If you are planning on coming to Dubai, it makes sense to familiarize yourself with the local currency of the emirate and to find out how you can obtain it at the most competitive rates. The official currency of the UAE is the UAE Dirham, often represented as the prefix AED or with the abbreviation ‘Dhs’ which follows the numeric money amount. The most common notes in circulation are the 100 Dh, 50 Dh, 20 Dh, 10 Dh and 5 Dh note although there are three other less commonly used notes – 200 Dh, 500 Dh and 1000 Dh notes. 1 Dh = 100 fils and coins are available in 25 fils, 50 fils and 1 Dh denominations. If you plan on travelling by taxis, carry cash as many prefer cash although some will accept credit cards as well. Parking meters in the UAE accept the 1 Dh and the 50 fil coins; in Dubai 1 hour of parking will cost you 2 Dhs and parking is free on Fridays and public holidays and between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays.
Before we get into the details of currency exchange, here is a quick overview for those who are unfamiliar with the basics.
(Also sometimes called the Holiday money rate or Tourist rate): The rate at which you sell your foreign currency in exchange for UAE dirhams when entering the country.
The rate at which you would buy back the currency of your country of origin by selling the local UAE dirham when exiting the country.
The difference between buy and sell rates offered by foreign exchange providers.
The rate offered to customers who want to engage in money exchange that does not involve the local currency so for example, in Dubai if you want to change from Australian Dollars to US Dollars.
Fee charged by foreign exchange providers for changing from one currency to another.
Now that you are familiar with the terminology, below is a guide to money exchange in the UAE, with some useful tips on where to get the best rates.
The most useful piece of information for foreign travelers to the UAE is the exchange rate for the US Dollar. The US dollar is pegged to the Dirham, meaning that unlike other currencies which experience daily fluctuations in exchange rates, the US dollar is available at a fixed rate of 3.675 Dh to the dollar. This means that money exchanges are likely to charge only nominal fees for the exchange of dollars that are built into their buy/sell rate. When you enter Dubai, you can expect to buy 3.65 Dhs for every dollar exchanged and while leaving you can expect to pay 3.68 Dhs to convert back to the US dollar. This is fixed by the Central Bank of the UAE and therefore the US dollar is most likely to be changed at various institutions in the UAE and Dubai.
When travelling to the UAE, ensure that you have several different methods of obtaining cash in the country. Opt for a major credit card and Debit (ATM) card that can be used to withdraw cash from your account overseas. Many visitors also prefer to carry traveler’s checks as a safety net. If you are doing this, opt for checks from a well known international bank that has locations in Dubai such as HSBC. Traveler’s checks from smaller unknown banks may not be accepted at all exchange houses, banks or hotels. Call your credit card company prior to travel and inform them that you will be travelling; this will reduce chances of the credit card company flagging overseas transactions as possible fraud. Also check the fees and charges for using your ATM or credit card overseas and opt for cards with the most reasonable rates.
Major credit cards such as American Express, Diner’s Club, Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted throughout Dubai. ATMs can be found across the UAE in malls, hotels and gas stations. ATMs accept foreign credit and debit cards including Switch, Maestro, Cirrus, Union Pay, Visa and MasterCard. Unlike the US and other countries where cash back is commonly available at supermarkets, this is not the case in the UAE. Traveler’s checks are widely accepted though travelers are encouraged to take checks in Pounds Sterling or US Dollars to avoid additional exchange rate charges.
Travelers can carry a maximum of AED 100,000 or the equivalent in foreign currency into the country undeclared; anything above this amount must be declared to customs.
When you first land at any Dubai airport, exchange only the minimum amount into local currency as airports are known to have the most costly exchange rates. Exchange only what you might need to pay for taxis or tips on your way to the hotel. If you are carrying Pounds Sterling or US Dollars, most hotels will accept these as forms of payment. Avoid buying local currency at a hotel as their exchange rates are not as competitive as those at exchange houses. Banks offer better exchange rates than hotels and airports, but if you visit any of the large malls in Dubai, they will have at least one currency exchange provider – these providers often offer the best rates for currency exchange so do most of your conversion at these locations.
Even amongst currency exchange houses, it is worthwhile to compare rates. Although large, internationally recognized names such as Western Union are widely spread throughout the UAE, you might get better rates at some of the smaller, more local exchange houses such as Al Fardan exchange, Al Ansari exchange and UAE Xchange.