When you’re traveling, you have to be prepared to pay for goods and services. In the UAE, there are countless options to choose from. You may be overwhelmed by all of the options, especially if you aren’t from the area. 

In this guide, we did the hard work for you and took the hassle out of the mix. Keep reading for an all-inclusive guide to the top payment methods commonly used in the UAE and Ras Al Khaimah.

A Brief History of UAE Payment Landscape

For most of history, the UAE has been a cash-based economy. A research study by Research And Markets reported that cash payments accounted for 82% of total payment volume in 2018.

The UAE has been taking ample time to adopt cashless payments. We have recently seen impressive growth in alternative payment options, a vivid indicator that the UAE is heading toward a cashless society.

Embracing the Cashless Economy

Various factors have spurred the cashless transition in Emirates such as Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah. The UAE’s Vision 2021 strategy identifies cashless payment as one of the key priorities and drivers of the facilitator of the modern economy. The government has rolled out initiatives to promote the digital payment ecosystem.

The UAE has a good ecosystem for digital payments. It has robust payment infrastructures and high smartphone use. Demography also plays a major role in the country’s success. The UAE’s population, with a median age of just over 30, is highly digitally proficient and open to new payment methods. 

Many expats live in Ras Al Khaimah and the surrounding area. Expats are increasingly searching for alternative solutions that provide greater convenience and cost savings in remittance transfers.

Because of their move to a cashless society, the UAE has many familiar alternative payment methods. These include: 

Debit Cards

The debit card types that the UAE uses include Maestro, Mastercard, and Visa. People can pay with these cards directly through their bank accounts. All three types of debit cards work in the same way. The customer can pay with their card using a card machine, via contactless or chip & PIN, or online. 

The money is then taken directly from their bank account. This usually happens on the same day, although it can sometimes take between 48 and 72 hours. While debit cards can be a convenient alternative to carrying cash in emergencies, research shows that people spend more money on impulse with plastic.

Credit Cards

Credit cards are similar to debit cards, but customers pay with credit and pay the money later.

A credit limit is a number someone can use to limit their credit. They agree to repay the credit balance and interest when they take out a card. The three most popular credit card issuers are American Express, Mastercard, and Visa. 

Prepaid Cards

Prepaid credit cards offer an alternative to carrying cash. These cards are like debit or credit cards, but you don’t have to have an account. Instead, they are loaded with cash when and where needed, much like a “pay-as-you-go” mobile phone.

You can also use prepaid cards online to pay using chip & pin or contactless. This gives them the flexibility of other options and reduces the chance of falling into debt. You may have to pay additional fees to use the card, however.


E-wallets, an electronic service, allow users to store funds and credit cards, debit cards, loyalty, and other cards in a cloud. Access to e-wallets is possible via the internet and through apps on mobile devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and wearables.

The e-wallet’s key functions include the storage of funds, credit and debit card information, digital loyalty programs, and the ability to make online and in-store payments. Peer-to-peer transfers can also be made possible. E-wallets are responsible for 19% of the UAE’s online payments sector.

The UAE’s competitive e-wallet landscape includes both foreign and domestic players. There are many e-wallet services that consumers can choose from, including established brands like Beam and Etisalat and global mobile payment options like Google Pay or Samsung Pay.


WeChat Pay (and Alipay) are currently in their early stages of expansion to the UAE market. Tencent and Alibaba Group, Chinese tech giants respectively, launched the e-wallet service to capture the growing Chinese tourist market in the UAE.

Bank Transfers

Bank transfers dominate the UAE’s online payment industry by 14 percent. This payment method is still very popular because it has a few key advantages. Transactions are secure and reliable, there’s no risk of reversal, and the bank must authenticate each payment before any purchase can go through.

Charge and Deferred Debit Cards

The charge card is an electronic payment card that requires you to pay the full amount at the end of each billing cycle. It does not attract interest, and the balances does not carry over to the next month. 

A deferred debit card works similarly to a credit card, except that all card payments come from the user’s account at the end of each billing cycle. Worldpay estimates that 5 percent of UAE’s online payments are by debit and charge cards.

Direct Carrier Billing

Direct carrier billing is an alternative payment method that lets you purchase products or services by charging it to your monthly mobile phone bills. DCB allows for secure transactions and ease of use, which is why DCB is so popular.

According to a recent SuperDataResearch study, DCB is the third most used payment option for digital gaming transactions. Mobile game service providers in Ras Al Khaimah, Dubai, and other Middle Eastern countries have the fastest growing gaming sector. The UAE’s youth, which accounts for almost 30 percent of its population, drives the majority of demand.

These numbers are a sign of incredible untapped opportunities. DCB can help digital service providers address increasing consumer spending. Diversifying into mobile payment methods is important, especially for UAE companies that have previously focused on traditional payment methods. 


Of course, you can always go the old-fashioned route and pay with cash. Cash is the oldest and most widely used method of payment in Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah, Abu Dhabi, and other northern states. According to a survey, citizens of the UAE prefer cash over digital or plastic currencies. They prefer cash as it is easy to use and has no transaction fees.

Cash can help reduce expenses and provide a record of expenditures, which few believe. You will also avoid transaction fees with cash, unlike debit, credit, and other card options. The only danger with cash is theft, but you can avoid this if you remain vigilant.


If you’re traveling to the UAE, you’re sure to find some way to pay for your room, board, and meals. Just like the rest of the world, Ras Al Khaimah and other countries are quickly taking advantage of the digital age to make everything fast, simple, and convenient.

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