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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

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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.

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.

Abu DhabiBudgetMidrangeExpensive
to-sleepHostel dorm bed
$50 per night
3 star hotel
$70–$200 per night
5 star hotel
$200–$600 per night
foodChicken biryani at a cheap restaurant
$5
Shawarma platter at mid priced restaurant
$15
Dine at Hakkasan Abu Dhabi. Signature Peking duck
$350
cameraVisit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Relax on Corniche Beachfree
Visit the ferrari island theme park
$100
Dubai sightseeing trip from Abu Dhabi
$115

*Prices are indicative and subject to change

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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.

A quick summary of travel money options for UAE

Travel money optionProsCons
Debit cards for travel
  • 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
Prepaid travel money cards
  • 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
Credit cards for travel
  • 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
Traveler’s checks
  • Acceptance
  • Security
  • Can be costly with initial purchase charges
  • Not all merchants accept traveler’s checks
Cash
  • Greater payment flexibility
  • Convenience
  • More difficult to manage expenses
  • Higher risk of theft

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.

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.

Exchanging cash

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.

ATM withdrawals

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.

Compare travel credit cards

Name Product Welcome offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
80,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months, a value of up to $1,000 through Chase Ultimate Rewards
5x points on Lyft, 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases
$95
Earn a huge signup bonus worth $$1,000 with this popular travel card. Combine with other Chase Ultimate Rewards cards for even greater value.
American Express® Gold Card
35,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
3x points on directly-booked flights; 4x at restaurants; 4x at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 annually (then 1x points)
$250
Earn up to 4x points on select purchases, a bevy of travel perks, and a welcome offer worth up to $350 with this upper-mid tier travel card. Rates & fees
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
10x points on Lyft rides, 3x points on dining and travel after earning your $300 travel credit and 1x points on all other purchases
$550
Get a generous $300 in annual travel credits, 3x points on travel and dining, and a 50% bonus on point redemptions with Chase's premier card.
Hilton Honors American Express Card
80,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
7x points on Hilton Honors purchases, 5x at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations, 3x on all other purchases
$0
With a massive welcome offer for a no-annual-fee card and up to 7x points at Hilton, this is a solid pick for Hilton fans and occasional travelers. Rates & fees
Luxury Card Mastercard® Titanium Card™
N/A
1x points on all purchases with 2% point value when you redeem for airfare and 1% for cash back
$195
Enjoy unique excursions, privileged access to exclusive events and insider opportunities.
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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?

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.

Our pick for a prepaid travel card
Travelex Money Card

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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.

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Cash pickup services in UAE

Min. Transfer Amount Transfer Speed Online Transfer Fee Rate Amount Received Description CTA Details
$1 Within an hour USD 3.99 3.655 AED 3,640 Use promo code 3FREE to send your first 3 transfers with no fee. Send to 110+ countries for bank-to-bank deposit, cash pickup or mobile top-up. Go to site Show details
$1 Same day USD 8.00 3.59 AED 3,562 Easily transfer cash to more than 350,000 locations around the world. Show details
$1 3 - 5 days USD 20.00 3.581 AED 3,510 The biggest name in money transfers can get your funds to friends, family, or businesses in almost every corner of the globe. Show details

Compare up to 4 providers

Disclaimer: Exchange rates change often. Confirm the total cost with the provider before transferring money.
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