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Saudi Arabia - Banking

The banking system in Saudi Arabia is favorable to both Saudi people and international customers. Banks provide most basic services to expats, and are willing to provide more on request. However, there are certain dos and don’ts that every migrant needs to know about banking in Saudi Arabia.

Currency Of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Riyal is the official currency of Saudi Arabia and is abbreviated as SR. The Riyal is based on the US dollar, so is affected by the ups and downs of the American currency. The Halala is the smallest denomination of Saudi money; a hundred of these make up one Saudi Riyal.

Halalas are issued in the form of 5, 10, 25, and 100 coins, while SR notes are issued in denominations of 1, 4, 50, 100, and 500. Ensure you have enough riyals to make payments at local stores, to roadside vendors, or for paying for your taxi. This is more convenient as payments in foreign currencies or via bankers’ checks are usually not accepted in Saudi Arabia.

Banking Institutions In Saudi Arabia

The banking system in Saudi Arabia is a well-established, thriving one. There are plenty of big Saudi banks in the major cities, while regional banks and smaller financial institutions can be found in more rural villages. International banks such as CitiBank, Standard Chartered and the British Bank of the Middle East have branches in many of the Gulf States as well.

The Central Bank of Saudi Arabia controls all monetary and fiscal policies of the Gulf State. It also acts as a clearing bank for anyone in need of financial services. An Islamic banking system is also available, although non-Muslim expats may not find this service useful.

Saudi banks offer all the standard financial services provided by international banks. Opening an account with a Saudi bank grants you convenient services such as standing orders, check clearance, direct debits, credit card payments and loan services. Saudi banks are constantly competing with international banks for the growing number of expat customers.

International money transfer is by far the most lucrative service provided by most banks in Saudi Arabia. In addition, the Saudi government has reduced restrictions on moving money in and out of Saudi Arabia. As an expat customer, there are plenty of options to choose from when you want to send money back to your loved ones or receive payments from abroad.

Banking institutions have distinct procedures and charges for sending or receiving money from Saudi Arabia. Avoid making international money transfers with local banks. Banks have the poorest rates compared to competitors like private exchange bureaus. Bank exchange rates are often lower as they take a cut out of the transaction. In addition, some banks charge a commission for international transfers. Banks may choose to attract customers with enticing exchange rates, but will then charge very high commissions.

Private foreign exchange bureaus in the Gulf state are often owned by established trading families. These families have been in the business for a long time and can give better rates to customers. A private exchange company will give an attractive offer whether you are sending money from one bank to bank, through a postal order, telex, SWIFT or Telegraphic transfer.

Bank Opening Hours

Saudi banks operate differently to Western banks. Banks open at 8am, but then close by 1pm. Some banks may reopen from 4.30pm to 6.30pm. On Thursdays, all banks open at 8am and close at noon. No banking facility are open on Fridays.

Airport banks, on the other hand, remain open 24 hours on any day of the week. Foreign exchange bureaus also work until later in the evening. If you are late to go to the bank, a private financial institution is a good banking option. It is also good to check if any of the international bank branches in Saudi Arabia follow the normal working hours as their counterparts in your home country.

Opening A Bank Account

All expats are required to have a residence visa to open a local bank account. Opening a bank account often involves lots of paperwork. Employed expats are required to present a letter of no objection from their employer. This letter basically details your net salary and how much will be paid to your account each month by your employer.

A copy of your passport will be required, together with four passport photos. You may also be required to present a tenancy agreement or residential address, but the residence visa will do in most cases. Saudi banks will also accept your request to open an account if you have proof of permission from your sponsor. Your sponsor can be your employer, an organization, or your spouse who is a Saudi native.

Expats can open savings, current, or checking accounts with Saudi banks. Note that there are no exclusive loan and credit banks in Saudi Arabia. You also cannot open a checking account with a Saudi bank. Loans and credit are offered by both local and international banks.

Expats working in Saudi Arabia are advised to open accounts with their employer’s bank. This can speed up processing of your money once it is paid by your employer. It can also reduce the paperwork required and earn you privileges offered by banks.

Transactions In Saudi Arabia

It is advisable to make most of your transactions in cash, in the local currency. Card or check payments are also accepted, although only in major establishments such as hotels, major malls and high-ranking casinos. Very few local shops or roadside vendors will accept credit card or check payments.

When making payments via check, ensure your account has the required amount of money to be debited. Writing checks with no money in your account is considered an offense in Saudi Arabia and can attract possible jail time. To be on the safe side, make payments with post dated checks that buy you time for the money to be in your account.

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