If you are planning to relocate to the UAE or open a business there, you will require a country specific bank account. Therefore, it is important to understand the peculiarities of the UAE`s banking sector. Here's an overview on how to choose the right financial institution, open an account for either a legal entity or an individual, what difficulties may occur and what should be considered when opening an account for non-residents.
Banking system specifics and types of accounts in the UAE
The banking system of the United Arab Emirates attracts the attention of both investors and business professionals for a number of reasons:
- Reliability and high level of security. None of the banking organizations in the country has become bankrupt during the time of the system's existence.
- Stability of the national currency. The exchange rate of the dirham in relation to the dollar has been stable for the last 20 years.
- Confidentiality. The personal data of United Arab Emirates residents is protected by the bank secrecy act, including information concerning transactions, account balances, etc.
- Prevalent free account service (except for internet banking fees).
The Emirates banking system consists of:
- The Central Bank is the main regulatory institution that controls all financial organizations in the country.
- Local state and commercial banks, including Islamic banks complying with Sharia Law. These financial institutions do not charge interest on any loans and are not allowed to be involved in transactions related to gambling, alcohol sales, etc.
- Foreign banks representative offices and branches. Note that an account can be opened only in the branch of an organization, whereas representative offices can solely provide advisory services.
According to the country’s legislation, all expats over the age of 18, including non-residents, can open accounts in the UAE. Bank accounts opened by individuals can be used strictly for personal needs. If you are planning to run a commercial business, you should establish a company, obtain a relevant license and open a corporate account afterwards.
UAE banks offer the opportunity to open the following types of personal accounts:
- Current account - current, debit
- Payroll account
- Investment (deposit)
- Savings account
UAE residents have the right to open any type of account, while foreigners who do not have a resident visa may only apply for an investment or savings account. Additionally, the latter will need to keep to dedicated limits on a minimum cash balance. In some cases it might be necessary to purchase specialized investment products in advance. In general, the entire account opening procedure can last from 3 to 14 working days.
A current account can be used for money transfers and other financial operations. Generally, a chequebook and a debit card are provided. It is also possible to link a credit card to a current account.
Payroll accounts are current accounts opened for employees working in local companies. In this case, the bank sets a minimum amount of monthly payments depending on the client's employment contract.
The main objective of opening a deposit (investment) account is to receive a passive income in the form of interest on the deposit. The interest can be fixed or floating. In most cases, after opening a deposit account, the applicant cannot use his/her assets until the contract expires without being charged a corresponding penalty. Some banks suggest the possibility of limited use of finances, but the profit will be significantly lower. The account is opened on the basis of an investment agreement concluded for a period of 1 to 10 years. Depending on bank terms and conditions, the balance should also be replenished on an annual or monthly basis.
A savings account is intended for the accumulation of funds. Fixed or floating interests can be earned on this account, but the rate will be noticeably lower compared to investment products. Access to savings can be partially limited, and sometimes withdrawals are subject to penalties. The savings account can be opened not only in dirhams, but also in other global currencies, including dollars and euros.
The following set of documents is required to open a personal account for UAE residents:
- Emirates ID
- Visa stamped passport (original and copy)
- Proof of residency in the UAE (valid rental agreement or certificate of real estate ownership, utility bill)
- Statement from the bank of your country of citizenship for the last 3-6 months, details of the sources of income or a salary certificate issued by a UAE company
All companies based in Dubai must hold a current bank account for daily operations. It may take from two weeks to two months to open this type of account, depending on the type of activity and business profile of the company.
The following companies have the right to open a corporate account:
- Local (mainland)
- Registered in a free economic zone
- Non-resident companies
More often local banks give preference to resident legal entities. If your company is registered in another country, it is likely that you will be denied to open an account in the UAE. Besides, you will need to open a deposit account first. The easiest and most reliable way to do this is to establish a branch or company based in the United Arab Emirates, choosing a local jurisdiction or a free economic zone.
All business activities in the UAE require an obligatory license. The type of license your company obtains will also affect the bank's decision to open a corporate account. Because of the risk of inappropriate use of funds, many local banks are more aware of holders of General Trading and Management Consulting licenses.
Note! In order to avoid extra complications, it is recommended that you consult a lawyer during the early stages of company registration. An expert will help you to choose the most suitable free economic zone, the type of commercial license, and explain all the aspects of doing business in the United Arab Emirates.
