Dubai Money Matters

by Dubai Travel Planner
Dirhams currency for Dubai

Dubai has a reputation as a city of glitz and glamour, but what does it really cost to visit Dubai?

We’ll take a look through all elements of costing out a Dubai trip and money matters you need to know before you go.

Read More: You can see all our Dubai Essential Planning Tips here


Dubai Currency

The currency in Dubai and all of the United Arab Emirates is the Dirham (AED). The Dirham is fixed to the USD but will fluctuate against other currencies.

  • The fixed-rate is $1USD = 3.6725AED

You will find it written as AED, DH or Dhs – all mean the same thing. The notes come in 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 & 1000 AED denominations. Don’t be surprised if an ATM spits out large denomination notes and you then need to find a shop willing to break it for you!

Each Dirham is then divided into 100 fils – there are 50 fil and 25 fil coins (small denominations are rarely seen and no longer in circulation). You will find shops usually round to the nearest half dirham in giving you change.

Wave Pass for cashless payment is slowly catching on, though not everywhere. You will still want some walk around cash as well as taking debit or credit cards with you. Always choose to be charged on a credit card in AED, not your local currency as your bank will charge you an extortionate exchange rate.


Currency exchange in Dubai

Given the vast expatriate population in Dubai and the UAE, there are lots of cash exchange shops available in the UAE. Do not pay airport prices! You can get cash out at an ATM or from a currency exchange in a shopping mall with your photo identification.


Is there VAT in Dubai?

In January 2018, VAT (Value Added Tax) was introduced by the UAE government at 5%. VAT should be included in the price you pay for any goods and services in Dubai and the United Arab Emirates.

You can get the VAT Refunded on certain purchases via the Tax Refund for Tourists Scheme – learn more here.


What does a flight to Dubai cost?

This is largely variable on where you set out from and how far in advance you book.  You can search for cheap flights here:

Top Tip: Don’t just search for Emirates flights. Whilst the giant carrier is a top airline, there can be cheaper options, use a pricing tool such as Skyscanner to see all direct and indirect options, as well as budget carriers that may be able to get you into other UAE airports much cheaper.


How expensive are Dubai hotels?

Whilst you can find some of the world’s most expensive and luxury hotels in Dubai, there are plenty of other budget options too.

Price is hugely variable on location, number of guests (upgrading to a suite or 2/3 bedroom apartments can substantially add to the cost). Also look out for busy travel periods, during popular holiday times prices will substantially increase.

You can search for prices on the likes of booking com. Their search features are second to none on the online market and make it easy to compare both in map view and with hotel features by those who like to self-plan their trips.

The best areas to stay in Dubai we discuss in a lot more detail here.

Bear in mind quoted prices almost always don’t include the municipality charges, service charges and VAT. These can add >20% to the final price that you pay for your Dubai accommodation.

You can read our complete guide to hotel and restaurant tourist taxes here

Are there any budget hotel options in Dubai?

Yes! Don’t be mistaken into thinking everything in Dubai has to be about glitz and glamour. With only a few small compromises perhaps on location, there are still plenty of hotels in the budget range, suitable for singles, couples through to families for under 200 AED per night.

We suggest you search the Deira and Bur Dubai areas as they are older and less expensive than the Downtown or Jumeirah areas of the city.

You can find our complete guide to best areas to stay in Dubai here.

There are also hostel options available in Dubai -though note many are male or female only. Our full listing of budget options coming soon!


How much should I budget for food and restaurants in Dubai?

Food and restaurants come in all different price categories. It really depends if you are coming for a romantic getaway, a solo adventure of having a family to cater for.  You can find it all in Dubai so it’s totally up to you how much you spend in Dubai. 

The most practical dining options for most tourists is around hotels and malls where you can get a huge variety of cuisines and price points from basic takeaway dishes in a food court to fine dining.

We have a detailed Dubai dining guide here.

Dining out in Dubai Traditonal Food

Average Dubai restaurant prices

This is always subject to change, but here are some average prices you can expect to pay at a mall or hotel family dining establishment (as of 2021):

  • Soft drinks: 18 to 20 AED
  • Children’s meal (with drink & dessert): 25 to 40 AED
  • Main meal dish: 50 to 100 AED
  • Salad: 40 to 60 AED
  • Large Pizza: 40 to 60 AED
  • Medium-sized coffee: 19 AED to 25 AED
  • Big Mac Meal: 23 AED

There are plenty of ways to get food cheaper if you are willing to self cater or shop outside of the main touristy areas.

Saving tip. If you’re going to be dining on several occasions, get your hands on the Entertainer App.  This has dine-in and delivery discount vouchers, which normally pay for themselves within a few meals, especially if you are dining as a group.

We talk about all the handy apps you might want for Dubai here

Another good value option for meals in Dubai can be a Brunch experience. These all-you-can-eat style dining experiences include your food and drinks so can be a great way to get a lot of value for money (and trust me you won’t need dinner!)

Traditionally Brunch was a Friday afternoon affair, but we are seeing more Thursday and Friday night brunches appear, as well as Saturday afternoons. (Remembering Friday & Saturday are the weekend in Dubai).

Out complete Dubai brunch guide coming soon.

How much does alcohol cost in Dubai?

