Saudi Arabia

Banking for expats in Saudi Arabia

Banking for an expat in Saudi is such a pain in the ass. Most of the Saudi staffs are inefficient, unresponsive, uninviting and not doing their job. Be prepared to turn away a few times before getting the transaction done! Here I’d like to share my experiences with various bank in the kingdom.

SAMBA (previously Saudi American Bank)

The only 2 banks that have a branch in Diplomatic Quarter are Samba and Alawwal. This is my first bank and why Samba bank? well my office is banking with them… The DQ branch staff is familiar with foreigner especially the diplomat, most of them are nice but some not. My experience opening account with them was not good, the first time I was turned away because I need a letter from my employer saying that I want to open an account with them hmm… I was given forms (more like a booklet) to fill. The next they I bring along filled form and the letter, the same guy told me that I also need a national address registration too WTF! you could tell me yesterday (yeah this is how Saudis work). I was so mad but my colleague calm me down and said “better get use to it”. The 3rd time I was successfully opening my local currency account along with debit card and online banking. Despite select USD current account too in the form, the guy said “USD account open later and need another form”… well I have done it a month later.

What I like

  • You can deposit USD note to your USD current account. Not every bank allow this!
  • Their online banking is just ok, work as it should. I didn’t tried their Online Account Opening system because it was not available last year.
  • Some ATM support dual currencies (can withdrawn USD).
  • Automatic upgrade to Samba Gold if the requirements are met (without notification though).

What I hate

  • Very bureaucratic, be prepared to fill every fields in the form and I mean a lot and long! They also use carbon copy for the form but they never print out the transaction record from the computer for you (which most of the modern bank do)
  • They never responsible for their mistake. I was once made the international transfer and the receiver call me saying that she won’t get the money because her name is misspelled. I check the carbon copy of the form and my writing was correct so I claim this incident at the branch. The manager just try to get rid of his responsibility immediately and said that my handwriting was bad so his staff misread it. Ok Insha Allah.
  • Cannot open additional account online, though the menu was there in Online Banking but after clicking it says “Additional Account Not allowed for this ID Type”. Same for credit card application and investment account opening. Not sure if this only happen to Diplomatic Iqama.
  • Never ever reply email or Facebook messenger

Samba Gold

Samba Gold is a higher level of service with dedicated staff and counter (only some branch). The perks are discount of most bank fee (I can confirm 50% discount on transfer fee) and preferential exchange rate (i.e. USD buy rate normal:3.74 gold:3.745 sell rate normal:3.759 gold:3.7452). The minimum requirement the bank staff told me is to maintain the balance over 100,000SAR for 6 months or have minimum salary of 20,000SAR transfer via payroll system to SAMBA account, sorry for those who got paycheck including me :(. The status seems to grant automatically when requirements are met. One day I tried to transfer money abroad and noticed that the fee is half the usual and the exchange rate is better than normal. So I ask my friend to check if he does get the same, no he doesn’t. Hence come my conclusion.

UPDATE: You can also check if you’re a Samba Gold by calling 800-125-5000 and input you debit card number. If you’re not a Samba Gold then you will be instructed to call normal Samba Phone instead. Another option is though Samba Mobile, log in then choose “Contact Us”. If the display show a Samba Gold contact center then!

PS: Samba Diamond need to maintain 500,000SAR for 6 months. All bank fee include credit card annual fee waived!

SABB (previously Saudi British Bank)

Holding the same logo of HSBC but not the same quality. The staff quality is not much different from Samba. As I research a lot before coming to Saudi Arabia, SABB seems to be the best option but the reality is just so… shitty. The first time I tried to open an account at their Dabbab branch was… yes I was turned away despite a well preparation from my Samba experience. Their excuse was my employer recommendation letter has no signer name or position on it (well we use official seal and normally no signature). I change the branch to Al Nhakeel and I was successfully opened the account but with a big hiccup. SABB has online form for opening an account at that time. I filled everything correctly and show up at the branch at appointed time. Well the appointment was a joke, I waited about an hour until someone show up at counter and do the job. The guy was trying to re-write my name from my Iqama which is Arabic to English. I said please use the name as written in passport, but he didn’t listen. My account name was… disaster and each time I pulled out the debit card also remind me of this dick head. Secondly I mention before hand that I want to open SABB Advance Account which I do qualified but I got the basic account. Just another god merciful day.

UPDATE: Online account opening is a breeze! I opened an account for my employee and get the MADA card from automated machine (available at a very few location though). No need to interact with any human-being at the bank! Also the name is print correctly as registered in Absher!

