Setting up a bank account and getting finances in order is top priority for most expats who decide to work and live in Dubai. In keeping with its cosmopolitan flavor, Dubai has a plethora of banks, both local as well as international so finding an appropriate bank is a matter of choice. Most expats will find that the banking process in Dubai is fairly straight forward and quite simple; in fact most expats enjoy banking here especially as they can enjoy the pleasure of tax-free living.
Opening a bank account for UAE residents
Although requirements may vary slightly from bank to bank, the basic documents needed to open a checking or current account are:
- Original Passport with 2 copies
- Residency visa
- Proof of employment
- Proof of address i.e. tenancy contract showing home address
- Any acceptable form of UAE identification including an Emirates ID, valid driving license or labor card
- No-objection letter from employer stating your title and salary
Most banks, both local as well as international offer several services with the opening of an account including check book facility, debit and credit card facilities, car loans, and current or savings accounts. However, fees for services offered do vary widely from bank to bank so make sure you are aware of these prior to selecting a bank. In the UAE, check facilities are widely used for most transactions including buying a car and paying rent; it is common to use post-dated checks for such payments. However, be aware that a bounced check is a criminal offence in Dubai and the guilty party might spend some time in jail until the debt is paid off.
How to choose the best bank
All the big international banks including HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank and Citibank are well represented in Dubai. These banks have comprehensive and well organized websites that provide all the information you will need including types of accounts and services offered. However, there are also a number of smaller local banks such as Emirates NBD, Mashreq Bank, RAK Bank and Commercial Bank of Dubai, which are less familiar, that offer similar services at competitive rates, are well equipped and strictly regulated by the UAE Central Bank.
These banks are also excellent choices for expats, who often overlook them in favor of the more well known and familiar banking institutions. Many local banks, owing to the competitive nature of private banking in Dubai, offer excellent service and can sometimes offer great deals that may be unavailable with bigger banking names.
For some expats, the choice of who to bank with is already laid out by their employers, who recommend banks they do regular business with. Some employers offer extra incentives if employees choose the same bank for their own private banking requirements; these may include preferential rates on money transfers, lower minimum balance requirements and quicker receipt of salaries.
For those accustomed to conducting most of their banking work online, many banks offer secure online banking services that can be very convenient for the time constrained employee. These banks offer the ability to transfer money, both internally as well as to other accounts, top up salik (Dubai’s version of road-tax payable through an electronic card), pay utility bills and top up mobile phone accounts, thereby saving customers the time and hassle of having to visit a branch to conduct their daily financial transactions.
These services are often provided at no additional cost, but some banks do charge fees for electronic transfers. In that case, it might be wise to choose a bank that has numerous branches or at least one that is close to your place of work or residence so that you have the option of conducting your business through the branch.
For some, the choice of bank is as simple as one that has a large number of conveniently accessible ATM machines and branches across the emirate. Many of the local banks will win out in this case as they tend to have more machines and branches conveniently located in malls and other commonly frequented public places. Emirates NBD has close to 70 ATMs and branches in Dubai alone and is one of the most popular local banks in the country.
International banks tend to offer better rates on overseas transfers into and out of bank accounts as well as lower fees on wire transfers. If you are likely to be doing this often, you might want to select an international bank for your banking needs. Some foreign banks allow one overseas transfer free of charge to their customers, which many expats find very convenient.
Minimum balance requirements vary quite a bit from bank to bank. Most banks require a minimum balance ranging from between AED 1000 and AED 5000 for a checking account, while a savings account generally does not have a minimum balance requirement, but will fetch you a lower interest rate. Falling short of the minimum balance requirement even once during the month is likely to incur a fine of AED 50 or upwards. This might be an important criterion for selecting a bank for your daily needs.
If you are looking to procure a loan from your bank make sure you inquire about loan services at various banks. As a rule of thumb, most banks will sanction a loan that is between 10 to 20 times your monthly salary with adequate proof of employment and employment history. Many local banks often offer more competitive loan rates as well as larger loans than overseas banks so make sure you compare a few banks before making your selection.