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Coming to America: Interactive Brokers now accepts UAE dirhams!

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This is a happy week for people living in the UAE, as IB now accepts AED! I’ll go through the various implications of this great development below…

[Unfortunately, people living in other GCC countries and places with ‘minor’ currencies won’t be able to benefit from this yet, carry on trying to find the best exchange rate you can to get your money into IB.]

People have been asking IB for a long time now to accept dirhams and now it has finally happened. This has three big implications for UAE residents:

1) Cheaper investing
2) Investing smaller amounts (if required)
3) Cheaper currency exchange and moving money around the world

Note it’s early days for this, so some of the details could change a bit over time but accepting AED should be here to stay.

Cheaper investing

In the bad old days (i.e. September 2022), you had to use your bank or an exchange house to convert AED into USD (or other currency) so you could send it over to IB. You’d get hit by an exchange rate spread (the difference between the rate you receive and the rate Google shows), maybe a transfer fee and for USD, a hefty correspondent banking fee of $20-30. Or you could use an alternative route like Revolut or CurrencyFair and face some unexpected surprises when your transfer didn’t go through quickly or at all.

No more. Now you can send AED straight to IB and then convert your AED at a great rate into USD and then on into another major currency:

Your AED bank account in UAE (or elsewhere) -> IB’s AED bank account in UK -> your IB broker account in AED -> your IB broker account in USD -> invest or transfer or convert to another currency.

The rate you get for USD is a fantastic 3.6731 (the pegged rate is 3.6725) plus a $2 fee. If you want to convert your AED into GBP or EUR etc. then you need to convert them into USD first and then onto the target currency. Despite knocking you back a whole $4, IB is still likely to be the cheapest place to convert your AED into any major currency.

You won’t be able to use your money to invest in any funds until you convert the AED to your fund’s currency (I almost always recommend USD, with a few exceptions).

The business case for using IB for your investing just got even better, as the total costs are so low:
Transfer fee: 0-150 AED (depends on UAE bank, see below)

  • Correspondent bank fee: none
  • FX spread AED/USD: 0.016% (that’s very good)
  • Platform fee: none
  • Minimum amount: none
  • Inactivity fee: none
  • Trade commission: from $2 to $5 per $10k (or less) invested
  • Fund management fee: 0.2-0.25% per year for a global stock ETF (non-US domiciled)

Investing smaller amounts

Previously, it could cost you $50+ to send convert some AED to USD and send it over to IB. Now, depending on your UAE bank’s fees, it can cost from $2+.

I don’t recommend ever spending more than 1% of a transaction on fees. That previously meant you might have to wait to save up $5,000 and invest every quarter or so rather than every month. Now you can send over 100 AED a month if you want to, though I recommend you try to invest more if you can. The pendulum has swung perhaps too far the other way – it is so cheap to transfer and invest that the temptation is to send over less than you shoul

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Cheaper currency exchange

IB has always been the cheapest place to exchange money as you get a fantastic rate and very low fees. The problem was getting your AED over to IB cheaply, but that problem has now disappeared. If you want to convert your AED into any major currency* and then send it to your bank account in another country, IB is now clearly the best place to do it.

* That’s AUD, CAD, CHF, CNH, CZK, DKK, EUR, GBP, HKD, HUF, ILS, JPY, MXN, NZD, NOK, PLN, SEK, SGD, TRY, USD and ZAR.

However, you can only send money from IB to an account in your name (and you can also only send money to IB from an account in your name). So if you want to send money to someone else and you don’t have a bank account in that currency, IB is not the answer.

By the way, some people are getting confused by IB’s reporting currency and asking if they need to open an IB account in EUR, GBP, AED etc. That’s not how IB works. Your account will accept any of the above currencies and store that currency in its own little pocket for when you need it. But if you want to know what your total cash is across all currencies, you have to add it up in a single currency and that is your reporting currency (USD is usually a good idea).

If you are ever leaving the UAE to move to a country that has one of the currencies above, convert all your leftover dirhams from your gratuity: send them over to IB, convert them (via USD) into your currency of choice and send the money over to your account in your new home country. This will save you hundreds, possibly thousands, if you are converting large amounts.

How to send it

Here’s how to send your AED safely over to IB and back out again.

