Using a credit card in UAE

Use our guide to get the best out of your plastic, and your cash, on holiday in UAE.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is home to the major and ultramodern city of Dubai and the tallest tower in the world, making this country a popular destination worldwide. Many Brits head to the UAE each year to visit Dubai, enjoying the range of extravagant attractions and luxury shopping malls the city boasts. But luxury doesn’t come cheap, so it’s worth knowing how you can use your UK credit card when you touch down in UAE.

Digital payments are on the rise in UAE, so you shouldn’t encounter many issues if paying with your credit card. However, you should make sure that your credit card is either a Visa or Mastercard, as these are the most common networks. The currency used in UAE is the dirham (AED) but is often represented as ‘Dh‘ in many outlets.

Cash machines in UAE

The safest places in the UAE to withdraw money from are bank ATMs – some of which you will recognise, including Citi, HSBC and Barclays Bank. If you’re heading to any of the major cities and tourist destinations, such as Dubai, you will find ATMs in abundance – after all, it is the global finance capital. Plus, these international banks will give you a higher ATM withdrawal limit than local banks.

When withdrawing money, you should try to select an amount which will give you notes in smaller denominations when possible, as these machines typically dispense large bills which may be difficult to make payments with.

Cash in UAE

Although you shouldn’t have an issue finding ATMs or paying by card in most shops, restaurants or hotels whilst in any of UAE’s major cities, it is always worth carrying some spare cash with you. Transportation, such as taxis and buses, require cash payments – even in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Plus, when making small purchases it is often simpler to pay using cash.

You should note that it is important to always ensure that your cash is not damaged, as most merchants may refuse to accept any damaged banknotes.

Find a great deal on your travel money for UAE

Chip and PIN

Chip and pin is the most common form of payment method in the UAE, exactly the same as in the UK. Simply insert your card and enter your 4 digit pin-code.

You should also note that some hotels in Abu Dhabi may require a credit card for deposits, which is why it is always essential to carry a combination of different payment methods while travelling.

Where possible, you may be able to use contactless payments. Just keep an eye out for the contactless payments symbol. If your credit card network is Visa, then the contactless limit in the UAE is Dh300. If your credit card network is Mastercard, then you will have to check with your bank, as individual banks may set different limits.

Is it safe to use my card in the UAE?

By exercising some caution when using your credit card in UAE, you’ll have a relatively trouble-free experience.

  • Keep your PIN safe. Use one hand to enter the PIN and the other to shield it from prying eyes and hidden cameras.
  • Select ATMs with care. Try and stick to ATMs in banks and avoid using ones in the street.
  • 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 another ATM.

Keeping your credit card (physically) safe

While crime rates are relatively low in the UAE, theft is one of the top crimes carried out in Dubai, so 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 that you don’t have to spend your holiday sorting out stolen or lost credit cards.

Potential credit card fees

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

Foreign transaction fees

British credit card issuers typically charge a fee equivalent to 1% to 3% of your transaction, so 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.

Learn more about cards designed for overseas spending

Currency conversion fees

If a retailer offers to bill your credit card in sterling, 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 also end up paying currency conversion fees. Whenever you’re presented with an option, choose to pay in the local currency.

Cash advance fees

Using your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM may not make sense unless it’s a bona fide emergency. Each time you withdraw funds from an ATM, you’re likely to pay a cash advance fee. Your APR for cash advances is typically higher than your purchase APR, and you’ll typically get no grace period on interest — instead, you start paying interest immediately. Again, some cards designed for overseas spending will waive this fee.

The table below serves as an example of how much extra you may pay to use your credit card in the UAE.

section of credit card summary box document

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

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 £3.00”.

How to prepare before travelling to the UAE

  1. Go with Visa or Mastercard. Carry at least two cards on your trip to UAE, preferably connected with Visa or Mastercard. You can take an American Express card as a backup if you wish, although it is not as commonly accepted as Visa and Mastercard credit cards. Try to bring multiple cards to ensure you are prepared for any unforeseen circumstances.
  2. Think no foreign transaction fees. When there are cards that come with no foreign transaction fees, using ones that charge 2% or 3% of each overseas transaction does not make sense. Some of these cards don’t charge an annual fee, either.
  3. Keep your bank posted. Banks, in their efforts to thwart fraudulent transactions, block credit cards if they detect suspicious activity such as unexpected overseas transactions. To make sure this does not happen to your card, let your bank know about your travel plans before you leave the UK.
  4. Keep the emergency number handy. Know which numbers you’ll need to call if you end up losing your card or if you need an emergency replacement.
  5. Know where you’ll get cash from. Consider using your debit card to withdraw cash from ATMs as you are less likely to incur the higher fees associated with credit cards. If you need to exchange money, stick to banks or official money-exchange offices because possessing counterfeit money in UAE is a serious crime. Try to avoid exchanging money at airports and popular tourist destinations because of typically poor exchange rates.