Alcohol is available for tourists to buy at licensed premises.  This used to be restricted to bars within hotels but is now much more widely accepted.

You can read more about Dubai’s alcohol and drinking rules here.

You can expect to pay at an average priced hotel bar:

  • Beer Pint: 35 to 50 AED
  • House spirit: 40 to 50AED
  • Glass of wine: 40 to 50 AED
  • Basic cocktail: 50 to 60 AED

This is hugely variable by location though and if you’re visiting during a happy hour special – which can bring drinks down to around 35AED or 2-for-1 specials.

We have a complete guide here to Dubai’s rooftop bar scene and happy hours.


How expensive is the Metro or a taxi in Dubai?

Relative to other countries around the world, Dubai’s public transport and taxis are not overly expensive, but this may depend on how far out of the city you choose to stay.

The minimum cab fare is 12AED, which includes 5 AED flagfall (10AED if booked) and 1.82AED per kilometre.

Public transport in Dubai requires you to purchase a Nol card and pre-load payment. Costs vary on the number of zones you travel. Fares start from 4 AED on a regular Nol card.

You can read our complete guide to Dubai public transport and pricing here. 


What do activities cost in Dubai (and how can I save money?)

You may be surprised just how many of Dubai’s activities are free or really cheap – definitely look to balance these with the paid activities to keep your budget under control.

Day trips and excursions are no doubt going to cost.  But attractions such as theme park tickets can be cheaper than some of their overseas counterparts.

A good way to save is getting the Dubai Pass by iVenture.  We give a full rundown of all its benefits and how the card works here. 

How expensive is it to visit ‘At The Top’ in Burj Khalifa?

The cheapest tickets which get you to levels 124 & 125 are 149 AED for adults and 114 AED for children.

This is for non-primetime slots, pre-booked in advance. This can substantially increase for fast track tickets to 378 AED, or if you are after a bubbly package with access to the lounges on level 152-154 with refreshments and entertainment, you can look at paying 650 AED per person. And dinner at At.Mosphere, wow!

We have a complete guide of what to expect and how to plan your trip to the Burj Khalifa here.

How expensive are theme parks in Dubai?

The theme parks at Dubai Parks & Resorts cost on average 298 AED for a one-day two-park pass; it’s quite easy though to find 2-4-1 special deals.

A day out at Aquaventure, at Atlantis will cost you around 289AED per adult, with access to the Lost Chamber aquarium too.

Get Your Guide offers some combination tickets that can help you save (we also love their cancellation policy and the fact you can keep all your ticket bookings on your phone).

If going to one of the big waterparks is the focus of your trip, consider staying at that hotel as you can get an entry for free. For Aquaventure, you can stay at Atlantis the Palm; Wild Wadi, you can stay at Jumeirah Beach Hotel (or any of the Jumeirah group hotels). For Legoland Dubai Waterpark or any of the Dubai Parks & Resorts Theme Parks, you can stay at Lapita Resort.

Travelling to Dubai with children?

The cut-off age where you need to pay for a child’s ticket at different attractions varies between roughly 3 to 6 years. 

In our experience age restrictions are not strictly enforced – ie no forced providing photo ID! But what is strictly enforced is height restrictions.  Some theme parks and water parks base their payment system on height rather than age!

At most attractions and restaurants, those 12-years and over are considered to be adults, this can certainly dent your budget if you’re travelling with teens.

Find our complete guide to the best Dubai activities for kids here.


Once in a lifetime Dubai experiences

There are a few experiences in Dubai that can break the bank, but sensible budgeting can give you an experience you won’t forget.  As an idea you can expect to pay the following for these exclusive Dubai experiences:

We will leave you with one tip, research in advance, especially if you are visiting at a busy time of year. Booking in advance or finding discount offers can save you greatly in the long run, and make an otherwise expensive city quite affordable.

Don’t forget souvenirs! How expensive is shopping in Dubai?

You will no doubt want to take back some memorabilia and souvenirs for family and friends from your trip to Dubai. We recommend you check out not just the big shopping malls but the souks too.

Souk Madinat Jumeirah is a great modern shopping spot for tourists (although on the pricey side), same with Souk Al Bahar opposite Dubai Mall. You can also try the shops along Al Seef on Dubai Creek, as well as the traditional souks in Deira.

Dates and camel milk chocolates can make wonderful inexpensive gifts, or save up your spending money if you want to pick up something special at the gold market.

You can find all our suggested locations for picking up souvenirs in Dubai here.


So how much money do I need for Dubai?

As you can see it’s hugely variable depending on what budget you have set for yourself. The important thing is DO SET A BUDGET. It’s an easy city to get carried away and spend far more than you planned.

If you can, travel outside of peak times to reduce your flight and hotel cost and pre-book your paid attractions. Study a map to see what attractions you can fit in together to save on transportation costs and mix in some of Dubai’s great free activities with special paid experiences.

Pop over to our suggested itineraries to see how to suggest you fit it all in!


Before you go… More important things you should know when planning a trip to Dubai


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Please note we are not a travel agency. This site is a travel blog to help newcomers to the UAE and transit passengers self plan their trip, we cannot book your flights, hotels, visas or connections for you. We may make a small commission if you click on any of our recommendation links.

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