The UAE stands out as one of the fastest-growing business hubs globally, uniquely resilient to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, with a notable surge in foreign investment. It entices companies worldwide to establish subsidiaries and foster vibrant business networks within its borders. Situated strategically for cross-border trade, this multicultural melting pot draws entrepreneurs globally. Nevertheless, numerous individuals encounter unforeseen hurdles in the process of setting up local business bank accounts, a challenge most wish they had been prepared for in advance.
A Fintech advisor and consultant, Adam Tracy explores some common pitfalls he has experienced in opening business bank accounts in the UAE.
First, the lack of a local office will likely be fatal to any account application. UAE banks will almost always require registered office in the UAE. Typically, they demand a lease agreement as evidence – and a shared or virtual office will not suffice. This requirement incurs additional costs for office space rental, maintenance, utility bills, etc., which can be inconvenient, particularly for businesses offering remote services that do not necessitate a fixed physical location.
Second, a remote opening of a business bank account is not possible. While local retail banks are venturing into the digital realm with digital-only brands and neobanking, the focus remains predominantly on in-person banking. To open a business account in the UAE, your physical presence at the bank branch is required. The process of opening a business account is intricate and can often extend over weeks or even months. If you’ve chosen to establish a UAE company and open a local bank account, anticipate a prolonged stay in the country to navigate through the procedures.
Third, opening and maintaining a business bank account in the UAE will typically require a higher than average minimum balance requirement. Depending on the bank and their business package, this amount can soar to as high as one hundred thousand dollars or even more. Moreover, the balance must remain available at all times or the business will face having the account closed. In my experience, I have seen an accounting error that led to a client’s account dropping below the minimum required balance by a mere $5,000 over the course of three (3) days which led to the account being closed. Thus, this requirement alone renders local banks less accommodating for startups and smaller companies.
Fourth, UAE banks will require that the account holder attest to the good standing of the entity on an annual basis. This requires the submission of official documents from the corporate registry to the local bank, which must be notarized or affirmed with an apostille from within the UAE. This can be a somewhat costly process and in most cases, will require a trip to the UAE as there are very few options for remote signature authentication in the UAE.
Fifth, when attempting to open a business bank account in the Emirates, you’ll soon discover that local retail banks primarily target larger organizations with substantial balances and transaction volumes. They are less inclined to accommodate small or medium-sized companies and generally lack start-up-friendly packages and cost-effective cross-border payment methods. Simply put, startups need not apply.
Sixth, you thought dealing with US banks was difficult? A notable weakness in UAE banking is the absence of personalized (and prompt) assistance. Unless you have a sizable business, obtaining prompt transaction support, resolving stuck or blocked payments, or receiving advice on optimal payment routes may prove challenging. Personal managers are typically reserved exclusively for top-tier clients. In my experience, it is not uncommon to wait weeks for a response on unapplied payment or pending transfer.
Seventh, over the past decade, UAE banks have increasingly become highly selective regarding the industries they accept. While many view the UAE – especially Dubai, as a hub for Fintech, cryptocurrency and payments, those an other emerging technologies may encounter limited opportunities for successful onboarding. In order to open an account, considerable time, effort and extensive documentation are necessary to demonstrate the legitimacy and financial stability of a “high risk” business to the bank. Traditional banks, adhering to conservative standards, are hesitant to delve into the intricacies of your business model and financial flows and are reluctant to onboard customers from industries deemed even mildly risky.
Finally, despite the considerable pre-planning involved in opening a UAE business bank account – which obviously includes scheduling a preliminary meeting at the bank and forwarding basic corporate and KYC information, local banks are unwilling or otherwise uninterested in conducting any basic due diligence on the applicant. While the UAE may be the most diverse and multicultural locale in the Middle East, it nevertheless follows prevailing cultural nuances. In Islamic culture, outright refusal is uncommon; hence, the bank will often proceed with your account application even when success is unlikely – while also failing to convey that fact to the applicant. This can lead to significant time and financial investment without yielding any results.
Opening a business bank account in the UAE can be, at best, a frustrating process. Partnering with the right professionals operating in the UAE, however, can increase your chances of success while minimizing the time and effort involved.
Adam Tracy works with businesses seeking to open UAE companies and corresponding bank accounts. Be sure to reach out with any questions or comments.
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About Adam Tracy
Adam Tracy is a payments expert and entrepreneur who specializes in payment systems, blockchain technology, digital currencies, and other emerging technologies. He is the founder of Blockrunner, LLC that provides consulting services to clients in the blockchain, payments and cryptocurrency arenas.
Tracy has been involved in the payments industry as an attorney, consultant and entrepreneur since 2005, while he was become an expert in blockchain and cryptocurrency since its advent in 2013. Tracy has worked with a wide range of clients, including startups, established businesses, and investor – both in the United States and worldwide. He has advised clients on a wide range of compliance, legal and operational issues related to payment transfer systems, crypto token generation and architecture, cryptocurrency exchanges, regulatory licensing, smart contracts, and other blockchain applications.
In addition to his consulting work, Tracy has founded several companies in the payments, blockchain and cryptocurrency space, including a digital asset hedge fund, licensed electronic money institution and a blockchain-based tokenization platform. He is also a proponent of decentralized finance (DeFi) and has been involved in various DeFi projects.
Tracy is also a frequent speaker and writer on blockchain and cryptocurrency topics. He has been featured in a wide range of publications, including Forbes, Hollywood Reporters, CNBC, Reuters, CoinDesk, and Bitcoin.com.
Find Adam: https://linktr.ee/adamtracy
Blockrunner, LLC., is a financial services match-making marketplace and consulting company. We are not a bank, FI/NBFI, Payment Service Provider, deposit taking institution, trust, or money services business of any kind. We are not regulated by any financial regulator. Banking, Payment, Processing, and Licensing services are provided by our participating members. This website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you need legal advice, please consult a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.