from the Chinese, Indian, and Malay influences is another appealing factor for those who want to experience a real melting pot. 

Dubai’s location provides a different set of advantages. Situated on the Persian Gulf, it is well-positioned as a gateway between Europe, Africa and Asia. This has made it a hub for logistics, trade, and tourism. 

The lifestyle in Dubai is attractive for those who want a more glitzy city experience. It’s full of superlatives – the biggest malls, tallest buildings, flashiest cars and hotels.

Dubai’s desert and beach setting is also ideal for those who want year-round sunshine and a slightly more “western” environment, while still being close to other interesting regions to explore like Oman and Egypt.


Is Singapore or Dubai a Better City?

Ultimately, the choice between Dubai and Singapore is a personal one that depends on each individual or company’s goals and priorities. Both are top tier choices for expats and global businesses.

Singapore will likely suit those who value stability, transparency, ease of doing business and access to Asian markets. Dubai appeals to those who want a more luxurious, tax-free lifestyle where the sky’s the limit.

Here’s the good news: there’s no need to choose just one city to live! There’s no need for a battle of Singapore vs. Dubai if you can pick both.

Many expats and businesses take advantage of the unique benefits of each city, whether that’s basing in Singapore but keeping a home in Dubai, or structuring a company to have subsidiaries in both financial hubs.

In an increasingly connected world, it’s possible to enjoy the best of living in both Dubai and Singapore.



Is Singapore More Expensive than Dubai?

While Dubai isn't a cheap place to live by any means, Singapore is a considerably more expensive city.

Housing prices in Singapore are especially higher, and you'll pay about double the price per square meter for real estate.

Is Dubai or Singapore a Safer Place to Live?

Both the UAE in Singapore are ranked alongside the safest countries in the world.

In fact, crime in Dubai and Singapore are so minimal, that it's hard to compare the two. It's like asking "which zero is higher?"

Are Taxes in Dubai Lower than Singapore?

Yes, Dubai taxes only corporate income at a flat 9% and doesn't tax personal income at all.

Taxes in Singapore are low within a global context - corporate income is capped at just 17%. But it isn't a zero tax country.


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