There are hundreds of different credit cards offered by banks in UAE. It’s great to have the luxury of choice and a good offering but this makes finding the right card difficult.
Most UAE credit cards have decent benefits like cashback, rebates for shopping or free tickets to attractions.
Yet, these cards are not ideal for (frequent) travellers: There are high fees charged for any transactions in a foreign currencies or even for AED transactions if they take place abroad.
The fees you will be charged for your purchase are up to 3% of the transaction value. This fee is often hidden in the fine print of the credit card terms and not directly visible on your statement.
To save you time of (1) finding the terms and conditions of cards and (2) looking for the applicable fee, here is an overview of fees charged by popular UAE banks on international card transactions:
These fees are charged by the bank and are on top of the Mastercard / Visa scheme fee for international transactions. The card scheme for international transactions is variable: Emirates NBD estimates it at 1.15% for Visa cards; while HSBC states it at up to 1.21% (inclusive of VAT).
Let’s add up the fees to get an impression on how much we are paying for international transactions on standard UAE credit cards:
If you make a purchase of US$100 abroad, Visa will add their cut first US$100*1.012=US$101.21 and after this HSBC US$101.21*1.021=US$103.33541. So your total fee on the US$100 transaction will be USD$3.34 (rounded).
For this reason most of the credit cards offered by these banks are not very suitable for (frequent) travelers or people who plan to spend a lot abroad.
However, some of these banks have special cards for travellers that offer reduced or no foreign transaction fees. This is what you will want to go for if you travel abroad at least a few times a year.
Comparison of Cards for Travellers
I’ve tried to find all cards suitable for travelers and compare them. Since I was unable to find a comparison guide or article online, here is my take on travel credit cards in the UAE.
Please note that I have simplified below table: You might be able to get the credit card fee waived or be applicable for different conditions if you’re a preferred customer.
Bank / MC
** The FX fee for Citi is 3%, but you get 3% cashback on any transactions abroad. Emirates NBD charges you a monthly inactivity fee of 15 AED if you do not use the card for at least 5 months. Minimum Salary for ADCB found on Google. I’m not sure if it is accurate.
Which card to choose?
ADCB vs. FAB – True Travel Credit Cards
There are 2 true travel credit cards in my comparison. ADCB and FAB have both great offerings that differ in the details.
Both cards offer a similar annual fee, 0% FX mark-up, lounge access and further travel benefits.
The additional benefits from FAB that stand out to me are a AED1000 Travel Voucher for sign-up as well as an offer for free hotel nights. I’m not sure if the Travel Voucher is a one time benefit or a yearly offering.
As additional benefits ADCB offers 20% off flight bookings through cleartrip.ae and 20% off hotel bookings on booking.com. The 20% off flight bookings look really attractive, while I am less sure about the value of 20% off on hotels.com.
Since both cards are quite close, I would go with the bank you already have an account with or plan to open an account with.
Citi – Combined Travel and Cashback Card
Citi will be a suitable card if you plan to spend in UAE as well as abroad. The card offers great cashback rates on purchase in the UAE; while at the same time being useful as a travel card.
While Citi charges a 3% mark-up on international transactions, they also provide a 3% cashback rate on the same transactions.
Emirates NBD – GlobalCash Prepaid Card
This is a Prepaid Card that you can top-up with cash before your trip. This will be a suitable card if you plan a long-trip to just one destination and know ahead how much you will spend.
To use the card you need to first top-up money, convert it to the currency of your destination country and are then able to spend in this specific currency without conversion mark-up fees.
The card has a 30 AED fee to be issued and a 15 AED fee if you want to close it. Should you keep the card open but don’t use it for 5 months, you will be charged 15 AED/month fee for the card.
Since you convert the money when loading the card, Emirates NBD takes care of the conversion for you. As opposed to the other cards in this article they will use their internal bank conversion rate instead of the rates offered by Mastercard or Visa.
I did not choose this card since it is prepaid only and the fee structure as well as conversion rates are complex. The number of supported currencies is limited to 15 and I was unable to find the rates for currencies such as EUR on the bank website.
Applying for the cards
For any of the credit cards mentioned in this article you will likely need to open at least a savings account with the bank and transfer your salary. If you’re unable to transfer your salary to the bank, do not make the minimum salary or are otherwise unable to provide proof of employment you might qualify for a secured credit card.
This means you will make a deposit to the savings account with the bank. This deposit (or a large percentage of it) will be your credit limit. However a restriction applies. For each of the card types there will likely be a minimum deposit amount set out by the bank. So far I’ve heard amounts between 10k to 60k AED depending on the bank and card you choose.