The currency of Dubai – indeed, the whole of the United Arab Emirates – is the UAE Dirham. When writing this or reading it, the most common ways of identifying the currency are to prefix the amount in question with the capital letters AED, or to follow the amount given in numbers with the lower case abbreviation “dhs”. Thus, one hundred dirhams would be rendered as AED 100, or 100dhs. For those with a historical interest in money and coinage, the name “dirham” is derived from the Greek “drachma” – the coin of the Byzantine Empire which was in wide circulation throughout Asia Minor, the Middle East and the North African shores in the 5th to 7th centuries AD. The UAE is not the only country to name its currency the dirham. Morocco also calls its main currency unit the dirham, but rates of exchange to other currencies, such as the US dollar, the pound sterling and the euro are quite different.
UAE currency exists in a number of different notes of various values and coins. Both coins and notes are of a sensible size and will fit into your wallets and pockets or change purses quite comfortably. The notes you are most likely to see are the red 100 dirham, the purplish 50, the blue/green 20, the green 10 and the orange/brown 5. Be aware that there are three other notes – the 200 dirham, the 500 dirham and the 1000 dirham. Clearly, confusing the purple/blue 1000 dirham for the slightly similar 50 could be a serious error if an unscrupulous person took advantage of your ignorance.
All the notes feature attractive images of the life and traditions of this Gulf State and the denominations of the notes are shown in Arabic numerals on one face, while the other shows their values in Roman numerals. If you aren’t sure what you have, just turn it over and look in the corners. You will also see the value printed in English words on the bottom center of each note. There are just three coins – the silver one dirham, a silver 50 fils (100 fils = 1 dirham), which is hexagonal, the small silver 25 fils. The 1 dirham coin is useful – indeed necessary – for parking meters in Dubai, but the others? Well, keep in mind that 1 dirham is worth about US 27cents.
So just how much will you, the traveller arriving in Dubai receive in dirhams for your dollars, pounds, euros yen or whatever other monies are in your wallets? The UAE dirham is fixed in value to the US dollar at a rate of 3.675 to the dollar. So while other foreign currencies fluctuate on a daily basis in value relative to the dirham, the US dollar does not. The official money exchanges and banks are going to charge only a minimal fee for effecting the change, and this is built into their buy/sell rates. You can expect to receive 3.65dhs for each US dollar exchanged as you enter Dubai and expect to pay 3.68dhs to change your excess dirhams back into dollars as you leave. Unlike all other currencies, this should not vary from day to day, because, as we noted above, the exchange rate to the US dollar is fixed by the Central Bank of the UAE.
But how about travellers from the UK, or the states of the EU which have subscribed to the euro? How will they know what they should receive in return for their pounds and euros. As a major tourist destination, the last thing the authorities in Dubai want is a constant stream of complaints from tourists that they have been ripped off over money-changing transactions. I’d go so far as to say that changing money at any of the authorized money exchange outlets is easier and more transparent than many countries in Europe where I have changed money – so much so that I far prefer to buy my pounds or euros in Dubai prior to departure than face the “our rate plus commission” nonsense that goes on at many European airport money exchanges.
A good idea is to have one of the many currency exchange apps installed on your smartphone. Personally, I like XE.com’s app, but this is only because I have used XE.com for many years and am comfortable with it. Any other app, such as Yahoo will do the job equally well. You don’t even need to be connected to the internet, so long as you have updated the rates of your favorite currency relative to the UAE dirham at least 24 hours previously. Even though the current rate may have changed a little, hopefully in your favor, it is unlikely to have changed by much. Getting at least a close approximation of how many dirhams you should receive in return for your pounds or euros will help you decide which exchange company is offering you the best deal.
There is competition for your business amongst the currency exchanges. Assuming your first encounter with a Dubai Currency Exchange is in one of Dubai’s amazing shopping malls, you can be assured that if there is one, there are certainly several more within the precincts of the mall. You can find out how many and where they are located at one of the Information Desks. When you arrive at the currency exchange, you will see either in the window, or just inside the door a large LED screen displaying all the day’s currency rates. This will have been updated at the start of the morning’s business and most likely, though not always, 2 or 3 times subsequently throughout the day. This will allow you to compare the going rate for, say, your euros with the UAE dirham. If you are new to this business, the rate you will want to look at is the “buy” figure – that is, the number of UAE dirhams which the Exchange will “buy” your euros for. If, on the other hand, you want to get rid of your dirhams at the end of your holiday, look at the “sell” rate – the sum that the Exchange will sell euros to you for.
Finally, the question many will want to ask is “Are the Money Exchanges dodgy? Am I likely to be cheated?” The answer is that it is highly unlikely. Dubai is not a place where strangers will sidle up to you and whisper “Pssst – want to exchange money!” In 15 years, I have never had that happen. The currency market is tightly organized and regulated, to be as convenient and transparent for both parties as possibly. Yes, money exchanging is a business and yes, the exchange will expect to make a small profit on each transaction, but as I noted earlier, the price quoted is the price you get. There are no other hidden or extra charges and every transaction is fully documented and receipted. In the course of just a few days, visiting malls and main tourist areas in Dubai, I am sure you will begin to see the same names of Currency Exchange businesses again and again. These are large enterprises, with many branches not only in Dubai, but right throughout the UAE. If a familiar name like Western Union makes you feel that it is trustworthy, go ahead and use it, but I strongly recommend comparing rates with other, perhaps less familiar names like UAE Xchange, Al Ansari Exchange, Al Fardan Exchange and any of the others doing business in Dubai and the UAE.