Note that not all UAE banks allow you to send AED outside of the UAE. ENBD and HSBC have been tested and dirhams have made it safely to IB in a working day or less from these banks. It’s a good reason to open a current or savings account with one of them. You don’t need to keep much in there – you can send money over from your other bank when you need to make a transfer to IB.

ENBD transfers seem to be free, though they have in the past hit people with a chargeback of around 25 AED months or years later for prior transactions. 25 AED is still a good price though.

HSBC charges around 150 AED, which is not particularly cheap, though it looks like they might not charge for transfers through their mobile app (which you can do once you have set up a new beneficiary using your laptop).

To make a transfer, log into IB and go to Transfer & Pay > Transfer Funds > Make a Deposit > Use a new deposit method. Scroll down to select United Arab Emirates Dirham (AED) from the dropdown list and then click Get Instructions. Type in your UAE bank’s name and the amount of AED you plan to send in, then click Get Wire Instructions.

This gives you the bank transfer instructions. The important info is the ‘Wire funds to’ address in the UK, the SWIFT code, the IBAN and the reference number. You can ignore the correspondent bank details. Make a note of the important numbers somewhere (I usually press Control+A to select the whole page and paste it into a Word doc to save for later) and then use them to set up the transfer from your bank. When setting up transfers from ENBD, you can search using the SWIFT code and then enter the IBAN later.

Do a test transaction first to test the pipes, with a maximum of 4000 AED (roughly $1k). I cannot emphasise enough the importance of testing before you send large amounts over. The banks are always changing their transfer pages, charges and permissions, so be careful with that first transfer and again if you haven’t made a transfer for a while.

Sending money in AED from your IB account to your UAE bank account is also possible, removing the need for a USD/EUR/GBP account with your UAE bank. You get one free transfer from IB per month (though really you should be investing for the long term and not need this!).

When the dirhams turn up in your IB account, you can convert them to USD using the Currency Converter.

Good news

So after a week/month/year of relentlessly bad news, here some good news! Cheap transfers and investing are here to stay. Tell everyone you know in the UAE (or send them this article).

Thanks
Steve

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8 thoughts on “Coming to America: Interactive Brokers now accepts UAE dirhams!”

    1. Hi Orlagh, it should be instant. Sometimes the order is not executed to become a trade immediately, but then you should see that in the Orders & Trades page (under Trading). Otherwise the USD should appear in your cash immediately (see Portfolio > Cash Report).

  1. Hi Steve, thanks for these instructions. Can you confirm/clarify the following? I’m using ENBD to do the international transfer to send AED to IB. On my ENBD screen top to bottom it shows the following:

    1. Beneficiary name Intercative Brokers LLC
    2. Remittance Country: UK
    3. Beneficiary Country: USA
    4. Bank Name: JP Morgan Chase National
    5. Bank Address – 25 Bank Street, Canary Wharf London
    6. Transaction Fee – the first option is automatically selected “please debit my account for your charges…”

    I tested this method with 500AED and it arrived as AED in my IB account as AED. However, it was 80 AED down and 420 AED arrived at IB. Before I max up the amounts can you confirm the info above looks correct and shed any light on the 80AED fees? I have ENBD Priority Banking Account. Many thanks.

    1. You have the entries right there. Strange, I wasn’t charged at all for the same thing. I think there is some variance across account types etc. You can ask ENBD what the charge is for? Are you sure you sent it in AED?

  2. Hi Steve thanks so much for this update. I’ve successfully transferred a test amount to IB via Revolut. IB platform won’t let me exchange to USD unless I upgrade account to ‘margin’- can you advise ? thanks so much

    1. Jo, try entering an amount in the USD row (to convert to) rather than the AED row (to convert from) when converting the currency. Silly difference but it works!

  3. Hi Steve,
    Are you sure regarding ENBD and transferring Dirhams outside of the UAE.
    I went through the process you mentioned using ENBD’s online portal (the new updated one).

    You type in the IBAN, it recognizes it’s the UK. The next step only allows you to transfer GBP, EUR, and USD. No option to select AED.

    Let me know if this is confirmed again because it doesn’t show on my end – or at least to have clarity for others who follow this post and face a similar situation as mine
    .
    Thanks
    Joe

    1. Lots of people have done it without problems but the new app has removed AED-AED transfers. Perhaps the new portal also (though it works ok for me). Try also to choose the beneficiary country and enter the SWIFT code before you put the IBAN in, may help.

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