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Banking for Expats in Saudi Arabia

Submitted: August 2014

Opening an account is something that expats should plan for several weeks in advance. The most important thing is to prepare the documents your bank will require before opening an account.

In practice, you should have a look at the website of the major banks in Saudi Arabia as soon as possible. The information you are looking for will usually be available in English.

US citizens are likely to run into more trouble with their banking arrangements in Saudi Arabia, because the FATCA makes it more costly for non-US banks to accept US clients. Saudi Arabia has reached an agreement with the US regarding FATCA, but the impacts on US expats in Saudi Arabia still remain to be seen.

Accounts are available in Saudi Riyals or in foreign currency, such as the US dollar, the Euro, or the British Pound.

 

Banking for non-residents

Saudi banks usually do not accept non-residents as new customers. Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nationals may find it easier to open a non-resident account, but a proof of address in Saudi Arabia will still be required.

 

Opening an account

Accounts should be opened in person at the local bank branch. Opening an account typically involves having to fill in an application form.

As far as paperwork is concerned, you need at least:

  • Employer reference letter – sometimes referred to as a “No Objection Certificate” (NOC)
  • Passport and residence permit (Iqama)
  • Proof of address in Saudi Arabia – typically a tenancy agreement

The requirements may vary from one bank to another, and they are typically published on their website. Other requested documents may for example include proof of address in your home country.

Family members of expatriates may need to obtain prior permission from the husband or father, providing he has a No Objection Certificate from the employer. This is not automatic though. Al Rajhi and Riyad Bank, for example, have dedicated Ladies Banking units across Saudi Arabia.

 

Bank charges

It is possible to bank for free in Saudi Arabia, as account management fees do not necessarily apply. Some banks, however, do require a minimum balance failing which a fee would apply.

Having a cheque book, bank statements, and an ATM card should be free, but bank transfers shouldn’t. Internal transfers within the same bank may or may not be free.

Interest rates (sometimes called “profit margins”) on savings accounts are often not publicly displayed, so you might wish to enquire. The yield is usually somewhere around 1%, which is below inflation.

 

Where to apply?

It is strongly advisable to shop around before selecting a bank. Feel free to take half an hour to browse their websites.

Saudi Arabia has a concentrated banking system, with only a bit more than 10 banks. Reputable names include: Alinma Bank; Al Rajhi Bank; the Arab National Bank (ANB); Bank Albilad; Banque Saudi Fransi; the National Commercial Bank (NCB); the Saudi British Bank (SABB); Samba; and Saudi Hollandi Bank.

 

Day-to-day account management

Once opened, your account will come along with a cheque book and an ATM card. The ATM card may be used in any ATM in Saudi Arabia as part of the Saudi Payments Network (SPAN), free of charge. Debit cards are still not commonly used in Saudi Arabia, but some banks do issue a debit card when a basic current account is opened.

Additionally, the following services are generally available from Saudi banks, often free of charge:

  • Online banking and statements
  • Smartphone banking apps
  • Telephone banking
  • Standing order facility

 

Contribute

We value input from our readers. If you spot an error on this page or have any suggestions, please let us know.

 

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