• Economy • Money
Moneychangers sometimes offer better rates than banks. If they don’t charge a commission, their rate is probably bad. Not all change travellers cheques, though currencies of neighbouring countries are all easily exchanged.
There are ATMs on major streets, in shopping centres and sometimes at hotels. All major credit cards are accepted.
In each emirate, a different level of municipal and service tax is charged against hotel and restaurant bills. This is somewhere between 5% and 20%. If a price is quoted ‘net’, this means that it includes all taxes and service charges.
The UAE weekend changed in 2006 from Thursday and Friday, to Friday and Saturday, but not all businesses had converted at the time of writing. The following information is a guide only. There are variations between each emirate and individual businesses, and there are shorter hours during Ramadan:
Banks 8am to 1pm and 4pm to 7pm Sunday to Thursday, 8am to noon on Friday.
Government offices 7.30am to 3pm Sunday to Thursday and Saturday mornings. Note that they close their doors at 1pm but you can generally find someone on the phone until 3pm.
Private offices 8am to 5pm Sunday to Thursday.
Shopping malls 10am to 10pm. Note that many still close for Friday prayers from 11.30am to 1.30pm, or all of Friday until 2pm or 4pm.
Shops and souqs 9am to 1pm and 4pm to 10pm Saturday to Thursday, 4pm to 9pm on Friday
This is also high season when most of the country’s festivals, sporting events, and conferences are held, so you’ll be paying rack rates for accommodation in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and will need to book well in advance. The Christmas and New Year period also gets busy, particularly on the east coast when European expat families want to get away.
Avoid the month of Ramadan if you possibly can: iftar (breaking the fast after sundown) is fun and it’s a great way to meet locals, and hotel rates are heavily discounted, but erratic business hours, dangerous driving and not being able to eat or drink in public during the day can make it hard going. A trip to the UAE in high summer (July and August) is simply a bad idea – the only advantage being heavy discounted hotels.