If you’ve just landed in Dubai and are planning on an extended stay, you’re probably making plans to open a foreign bank account. The good news is, with Dubai being the most populous city in the UAE not to mention a major business hub, you’ll have lots of financial institutions to choose from.
The population of the UAE is comprised almost entirely of foreigners, which means there’s a clear path to opening a bank account as a new resident or even just as a visitor. There are also plenty of advantages to having a bank account in Dubai with the emirate’s secure government and extensive financial resources.
To start, you’ll need a few documents (and a few extra copies of each) on hand. When you go to meet with your banker to open your account, you should have:
- Your passport, along with some copies and extra passport pictures
- A letter of no-objection from either your sponsor or employer
Depending on which bank you choose, you may also need:
- A copy of your visa if you’re a new resident of the UAE
- A document showing your employer’s name and the amount of your salary (your HR department should be able to provide you with one)
- An Emirates ID card, or a copy of the application you submit to get one
- A recent utility payment receipt or signed rental contract to confirm your address
- A letter of recommendation from another bank, like the one you use in your home country
Whether you’ll need some or all of the above depends on what type of account you’re opening, whether you’re a resident or non-resident, and what bank you’re opening an account with. If you have access to all of the listed documents, bring them. If you’re still not sure what you need or whether you’re qualified to open an account, keep reading.
To open a bank account anywhere in the UAE, you’ll be required to sign your application and other documents in front of a bank officer. Typically, this means you’ll need to be physically present when you open your account. That being said, if you decide to bank with a larger international financial institution that operates in Dubai like HSBC or Citibank, you should be able to open an account from your local branch.
Another option is that, in some cases, you can also employ a financial advisor who will act as your representative in Dubai, which may allow you to open an account remotely.
With local banks based in the UAE, your presence will be required at the time of opening your account. This is also true for most UAE-based accounts, even if you choose an international bank.
However, if you’re planning to remain a citizen of your home country and wish to apply for an account with a major online bank like Charles Schwab or Bank of Internet USA, you’ll still be eligible to open an account online. If you do choose to use a web-based bank, it’s important to be aware that you won’t have access to bank tellers or on-site customer service, and ordering things like checks can take longer than usual. With both companies, your account will still be based in the U.S., however, with waived ATM fees and flat currency conversion rates, this won’t be much of a problem.
Most major international financial institutions like Citibank will allow you to open an account online even from the UAE, provided you still have an address and residency in the United States. Your account will still be U.S. based, but you’ll have access to branches, fee-less ATMs, and bank tellers in Dubai. The same can be said for HSBC, provided you are a U.S. or UK resident.
A lot of the time, expats feel that it’s safer and easier to open an account with a larger bank that they’re already familiar with. Standard Chartered, Royal Bank of Canada, Habib Bank, HSBC and Citibank are all major international banks that operate in the UAE, any of which could be a good choice if you’re moving to Dubai.
However, the rise of these larger international institutions has caused many local banks to offer great services at competitive rates. Emirates NBD, for example, has been well reviewed by expats and locals alike, and may be better equipped to deal with the tightly regulated UAE Central Bank than some of their foreign competitors.
- Which bank your employer uses. Choosing the same one may facilitate more efficient direct deposits.
- Proximity of ATMs to your office or home. You’ll save yourself time if you don’t have to go out of your way to withdraw cash.
- Availability and ease of online banking and apps.
- Minimum balance requirements. Because a lot of offshore banking is done in Dubai by investors with lots of money, some banks have established hefty minimums and exorbitant fees to go with them when you don’t maintain your balance.
Here’s a list some of the popular banks in Dubai, along with the standard features of a basic current account to help you choose where to open yours.
