You can transfer money from the UAE to the UK in four simple steps.
I’ll explain how to do it, the options you have & how to avoid high fees and charges.
You don’t need to fill a suitcase up with cash, put on a pair of dark glasses and speak in hushed tones.
Transferring money from the UAE to a UK bank account is a well-travelled path given there are an estimated 240,000 Brits living in the UAE.
You can use a local bank, a UK bank or a money transfer specialist to do the job – but the costs differ.
How to transfer money from the UAE to the UK (in 4 simple steps)
If you need to convert Dirhams into Pound Sterling and send it to a UK bank account, it comes down to these few basic steps.
Step 1: Customer ID check
Before you can send money from the UAE to the UK, you need to be identified.
There is a legal obligation to verify customers sending money internationally due to global anti-money laundering regulations.
The check only applies to new customers.
Once your set-up, you can skip this step if you are sending money back to the UK on a regular basis.
For British expats, it is usually straightforward. If you still have an address in the UK, it’s even quicker.
Step 2: Secure your exchange rate
Once you are set up, a bank or money transfer company will quote you their current exchange rate.
When moving money back to the UK, you are selling Dirhams and buying Pounds.
This is sometimes written as AED/GBP.
The exchange rate moves throughout the day. It’s up to you whether you go ahead at the quote given.
If you are happy to proceed, the bank or money transfer company will lock-in your rate at that time.
Shortly after, you will receive an email confirming all the details of your transaction.
Step 3: Pay for your money transfer
Banks will require your Dirhams upfront before they will agree an exchange rate.
However, a money transfer company will allow you to lock-in a rate before you send your Dirhams in.
This might be an advantage if you see a favourable rate and want to lock it in before it moves.
On the confirmation transaction, you will be given the bank details of where to send your Dirhams.
This will be to a safeguarded Dirham-denominated client account.
Step 4: Your Dirhams are converted into Pounds
Once your Dirhams are with your bank or money transfer company, they will convert them into Pounds Sterling at the rate agreed, then send the Pounds to the UK bank account you request.
How long does it take to send money from the UAE to the UK?
Generally speaking, it takes 2-4 working days.
It can vary because some UK banks are more efficient than others at clearing funds sent from abroad.
If you have a tight timetable, my advice would be to send your Dirhams in advance of locking in an exchange rate as it will speed up the end-to-end transfer process.
Will you be taxed when sending money from Dubai to the UK?
Many Brits live and work in the UAE, particularly Dubai, because it has zero income tax.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Good luck to you.
If you are working full-time in Dubai, your earnings are legitimately tax-free. When you send your money back to the UK, you don’t owe HMRC anything on those earnings.
It all comes down to what country you are a tax resident of at the time of those earnings (not when you send the money back).
It’s judged on a yearly basis.
Someone that goes to Dubai for just a 3-month contract but spends the rest of the year in the UK would still be a UK tax resident because they spent the majority of that year living in the UK.
However, most British expats live and work in Dubai and spend little of the year in the UK, so the situation is straightforward. You are not a tax resident of the UK and therefore do not owe HMRC any tax when you send the money home.
If you decide to move back to the UK, keep your bank statements (and payslips if you get them).
You might also want to get some tax advice on a “split-year” – the year in which you leave and spend time in both countries.
Is there a limit on the money you can send from the UAE to the UK?
The answer is no.
While there is a cash limit of AED 100,000 for people coming and going, there are no exchange controls in either the UAE or UK in terms of transferring money electronically (bank-to-bank).
Residents and non-residents are permitted to move money freely between Dubai and the UK.
Although there are no legal limits, the banks often set their own internal limits for online transfers.
For example, Emirates NBD has a daily limit of AED 250,000, and HSBC has a limit of AED 500,000 when sending money out of the UAE.
The daily limit could be a factor if you are looking to make a large international money transfer from Dubai to the UK.
It may end up costing you more in transfer fees as you could have to make several transfers, not to mention the extra time and hassle of doing this.
As money transfer companies don’t normally have any daily limits, they may be a better option for larger transfers.
Costs compared: Banks vs. Money Transfer Companies
Whenever you transfer money from Dubai to the UK, there are two charges to look out for:
- exchange rates
- transfer fees.
I have looked at the rates and fees charged by Emirates NBD and HSBC because they are two of the main banks used by British expats in Dubai.
Every bank and money transfer company will have its own rates and fees.
There’s no need to build a complex spreadsheet.
The simplest way of comparing costs is to just find out how the total amount of Pounds you will receive for your Dirhams.
As a quick tip, if you are making a cost comparison, make sure you do it at roughly the same time.
Exchange rates move every few seconds, so you want to be comparing apples with apples.
1. Exchange Rates
There are no standard exchange rates.
A bank or a money transfer company will offer you different exchange rates.
Our research found that on a transfer of AED 100,000 to British Pounds, the exchange rate margin charged by Emirates NBD was 3.3% and HSBC was 3.2%.
That’s a high margin, in my opinion, compared to money transfer specialists.
I saw that HSBC does tighten the margin as the sum gets larger. But even on an amount of AED 1 million, the margin was 2.9%.
I have no gripe with either of these banks.
