With so much to see and enjoy in the United Arab Emirates, this ultra-modern oasis is full of opportunities to spend your money. From the F1, Dubai Gold Cup and the Ferrari Island, you won’t have a problem using your Mastercard or Visa credit cards, and ATMs are easy to find around the seven Emerites. We’ll help you save money on fees and get the most from your currency exchange.
Our picks for traveling to UAE
Our pick for travel credit card
American Express® Gold Card
Finder rating: 4.6/5
Our pick for multi-currency debit card
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Our pick for 0% transaction fee debit card
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Travel card, debit card or credit card?
There are no US prepaid travel cards that will hold Emirati dirhams. Visa or Mastercards are widely accepted, and find a credit card that offers rewards for spending to get the most value.
While many smaller businesses and taxis now take cards, it’s always important to have some cash on you while you’re traveling. You’ll see familiar banks with ATMs Citi and HSBC.
The travel money products on this page work best when they’re used together. Depending on the card, take advantage of interest-free days, complimentary insurance and an emergency line of credit with a credit card.
However, you can’t use credit cards for ATM withdrawals, so you’ll need to consider a travel friendly debit card. Fees aside, spread your travel budget across a couple of different travel money types, this way, a lost or stolen card won’t derail your trip.
These are your options for spending money in UAE
Using a credit card
You’ll have no problems using Visa and Mastercard almost everywhere in the UAE. Some hotels in Abu Dhabi and Dubai require a credit card for deposits, so it’s a good idea to have one with you.
Credit card that waives foreign transaction fees are the best for traveling to UAE, and will save you on each purchase you make. You can find credit cards with the added benefit of travel insurance and rewards. To save even more, take advantage of the interest-free period by paying your balance in full each month.
Cards that offer travel perks and waive fees often charge an annual fee, so make sure the fee is worth it before you bring it along on your travels. If you’re ever in a jam, credit cards also offer cash advances, though we don’t recommend it. You’ll pay high fees and interest rates apply the moment you get your money.
- Tip: It’s worth researching credit cards that offer travel benefit and rewards for things you’ll buy anyways like flights and hotel stays.
- Features such as complimentary travel insurance and reward points earning
- Accepted worldwide
- Security with chip and PIN
- Contactless payment terminals are common
- Cash advance fees
- Higher spending limit
Using a debit card
A debit card could be a good travel money choice to take to UAE. You’ll have access to cash each time you come across an ATM, without carrying lots of cash on you all at once. Because you’re spending your own money, you avoid interest charges. Find a bank that waives the fee for international ATM withdrawals and doesn’t charge a monthly account keeping fee.
- Tip: A debit card can be used to shop over the counter, online and for ATM withdrawals in UAE.
- No currency conversion, ATM withdrawals, account keeping fees
- Widely accepted at UAE merchants and ATMs
- Free withdrawals on Citi ATMs
- International ATM and currency conversion fees
- No access to cash advances
Using a prepaid travel card
Travel cards can lock in conversion rates once you load USD. Use it for purchases without worrying about rates each time you spend — debit and credit cards often charge 3% for each transaction.
Where you save in the conversion rates you may pay in fees. You’ll pay fees each time you load the card, ATM withdrawals and sometimes even an inactivity fee.
No travel cards support UAE dirhams, so look for a card that waives currency conversion fee, such as Travelex. It won’t charge for currency conversion when you spend in dirhams, which can be higher than what you’d pay if you use your regular debit or credit card. The downside is these cards charge a couple of dollars for international ATM withdrawal in UAE.
- Tip: Order a travel card online so it has your name printed on the front.
- Allow you to load and spend in Dirham
- No currency conversion fees for some cards
- Let you make over the counter purchases and ATM withdrawals
- Can’t load dirhams
Paying with cash in UAE
You can use your credit card, debit card or travel card in many places throughout the UAE. Smaller businesses such as cafeterias and cafes, some public transportation, street vendors and souks are all cash only. ATMs are widespread in the cities, so you’ll have many chances to withdraw cash if you need it.
- Tip: If you have American dollars you want to change when you arrive, avoid exchanging cash at your hotel or at the airport. You’ll get a better rate if you wait until you get into the city. Have a look in shopping centers for exchange offices.
- Greater payment flexibility
- More difficult to manage expenses
- Higher risk of theft
Using traveler’s checks
Security is the main advantage of using traveler’s checks. Each check has a unique serial number and can only be cashed with photo identification. But the fees and difficulty you’ll have cashing them make them not worth the trouble. You’re better off using a debit card which lets you make cheap or free ATM withdrawals.
- Tip: Traveler’s checks are good for locking in a good exchange rate. So if you watch the forex market, get them while the getting’s good.
- Can be costly with initial purchase charges
- Not all merchants accept traveler’s checks
Compare travel credit cards
The main banks in UAE are:
- Emirates NBD
- National Bank of Abu Dhabi
- Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank
- First Gulf Bank
- Dubai Islamic Bank
- Mashreq Bank
- Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank
- Union National Bank
- Commercial Bank of Dubai
Buying currency in the US
You can get a better rate of exchange if you withdraw cash from an ATM in the UAE using a low fee travel account. You can always send your money to teh UAE ahead of time with a money transfer service and have it waiting to be picked up when you arrive.
- Tip: Travelex has locations at major US airports, you can order currency online and pick up dirhams before you get on the plane.
If you have any questions about using travel money in the UAE, get in touch with us using the form below.
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ATMs in UAE
Some of the banks you’ll recognize in the UAE include Citi, HSBC and Barclays Bank. International banks will give you a higher ATM withdrawal limit than local banks. Try to select a withdrawal amount that gives you notes in a smaller denominations. Large bills can be hard to cash outside your hotel. You’ll find ATMs in the international airports, so get money once you go through customs and before you get in a taxi.
Find ATMs in UAE
Cash pickup services in UAE
How much should I budget to travel in UAE?
Accommodation, food and sight seeing can be expensive in the UAE. You’ll find very few hostels, though you’ll find budget two and three star hotels in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. You’ll find a variety of nationalities in UAE, so be ready to try food from all over the world — some for cheap. If you’re used to traveling on a backpacker’s budget, you’ll need to budget $100 a day, almost $300 for am mid-range vacation, and almost $800 for high end travels. All prices are in US dollars.
|Accommodation||Hostel dorm bed|
$50 per night
|3 star hotel|
$70–$200 per night
|5 star hotel|
$200–$600 per night
|Meals||Chicken biryani at a cheap restaurant|
|Shawarma platter at mid priced restaurant|
|Dine at Hakkasan Abu Dhabi. Signature Peking duck|
|Activities||Visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque|
Relax on Corniche Beachfree
|Visit the ferrari island theme park|
|Dubai sightseeing trip from Abu Dhabi|
*Prices are indicative and subject to change
Case study: Dean's experience
Dean’s trip to Abu Dhabi
Dean visited Abu Dhabi so he could attend the F1 Grand Prix. He spent about four nights in Abu Dhabi and two nights in Dubai before flying back home. He was at the Yas Marina circuit to watch the practice and qualifying laps and the race. Dean says at the end of each day there were performances from major artists like Florence and the Machine.
Do you have any tips?
Dean says there’s a service charge of 10% at places like hotels and restaurants included in the bill for tips. He says it can’t hurt to round taxis up to the nearest five dirhams.
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