Next steps

Ask yourself these simple questions before you leave so your spending in UAE does not hit any roadblocks.

  • Which cards will I take? Visa and Mastercard are your safest bet. If you’re planning a trip, check out cards which give you complimentary airport lounge access. If you’re planning well in advance, consider earning air miles for your trip with a frequent flyer credit card.
  • Have I let my bank know? If you don’t inform your bank about your travel plans, you may end up with a temporarily suspended card.
  • What fees do I need to pay? If your existing cards come with foreign transaction fees, look for one that does not. Paying in Sterling outside of the UK might come with currency conversion fees.
  • How will I get cash? Using your debit card at an ATM is the simplest way to access your own money. Most shops and restaurants won’t accept cheques. Exchanging Sterling to Euros is easy and you’ll get several options.

When you’re in UAE, particularly either in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, you have little reason to worry about where and when you can use your credit card. However, if you plan on making some small purchases or paying for transportation, then you should definitely keep some cash handy. Always double check with your bank before your departure to receive confirmation that you can use your card in the UAE.

Compare cards with fee-free currency conversion in UAE

Table: sorted by representative APR, promoted deals first
Name Product Finder score Finder score Purchases Annual/monthly fees Initial credit limits Representative APR Incentive Link
Santander All in One Credit Card
4.5
★★★★★
★★★★★
Expert analysis
0% for 15 months reverting to 23.9%
£3 per month
Min. limit £500, max. limit not specified.
29.8% APR (variable)
0.5% after £1 of monthly spend. Maximum of £10 cashback paid per month. Cashback paid Monthly into Card Account. Maximum spend for cashback purposes is limited to credit limit.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 23.9% (variable) p.a. with a fee of £3 per month, your representative rate is 29.8% APR (variable).
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The Royal Bank Credit Card
4.5
★★★★★
★★★★★
Expert analysis
12.9%
£0
Min. limit £250, max. limit not specified.
12.9% APR (variable)
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 12.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 12.9% APR (variable).
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NatWest Credit Card
4.5
★★★★★
★★★★★
Expert analysis
12.9%
£0
Min. limit £250, max. limit not specified.
12.9% APR (variable)
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 12.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 12.9% APR (variable).
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Royal Bank of Scotland Reward Black Credit Card
4.0
★★★★★
★★★★★
Expert analysis
21.9%
£84 per annum. Reward Black Current Account holders: £0 per annum
Min. limit £5,000, max. limit not specified.
40.7% APR (variable)
Earn 1% back at supermarkets and 0.5% back everywhere else, including supermarket petrol stations. At selected retailers, you could earn 1-15% back.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 21.9% (variable) p.a. with a fee of £84 per annum. Reward Black Current Account holders: £0 per annum, your representative rate is 40.7% APR (variable).
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NatWest Reward Black Credit Card
4.0
★★★★★
★★★★★
Expert analysis
21.9%
£84 per annum. Reward Black Current Account holders: Year 2 onwards - £0 per annum
Min. limit £5,000, max. limit not specified.
40.7% APR (variable)
You'll earn 1% back at supermarkets and 0.5% back everywhere else, including supermarket petrol stations. At selected retailers, you could earn 1-15% back.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 21.9% (variable) p.a. with a fee of £84 per annum. Reward Black Current Account holders: Year 2 onwards - £0 per annum, your representative rate is 40.7% APR (variable).
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Yonder Credit Card (only for London residents)
4.5
★★★★★
★★★★★
Expert analysis
29.94%
1 month for £0, £15 per month thereafter
Min. limit not specified, max. limit not specified.
66.7% APR (variable)
First month free for new members, £15 p/m thereafter. Plus, 10,000 bonus points. Earn 5 points per £1 spent and up to 25 points per £1 at selected partners. Membership includes worldwide travel insurance and no FX fees.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 29.94% (variable) p.a. with a fee of £15 per month, your representative rate is 66.7% APR (variable).
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