Banking, Money and Taxes in Dubai
Expats will find that banking in Dubai is a relatively simple, straightforward experience. In fact, managing money in the emirate is a pleasure to many, given their tax-free income status. That said, however, it's crucial to avoid living off credit and incurring debt.
Money in Dubai
The Dirham is the official 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
Most shops round up or down as there are no smaller coins. Anything larger than a 100 AED note may cause consternation, and it may be difficult to get change for it, especially in a taxi.
Banking in Dubai
Many well-known international banks have a presence in Dubai, so finding a familiar brand is easy and convenient. That said, expats should not discount local UAE banks; they provide excellent service, and the nature of the small, competitive market means favourable deals are easy to find.
Banks are generally open every day from 8am to 3pm, except Fridays.
Opening a bank account
Opening a bank account in Dubai is a fairly painless process once expats have their residence visa. Expats will need to show proof of their visa, as well as provide their passport, proof of address and a no-objection letter from their employer in order to open a bank account in Dubai.
Fees and service offerings differ between the various banks. Current accounts, debit and credit cards, savings accounts and car loans are standard fare, with some banks also offering preferential banking, depending on a person’s salary level.
For Muslim expatriates and locals, all UAE banks offer Sharia-based accounts in accordance with Islamic laws and banking principles. These accounts earn no interest, and have somewhat complicated arrangements for mortgages and loans.
One aspect of banking in Dubai that expats may find frustrating is the fact that many transactions can only be done in person at the branch; so expats should be sure to choose a bank that is convenient to their lifestyle. High fees for doing electronic transfers mean most people stick to cheques, cash and credit cards for making payments to a third party.
Cheques are still widely accepted in the UAE. Expats can issue a cheque for pretty much anything, but beware if it bounces, as the penalty can include jail and a fine. Post-dated cheques are popular, and are the primary method used for buying a car and paying annual rent, as debit orders are not common in Dubai.
ATMs and credit cards
ATMs are numerous, and there is no charge for drawing cash from a different bank’s machine.
Most banks also have cheque and cash deposit machines available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Internet banking facilities are also available, though in some cases, they can be rather unsophisticated.
Credit cards normally attract high interest charges. Some expats do run into trouble living beyond their means in Dubai, so it’s important to remain disciplined.
As the population in Dubai is predominantly expatriate, some banks offer one free transfer a month for sending money home. This doesn’t apply to every country, so double-check before making the transaction as the fees charged for making outward remittances can be quite high.
Western Union and similar companies have ample outlets around the city and are popular alternatives for these transfers, especially when recipients don’t have bank accounts themselves. The big international banks, such as HSBC and Barclays, will also offer the option of opening an offshore bank account somewhere else, for example Jersey or the Channel Islands. This is a good way to save extra cash outside the country, and an important back-up in the unfortunate event of death.
Taxation, wills and Sharia law in Dubai
There is no personal income tax or GST charged in the UAE. However, as of 2018, a 5 percent VAT has been implemented within the emirates.
Certain countries will tax earnings by their citizens no matter where it is earned, for example the United States, while others will insist that expats are out of the country for a minimum period of time before becoming exempted. It’s therefore advisable to get advice from a tax expert back home.
It’s important to know that a “home” will is not valid for anything expats own in the UAE. If an expat resident dies, their UAE bank accounts are immediately frozen until the estate is finalised and their debts are paid in full. This includes any joint accounts. Accounts held in another country are not affected. It is therefore imperative that the spouse has a separate bank account in their own name containing emergency funding in case of this eventuality. If there is no Sharia-compliant will in place at the time of death then UAE law is applied, and the estate will be divided up by the court.
If owning property or other assets in Dubai, expats should endeavour to have a will drawn up in the UAE to make sure their family is properly taken care of. There are several specialist firms in the region that can advise on this. Incidentally, there is no estate or inheritance tax applied in Dubai.