If you’re going to live in Dubai you’re going to need a bank account in Dubai – it’s as simple as that!  You may think you can manage all your regular bills through your regular UK account, but your employer will want to pay into a Dubai account and you’ll need to pay your local bills out of one too, so the bottom line is that you will need to open an account pretty quickly.

The good news is that there are about a hundred and one banks to choose from, the bad news is that a recent crack down on regulations relating to anti money laundering now means it’s slightly trickier than before to open an account.

But with Degtev’s banking advice for expats living in Dubai, you’ll soon be on your way to getting that account open with all those features that you need to have activated.

For the vast majority of banks you will need to be a resident in Dubai before you can open an account.  This is because you have to either show your residence permit or proof that your residency application is in progress in order to open your account.  There is about only one exception to this rule, and that’s with meBANK.  This is a subsidiary of Emirates Bank and they may, depending on your status and other eligibility requirements, open you an account before you become resident in Dubai.  meBANK will certainly open you an account if you have only just arrived and have only just taken up a job as well – assuming you meet their minimum requirements!

Most of the banks are used to dealing with international customers and will have advisers on hand to help you open the account most suited to your requirements.  You can also ask around your new colleagues, neighbours or friends to find out who they bank with.  Many of the banks offer incentives to get new customers on board – i.e., to hoik them in!  And so it’s worth checking out a few to see what’s on offer – whether that be a preferential rate on savings or a more flexible credit card facility perhaps.

Credit cards are widely offered and used, but overdrafts are not commonplace in Dubai – therefore you will be expected to keep your account in the black with quite stiff penalties enforced if you fail to do so.

When you go to open an account it is worth contacting the bank and the specific branch that you will be attending to make an appointment, because at key times during the day they can be very busy.  When you call, ask about the supporting documentation that you will need as this can change depending on the bank and whether they are operating to any new rules for example.  As a general rule of thumb you will need evidence of your residency as mentioned already, your passport, a NOC from your sponsor and a certain amount of cash to open the account with.  Depending on the account type and the bank, this amount differs quite substantially, and it is well worth noting that some banks also set a minimum balance on your account – and no, it’s not zero!  So you will not only need to be in the black each month, you will need to remain above a set minimum limit.

Until relatively recently it was not easy to set up direct debit type arrangements to pay regular bills such as your Etisalat and DEWA bills, but now most banks offer this facility…however, not all utility providers are able to receive direct payments!  It can be frustrating but things are getting simpler slowly but surely.  You will need a cash card for ATM withdrawals and a chequebook as well because many landlords, suppliers and some shops may not take a credit card for a forward payment, but they will take a cheque.

Take care never to bounce a cheque as it is against the law and a relatively serious offence depending on who you bounce it on and how much it’s for.  There are ATMs all over the place in Dubai, which is very handy.  And finally, if you will be transferring money abroad you may not be able to do this online and may have to attend your branch and present your passport in order to do so.  Remember, banks are very unlikely to give you preferential currency exchange rates when transferring funds to and from abroad.  Always research what a dedicated and licensed currency broker will offer you.