Banking in the UAE may seem very unfamiliar to many expats moving here. You have the choice of both conventional and Islamic banking. Sorting out your banking and your residency are the two big things you need to get done in your first few weeks in the UAE – without these, you won’t be able to rent a place, hire a car or pay school fees.
It’s worth familiarising yourself with the banking landscape and the 50+ banks in the UAE before you choose your bank, as it will take you some time to get set up. Check in advance whether the banks you shortlist offer credit cards or loans you might be interested in later, as they will often be easier to get and/or have preferential rates for existing customers. You can get a full list of banks and their products on Souqalmal.com with rates, fees and eligibility criteria.
Big local banks include Emirates NBD, Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB), Mashreq, RAKBANK, National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD), First Gulf Bank (FGB), Commercial Bank of Dubai (CBD) and Commercial Bank International (CBI). Islamic banks include Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (ADIB), Emirates Islamic Bank (EIB), Dubai Islamic Bank (DIB), Noor Bank and Al Hilal. And, of course, well-known international banks such as HSBC, Barclays, Citibank and Standard Chartered have a presence here too.
Work out which banks have branches close to your home or work, and who your employer banks with, as this may make it easier for your salary to be transferred and often less costly.
To open a bank account in the UAE, you’ll need (for individual or joint accounts):
- Copy of passport(s) and residence visa page(s), as well as original passport(s) for validation
- Original Emirates ID(s)
- Original labour card or work ID (for female applicants on father on husband’s sponsorship)
- Original trade license (for self-employed customers)
- Sponsor’s letter of no objection
If you want to transfer your salary into the account, an original salary transfer letter from the employer must be provided.
There is no central credit scoring yet, although the Al Etihad Credit Bureau has begun the process of centralised reporting on individual consumers’ debt burden and credit history.
It’s therefore quite a unique feature of the UAE banking system that your company’s financial stability actually counts towards your personal creditworthiness. Some companies – start-ups, for instance, are considered risky and are there tagged as a ‘non-listed company’ by some or all banks. That means you may have issues in getting a loan or have to pay higher rates. It’s a question worth asking early on in the application process.
At this stage, you’re probably not yet ready for a credit card or loan but, again, it’s worth choosing your bank wisely to start with to take advantage of the other products they offer that you may want in the future. For instance, cashback or discounts on school fees and big-ticket items like Ikea furniture or electronics from Sharaf DG could be useful in that expensive first year of many outlays.
Set up a savings account early on (you probably came here to save, right?) and put away a portion of your salary before you get tempted by all the fun the UAE has to offer. A pot of AED 100,000 is a reasonable amount for most expats to aim for over five years or so.
Most banks in the UAE charge fees for many services and transactions that you may not be used to paying for back home. The Central Bank has set limits on the maximum fees banks can charge their customers, these include:
- Account opening fees: None
- Using another bank’s ATM in the UAE: AED 2 per transaction
- Minimum balance required: Maximum of AED 3,000
- Monthly minimum balance penalty: AED 25
- First cheque book: None
- New cheque book: Maximum AED 25
- Account balance letter: AED 50
- No liability certificate: AED 100
- Bounced cheque fee: AED 100 (unless written to yourself)
However, these are only the maximum bank fees permissible, some banks might be charging less.
Just pick carefully and know your personal appetite for risk – because obviously the higher returns come with higher risks. And ensure you keep enough money liquid for a rainy day (rare in the UAE) or an unforeseen emergency.
Whatever you do, don’t get so excited by the lifestyle that you forget to save. Budget, save and borrow wisely, and your time in the UAE will be well spent indeed.