In fact, I bank with HSBC myself. My brother-in-law even works them. It’s just that I think you can do better elsewhere for your money transfers.
The potential saving will depend on the size of your transfer.
As an example, if you have accumulated AED 350,000 and you are looking to transfer the money from Dubai to the UK, an exchange rate margin of 1% would mean a saving of around AED 8,000 – over £2,000.
That’s a lot of money to give way to a bank.
As I mentioned earlier, why not make a cost comparison so you can assess the savings.
2. Transfer Fees
In addition to the exchange rate, the big banks normally charge customers international transfer fees.
They sometimes go by different names such as ‘telegraphic transfer fees’ or ‘foreign currency remittance fee’ (don’t you hate jargon).
Either way, they tend to be a flat fee on every transfer you make.
Here’s what two of the biggest banks in Dubai charge:
Emirates NBD: AED 75 (if in branch) or Free (online)
HSBC: AED 75 (if in branch) or AED 35 (online)
Obviously, they make it cheaper if you go online and do it all yourself (how generous of them).
At first glance, the fees above may not seem too high.
But a lot of expats send money every month, to pay their UK mortgages for example.
If you are transferring money from Dubai to the UK on a regular basis, the transfer fees can really add up.
At Key Currency, we don’t charge any fees on international transfers.
If you don't want to pay transfer fees, a money transfer specialist is normally the best way to transfer money from the UAE to the UK.
Is it safe to use a money transfer company?
Before using a money transfer company, you should ensure they are Authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) – the UK’s financial regulator.
It’s an important check. Here’s why…
Authorised firms are obligated to keep client money in a separate and safeguarded bank account.
It means your money must be held in a segregated client account used solely to execute transfers, and not mixed with company funds.
To find out if a money transfer company is Authorised, you can search for a company on the FCA register.
In practice, the process of moving your money is quick. It comes in, gets converted and is sent out. All that happens in minutes.
Most of the time is waiting for banks to clear funds. Your transfer will go via the secure SWIFT payment system, used by both banks and money transfer companies.
Why online exchange rates are an illusion
A lot of customers look at exchange rates on the internet.
You have probably come across websites offering free 'live rates' – such as XE, Oanda or DailyFX.
But there’s something you should know.
The exchange rates you see online are not actually available to customers.
If you take a close look at these sites, there will be a disclaimer or link somewhere saying words like “for information purposes only” or “consumers cannot access these rates”.
That’s because they are what’s called ‘interbank exchange rates’.
Interbank rates are the rates used by banks and other financial institutions to exchange currencies among themselves. They are a mid-point clearing rate. Not even large corporations carry out their foreign exchange at interbank rates.
If you want to get a real exchange rate, you should request a quote from a provider.
How to get a better Dirhams to Pounds rate
As you may have seen, exchange rates move around all the time.
Given the volatility, it’s not easy for customers to know the right time to exchange their Dirhams into Pounds.
Even small, fractional moves in the exchange rate can make a big difference in the amount of Pound Sterling you will receive.
As an example; a 1% move in the AED/GBP rate on AED 250,000 transfer is a difference of AED 2,500 or around £500.
A swing of that size can be a daily occurrence.
You might find it useful to speak to a dealer who watches the daily fluctuations in rates and is familiar with the news, price patterns and economic events that are driving the rate.
A money transfer specialist can work with you to get you the best exchange rate available.
No one has a crystal ball, but if the Dirham has a strong run against the Pound, they could let you know. Or if you are waiting for a specific rate, they could set a rate alert, and get in touch as and when.
Getting a more favourable rate could mean a lot more Pounds in your pocket.
Not all money transfer companies will offer you this level of pro-active service.
That’s because some money transfer companies are really just online platforms or ‘apps’.
You pretty much have to do everything yourself.
That may suit some people, but not others.
From my own experience, I have found that for larger transfers, customers want the peace of mind of having someone they speak to.
It tends to take away a lot of stress and worry.
You can go over the details, discuss the rate and know where your money is in the process.
- You can use a bank or money transfer specialist to send money from Dubai to the UK.
- It generally takes 2-4 working days to complete.
- The cost is a combination of exchange rates and transfer fees.
- Money transfer specialists can normally undercut banks in terms of cost.
- Some money transfer specialists are online-only platforms; however some offer guidance on exchange rates and personal assistance.
- If a company is Authorised by the FCA, it will use safeguarded client accounts.
Who are we?
I am one of the directors at Key Currency.
As an independent money transfer specialist, we have far lower overheads than the big banks. This allows us to pass on the savings to you.
We regularly help British expats living in Dubai move their money back to the UK with great exchange rates and no fees.
One thing that sets us apart from banks and other providers is that we can discuss and agree on the right time to exchange your money.
We don’t just push you onto an online platform and make you do everything yourself.
We have attained a 5-Star “excellent” rating on the review site Trustpilot, based on over 500 customer reviews.
We’re committed to providing a service of the highest integrity and safety. As an Authorised Payment Institution, regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (Financial Services Register No. 753989), all money transfers are conducted through fully safeguarded accounts.
I’ve looked at the rates and fees being charged by the big banks in the UAE.
I think you can do better.
Please consider comparing us to your bank or existing provider.