One of my bigger concerns when I was looking into taking an expat position in KSA was how banking in Saudi Arabia works and how I would go about get my money back home. Since I was not an international drug dealer, I didn’t have any personal experience moving large sums of money overseas and I wasn’t sure how the process worked or how much it cost. The good news though is I am happy to share that the process is really simple and fairly cheap.
Saudi Arabia has its own banks, so no Fifth Third or BofA here, but there are plenty of options to choose from and for the most part things are very similar to what you will find in the US. At KAUST we have two banks (SABB and SAMBA) with branches and ATMs on campus so these were the easiest and most convenient for us. SABB stands for the SAudi British Bank and SAMBA is the Saudi AMerican BAnk. We of course bank with SAMBA, but it doesn’t matter to much which one you choose as almost all of them allow for online international wire transfers.
As an expat working in KSA you will most likely be paid in Saudi Riyals. If you are American then the good news is the exchange rate is fixed. So you will always know exactly what you are getting in USD since it never changes. The rate is pegged to the dollar and 1 dollar always equals 3.75 Saudi Riyals. If you are from any other country however, then you will have to watch the exchange rates. I know some of our friends from the EU will save up money in there Saudi Accounts until the Euro goes down in value and then they will transfer money back home meaning they will possibly get more Euros for the same amount of Riyals than they would have when the Euro is strong. Since the rate never changes for the dollar though I usually end up transferring all excess Riyals to the US the same day I receive my paycheck.
International Wire Transfer
So how exactly does it work and how much does it cost? Once you have set-up your bank account in Saudi Arabia you can then go onto your bank’s website and create an international beneficiary. The international beneficiary is of course yourself and to do this you just need your name, bank’s name, account #, and ABA routing #. After entering these details, you typically need to wait 1-2 days for your Saudi bank to verify and approve your US bank account. Once this is done then transferring the money is as simple as transferring money in-between your checking and savings account back home. You just select the beneficiary (i.e. your US bank account), select the amount of money (in USD) you would like to transfer, enter your security code and click send. The money minus the fee’s will then show up in your US account in 24 hours (if it is a weekday) otherwise the next business day after a weekend or holiday.
The maximum amount you can transfer online per day is 45,000 Riyals or $12,000 USD. You can transfer more than this but to do so you have to go to the bank branch in person. You will be charged a flat fee of 50 riyals ($13.33) by the Saudi Bank for the conversion (Riyals to USD) and transfer. This was one of my big fears, but again since the dollar is pegged to Riyal there is no worries about the exchange rate. They will always convert whatever you send in Riyals to USD at the rate of 3.75 to 1. No gouging you on exchange rates like at the Foreign Cash Exchanges at the airport. Once the money lands in your account in the US then your bank will also likely take a small fee as well depending on your bank and the type of account you have. I use Fifth Third and they take a flat $15 on all incoming wire transfers. So long story short on typical $12,000 transfer you are going to end up paying ~$28.50 or roughly 0.2% out of the total to convert and transfer your Saudi Riyals to USD in your US bank account. A very small price to pay when you compare it to the huge financial benefits and savings you can gain by working in KSA. Plus, it is kind of cool when you visit friends and family back home and get to say things like, “Oh I just wired over a bunch of money from my overseas account today.”