Most recently banks have been paying attention to the existence of a company's actual office. It will be extremely difficult to open a company bank account with a virtual office.
Another major factor is the residency of not only the legal entity, but also of its owner. For example, if the founder of the company does not have the status of an UAE resident, it would almost be impossible to open a corporate account here.
Below is a list of documents required to open a corporate account:
- Original of the passport of the company founder/manager
- A copy of a resident visa
- Emirates ID
- The owner's CV
- Company's business profile
- Constitutional documents
- Office rental agreement
- Founder's account statement for the last 6 months
- Letters of intent with partners
This list can be extended depending on the bank's requirements. All statements and resumes must be translated to English. In case there is more than one founder of the company, each of them should submit the relevant documents. It is also important for the manager to have an UAE resident visa.
Note that the bank pays attention to the previous and current experience of the applicant.
Bank account opening procedure for UAE residents
First of all, it is necessary to choose an appropriate bank. When you need to open a payroll (salary) account, the best solution is to apply to the financial institution cooperating with your employer. This will ensure that you will be credited quickly. If you open an account in a third-party bank, the money transfer may take two or more days.
The following should be provided to open a payroll (salary) account:
- A copy of a resident visa
- Emirates ID
- Salary statement provided by the employer.
For other types of personal accounts, expats can choose a suitable financial institution based on its rates, requirements and advantages. All information needed to make this decision can be found on the bank's official website. Another option is to apply through the consultant, who will select the best financial products for you and prepare all the necessary documents. Upon solving all the organizational issues you will have to schedule an appointment with a bank representative.
To open a corporate or personal account the applicant must personally provide the original of their passport, Emirates ID and meet the representatives of the bank. Individuals can count on more favourable conditions. Some UAE banks have even begun to introduce online services such as Mashreq Neo and Emirates NBD, allowing applicants to remotely open a bank account. All you need is to enter an Emirates ID number and provide confirmation of your monthly income which should be no less than AED 5,000 (USD 1,360).
It is important to understand that citizenship of any applicant is not considered as a significant basis for denial of any service. In order to clear all doubts, the internal inspection department of the bank may demand additional information about the future client's income, personal information, business reputation and other specific questions. Thus you should be prepared for the long-term procedure of account opening.
Document preparation and legalization require special attention and thoroughness. To avoid mistakes, it is recommended to involve an experienced lawyer from a consulting company. A specialist with relevant experience will help to create a correct set of documents and may perform as an agent in the communication with representatives of the bank if needed.
Bank account opening for non-residents
Citizens of almost any country can become clients of UAE banks, including those without resident visas. However non-residents will meet more rigid requirements and the possibility of being denied is higher. In this case, the procedure of opening an account includes the following steps:
- Submission of the set of documents (the list may be extended):
- Original and copy of the passport
- Documents confirming the address of residence in the applicant's country of citizenship
- Bank statements for the last 3-6 months
- Information on the sources of income (income certificate, dividends, etc.).
- Approval of the preliminary application
- Account opening
Non-resident clients with a monthly income of more than USD 14,000 within the last six months are considered as reliable ones. The minimum balance of the applicant's account must be at least USD 100,000. Some banks may also require the client to join an investment programme for a period of 1 to 10 years. Note that the bank has the right to cancel the service without explanation.
Pay attention! Non-resident accounts are more likely to be exposed to the international exchange of information so it is better to become a resident.
To avoid disclosure of information and future problems, it would be appropriate to obtain a resident visa. This can be obtained by a wide range of applicants, including:
- Founders of local companies
- Owners of real estate in the UAE valued from AED 750,000 (USD 204,000)
- Employees of local companies sponsored by an employer for a resident visa
Choosing a bank for account opening
You can choose to open a bank account either in one of the local banks or in a branch of an international financial institution. Be aware that international banks set higher requirements for potential clients, especially for corporate account holders. It is best to consider the following major banks in the UAE: Emirates NBD, First Abu Dhabi Bank, Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, RAKBANK, etc.
In order to prepare the set of documents and to negotiate with representatives of the bank, the future client should have a high level of knowledge in English, an understanding of local laws and the specifics of the banking sector within the country. Employing a consulting company will allow you to avoid any difficulties and get approval of the bank within the shortest period of time. An experienced consultant can help to choose the right organization, prepare the necessary package of documents and assist you in all stages of interaction with the bank manager.