Banking, Money and Taxes in Abu Dhabi

Expats will find banking in Abu Dhabi to be simple, and reasonably familiar. That said, as is the case with any foreign destination, there are a few quirks to take into account and practices to avoid debt and maximise the tax-free liberties that come with the territory.

Money in Abu Dhabi

The dirham is the local currency in the United Arab Emirates, and is abbreviated as AED. It is sometimes also written as DH or Dhs. One dirham is divided into 100 fils. 

The dirham is available in the following denominations:
  • Notes: 1,000 AED, 500 AED, 200 AED, 100 AED, 50 AED, 20 AED, 10 AED and 5 AED
  • Coins: 1 AED and 50, 25, 10  and 5 fils

Banking in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi's banking system is sophisticated, with plenty of local and international options.

Many foreigners choose a brand that they recognise from their home country, especially if they already have an account opened with that particular institution. Expats shouldn’t immediately discount local options; though service levels are rarely consistent, most banks are accustomed to catering to the large foreign community and there is usually no language barrier to speak of.

Some banks, such as HSBC and Barclays, offer offshore accounts so that expats can save their hard-earned wages outside the UAE. These are worth considering, as in the case of death, the government has the right to freeze an expat's account until their estate and debts are settled; a foreigner's home country will is not valid in Abu Dhabi.

Banks generally keep hours from 8am to 2pm, and are closed on Fridays. Branches in large malls may stay open later. Internet banking facilities, some better than others, are commonplace.

Opening a bank account

To open a bank account in Abu Dhabi expats needs a residence permit (or proof that the permit has been applied for), a passport, a No Objection Certificate from their employer, and a minimum amount for deposit, which varies according to the bank.

Nearly all banks offer standard accounts and features, including current accounts, debit cards, credit cards and car loans. Some banks offer special services for those who fall into certain salary brackets. Muslim expats may want to investigate Sharia-based accounts, which earn no interest and adhere to Islamic laws and banking principles.

ATMs and credit cards

ATMs are widely available across Abu Dhabi. Credit cards are accepted nearly everywhere, but if using an international card, expats should be aware that they will be charged additional fees for each transaction performed outside their home country.

Paying bills 

One aspect of banking that expats will have to acquaint themselves with in Abu Dhabi is the post-dated cheque. High fees are attached to electronic transfers and, as a result, post-dated cheques have become the best method for financing large payments, such as rent and car payments. Even day-to-day expenses can be financed with normal cheques. Expats should be aware that bouncing a cheque is a crime in Abu Dhabi, so they should manage their money carefully.

For those looking to send money elsewhere in the world to those without bank accounts, there are plenty of Western Unions, and similar enterprises, located in and around the city. 

Taxes in Abu Dhabi

As most expats know, a huge advantage of working in Abu Dhabi is that there is no taxation on expat income, nor is there GST. However, as of 2018, there is a 5 percent VAT.

There is, however, tax attached to drinks and meals in restaurants that serve alcohol, but these additions are minimal.

Some expats may be liable for tax in their home country, although the amount varies and relates to how long one spends outside of the country, and whether they qualify for non-resident tax status.

Expats should consult a tax advisor to help with the process of filing in their home country, if necessary.