I’m an American nurse working and living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and I went through the RINGER with opening a bank account. Fortunately for you, (unfortunately for me), I’m now semi-qualified on this topic, meaning I get to share with you everything you need to know about opening a bank account as an expat in Saudi Arabia.
While most of these principles can apply to any expat, being an American nurse I can only write from my own point of view.
What Every Expat Needs to Know About Opening a Bank Account in Saudi Arabia
It took me trying to open account with three different banks until I was finally successful. I physically visited over five banks and had my share of frustration at each. The information below is a rough guide to opening an account as every bank treated me differently and even different branches of the same bank treated me differently. (For example, one branch told me I didn’t need a passport while another branch told me I did). To be on the safe side, I’ve included all information and whether it will apply to you or not – honestly just depends on who’s working that day!
Documents You Need to Open An Account
Every bank will ask for different documents and it really depends on who is helping you whether or not they ask you to show these documents. But to be safe, this is everything I’d have handy when you’re opening an account:
- Certificate of employment (one bank told me I didn’t need my salary on this, one told me I did… so to be safe, I would request your salary on of your certificate of employment)
- Absher – Your Absher needs to be linked to your IQAMA and your Saudi phone number so make sure to have both of these things before registering Absher (I was told to register my Absher with my passport which resulted in my Absher being inaccessible once I got my IQAMA. To fix this, I had to get a new phone number. If you’re able to, I wouldn’t do anything with Absher until your IQAMA arrives.)
- Saudi phone number
- Passport (physical copy not a photocopy)
- Registration of your national address (how to register here)
Banks to Choose From
There are 20+ licensed banks in Saudi Arabia, giving you multiple options to choose from. Among expats, there are definitely some that are more popular than others. Below are the banks that my co-workers and I use and recommend.
- SABB (The Saudi British Bank)
- SBC (Security Bank)
Opening An Account Online vs In-Person
This is one of those topics where you’ll hear a lot of conflicting information. Generally, you can start by opening a bank account on the banks app/website, then you’ll need to find a machine or go into a branch to get your debit card printed out.
For some reason, I was unable to open an account on any app or website (to this day, nobody knows why). When I went into the bank I was told, “You have to do it online”. When I explained that I couldn’t I always had to show the staff I wasn’t able to before they’d even allow me to sit down with a bank teller.
So always try online first, and if you need further assistance go in-person.
What to Expect When Opening a Bank Account in Saudi Arabia
The one thing I’ve learned since living in Saudi Arabia is that you have to have an abundance of patience. Things won’t go right – repeatedly. If you’re a woman, you’ll be skipped in line and ignored. You’ll hear “Inshallah” more times than you can count (meaning “in God’s will”). The list goes on!
In America, everyone wants anyone’s business, so people will go out of their way to make sure you’re satisfied. Here, when I was having trouble opening an account, instead of escalating the problem and figuring out what was going on, things just stood at a standstill and I was told to “come back another time”. While this is a generalization, don’t expect anyone to go above or beyond to ensure that they get your business… you’re going to have to fight for yourself.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the weekends are on Fridays and Saturdays so banks are closed then. For best luck, try to open an account early in the week (it seems the earlier in the week, the more productive everyone is). And avoid going in on the 27th of the month as that’s when everyone gets paid and the banks are generally more crowded. Lastly, if you’re a woman, know that some banks have different areas for men/women so keep an eye out on that.
Moving to Saudi Arabia and trying to get everything set up can feel incredibly overwhelming. Just take a deep breath and know that eventually it will all work out. (Even if it takes weeks).
For more on life in Saudi Arabia, don’t miss:
Apps to Download if You Visit Saudi Arabia
What it’s Like Living in Saudi Arabia (from an American Perspective)
A Guide to Grocery Shopping in Saudi Arabia – for Expats!