What I like

  • Their online banking is cool, after open main SAR account then you can open other currency account with a click! They have EUR, GBP and much more! And some of their ATM can withdrawn SAR/USD/EUR!
  • Their credit card product is among the best and lower annual fee (Most of credit card in Saudi charged annual fee! only higher ranking customer is exempted)
  • Their Waafer account can be opened online and giving you a good interest! (about 2.5%) It work like an installment saving, you set the term (12/24/36 months) and amount you want. It will automatically deduct the amount you set on the date you choose, each month you will get the interest. Be careful, breaking the term or early termination can cost a fee.
  • Form free! No need to fill the form for deposit or withdrawn! (Samba should learn this!) After each transaction, the result/reference code is printed and given to you as a proof. (Samba also need to learn this!)
  • A lot of promotion for credit or debit card holder, I got a vey good discount at (now, SACO and many other places.
  • You can open Tadawul trading portfolio at HSBC Mubasher online which link to SABB account. But the subscription fee is high so I opted for Al Rajhi Capital instead.

What I hate

  • International transfer beneficial account registration is very limited. You will have only pre-registered bank choices (probably only their counterpart bank). If your bank wasn’t in the list then you have to do the over counter transaction which cost higher than online banking. In my case very few Thailand’s bank is in the list and my bank is not on it (only Kasikorn, Bangkok, CITI, HSBC, Standard Charter). Even choosing “other” there is no way to put SWIFT code (Thai bank do not use IBAN).
  • Cannot deposit foreign currency bank note! Need to exchange to SAR and deposit to main account only. So basically the other currency accounts are for transfer in-out only.
  • One day you got a message to update your detail otherwise your account will be freezed… damn I have to visit the branch again.

SABB Advance

SABB Advance is a higher level of service with dedicated staff and counter (only some branch). The perks I really like is free annual-fee credit card (there is virtually no annual-fee free credit card in KSA). The minimum requirement is to maintain the balance over 100,000SAR for 3 months or have minimum salary of 20,000SAR transfer via payroll system to SABB account. The paycheck also possible if provide a steady deposit proof. I visit the branch and ask if I eligible now, the staff said he will check and will get back to me later, that night I got a SMS saying that new SABB Advance MADA card is being process, the online banking portal also showing SABB Advance logo instead of normal one woohoo. I visit the branch later for the MADA card as well as credit card, the SABB Advance counter is only serve by 1 staff, it’s a bit slow but the staff is really nice. I got my MADA card but have to come back a few times for my credit card (because the bank want more document, yeah Saudi style you cannot expect anything to complete in a single visit).

SABB Premier need to maintain 375,000SAR for 3 months. Not that much attractive perks available, Visa Signature and Mastercard World available for free.

Al Rajhi

Al Rajhi is very popular among low-mid skill expats because of cheap-to-free international money transfer service to many major labour export countries. Their ATMs and branches are more accessible than previous 2 banks mentioned.

What I like

  • Their online account opening and debit card issuance was great. They have automated debit card issuance machine almost every major branches! Samba has none, SABB has a few (about 12 places all over the country).
  • Applying for virtual credit card and other card products through the app or web portal also work like charm.
  • Their Travel Plus card is a multi currencies prepaid card with and option to buy or sell major currencies to use abroad or online. The rate is better than credit card or cash exchange, USD is always fix at 3.75SAR. Beware of 150SAR annual fee and must maintain minimum of 10USD with in the card. If your balance fall below 10USD the system will auto-deduct from your current account to fill the card and the rate is not 3.75.
  • You can also open a Tadawul trading portfolio online at Al Rajhi Capital. Your portfolio is linked to your account and transfer money between bank account and portfolio is a breeze. Now their subscription fee is waived (not sure until when).

What I hate

  • Online account opening portal seems not work correctly. If you choose English you may be told to contact the bank after the first page. I tried Arabic instead and was successfully open the account. Another struggle is when inputting the National Address, the validator won’t accept my postal code so I have to put my P.O. Box postal code instead. But no worry if you order a credit card or Travel Plus card, the courier will send you a link through SMS to locate your location on Google Map.
  • Cannot open additional currency account online.
  • I cannot do a SWIFT transfer online, asked to register the Tahweel which is a different Al Rajhi product.
  • My account status keep saying “inactive-contact the branch” however it work fine (deposit, withdraw, purchase all working). A bit annoying or maybe a timed-bomb.

Using foreign debit card in KSA

You can withdrawn the cash in KSA with any foreign debit/credit card with Visa/Mastercard network. As of Jan 2021 there is no withdrawal fee taken by SAMBA ATMs so basically you will pay just your home bank fee and currency exchange rate. The limit of 5,000SAR per withdraw is not applied to foreign card! I witness a successful single time withdrawal of 12,000SAR so if your home bank limit set higher than this you may be able to withdraw up to that limit in a single withdraw!

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