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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 (UAE), from the F1, Dubai Gold Cup and Ferrari Island, you won’t have a problem using your Mastercard or Visa credit cards in the UAE. Pack a travel credit card to help you buy, knowing that you won’t have foreign transaction fees to worry about.

However, you’ll want some of the local currency, the dirham, on hand for tips and buying in local markets. You can find thousands of ATMs around the seven Emirates when you need to stock up on notes, including in airports, banks and shopping centers.

Our picks for traveling to UAE

40+ currencies supported

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  • Up to $100 free ATMs withdrawals worldwide
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  • 0.50% APY on checking balance
  • Up to 4.60% APY on savings
  • $0 account or overdraft fees
  • Get a $300 bonus with direct deposits of $5,000 or more

Free ATM transactions

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  • $50 waivable monthly fee
  • 0% foreign transaction fee
  • Securely move money domestically and globally
  • 5 monthly out-of-network ATM reimbursements
  • Free international HSBC ATM transactions

Travel card, debit card or credit card?

There are no US prepaid travel cards that will hold Emirati dirhams. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted, and a credit card that offers rewards for spending will get you 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 cards that waive foreign transaction fees are the best cards for traveling to the UAE, such as the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card (Terms apply, see rates & fees). Plus, you can find travel credit cards with the added benefit of travel insurance, purchase protection, rental car 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.

  • 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

Which credit card issuers are accepted in the UAE?

Visa and Mastercard are most widely accepted in the UAE. Some large hotels and restaurants may accept American Express and Discover as well.

Merchant acceptanceATM acceptance
check mark iconHigh
check mark iconHigh
check mark iconHigh
check mark iconHigh
American Express
exclamation point iconMedium
exclamation point iconMedium
exclamation point iconMedium
cross mark iconLow

Potential credit card fees

Credit card fees can leave a noticeable dent in your pocket when you’re traveling overseas. Know what you’re up against well in advance and choose a card with no or low fees.

Foreign transaction fees

Credit card issuers typically charge a fee equivalent to 1% to 3% of your transaction. Carefully review your card’s fine print to avoid statement surprises. Some cards designed for travel come with no foreign transaction fees, so this could be a good time to switch.

Currency conversion fees

If a retailer offers to bill your credit card in US dollars, dynamic currency conversion comes into play. While this might sound like a good deal, you’ll actually end up getting a worse exchange rate and you might end up paying currency conversion fees. Whenever you’re presented with an option, choose to pay in the local currency.

You can get an idea of costs by using these online currency conversion tools from Mastercard and Visa.

Cash advance fees

Using your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM may not make sense unless it’s an emergency. Each time you withdraw funds from an ATM, you’ll pay your card’s cash advance fee and APR, which is typically higher than your purchase APR. However, some cards designed for overseas spending will waive this fee.

What is a cash advance fee?

A cash advance fee is calculated — and charged — when you withdraw cash from your credit card. It’s usually the greater of a flat fee or a percentage of the transaction. For example, “2.5% of the transaction, minimum $3.”

Compare travel credit cards

Explore top debit cards with no foreign transaction fees and travel credit cards by using the tabs to narrow down your options. Select Compare for up to four products to see their benefits side by side.

1 - 5 of 9
Name Product Fee Minimum deposit to open Annual Percentage Yield (APY) Offer
SoFi Checking and Savings
Finder Score: 4.5 / 5: ★★★★★
SoFi Checking and Savings
$0 per month
4.60% on balances of $0+
0.50% on balances of $0+
1.20% on balances of $0+
Get up to $300 cash bonus with qualifying direct deposit. Terms apply. This offer is available until December 31, 2024.
Upgrade Rewards Checking Plus
Finder Score: 4.3 / 5: ★★★★★
Upgrade Rewards Checking Plus
$0 per month
Chime® Checking Account
Finder Score: 4.8 / 5: ★★★★★
Chime® Checking Account
$0 per month
Refer a friend to Chime using your referral link, and if they complete a $200 direct deposit within 45 days of opening their new account, you both get $100.
HSBC Premier Checking
Finder Score: 3.5 / 5: ★★★★★
HSBC Premier Checking
$50 per month
(can be waived)
0.01% on balances of $5+
Acorns Checking
Finder Score: 3.6 / 5: ★★★★★
Acorns Checking
From $3 per month
1 - 5 of 21
Name Product Welcome Offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
Up to 5x miles
Earn 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening. See rates & fees
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
Up to 5x miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months ​from account opening. See rates & fees
Bilt World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card
Bilt World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card
Bilt does not have a welcome offer. However, they have a unique bonus offer of double points on the first of each month – that’s 6x points on dining, 4x points on travel, and 2x points on other purchases (except rent). Use the card 5 times each statement period to earn points.
Up to 3x points
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card
$200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
Up to 1.5% cash back
More than an unlimited 1.5% cash back card: you'll also earn 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel (terms apply). See rates & fees
Capital One VentureOne Rewards for Good Credit
Capital One VentureOne Rewards for Good Credit
Up to 5x miles
The same rewards and $0 annual fee as the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card, but for those with good credit. See rates & fees
Debit card being swiped in a POS station

Using a debit card

With a debit card, you’ll have access to cash each time you come across an ATM in the UAE without carrying lots of cash on you. 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. The Betterment Checking account, for example, automatically reimburses international ATM fees, keeping your pockets padded for hitting the Dubai Mall or other attractions.

  • 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
  • Convenience
  • 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 that 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.
  • Acceptance
  • Security
  • Can be costly with initial purchase charges
  • Not all merchants accept traveler’s checks
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UAE currency

5 AED banknote10 AED banknote20 AED banknote
50 AED banknote100 AED banknote500 AED banknote

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
  • RAKBank

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 the 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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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 smaller denominations. Large bills can be hard to cash outside your hotel. You’ll find ATMs in international airports, so get money once you go through customs and before you get in a taxi. If you withdraw with a Betterment Checking Visa debit card, you’ll also get reimbursed for any foreign exchange or ATM fees that might come with your cash withdrawal.

Find ATMs in UAE

Keep your travel money safe in the UAE

By and large, safety should be little issue while traveling in the United Arab Emirates. Pickpocketing will likely be the biggest threat, and its risk level is medium.

Pay attention to your surroundings at all times. Some safety suggestions include leaving your valuables at home, keep your wallet in your pocket or use a money belt to conceal your funds.

How much should I budget to travel in UAE?

Accommodation, food and sightseeing 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 a mid-range vacation, and almost $800 for high-end travels. All prices are in US dollars.

AccommodationHostel dorm bed
$50 per night
3-star hotel
$70–$200 per night
5-star hotel
$200–$600 per night
MealsChicken biryani at a cheap restaurant
Shawarma platter at mid-priced restaurant
Dine at Hakkasan Abu Dhabi. Signature Peking duck
ActivitiesVisit 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 profile photo

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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Written by

Kyle Morgan

Kyle Morgan is SEO manager at Forbes Advisor and a former editor and content strategist at Finder. He has written for the USA Today network and Relix magazine, among other publications. He holds a BA in journalism and media from Rutgers University. See full profile

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