Travel Money Guide: UAE

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 London or Europe. 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 UAE

Updated December 12th, 2018
Name Product Available Currencies ATM Withdrawal Fee Reload Fee Initial Load Fee
AUD 3.50, USD 2.50, GBP 2.00, EUR 2.20, NZD 4.50, CAD 3.00, HKD 20.00, SGD 4.00, THB 95, JPY 260
Hold up to 10 currencies and lock in your exchange rate. No load, reload or transaction fees on purchases and part of a worldwide ATM alliance.
USD 2.50, EUR 2.50, GBP 2.00, NZD 3.50, THB 80.00, CAD 3.50, HKD 18.00, JPY 260.00, SGD 3.50, AUD 3.50, AED 10.00
Get discounted rates on USD in Cash Passport's rates sale. Plus free global Wi-Fi and more. Offer ends on 13 December 2018.
AUD 1.95, CAD 2.00, EUR 1.50, GBP 1.25, HKD 15.00, JPY 160, NZD 2.50, SGD 2.50, USD 1.95, THB 70.00, AED 6.50
Get the chance to win a share of 1 million Qantas Points for every $100 in foreign currency you load onto your Qantas Travel Money card plus earn up to 5000 bonus points.

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Rates last updated December 12th, 2018
Name Product Foreign Currency Conversion Fee Overseas ATM Withdrawal Fee Overseas Cash Advance Fee Annual fee Product Description
28 Degrees Platinum Mastercard
0% of transaction value
3% of the cash advance or $4 (whichever is greater)
$0 p.a.
No foreign transaction fees on international purchases including international purchases online, together with a no annual fee.
Skye Mastercard
0% of transaction value
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($99 p.a. thereafter)
Get 90 days interest-free, $0 foreign transaction fees and a $0 annual fee for the first year.
ANZ Rewards Travel Adventures card
0% of transaction value
$225 p.a.
Receive 40,000 bonus Velocity Points, 2 yearly Virgin Australia lounge passes, plus enjoy $0 overseas purchase transaction fees.

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Rates last updated December 12th, 2018
Name Product Product Description Debit Card Access ATM Withdrawal Fee Monthly Account Fee Overseas ATM Withdrawal Fee Overseas Eftpos Fee
ING Orange Everyday Account
Receive a rebate on any international transaction fees and international ATM fees when you deposit at least $1,000 a month and make at least 5 card purchases.
NAB Classic Banking with Platinum Visa Debit Card
$10 cashback on contactless purchases, $0 foreign transaction fee and complimentary travel insurance.
$10 monthly account fee.
Receive $10 cashback when you spend $1000 on contactless purchases. Complimentary travel insurance, transport accident insurance, purchase protection insurance and more when you meet eligibility criteria.
HSBC Everyday Global Account
No foreign ATM or transaction fees.
$0 monthly account fee.
Enjoy no minimum ongoing balance or transaction requirements and the flexibility to hold up to 10 currencies. Apple Pay and Google Pay available.
Citi Global Currency Account
Hold up to 10 currencies.
$0 monthly account fee.
Enjoy one linked debit card to hold up to 10 currencies and receive foreign currencies for free. Earn up to 2.25% p.a. interest on your AUD balance.

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Updated December 12th, 2018
Name Product Minimum Order Amount Maximum Order Amount Delivery/Pickup Method Commission Fee
In Store, At Airport
Order over 60 currencies online at the best price against the Australian dollar and collect at one of over 130 locations across Australia.
In Store, At Airport
Get better rates for new travel money cards and travel money card reloads when you use our exclusive code: FINDER
In Store, Home Delivery
Order multiple currencies in one transaction and have it delivered directly to your door anywhere in Australia.

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Which option is right for your next trip?

How much 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.

Abu Dhabi Budget Midrange Expensive
to-sleep Hostel dorm bed
$20 per night
3 star hotel
$70 - $200 per night
5 star hotel
$200 - $600 per night
food Chicken biryani at a cheap restaurant
Shawarma platter at mid priced restaurant
Dine at Hakkasan Abu Dhabi. Signature Peking Duck
camera Visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque: free
Relax on Corniche Beach: free
Visit the ferrari island theme park
$100 per adult
Dubai sightseeing trip from Abu Dhabi
$115 per person

*Prices are indicative and subject to change

Exchange rate history

The Australian dollar is worth between 2.5 and 3 Emirati dirhams. The dollar hit a low at the start of 2016 and has been growing in value since. Traveller's cheques and prepaid travel cards let you lock in an exchange rate when you buy/convert to a foreign currency if you think it's going to get more expensive to buy dirhams in the future.

