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Using a credit card in the UAE
Get the most out of your credit card while touring around Dubai and the UAE.
Credit card payments are on the rise in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), so you shouldn’t encounter many issues if you’re using a Visa or Mastercard – which are the most commonly used networks in the country. However, you could come home to high fees if your credit card isn’t travel-friendly.
Compare credit cards for use in the UAE
What credit cards can I use in the UAE?
Visa, Mastercard and American Express find acceptance in the UAE, although to varying degrees.
Credit card deposits and contactless payments in the UAE
Some hotels in Abu Dhabi and other Emirates may require a credit card for deposits, so it’s advisable to carry a combination of various payment methods while travelling.
Some vendors will accept contactless payments — keep an eye out for the symbol. If your credit card network is Visa, the contactless limit in the UAE is 300 dirhams. If your credit card network is Mastercard, check with your bank since different financial institutions may set different limits.
Potential credit card fees in the UAE
- Foreign transaction fees. Most credit cards issued in Canada come with foreign transaction fees of 2.5%. You’ll need to pay this fee every time you use your credit card outside of Canada. Fortunately, there are a few credit cards that offer no foreign transaction fees.
- Currency conversion fees. If someone gives you the choice of paying in Canadian dollars or Emirati dirham with your credit card, always choose the local currency. Paying in CAD with your card will subject you to a dynamic currency conversion (DCC) that can lead to poor exchange rates and currency conversion fees. Pay in the local currency and let your bank do the conversion.
- Cash advance fees. If you use your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM, you’ll face a cash advance fee. In addition, you’ll also be charged interest from the day you withdraw the funds. There is usually no grace period with a cash advance transaction and the cash advance interest rate is often higher than the purchase interest rate. Instead, use your debit card to withdraw funds from an ATM.
- ATM fees. Even using your debit card to withdraw funds from an ATM will likely have you facing an ATM fee. To avoid this fee, you can use a debit card issued by a bank that has an international ATM alliance, such as the Global ATM Alliance offered by Scotiabank.
ATMs in the UAE
Although you shouldn’t have an issue finding ATMs or paying by card in most shops, restaurants or hotels while in any of the UAE’s major cities, it’s worth carrying some spare cash with you at all times. The safest way to withdraw money in the UAE is to use bank ATMs. If you’re heading to any major cities or tourist destinations, you’ll find ATMs in abundance. International bank ATMs — like Citibank, HSBC or Barclays — will give you a higher withdrawal limit than local banks.
When withdrawing money, try to select an amount that will give you bills in smaller denominations when possible. If you receive large bills, break them at your hotel or at a reputable shop. Make sure your cash isn’t damaged when you receive it, as many merchants will refuse to accept damaged bills.
Should I use my credit card to get cash?
As mentioned above, using your credit card to get cash from an ATM is not recommended. You’ll end up paying a cash advance fee as well as interest, which will start adding up from the day of the transaction. The APR for cash advances is typically higher than the APR for purchases. If you need to withdraw cash from an ATM, it’s best to use your debit card.
Do taxis in the UAE accept credit card?
Yes, as of 2015, all taxis in Dubai (and most in the larger cities of the UAE) accept credit card payments. If you’re outside of Dubai, check with the taxi driver before getting in.
Is it safe to use my credit card in the UAE?
Typically, yes. By exercising caution when using your credit card in the UAE, you should have a safe and hassle-free experience.
- Keep your PIN secure. When using a keypad to enter your PIN, use your other hand to shield the screen from curious onlookers and hidden cameras.
- Choose ATMs carefully. Try and stick to ATMs found in public places and banks. Avoid ATMs in isolated areas.
- Watch out for skimmers. When installed in an ATM, a card skimmer works by stealing information from credit and debit cards. If you feel the card slot is not as smooth as it should be or if there’s a problem with the keypad, cancel your transaction and look for a different ATM.
- Keep your card physically safe. While crime rates are relatively low in the UAE, theft is one of the top crimes carried out in Dubai. Always remain alert and keep a close eye on your belongings. Whether you’re in a crowded tourist destination or on a peaceful beach, stay aware of your surroundings so you don’t have to spend your vacation dealing with lost or stolen credit cards.
How to prepare before travelling to the UAE
- Carry suitable cards. Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted credit card networks, with American Express accepted by some merchants in Dubai and other cities in the UAE.
- Avoid foreign transaction fees. If you don’t have a card with no foreign transaction fees, think about getting one before you go. Foreign transaction fees usually cost around 2.5% and they can add up quickly if you use your card often.
- Tell your bank. In an effort to minimize fraudulent transactions, banks temporarily block cards if they detect suspicious activity. If you don’t let your bank know that you plan to travel to the UAE, you’ll likely end up with a suspended credit card.
- Keep emergency numbers handy. If your credit card is lost or stolen, you’ll need to call to get a replacement card sent to the UAE. Make sure any phone numbers you need remain easily accessible at all times.
- Know how you’ll get cash. An affordable way to access cash is to use your debit card at an ATM. Exchanging Canadian dollars for Emirati dirham is also possible. If you need to exchange money, stick to banks or official money exchange offices as possessing counterfeit money in the UAE is a serious crime – and you could be handed it if you use a shady exchange kiosk. Avoid currency exchanges at hotels and airports due to high transaction fees and poor exchange rates.
Ask yourself these questions in order to avoid common credit card related problems in the UAE.
- Which cards will I use? Take at least two credit cards with you, with at least one being a Visa or Mastercard.
- Does my bank know? If your bank is not aware of your upcoming trip, you may have to deal with a temporarily suspended card. Always notify your bank or credit card provider of your overseas travels.
- What fees will I face? Read your credit card terms and conditions or call and ask your credit card provider if you’ll face any foreign transaction fees. Remember, you can easily avoid currency conversion fees by paying in the local currency.
- How will I get cash? Your options include using your Canadian debit card at a local ATM, exchanging Canadian dollars for Emirati dirham or carrying travellers’ cheques. Avoid using a credit card to withdraw money from an ATM unless its an emergency.
Using a credit card in …
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