Emirates NBD has more than 250 ATMs and bank branches in Dubai. Their standard current account includes:
- Free international Debit/ATM card (AED only)
- Can be opened in an approved foreign currency
They have 50 ATM and branch locations in Dubai. NBAD not only offers extensive credit card options, but their personal current account includes:
- Free cash withdrawals at NBAD ATMs in the UAE
- MasterCard Platinum Debit Card
ADCB offers 11 ATMs and branch locations in Dubai. Their current account includes:
- Availability in AED and all other major currencies
- Free teller withdrawals and deposits
- Free Debit/ATM card
They have 14 ATMs and 8 branch locations in Dubai. FGB’s current account includes:
- Minimum balance of 3000 AED
- Free Debit/ATM card (if the account is in AED)
Dubai Islamic Bank is known for their highly personalized service and offers 10 ATMs and branch locations in Dubai. Their Al Islami current account includes:
- Free ATM and teller withdrawals/deposits
- Opening balance of 3000 AED
- Monthly maintenance fee of 25 AED
ADIB offered hundreds of ATMs in Dubai alone, along with 24/7 banking services. Their current account offers:
- Free ATM withdrawals and teller services
- Easy to use mobile banking app
HSBC includes 67 ATMs and 10 branch locations in Dubai. Their Current Account includes:
- Choice between USD, GBP, AED or CNY
- Minimum balance of 3000 AED
- Buy-1-Get-1-Free movie tickets at all VOX Cinemas in the UAE
- 6 free AED transactions via teller each month
- Free international Visa Debit/ATM card
- HSBC Visa Cashback Credit Card
They have 14 ATMs and 5 branch locations in Dubai alone. Standard Chartered’s Current Account includes:
- Ability to open in multiple currencies
- Free ATM/Debit card
Citibank has 48 ATMs and 2 branch locations in Dubai. Their Current Account includes:
- Choice between AED, USD, EUR, GBP, JPY, NZD, CHF, AUD or CAD
- Free Citibank ATM transactions all around the globe
- Free international ATM/Debit card
All of the above banks offer online banking, a free cheque book, and many other types of current, savings and deposit accounts for you to choose from - often with premium features. Before you make your decision, though, double check the full spectrum of fees the bank will charge. Many have monthly fees, minimum balance requirements, charges for sending/receiving bank transfers as well as for withdrawals from tellers or ATMs.
All in all, the process for opening a bank account in Dubai isn’t much different from the process of opening one in your home country.
You’ll need to gather as many of the documents listed as you have access to and head into your local branch. Alternatively, it’s fairly common for banks to send agents to make house calls in the UAE. If you want to save yourself the trouble of putting on shoes, give your local bank a call and make an appointment for a representative to meet you at your home or office.
Typically you can have your bank account up and running in a few hours if you’re a resident in Dubai. Non-residents applying for savings accounts may take a bit longer to have their applications processed and, as a result, may not gain access to their bank account right away.
As you would making any major financial decision, make sure to thoroughly read all of the documents your agent presents to you before signing.
There are many types of fees that are common to banks internationally. Banks all over the world are known to charge account servicing fees, overdraft fees, statement fees, foreign transaction charges and inactivity fees among others. Banks in the UAE are no exception.
In Dubai, many expats have noted the importance of thoroughly understanding your bank’s minimum balance policy. Not only do the minimums in Dubai tend to be quite high, but the fees that are incurred when you dip under it can be quite large.
It’s also a good idea to check whether setting up routine transfers, like your Internet bill or rent, incurs a fee. Most banks in Dubai charge around 50 AED to initiate them. Emirates NBD, for example, charges 35 AED for each new standing instruction. If you’re setting up automatic payments, it’s even more important to keep an eye on your minimum balance as insufficient funds fees can be exorbitant. The payments themselves are typically free, however some banks will charge you a fee every time you perform an electronic transfer. If you’re planning to set up a lot of bills on auto-payment, it’s worth making sure your bank is not going to charge you.
In order to avoid bank fees at ATMs, it’s important to visit your chosen bank’s ATM or an ATM group that your bank is affiliated with. If you happen to be dealing with a bank account full of foreign currency, the exchange rates offered by ATMs in Dubai are usually better than the ones you’ll find at actual currency exchange offices.
That being said, foreign exchange fees are rampant if you’re making purchases overseas or in a different currency, and can range between 1-3%. If you’re a frequent traveler, you may want to consider setting up your account with a larger international bank instead of a local Dubai institution.
Another advantage to choosing an international bank is that they’re usually able to provide you with better rates for international transfers between bank accounts, and somewhat lower fees on wire transfers. Emirates NBD, for instance, lists their cross-currency transfer fee somewhere between 60-90 AED, whereas HSBC’s worldpay offers international transfers at a lower standard fee of around 42 AED. That being said, regardless of which bank you choose foreign transaction, wire transfer, and currency conversion fees are likely to exist.
However, if you’re transferring money overseas or receiving it from a foreign bank account, there are almost always additional fees charged by your sending bank and several intermediary banks, as well. Though many of those fees are fixed, sending a single transfer, especially if it’s a smaller amount, can get quite costly.
If you’re looking to fund your new UAE bank account from overseas, a cheaper option is to use TransferWise. Not only does TransferWise use the real mid-market exchange rates (meaning that, unlike with regular bank transfers, there’s no hidden markup on the currency conversion rate), but because your money is received and sent via local bank transfers in both your home country and the UAE, that fortunately means those frustrating international fees are cut out of the picture.
To easily and reliably check on the mid-market exchange rate between your home currency and UAE Dirhams, use an online currency converter. You’ll also be able to see how the market’s been trending over the last 30 days and see what your money is actually worth.
Good luck opening your new bank account in Dubai!