Banking in the UAE

by Barclays Wealth International on May 3, 2010

Moving to the United Arab Emirates?

Guide to expat banking services in the UAE

Introduction

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) comprises seven separate Emirates: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al−Qaiwain, Ras al−Khaimah and Fujairah. Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE is by far the largest and wealthiest emirate, while Dubai is probably the best known and certainly the most popular with expatriates.

The official language is Arabic, although English is also widely spoken, especially in business activities.

The unit of currency is the UAE dirham (AED), divided into 100 fils. The Dirham is closely linked to the US dollar, and consequently, the value of the AED mirrors the strength of the US dollar. As of April 2010, the exchange rate was approximately 5.76 AED to £1 GBP (pound sterling).

Banks in the United Arab Emirates

Central bank

  • Central Bank of the UAE

Commercial banks in the UAE

  • Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB)
  • Bank of Sharjah
  • Commercial Bank of Dubai PSC
  • Commercial Bank International PSC
  • Dubai Bank PJSC
  • Dubai Islamic Bank PJSC
  • Emirates Bank International PJSC
  • First Gulf Bank –
  • Mashreqbank PSC
  • National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD)
  • National Bank of Dubai PJSC
  • National Bank of Ras al−Khaimah PSC
  • Sharjah Islamic Bank
  • Union National Bank
  • United Arab Bank

Foreign banks operating in the Emirates

  • ABN AMRO Bank NV
  • Barclays Bank
  • BNP Paribas
  • Citibank NA
  • Habib Bank AG Zurich
  • HSBC Bank Middle East
  • Lloyds TSB Bank
  • Standard Chartered Bank

Bank opening times

In general, bank opening hours are 8am to 1pm (Sundays to Wednesday) and 8am to noon on Fridays. Banks are usually closed on Thursdays.

Banking services in the UAE

Bank branches can be found throughout the UAE, online banking is widely available, and the use of credit, debit and cash cards is common. Cash is a popular means of payment for everyday transactions. Telephone banking is also available for many accounts in both Arabic and English, and bank statements and correspondence can also be provided in either Arabic or English.

The main types of bank account in the UAE

UAE banks offer a wide range of services and accounts, including:

  • Current accounts – used for daily banking and typically offer low rates of interest, with easy access to account funds. Current accounts may include an ATM/debit card, a chequebook and possibly a credit card
  • Savings accounts – generally offer higher rates of interest than current accounts, but may have limited access to funds, and interest penalties may be incurred for making withdrawals. Savings accounts may offer either fixed or variable rates of interest, and may be fixed for a period of time (e.g. two years)
  • Deposit accounts – typically offer higher interest rates than current or savings accounts, but in return access to funds may be limited or not available until the maturity date of the account. Deposit accounts may not be suitable if you require regular access to funds

Opening a bank account when you arrive in the UAE

It’s well worth shopping around, as many banks, particularly in Dubai, offer incentives to new customers. Regulations for opening bank accounts are quite stringent. You will be required to provide your passport, show your UAE residence permit and provide a ‘letter of no objection’ or a ‘no objection certificate’ (NOC) from your employer. This must state your salary to show the bank how much will be paid into your account monthly.

You might be asked to provide your tenancy agreement to establish your residential address, and a letter from your home bank is likely to be useful. Bring along a number of passport-size photographs too. Once you have opened an account, your spouse or children can also open accounts if they are resident in the UAE.

Opening a bank account before you arrive in the UAE

For the vast majority of banks you will need to be a resident before you can open an account. However, there are one or two exceptions, especially in Dubai. If you would like to open an account before you arrive, contact the nearest branch of your chosen bank. 

A convenient alternative to a local bank account in the Emirate states is an international account. In addition to giving you access to a wide range of international banking services, you will also benefit from a range of other services and banking facilities. These services include tax efficient offshore account options, online banking and a debit card available in major currencies.

An international bank account can be used by clients living or working in the United Arab Emirates, and when travelling between international locations.

Banking facilities in the UAE

Currency exchanges and basic banking facilities are available throughout the UAE, particularly in Dubai. You’ll generally find the best rates at city centre bureaux de change.

UAE bank accounts usually include ATM and debit cards that you can use at any branch of the bank. In some cases you can use these cards at other banks or ATMs, but there will be a charge for this.

ATMs are widespread and generally accept a wide variety of both regional and international cards. Withdrawals are restricted to daily limits and by the funds available in your account.

Credit and charge cards

Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted in the UAE. If your card isn’t recognised, having one of these logos on it can help if you travel elsewhere in the Middle East. American Express and Diners Club are also accepted, but to a lesser extent. Cash withdrawals can be made from ATMs using credit cards, but typically incur high fees.

It’s worth bearing in mind that when making retail purchases in the UAE, as elsewhere in the Middle East, you may often haggle over prices. If you try and pay with a credit card, however, your bargaining powers will be limited, and card purchases are likely to incur a surcharge.

Cheques

When dealing with cheques, always write the recipient’s Arab name in full as the shortened form of Arab names can be very similar. If your cheque is ‘misdirected’, you will not be entitled to reimbursement if there have been inaccuracies in writing out the cheque.

