Travel Money Guide: UAE

Find the right travel money option for your trip to the UAE by comparing prepaid cards, debit cards and credit cards.

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Heading to Abu Dhabi, Dubai or somewhere else in the UAE? Make sure you can access the local currency, the Emirati Dirham, by comparing travel money options before you leave. In this guide we'll outline the pros and cons of using prepaid travel cards, debit cards, credit cards and foreign cash when you're travelling in the UAE, and give you tips on avoiding bank fees and charges.

Compare travel cards for UAE

Name Product Available Currencies ATM Withdrawal Fee Initial Load Fee Reload fee
Cash Passport Platinum Mastercard
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
Up to 11 currencies on 1 card locked in exchange rates and no load fees.

Compare up to 4 providers

Name Product Foreign currency conversion fee Interest-free period Purchase rate Annual fee
Bankwest Zero Platinum Mastercard
Up to 55 days on purchases
14.99% p.a.
Get 0% p.a. on balance transfers for 34 months (with a 2% BT fee), ​an ongoing $0 annual fee and 0% foreign transaction fees.
Bankwest Breeze Platinum Mastercard
Up to 55 days on purchases
0% p.a. for 15 months, reverts to 9.9% p.a.
$0 annual fee for the first year ($69 p.a. thereafter)
Get 0% interest on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months, a $0 first-year annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.
CommBank Ultimate Awards Credit Card with Qantas Points
Up to 55 days on purchases
20.24% p.a.
Receive 70,000 bonus Qantas Points when you apply and spend $5,000 in the first 90 days from card approval. Plus, 0% foreign fees.
NAB StraightUp Card
0% p.a.
Save with 0% interest charges and 0% foreign transaction fees. Plus, $0 monthly fees when you don't use the card or carry a balance.

Compare up to 4 providers

Name Product Card access ATM Withdrawal Fee Monthly Account Fee Internatonal ATM Fee Foreign transaction fee
HSBC Everyday Global Account
Special offer: $100 cash bonus for new HSBC customers.
Earn 2% cashback on tap and pay purchases (T&C's apply).
Enjoy no minimum ongoing balance or transaction requirements and the flexibility to hold up to 10 currencies. Apple Pay and Google Pay available.

Great Southern Bank Everyday Snap Account
Refund of international ATM withdrawal fees and international card transaction fees (conditions apply).
$0 monthly account fee. Unlimited fee-free everyday transactions.
Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay available. Savings Top Up tool automatically transfers to linked savings account.
Citi Global Currency Account
Earn up to 0.6% p.a. interest on your AUD balance.
$0 monthly account fee.
Enjoy one linked debit card to hold up to 10 currencies and receive foreign currencies for free.

Compare up to 4 providers

Name Product Minimum Order Amount Maximum Order Amount Delivery/Pickup Method Commission Fee
Foreign Xchange Travel Money
In Store,Home Delivery
Order multiple currencies in one transaction and have it delivered directly to your door anywhere in Australia. No delivery fee for orders over $1,000. A $10 flat fee applies to orders less than $1,000.

Compare up to 4 providers

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 DhabiBudgetMidrangeExpensive
to-sleepHostel dorm bed
$20 per night
3 star hotel
$70 - $200 per night
5 star hotel
$200 - $600 per night
foodChicken biryani at a cheap restaurant
Shawarma platter at mid priced restaurant
Dine at Hakkasan Abu Dhabi. Signature Peking Duck
cameraVisit 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.

YearAverage annual exchange Australian Dollar to UAE Dirham

*Exchange rates are accurate as of 4 September 2017

Today's exchange rate AUD to AED

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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 optionProsCons
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 Latitude 28° Global 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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Get travel insurance quotes for your holiday in UAE

warning Finally, some good news! Domestic travel is picking up, so some insurers have started offering cover again 🦘
Just remember, you won't be covered for any pandemic related claims if you do take out domestic travel insurance.
International travel insurance is limited and sometimes unavailable at this point.

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