With top marks in global business competitiveness, happiness, quality of life and innovation, the UAE continues to attract expats from around the world. In fact, the expat concentration in the UAE is one of the highest worldwide, with about 80% non-Emirati.
Choosing a bank is among the first things to do as an expat when moving to a new country, so we’ve compiled a banking guide with a list of the best banks in the UAE for expats.
Opening a bank account in Dubai and the UAE for expats
Before opening a bank account in the UAE, you need to prove your residence & employment status. Here are the standard documents required to open a UAE Bank Account:
- International passport with 2 photocopies
- Residency visa
- Proof of employment: If self-employed, provide original trade license. If your spouse is sponsoring you, you will need to provide your spouse’s work ID or labor card.
- Proof of residence address e.g. utility bill, rental agreement etc.
- UAE-acceptable identity card e.g. Emirates ID, valid driver license, labor card etc.
- Employment letter stating title and salary
Things to consider when selecting a bank in the UAE
If you’ve got all your documents ready, we’ll discuss things you need to consider when choosing a bank in the UAE.
It should go without saying that finding competitive savings and loan rates are important in your search for a bank in the UAE. However, rates may not be the most important consideration for an expat, especially as the UAE bank market is extremely competitive. The difference in rates (savings and loans) among banks is mostly within basis points (0.01%) of each other.
Bank & employer relationship
The relationship between your employer and your bank isn’t usually a consideration in most countries. But, in the UAE, you may receive recommendations from your employer to use certain banks. These banks may offer quicker salary receipts, lower minimum balance requirements and cheap rates on international transfers. If your employer has such a relationship, it might be in your financial interest to bank there as well.
Branch & ATM network
Getting your bearings right in a new country is tough. Don’t make it any harder by choosing a bank with branches far from your home or office in UAE. I’d recommend you select the bigger banks with larger footprints and ATM networks to save on charges from using other bank ATMs. However, with technology, this might be less of a consideration especially if you use Apple, Google or Samsung Pay. Thankfully, most places in the UAE take cards, maybe except some souks, which prefer cash.
International transfer fees
As an expat, you may come alone or with your family to the UAE. Usually, you will still need to pay bills at home or even send money to your loved ones back home. Thus, it is important to check out international transfer fees to your home country as this may be a significant expense in your annual budget.
Minimum balance requirements
Banks in the UAE usually have minimum balance requirements on current accounts and charge heavy fees for not maintaining them. Fees for non maintenance of balance start from around 26.25 AED ($7.15). So, it’s crucial to shop around and keep this in mind when looking for a bank. Most savings accounts have a zero minimum balance. However, almost all UAE banks stipulate that you maintain a minimum balance of 3,000 AED – 5,000 AED ($272 – $1,361) for current(checking) accounts.
Generally, UAE banks offer loans that are 10 – 20 times your monthly salary. You will also need to show sufficient proof of employment and satisfactory work history to qualify. On the other hand, mortgages are more accommodating. A home mortgage loan of 50 – 70 times your monthly salary is common in the UAE. Local banks tend to offer better rates than international banks in terms of loan size and interest rate. Always compare banks for the specific type of loan you are interested in.
Best Local Banks in UAE for Expats
Through our research, we have found these to be the best, safest and strongest local banks in the UAE.
Emirates NBD is one of the leading banks in the UAE and Middle East. It is a Dubai government-owned bank headquartered in Deira, Dubai. It was formed on 6 March 2007 by the merger of Emirates Bank International (EBI) and National Bank of Dubai (NBD).
Emirates NBD has a stellar track record. It has been named the “Best Bank in the Middle East” and “UAE’s Best Bank” in 2021 for the seventh consecutive year by Euromoney. The Banker also awarded it with the “Bank of the Year – UAE 2020” for the sixth year and “Bank of the Year – Middle East 2020” for the third time. The Asian Banker rated Emirates NBAD as the Best Retail Bank in the Middle East for the fourth time in recent years in 2020 and its subsidiary, Liv. as the “Best Digital Bank in the Middle East for the third consecutive year.
Emirates NBD is our number 1 choice as the best bank in the UAE for expats.
Some of Emirates NBD Expat Offers
If you want a digital-only bank experience, check out Liv by EmiratesNBD. Note: Liv has a free account and a subscription based account. It’s got some decent perks on the free account and loads on the subscription one. Obviously, the best perks are on the subscription account. These include:
- Deals on Deezer, Starbucks, Prime and much more
- Zero maintenance fees
- Two free international transfers per month on the free account. Unlimited on free account
- 400 AED Cash back on credit cards
- Free movie tickets at VOX cinemas
- Three free car cleans a year
First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB) is the largest bank in the UAE. It was created through a merger of National Bank of Abu Dhabi and First Gulf Bank in April 2017. FAB offers a complete suite of financial services through its Personal, Corporate and Investment Banking divisions.
