I had mentioned clearly in an earlier post on the fundamental reason why an expatriate is here in the first place. I would now like to elaborate on the Banking System in Saudi Arabia. Opening a bank account is not an easy process #-o It requires the approval of your sponsor and an introduction letter from him. You will also have to submit copies of your residence permit (Iqama) and your passport which should have been attested by your sponsor #:-S Bigger companies usually transfer their salaries directly to the account, while smaller contracting companies make a cheque payment. Of course, there are also those rogue sponsors who don't pay their employees for months together X( but I will cover that in another post.
Banks in the kingdom do not pay any interest for the amount you keep in the account. Of course, they charge you a hefy interest if you take a loan from them. It's just that they don't call it as 'interest' but prefer to call it as 'Service Charge' :)) This is all the more reason why you must keep a bare minimum amount as balance in your account. Typically, it should be equal to a one-way air fare back home for you and your family. Keep the rest of the money with you as cash, or better still, send it immediately back home.
If you have an account in a bank, you will normally be issued a debit card. Make sure that you NEVER EVER use the debit card issued by your bank in the ATM Teller Machine of another bank :-O There are simply innumerable instances of expatriates being caught in unimaginable circumstances. If your ATM machine 'swallows' your card, or worse still debits from your account but does not issue any cash, at least the process of retrieving your card and money from your bank becomes a shade simpler if you had used your own bank's ATM. The settlement period is usually not less than 15 days #-o
Before leaving on vacation, never ever use your ATM to withdraw cash. It would be safer to go to your bank, use a withdrawal slip and take your money. If your card gets stuck or your money is debited without issuing cash, you don't even have time to go and lodge a complaint with your bank, so be safe.
There are many remittance centers in Saudi Arabia. All of them charge a small premium as service charge, irrespective of the amount you send. There is no upper limit on the amount you can send, but for bigger amounts banks normally ask for a salary certificate from your sponsor. Before sending money home, enquire about the exchange rate in a couple of remittance centers. You would end up with a hole in your pocket if you go to a bank / remittance center which offers you a rock bottom rate.
To be on the safer side, try not to send too much money in one transaction. There are cases where it has taken more than a week for the money to reach home, even though you had sent it by "Express" service (:
Most big shopping outlets in the kingdom accept debit cards issued by local banks. If the transaction amount is big, please ensure that you have a copy of the transaction slip. Instances of your account being debited twice are not uncommon :-SS I may sound rather pessimistic, but I have to also be realistic! As long as things are going on smooth, there's no problem. The moment you have a problem, with some good luck it would get settled in a few week's time ~X(
The whole problem is that there is no ombudsman for the banks here and hence no accountability by the staff either. First of all you wouldn't know whom to complain to and you cannot fight for your rights. You don't have them anyway. In the unfortunate event of your money being debited twice, it becomes YOUR responsibility to prove that there has been only one transaction. It's no joke, it happened to me :(( Luckily my bank credited the amount, but the ordeal I underwent before this was terrible.
I would also advise you not to take any credit card from any of the banks in the kingdom. It would be better to take an international credit card in your home country. You never know the fine print and courtesy is the last thing to expect from the staff, particularly from bigger banks.
Finally, ensure that dealings with your bank are a bare minimum. Typically, I would use them only as a transit point for my money before being sent home :D Afterall, the best day of the month is Pay Day!