Low overseas fees
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a nation of 7 different Emirates and is more than just a stop-over on the way to Australia or Asia. This ultramodern oasis features the F1, Dubai Gold Cup, Ferrari Island, the world’s tallest building, museums and malls.
Abu Dhabi and Dubai are the shining crowns of the UAE and attract the bulk of tourists and expats. The Emirati dirham is the currency of the region. Mastercard and Visa cards are widely accepted and ATMs are easy to find. You can compare cash, cards, cheques and insurance in this travel money guide for the UAE.
Low overseas fees
No fees travel card
Low overseas fees
A debit card can be used to make over-the-counter purchases and cash withdrawals from ATMs. Like credit cards and travel cards, debit card transactions are protected against fraud and unauthorised transactions.
UAE dirhams are supported by all travel cards issued in the UK. These cards allow you to avoid currency conversion fees and lock in a competitive exchange rate before your trip. Many also come with an additional, emergency card in case the first one is lost or stolen. A travel card can be used to make over-the-counter purchases and ATM withdrawals in the Emirates.
Visa and Mastercard credit cards can be used without issue at businesses in the UAE. Some hotels in Abu Dhabi and Dubai require a credit card for deposits, so it might be good to carry one as a backup.
It is probably better to take a travel-friendly debit or prepaid card for ATM withdrawals. Banks and exchange offices will charge a commission to cash traveller’s cheques and you can get a better rate from the ATM.
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, you will have many chances to withdraw cash if you need it.
Accommodation, food and holiday activities can be expensive in the UAE. There are less than a handful of hostels, although value 2- and 3-star hotels are widely available in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Because the UAE is filled with many different nationalities, food from all over the world is available for cheap. As well as expensive theme park visits and sightseeing trips, there are also ways for you to explore Abu Dhabi and Dubai for free.
|Hostel dorm bed|
£12 per night
£40 – £120 per night
£150 – £400 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: free|
Relax on Corniche Beach: free
|Visit the ferrari island theme park|
£60 per adult
|Dubai sightseeing trip from Abu Dhabi|
£70 per person
*Prices are indicative and subject to change.
There are 2 prepaid travel cards suited to spend in Emirati dirhams. You’ll incur currency conversion fees with the rest and American Express acceptance is touch-and-go in the UAE. A debit card can be a cost-effective way to withdraw money and make over-the-counter purchases if you have the right one. Plus, you could consider a travel credit card for the fee waivers and travel perks.
You can use Visa and Mastercard in the tourist and expatriate centres of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. While many smaller businesses and taxis now take cards, you will need cash at some point on your travels. ATMs are widespread and you’ll see some familiar names like Barclays and HSBC.
|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.
If you have British pounds you want to change when you arrive, avoid exchanging cash at your hotel or at the airport. You will get a better rate if you wait till you get into the city. Have a look in shopping centres for exchange offices.
Some of the banks you’ll recognise 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 will give you notes in smaller denominations. These machines have a tendency to dispense large bills, which can be a problem to cash outside your hotel.
You can find ATMs in the international airports, you can make a withdrawal once you go through customs and before you get in a taxi.Back to top
Dean visited Abu Dhabi so he could attend the F1 Grand Prix. He spent about 4 nights in Abu Dhabi and 2 nights in Dubai before flying back home. He was at the Yas Marina circuit to watch the practice and qualifying laps and the race itself. Dean says that at the end of each day, there were performances from major artists such as Florence and the Machine.
Where could you use your cards?
Dean says he could use his cards in 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 travel debit card all the time except for when he ate in a few of the smaller restaurants – he didn't ask if they took cards but he thinks there's a good chance they do. He adds that a few of the taxis he took were cash only.
What about ATM withdrawals?
Dean only made 2 ATM withdrawals. The first time was in the airport and the second time was when he spotted a Citibank ATM in the Abu Dhabi Mall. He says there was no issue with ATM acceptance or availability. There was always an ATM around the corner.
Do you have any tips?
Dean says there is a service charge of 10% at places like hotels and restaurants included in the bill, but he says it can't hurt to round taxis up to the nearest 5 dirhams either.
* This is a fictional, but realistic, example.
You can get a better rate of exchange if you withdraw cash from an ATM in the UAE using a low-fee travel account. If you want some cash in your pocket when you land, these institutions can sell you dirhams.
The travel money products on this guide work best when they’re used together. Depending on the card, you could take advantage of interest-free days, complimentary insurance and an emergency line of credit with a credit card.
However, as you can’t use credit cards for ATM withdrawals, you’ll need to consider a travel-friendly debit card or prepaid 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.Back to top
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