Going overdrawn in the UAE

In the UAE, going overdrawn on your current account without prior authorisation is taken very seriously. Unauthorised overdrafts attract substantial penalty charges and fees. Issuing a cheque without the necessary funds in your account is considered a serious criminal offence, and the police will be notified at the discretion of the bank (or creditor) concerned. Prosecution is common and punishments can be harsh, including prison terms.

Buying on credit

If you are buying a major item on credit, your bank will probably give you a number of post-dated cheques that you present to the vendor each month. Examine all of the cheques carefully to ensure that they are correct in every respect. Above all, make sure that you have sufficient funds in your account to honour each cheque on the date it will be cashed. Bouncing cheques is considered to be fraudulent and the penalties – including prison sentences – can be severe.  If there is any chance that you might be unable to meet a payment, you must notify your bank immediately.

Money transfers to and from the UAE

Money transfer has been an important business activity in the UAE for many years, and transfers are secure and efficient. As well as transfer services offered by banks, there is a wide range of specialist money transfer businesses. Research the market rates and charges first to secure a competitive deal. Regulations relating to the import and export of currencies do change, so it is advisable to check with the national bank for the latest rules.

As of April 2010, there is no limit to the amount of local and foreign currencies that may be imported into or exported from the UAE. However, currency exceeding AED 40,000 (or equivalent) must be declared to customs. Currency regulations relating to the import and export of currencies are subject to change, so check with the national bank for the latest legislation.

Bank charges

In general, you’ll be able to perform a certain number of account transactions per year without charge. Once the limit has been reached, expect to pay a small fee. Banks usually make an annual charge for issuing a credit card. This is usually around £10 GBP for a standard card, although gold cards attract significantly higher charges.

Banking in the UAE – other information

Online help

UAE ombudsman

If you have a complaint, you should contact the Central Bank: www.centralbank.ae

More information on banking with Barclays Wealth International

For further information about the benefits of opening an International Account before you move to the UAE, you can speak to a specialist adviser at Barclays Wealth International by calling +44 (0) 141 352 3902.

Alternatively, find out more about the overseas banking services and expat banking that are available from Barclays Wealth International.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Rania Tarek October 14, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Hi, I'm living in dubai, but i need to open a saving account , i have no idea which bank will support my request & how much interest will i get from it?

Reply

eew October 22, 2010 at 2:46 am

Hi, I'm living in Thailand, but i need to open non-resident account from EMIRATES NATIONAL BANK,
DUBAI – UNITED ARAB.
How to I can do ?
Could I open this account ?

Reply

stef February 10, 2011 at 2:18 pm

I am plannig to move to dubai to get a job
but i have 25,000 AED cash which bnk is the best to get a good interest
can i earn the interst monthly ?
pls help urgently

Reply

stef February 10, 2011 at 2:20 pm

can i carry it with me on my way to dubai , is it safe

Reply

Amanda April 18, 2012 at 6:41 am

How long ca I keep a checque before cashing it in UAE

Reply

Karen April 3, 2013 at 4:32 am

Try to avoid having a bank account in Dubai, customer service is appalling. After over a year of trying to sort out accounts. We have now given up and are moving all money out of Dubai. Which is now proving to be difficult. Transfers do not go through on line then when you call them you are told things which you know are simply not true. I could write a book on the problems we have encountered.

Reply

Babur August 2, 2014 at 4:46 am

I simply agree Dubai banks are liars and unprofessionally run I myself been worstly treated by wrong information on every account of my auto loan taking and early settlement. I say do not go for any bank in Dubai

Reply

Sana August 27, 2014 at 8:05 am

Hello,

Can any of you help me please,its very urgent..
Have taken loan from CBI bank, however it is stuck due to some issues. The amount is on hold in my account so I cant withdraw the same,however I am asked to pay EMI without disbursing full amount.(Partial amount 0f 78k is disbursed because they bought out autoloan from emirated nbd bank).My total loan amount was 250k

Reply

zaheeer September 7, 2014 at 4:58 pm

sir,

I want to know, my age is 19 years now.
i made a LLC company in ajman
Can i open business account.
Pls lee me know,

Your immediate reply shall be highly appreciated.
Thanks

Reply

ali March 8, 2015 at 8:46 am

how u made it? i was doing the same but when i openning my llc company they refused me because of my age now i oppened in dubai with a partner and try to oppen account if u got your account pls help me also

Reply

HASAN October 11, 2014 at 2:44 pm

pls let me know about days and times openining hourse i UAE. thank you

Reply

Ibrahim Khaleel December 15, 2014 at 9:05 am

Hi Good day to all

My salary account will be opened in ARAB Bank. Abu Dhabi. from which i’m planning to send money to India account using ARAB Bank online banking services.

Any body please share the experience,charges and time frame , exchange rate applicable. plz plz

Reply

Ibrahim Khaleel December 17, 2014 at 11:32 am

Hi folks.. plz share the experience

Reply

Alvin June 6, 2017 at 8:12 pm

I am currently using UNB Bank here in Dubai i am so upset on the bank because i tried their online banking and tranfer my funds to my peso account using USD currency but its been 7 working days and still my money was pending and not receive by my account they even deducted the amount to from my card but still no amount yet have been transfer.

Reply

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