Top tips: Sending money home from the UAE


If you’re an expat, living away from family, sending money home from the UAE will likely happen at some point. You may even do it regularly. But whether you are sending money back for a birthday present or your family are dependent on your funds, you need to make sure that you choose the best option for sending your money wherever it is going in the world.

The UAE has become a hub for expats, attracting all sorts of nationalities who come to Dubai for better salary packages with no income tax. And with expats forming the majority of the population, there is now a wide array of choices for people to send money back home. And although sending money back home has never been difficult, it pays to do your research.

You need to be aware of the current exchange rates of your currency so that you can decide how much it is going to cost you to send money. In practice, this means you need to decide when the right time to send money is. Exchange rates often change frequently during peak times, such as Eid or school holidays – so if you were wanting to send money this summer, make sure you do it beforehand. Also, it could pay off to transfer money during the week, Monday to Friday, as rates on the weekend and on public holidays are not ‘live’ rates. You could find the rates are higher or lower than when the international markets are open.

There are mobile apps that you can download that will keep you updated with the current exchange rates of all countries. XE, Oanda and Bloomberg will all give you an indication of where the exchange rate is trending. And if you are a customer with HSBC then you can see live rates through its internet banking platform – it’s refreshed every 90 seconds, so you can be sure you will always be up to date.

There are three main options if you want to send money back home – exchange house, bank or express money transfer agency – all of which come with advantages and disadvantages.

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Through a bank

Going through a bank to send your money has always been considered the safest option. Banking institutions can cancel out the risk of fraud or loss of money, and if you go through certain banks you will be provided with one free transfer a month back to your home country. Banks do face competition from exchange houses – which have become increasingly popular over the years – but banks are keen to offer specialised remittance services to their customers.

For example, Emirates NBD has increased its foreign exchange business in recent years. If you use Direct Remit, it allows customers to instantly send money back to India, Philippines, Pakistan, Egypt or Sri Lanka for free. On its website, it says that more countries will be added in due course. RAKMoney also offers services for customers to send money to India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Nepal and Pakistan. When transferring money through RAK Bank, you will be paying the same rates as most exchange houses. If you are sending money to India or the Philippines, rates could range from AED 5 to AED 20.

What’s more, with banks, there is usually more flexibility when sending money back home. You can send as much as you want – provided there are no limits with cash on the receiving end.

However, although banks in the UAE are trying to offer more for their customers, they are not always the most convenient or cheapest option when transferring money overseas. Using banks to make transfers means you must be an account holder first. So although some banks can offer cash and account transfers in your home country, you must first have an account. And while some banks offer free remittances, it’s not always a standard service, so you need to make sure you read the fine print beforehand. And transferring money through a bank can usually take up to several working days as well, depending on when you transferred the money, which can cause an inconvenience if there is an emergency.

Exchange houses

Another option is an exchange house. This is probably the most popular way for residents in the UAE to send money home as these organisations usually promise quicker turnarounds than most banks. All that is needed to transfer money through an exchange house is a valid Emirates ID and you are good to go. Most exchange houses charge a fixed fee per transaction – no matter how much money is being transferred. But it still probably pays off to transfer larger amounts in one go, rather than smaller amounts multiple times.

But, there are disadvantages that come along with exchange houses. Exchange rates tend to fluctuate and transaction fees differ from outlet to outlet, which means a lot more research is needed if you want to decide which use to use to transfer money. And recently, most exchange houses increased transaction fees by AED 2 for bank transfers. And for any bank transfers that exceed AED 1,000, you will have to pay an extra AED 22.

If you decide to transfer your money through an exchange house, then you also need to be aware that there is a limit to how much money you can send back. Most exchange houses only allow you to transfer up to AED 33,000 in a single transfer, or AED 400,000 per year.

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Express money transfer agencies

One of the fastest way for expats to transfer money back home is through online express money transfer agencies. The clue is in the name; these agencies can transfer money to your family in minutes, so during situations of emergency, this method can be of great help. Western Union is the most popular agency, with over 500,000 agent locations in over 200 countries.

If you use Western Union, you can send money through the internet or by visiting any branch across the UAE. There is no need to present any identification when sending money, however the person picking up the money needs to provide proper ID to receive the cash immediately. Certain branches across the globe also offer home delivery services. And because Western Union has established its name as a trustworthy and reliable money transferring service provider, there is less concern about scams and problems in transferring the cash, especially seeing as such little identification is needed.

But because there is little security involved there will always be a higher risk when sending money. Western Union has been used for a channel to fund scammers. Western Union has a disclaimer which indicates that the company is not liable if the recipient fails to receive money, and the company is aware of these scams and advises customers about possible fraudulent transactions. There is also a price for the convenience for the fast remittance; customers usually pay a fee above 10% of the amount of money they are sending.

If you are sending money back home, you need to know and understand the current market. It’s important to negotiate and discuss what has been quoted by each channel; it is your money and nothing should be decided without discussion, comparison or evaluation. Choosing how you want to send money back home depends on your financial situation – just be sure to research and understand the benefits and disadvantages of each method.

Just because you live in the UAE, you don’t need to have a bank account in AED. You can have a bank account in different currencies. Click the button below to compare the best bank accounts for you!

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