Here are some of FAB’s expat-specific offers:
Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, commonly called ADCB is the third largest bank in the UAE in terms of net assets. It is majority owned by the government of Abu Dhabi. It was consolidated into a public shareholding company in 1985 following the combination of Federal Commercial Bank, Khaleej Commercial Bank and Emirates Commercial Bank. ADCB provides retail, commercial, merchant, brokerage, investment and fund management services.
ADCB is particularly strong in trade and commodity finance. In 2020, Asian Banking and Finance ranked it as the “Best Domestic Trade Finance Bank in the UAE.” Global Finance rated ADCB as the “World’s Best Bank for Commodity Finance” in 2020. If your business needs this type of financing (commodity or trade finance), you should strongly consider the Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank.
Some expat specific products include:
Mashreq Bank is the oldest privately-held bank in the UAE. It was founded as the Bank of Oman in 1967. Today, Mashreq bank offers both conventional and Islamic banking services and its international reach covers 4 continents; Europe, America, Africa and Asia.
Mashreq Bank is one of the most innovative banks in the UAE with top honors as a digital bank. In 2021, Euromoney ranked Mashreq as the “Middle East’s Best Digital Bank”, MEA Finance rated it with “Digital Banking Innovation of the Year – 2021”
Mashreq Bank Expatriate Offers:
Dubai Islamic Bank (DIB) is the largest Islamic bank in the UAE and the first Islamic bank to incorporate the principles of Islam into all its business practices. DIB was established in 1975 and is the world’s first full-service Islamic bank and the second largest Islamic bank in the world after Al Rajhi Bank (Saudi Arabia). It offers shariah-compliant products and services in personal, corporate, SME and priority banking.
If you’d love a shariah-compliant banking experience, you should choose Dubai Islamic Bank. Heck, even if you aren’t Muslim, you should consider it. Interest-free banking sounds nice, doesn’t it?
Best International Banks in UAE for Expats
Since you’ve just moved to the UAE or are considering it, you might feel more comfortable parking your money in an international bank. Also, if you have a pre-existing relationship with any international bank, setting up a new bank account in the UAE should be easier. Anyhoo, we found these top 3 international banks (for personal banking) in UAE for expats:
Standard Chartered Bank is one of the leading banks in the world. It has an over 150 year history of providing financial services. Standard Chartered UAE was created in 1958 with its first branch in Sharjah. Standard Chartered UAE provides an extensive range of conventional and Islamic banking services for retail, private, commercial and corporate customers.
Some of Standard Chartered UAE expat-specific services include:
HSBC is one of the world’s largest banking and financial services organizations. In case you didn’t know, HSBC stands for Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited. In 1959, HSBC acquired the British Bank of the Middle East(BBME), formerly known as the Imperial Bank of Iran. The bank has undergone many expansions but its modern structure was formed in 1999 when it was renamed HSBC Middle East (HBME). HBME provides a large range of personal and business financial services, ranging from accounts, credit cards, mortgages, investments and insurance.
Some expat-friendly HSBC Middle East services are:
- Global Money Account
- Egyptian Expat Services
- Non-Resident Indian Services
- Money Transfers
- E-brokerage: trade securities in over 30 countries
Citibank opened its first branch in Dubai, UAE in 1964. Citibank UAE is a major provider of consumer credit services and personal loans. Citibank UAE also maintains an international e-brokerage, forex, trade and investment banking service in the UAE.
Some Citibank UAE expat-friendly services include:
- Citi Global Wallet
- E-brokerage: trade securities in over 30 countries
Although these banks didn’t make the final cut, they are also well-respected banks. If you don’t find what you are looking for in the top group above, check some of these other good local banks in the UAE. The banks below are known for their success in Islamic banking, commercial banking and their credit card services.
The National Bank of Ras Al-Khaimah, also known as RAKbank, was founded in 1976. It is headquartered in the emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah. It offers a range of conventional and islamic retail, SME and commercial banking services.
Emirates Islamic Bank is one of four Islamic banks in Dubai, UAE. It was founded in 2004 with the purpose of delivering strong shariah-compliant banking products. Emirates Islamic offers personal, business and priority banking services.
The Commercial Bank of Dubai (CBD) was founded in 1969 by an Amiri decree (an Emir’s decree) from the late Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum (second prime minister of UAE, former ruler of Dubai). Initially, CBD was a joint venture of Commerzbank, Chase Manhattan Bank and Commercial Bank of Kuwait. Today, CBD is the 7th largest bank in the UAE by assets. CBD offers a wide range of commercial and retail banking services in both conventional and shariah-compliant formats.
Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (ADIB) is one of the four islamic banks in Dubai, UAE. It was founded in May 1997 and is headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE. All ADIB transactions and business are strictly based on shariah-compliant banking.
National Bank of Fujairah is a full-service corporate bank founded in the emirate of Fujairah in 1982. NBF has a strong reputation for corporate, commercial, treasury and trade-finance. However, it also offers personal banking and shariah-compliant services.
In conclusion, the UAE has and continues to have a great financial system with great banks and financial service companies. Any of the banks above are a good choice for an expat just moving into the UAE or a resident expat. Rest assured, your money will be safe in any of these fine financial institutions.