Digital payments are on the rise in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), so you shouldn’t encounter many issues if you’re using a Visa or Mastercard — the most common networks in the country. But you could come home to high fees if your card isn’t travel-friendly.
If you’re taking along a variety of cards, debit cards and cash, read our full guide on spending money while traveling in UAE.
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 acceptance||ATM acceptance|
ATMs in the UAE
The safest way to withdraw money in the UAE is to use bank ATMs. If you’re heading to any of the major cities or tourist destinations, such as Dubai, you’ll find ATMs in abundance. International bank ATMS — like Citi, HSBC or Barclays — will give you a higher withdrawal limit than local banks.
When withdrawing money, try to select an amount that will give you bills in smaller denominations when possible. If you receive large bills, break them at your hotel or a reputable shop.
Cash in the UAE
Although you shouldn’t have an issue finding ATMs or paying by card in most shops, restaurants or hotels while in any of the UAE’s major cities, it’s worth carrying some spare cash with you at all times. Transportation, such as taxis and buses, require cash payments — even in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Make sure your cash isn’t damaged when you receive it, as many merchants will refuse to accept damaged bills.
Like in the US, Chip-and-PIN is the most common form of payment method in the UAE. Simply insert your card and enter your 4 digit pin-code.
Some hotels in Abu Dhabi may require a credit card for deposits, so it’s advisable to carry a combination of various payment methods while traveling.
Some vendors will accept contactless payments — keep an eye out for the symbol. If your credit card network is Visa, the contactless limit in the UAE is 300 dirhams. If your credit card network is Mastercard, check with your bank since different financial institutions may set different limits.
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 credit cards for use in the UAE
When choosing a credit card to use in the UAE or anywhere abroad, consider those that don’t have foreign transaction fees. Most strong travel credit cards waive these fees while also offering top perks for your travels.
How to prepare before traveling to the UAE
- Go with Visa or Mastercard. Carry at least two cards on your trip to the UAE, preferably connected with Visa or Mastercard. You can take an American Express card as a backup, but it’s not as commonly accepted as Visa and Mastercard.
- Bring a travel-friendly card. Some cards charge as much as 2% or 3% of each overseas transaction. You can save a lot with a card that comes with no foreign transaction fees.
- 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 doesn’t happen, let your bank know about your travel plans before you leave the US.
- Keep emergency numbers handy. Know which numbers you’ll need to call if you end up losing your card or if you need an emergency replacement.
- Know where you’ll get cash from. Consider using your debit card to withdraw cash from ATMs, as you’re 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 — possessing counterfeit money in the UAE is a serious crime. Try to avoid exchanging money at airports and popular tourist destinations because of typically poor exchange rates.
Is it safe to use my card in the UAE?
Typically, yes. By exercising caution when using your credit card in the UAE, you should have a safe and hassle-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 to stick with 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. 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 you don’t have to spend your vacation dealing with stolen or lost credit cards.
The UAE is a swipe-friendly country. And while it’s always good to have cash on hand, you won’t have trouble using your credit or debit card while visiting — especially if it’s a Visa or Mastercard. If you’re planning a long trip or you travel often, consider a travel credit card.
See more guides on using a credit card in other countries.
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