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Travel money guide: UAE
The cheapest and easiest ways to use travel money cards, debit and credit cards in the UAE
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.
Why you’ll need a combination of travel money options
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.
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How much should I budget for my UAE vacation?
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.
|Hostel dorm bed
$50 per night
|3 star hotel
$70–$200 per night
|5 star hotel
$200–$600 per night
|Chicken biryani at a cheap restaurant
|Shawarma platter at mid priced restaurant
|Dine at Hakkasan Abu Dhabi. Signature Peking duck
|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 changeBack to top
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.
A quick summary of travel money options for UAE
|Travel money option||Pros||Cons|
|Debit cards for travel||
|Prepaid travel money cards||
|Credit cards for travel||
This table is a general summary of the travel money products in the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.
How cards, checks and cash work in the UAE
Using prepaid travel cards
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.
Using debit cards
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.
Using credit cards
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Case study: 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.
What cards did you take with you?
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard
- Capital One 360
Why did you take these cards?
Dean says he travels frequently and he uses his Barclaycard as his main travel account. It waives his foreign transaction fees and gets 2x miles for all purchases on his vacation. The Capital One 360 debit card is his day to day account and it doesn’t charge for currency conversion or international ATMs.
Where could you use your cards?
Dean says he could use his cards most places he visited. He made a withdrawal from an ATM when he landed but he says he used his credit card to pay for the taxi from the airport and for a deposit when he checked into the hotel. When he ventured into the city, he could use his debit card all the time except for when he ate in a few of the smaller restaurants (he didn’t ask if they took card but he thinks there’s a good chance they do). He adds that a few of the taxis were cash only.
What about ATM withdrawals?
Dean only made two ATM withdrawals. The first time was in the airport and the second time in Abu Dhabi mall. He says there was no issue with ATM acceptance or availability. There was always an ATM around the corner, he says.
What’s your recommendation for UAE travel money?
Dean says the Barclaycard should be in the back pocket of everyone who travels internationally.
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.
Why we like: Travelex Money Card
Load GBP, EUR, CAD, AUD, JPY or MXN onto this prepaid travel money card and use it at millions of locations worldwide.
- Not linked to your bank account for safety.
- Convert currency with a 5.50% foreign exchange fee
- Contactless payments
- Reload, withdraw, or replace your card for free.
Buying dirhams 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.Back to top
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