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Cash or credit in the Middle East?
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 11 - 03 - 2016

WEGO.COM, the leading travel search site in the Middle East and Asia Pacific, delivers a handy guide to local currency and payment facilities for anyone planning to travel in the Middle East.
"Each country in the region is very different and travellers can be caught short if not aware of local payment facilities and customs," said Mamoun Hmedan, Managing Director Wego, Middle East, North Africa and India.
"This region is packed with history and culture, spectacular coastlines in some areas, and is also fast becoming a growing hub for international business events," Mamoun added. "As visitation to the region increases, I see a lot of confusion from international visitors around which credit cards are most accepted in which countries, or whether they're better off using cash."
Jordan (Jordanian dinar JD)
In Jordan, Visa is more widely accepted than MasterCard, and mostly in the larger restaurants and hotels. For the cultural sights, museums and local cafes, it's usually cash only.
"Jordan has grown to become a major attraction for tourists with historic treasures such as Petra, the Wadi Rum and Red Sea resort towns like Aqaba," said Hmedan. "The country boomed in the 90s and has received hefty increases in foreign investment."
"Amman is the beating cultural, economic and political heart of Jordan. This is a cutting-edge city and offers a taste of the modern Middle East. The city is split between the modern and historic center. ATMs are readily available throughout both parts of town; the modern filled with banks, shopping malls, skyscrapers and modern facilities, while the original historic part of town is preserved beautifully with winding streets and amphitheaters."
Oman (Omani Rial OMR)
"Oman is a visually spectacular country with adventurers regularly seeking the solitude of the Omani desert and the beauty of the Al Hajar Mountains, which also boasts some incredibly luxurious spa resorts," said Hmedan. "Its capital, Muscat, has featured as one of the most vital Arabian ports since the early Middle Ages and the many historical towns still retain that curious Portuguese, post-colonial atmosphere."
The government has enforced strict building regulations and each new construction must follow the whitewashed Omani architectural styles of old which ensures the unique atmosphere of Oman is retained.
"ATMs are readily available and both Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted," Hmedan continued. "Muscat has rather advanced payment and transaction technologies. In addition, some high-end hotels and travel agencies will also offer cash advances and cashing of checks. But haggling over purchase prices is still widely practiced which is part of this city's charm."
Kuwait (Kuwaiti dinar KWD)
"Kuwaiti City boasts zero VAT and income tax, although it's still a considerably expensive city to visit," Hmedan observed. "Kuwaiti banks widely accept MasterCard and Visa, American Express and Diners Club can also be used, although less commonly so. ATMs are everywhere and probably the best way to get your KWD."
Check out the huge sprawling shopping center; The Avenues, and stroll through the luxury of the Corniche, with loads of nightlife as the sun sets.
United Arab Emirates (United Arab Emirates dirham AED)
"Led by the global ME hub of Dubai, the UAE has grown at a spectacular rate," said Hmedan. "Dubai is now the one of the world's busiest aviation hubs, with a population that's grown from 100,000 people to 9 million in just 50 years."
Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Ajman all have excellent payment systems and facilities. Credit cards are accepted in a vast majority of places with Visa and MasterCard most popular, although in some areas American Express is also accepted.
"The UAE is home to advanced metropolises with skyscrapers and shiny new resorts perched on the edge of the Arabian Gulf, but also possesses a traditional Arabian side, such as Al Ain with its verdant oases," Hmedan added.
Saudi Arabia (Saudi riyal SR)
"Cash and debit card are the most popular forms of transactions in Saudi Arabia," Hmedan said. "Credit cards, however, are now more readily accept in most large shopping malls and hotels, but it pays to carry cash for ease of movement throughout, especially at souks and marketplaces."
"Today, Riyadh is a bustling, and one of the richest, metropolises in the world. A mass of skyscrapers and modern condominiums, expect to see streets filled with lavish cars, and bustling shopping centers such as Al Faisaliah."
"Jeddah is a more laid-back, regional hub with a sparkling promenade on the edge of the Red Sea and draws visitors to experience both its traditional and modern world," he added. "Makkah is famed as the most holy place in Islam attracting millions of faithful around the world."
Lebanon (Lebanese pound LBP)
"Visa and MasterCard are commonly accepted in the majority of places, and occasionally American Express. ATMs do accept international cards, although a supplement of cash (USD or LBP) is recommended."
"Beirut is one of the Middle East's more forward-thinking cities," said Hmedan. "Packed with fashion-conscious people,the city has modernised a great deal over the last few decades. Large shopping malls in Hamra, Manara and the Rue Verdun shopping strip are worth a look. So too the Ain El Mraiseh seafront which buzzes with boutiques and restaurants."
Egypt (Egyptian pound EGP)
"MasterCard, Maestro, Visa, a wide variety of cards are accepted in Egypt," said Hmedan. "Hotels have the ability to do POS transactions, and Visa and MasterCard accepted in high-end hotels and restaurants, although rarely Diners Club. It still pays to carry cash as regular restaurants and markets only deal in cash."
"Egypt is still a perennial travel favorite as visitors flock to experience Giza, Alexandria and the Nile banks, as well as the Red Sea resorts." "Cairo is one of the busiest cities on the planet, and there are plenty of bank and ATM services. Must sees include the Tahrir Square and Egyptian Museum, which houses one of the largest collections of Egyptian relics in the world."
Iran (Iranian rial IRR)
"Iran is a beautiful country, which is increasingly attracting interest from world travellers with its fascinating medieval cities of Isfahan and Shiraz, while Tehran pulses with energy," said Hmedan.
"The country is diverse with great ski resorts, expansive deserts, cutting-edge museums (National Museum, Malek Museum), famous Azadi Square and the Sadabad Complex, and it's likely that the country is now entering a new era of tourism with over five million visitors in 2014/15."
"International credit cards are not accepted, so the best way to pay for hotels and get around, is to ensure you bring all the cash you might need with you on your visit."
Turkey (Turkish lira TRY)
"Most international credit cards are accepted in Turkey, and in major cities American Express and Diner's Club as well," explained Hmedan. "Turkey straddles the border between Europe and the Middle East and is one of the ten most visited countries on earth. Must visits include Bodrum and the beaches beside the Aegean Sea, mysteriously captivating Cappadocia and Van, and the beating heart of Istanbul."
"You'll need cash to make those great market purchases, and for the best exchange rates try Sultanahmet or Taksim. Istanbul is a fantastic fusion of Arabic and European traditions, with bohemian nightlife, historic bazaars of Hagia Sofia, and the beauty of the great Blue Mosque."
"More people are including the Middle East on their travel itineraries than ever before, and more Middle Easterners are travelling, with the region becoming one of the largest emerging travel markets in the world," explained Hmedan. "Wego's mobile travel app is more popular in this region than any other, and we're excited about the growing industry, with both airlines and hotels showing great commitment to increasing its popularity with travellers everywhere."
"It's always a good idea to know ahead of time the payment facilities of the country you're visiting, but also smart to carry some US dollars in smaller denominations wherever you might travel," Hmedan concluded.
Wego.com is the leading travel search engine across the Asia-Pacific and Middle East and is used by millions of travelers each month to save time, pay less and travel more. The company provides powerful yet simple to use tools that help travelers research trips, compare prices for flights and hotels across multiple websites, and to book travel online.


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