The cheapest and easiest ways to use travel money cards, debit and credit cards in the UAE
The F1, Dubai Gold Cup, Ferrari Island, the world’s tallest building, museums and malls, the United Arab Emirates is an ultra-modern oasis and more than just a stop-over on the way to Australia or Asia. The UAE is a nation of seven different Emirates. Abu Dhabi and Dubai are the shining crowns of the UAE and attract the bulk of tourists as well as 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.
Compare travel cards for the UAE
How many dirhams do I need to bring to the UAE?
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 also ways for you to explore Abu Dhabi and Dubai for free.
|Hostel dorm bed
£12 per night
|3 star hotel
£40 – £120 per night
|5 star hotel
£120 – £350 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
Travel card, debit card or credit card?
There are two 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.
In the tourist and expatriate centres of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Visa and Mastercard can be used more often than not. 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 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, cheques and cash work in the UAE
Using prepaid travel cards
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 Ecuador.
- Tip: Order a travel card online so it has your name printed on the front.
Using debit cards
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.
Using credit cards
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 was a backup.
- Tip: Some users preload these products with their own money to use like a debit card. The cash advance fee applies regardless of whether the card has a positive balance and the Mastercard and Visa no liability guarantees do not apply if you’re the victim of credit card fraud.
Using traveller’s cheques
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.
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, you will have many chances to withdraw cash if you need it.
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 which will give you notes in a smaller denominations. These machines have a tendency to dispense large bills, which can be a problem to cash outside your hotel.
You’ll be able to find ATMs in the international airports, you can make a withdrawal once you go through customs and before you get in a taxi.
Finding cash and ATMs in UAEBack to top
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 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 card 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 two ATM withdrawals. The first time was in the airport and the second time was when he spotted a Citibank ATM 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. 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.
Case studyDean 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 itself, Dean says 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 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 card 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 two ATM withdrawals. The first time was in the airport and the second time was when he spotted a Citibank ATM 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.
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.
Buying dirhams in the UK
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.
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, 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.
If you have any questions about using travel money in the UAE, get in touch with us using the form below.Back to top