Year Average annual exchange Australian Dollar to UAE Dirham
2012 3.805021
2013 3.555164
2014 3.316041
2015 2.762529
2016 2.731468
2017 2.800896

*Exchange rates are accurate as of 4 September 2017

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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
  • No currency conversion, ATM withdrawals, account keeping fees
  • Widely accepted at UAE merchants and ATMs
  • Free withdrawals on Citi ATMs in the UAE with Citibank Plus
  • Citibank Plus Transaction Account is the only travel friendly debit account currently offered
Prepaid travel money cards
  • 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
  • International ATM withdrawal fees, card issue fees, initial load fees, reload fees may apply
Credit cards for travel
  • 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
Traveller's cheques
  • Acceptance
  • Security
  • Can be costly with initial purchase charges
  • Not all merchants accept traveller's cheques
  • Greater payment flexibility
  • Convenience
  • More difficult to manage expenses
  • Higher risk of theft

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

The two travel cards which let you load and spend in Emirati dirham are the Commonwealth Bank Travel Card and the Qantas Cash. Both travel cards are Mastercard branded products. Mastercard and Visa cards can be easily used at many businesses throughout the UAE.

Both cards let you make over the counter purchases and ATM withdrawals. A quick look at the exchange rate shows CBA cardholders are about 18 dirhams (AUD$6), so you're better off converting AUD$1,000 to AED. Withdrawals cost more using the CBA card, you'll save about AUD$1 each time you use the Qantas Cash at the ATM.

You'll pay a $15 issue fee for the Commbank product, a spare is issued to use incase the main card is lost or stolen, a point of difference from Qantas Cash which is a single card account. Rewards are another point of difference. If you chase points, the Qantas Cash gives you 1.5 Qantas Points for every $1 spent in a foreign currency.

  • Tip: Order a travel card online so it has your name printed on the front.

Using debit cards

The Citibank Plus Transaction Account is the only travel friendly transaction account. You won't pay for currency conversion, international ATM withdrawals, there's no monthly account keeping fee and Citi let you make instant and free international money transfers between Citi accounts in Australia and the UAE. The Citibank Plus Visa Debit Card will enjoy wide acceptance at UAE merchants and ATMs.

  • Tip: You can use the Citibank Plus to withdraw for free from Citi ATMs in the UAE.

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.

The 28 Degrees Platinum Mastercard from Latitude Financial Services (formerly GE Money) combines a unique set of features with low fees. Bankwest platinum credit cards come in different flavours, all platinum cards waive the currency conversion fee and you won't pay for international ATM withdrawals either. Bankwest provide complimentary insurance through their platinum cards. The Coles Rewards Mastercard may also be suited to take to the UAE, as Coles offers 2 flybuys points for overseas purchases. The Bankwest Platinum Qantas Mastercard gives you 0.75 Qantas Points per dollar spent.

  • 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

Traveller's cheques can be purchased through Thomas Cook. Commonwealth Bank, Australia Post, Westpac and ANZ provide American Express traveller's cheques. However, American Express do not sell cheques in Emirati dirhams. In this case ,it might be 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.

Exchanging cash

If you have Australian dollars 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.

ATM withdrawals

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 UAE

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Case study

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 itself, Dean says at the end of each day there were performances from major artists such as Florence and the machine.

What cards did you take with you?

Why did you take these cards?

Dean says he travels frequently and he uses his Citibank Plus Visa as his main travel account. He doesn't pay the 3% conversion fee for currency conversion and he doesn't pay international ATM fees if he makes a withdrawal. He says there's no monthly fee to keep the card so he only brings it out on holiday. The Orange Everyday Visa Debit Card is the account day to day account he uses in Australia because he doesn't get charged any ATM fees when he uses it to get cash out at home. The HSBC Platinum Visa gave Dean complimentary insurance when he used it to purchase his airfare. He pays the card off at the end of each month too, so when possible he makes purchases with the card to earn Qantas Points and doesn't incur interest.

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 Citibank Plus 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.

What's your recommendation for UAE travel money?

Dean says the Citibank Plus should be in the back pocket of everyone who travels internationally.

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.

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Buying dirhams in Australia

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.

  • Tip: These providers have locations at major Australian airports, you can order currency online and pick up dirhams before you get on the plane.

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.

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