Setting up a bank account is one of the priorities when moving to Dubai. For a new expat who just arrived to Dubai it might be not easy to choose a bank, considering there are lots of options here, including both international and local ones. That might be a bit misleading, because some international banks differ from their branches in other countries. In fact, there is not much difference between local and international banks here, as they all operate under the same law under the regulations of Central Bank.
In order to open a bank account in Dubai, UAE, one must already be a resident. It’s important to do everything quickly: apply to a bank account as soon as you get your residency, as you will need it to rent a house. Most landlords take postdated cheques (yes, good old cheques) and to have a cheque book you will need to have a bank account. Always keep in mind that a bounced check is a criminal offence in Dubai and the guilty one might even end up in jail until the debt is paid off. Therefore, make sure there is enough funds in your account on the cheque pay day.
Also, in order to open a bank account in Dubai, you will need a residence address. I am not sure still how to get around this tricky situation. One cannot rent a house without a bank account, and one cannot get a bank account without a registered place to live. Some companies might help with the residence address, or you will have to negotiate with the landlord. Anyway, fast forward and you are a happy resident. Now, let me guide you through the process of opening a bank account.
How to open a bank account in Dubai
Even though, some requirements might somewhat differ from bank to bank, the basic documents needed to open a checking or current account are:
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 (yes, the employer has to have no objections to you opening a bank account).
Most UAE banks offer several services with the opening of an account including cheque book, debit and credit card, car loans, and current or savings accounts. The amounts depend on your salary, and the fees are usually quite low.
Choosing your bank
All the big international banks including HSBC, Citibank, and Standard Chartered are well represented in Dubai. Beware, though, that despite being part of an international group, the banks operate according to local laws. However, there are also a number of large local banks such as Emirates NBD, Mashreq, ADCB, etc. You might be less familiar with them, but they still offer similar services at competitive rates, are well equipped and monitored by the UAE Central Bank.
Since UAE is a Muslim country, there is a number of Islamic banks here, like ADIB and Dubai Islamic Bank. I noticed their service is quite good, in fact, it’s very pleasant to deal with them. They are attentive and polite, but keep in mind that they operate by Sharia law, which means there might be restrictions on how you spend your money. If you are a Muslim, then it’s a great option. If you are not a Muslim, you can still take car or home loans with them at competitive rates.
For some expats, the choice of who to bank with is already set up by their employers, who recommend banks they do regular business with. Some companies even offer extra incentives if employees choose the same bank for their own private banking needs. These may include preferential rates on money transfers, lower minimum balance requirements and quicker receipt of salaries.
Things to Look For
When opening a bank account in Dubai, look into the credit cards it offers. Most credit cards in Dubai come with some nice benefits, like airport lounges, valet parking, air miles, which you can exchange into real plane tickets, cash back, etc. Think about your priorities and choose the bank that would give you what you need.
Look which branches and ATM’s are close to your home or office, because you might end up going to the branch quite often and you want it to be accessible.
Many local banks actually have more machines and branches conveniently located in the malls, shopping centers, and other public places. Also, those branches are usually open every day. Emirates NBD has around 70 ATM’s and branches in Dubai alone and is one of the most popular local banks in the country. ADCB is a popular bank as well and I have not heard many complaints from their clients.
Also look into banks restrictions. For instance, HSBC does not deal with Iranians, so if you are planning to buy a second-hand car from an Iranian, they will not loan you the money and might even freeze your accounts. Meanwhile, other local banks have currently no problem with that.
International banks here in Dubai tend to offer better rates (sometimes even free of charge) on overseas transfers, as well as lower fees on wire transfers. If you suspect you will be doing this quite often, you might want to select an international bank account in Dubai for your banking needs.
Minimum balance requirements vary quite a bit from bank to bank. But, most banks offer a variety of options for different levels of income.
As for the savings accounts, the rates used to quite low, but they are raising slowly. Usually they vary between 0.15 and 0.75%.
In any case, all the banks in Dubai generally hire same people, hence they have similar staff, and so is customer service. That’s why, when choosing a bank, don’t take staff’s competence into consideration. Set your priorities straight. Think of your future goals, whether you are planning to take loans, make international transfers, how you would like to benefit from having their credit card, how easy is it to bank online, etc. And do not forget to close your account, once you decide to leave Dubai.