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Banking for Expats in the United Arab Emirates

Submitted: March 2014

The UAE is not the toughest country when it comes to opening bank accounts. However, opening an account as a new resident is best made several weeks in advance. Current accounts are available to residents only, but savings accounts may be opened by non-residents. Not all UAE banks are happy to take non-residents as new clients.

A UAE account may be helpful if:

  • You have to incur some expenses in the UAE
  • You need an offshore account.

 

Account opening process: overview

As mentioned above, current accounts are for UAE residents only. Further restrictions may apply. For example, if you wish to open one for yourself, you will need a permission letter from your employer. So if you are coming to the UAE as an employee, feel free to check your employer’s policy regarding this matter in advance.

 

Required documents

New residents may find it relatively easy to open a bank account, at least when compared with other countries. As far as paperwork is concerned, you need at least:

  • Passport
  • Residency visa
  • Proof of address

If you are a non-resident applying for a savings account, you will probably need a document from a bank in your home country, such as a bank statement. In a limited number of cases, non-residents have to provide a reference letter from a UAE resident individual.

 

Products available

Do not think of going overdrawn in the UAE. Not only overdrafts are not available, but the UAE is known for being a country that takes the notion of indebtedness very badly. Failure to pay debts is often viewed as a criminal offence.

Accounts may be opened in Arab Emirates Dirhams (AED), as well as in a wide range of foreign currencies, such as the US dollar or the Euro. Minimum balance requirements may apply.

Bank interest is paid tax-free, but the interest rates are very low. Think of you as someone lucky if you can get more than 1%.

 

Where to apply?

If you have any choice, it is advisable to shop around before selecting a bank.

There are over 50 banks across the UAE, including international banks such as Barclays, HSBC, Standard Chartered, Lloyds TSB, and Citibank. Local banks may be perfectly suitable for expatriates as well. All banks are regulated by the central bank of the UAE.

Given that the UAE is home to many expatriates from all over the world, most UAE bankers are likely to speak English. Most banks in the UAE are open from Saturday to Thursday, from 8am to 2pm.

 

Day-to-day account management

Online banking services are generally available at UAE banks. Current accounts usually come along with a cheque book and a debit card. Cheques are commonly used for bill payments. In addition, fees may apply if you withdraw cash from an ATM in the UAE.

If you are a non-resident client, your savings account will likely come along with a cash card, which you may use to withdraw cash from UAE ATMs.

Outbound transfers, standing orders and direct debits are generally available from all UAE banks. Such services are unlikely to be provided for free, but it’s worth checking.

 

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