Money Management

International money transfers in Saudi Arabia

While international money transfers in Saudi Arabia might not be as easy and intuitive as in other countries, you can still make them quite easily. This guide shows you exactly how to do it.

Money transfer Saudi Arabia

By Gayatri Bhaumik

Updated 8-1-2024

If you are an expat in Saudi Arabia, chances are that you will want to send money back home at some point. Whether you want to send your salary back to a savings account in your home country, or make regular transfers to family, international banking is a part of expat life. This helpful guide includes the following information on the topic:

International money transfers in Saudi Arabia

Like all other countries, you can make international money transfers in Saudi Arabia through banks. There are over 24 banks in the Kingdom, 13 of which are national banks, including the leading National Commercial Bank (also called AlAhil Bank). The rest are foreign banks – including HSBC and BNP Paribas – but these offer very limited services and few personal banking options.

National Commercial Bank
National Commercial Bank

Saudi Arabia also has more than 50 licensed exchanged houses that deal with money transfers. Although they may offer more competitive fees, they should be handled with caution. It is also important to remember that Saudi Arabia uses a unique IBAN. These are long alphanumeric codes beginning with SA03 as the destination router.

Online transfer services in Saudi Arabia

Although third-party online transfer services have become a popular way of sending money across the world, very few of them operate in Saudi Arabia. For the most part, you will only be able to use these to send money into the Kingdom, not from it.

Of course, that does not mean that the service is not available. Skrill is the only reliable operator in the Kingdom. And, because it allows you to make international money transfers in Saudi Arabia to other countries, it can be a good option. Simply create a free account, then send money from your bank account or credit card to your Skrill account. Afterward, you can move the funds from Skrill to a bank account outside Saudi Arabia. To make the transfer, you will need the recipient’s full name, bank details, and IBAN or SWIFT code.

The best part about using Skrill is that they do not charge fees. It is free to send funds directly to a bank account from Skrill. Additionally, they use the mid-market rate provided by Reuters for foreign currency exchanges, which means you will not pay additional mark-ups. Furthermore, Skrill uses industry-leading secure payments and is regulated by the London-based Financial Conduct Authority.

International money transfers in Saudi Arabia by traditional bank

For the most part, international money transfers are still done through traditional banks in Saudi Arabia. This is because it is usually the easiest way to do it. Banks are usually convenient to get to and offer a higher level of customer service than other types of transfers. To make a transaction, you can use internet banking, mobile apps, or phone banking. Furthermore, you can go into a bank branch and make the transfer in person.

For the purposes of this guide, we will focus on the biggest bank in Saudi Arabia: the National Commercial Bank.

Costs of international bank transfers in Saudi Arabia

When you make overseas payments, you can expect to incur international transfer costs in Saudi Arabia. These can often vary depending on how much you are sending and where the money is going. However, since the Kingdom does not impose minimum or maximum limits on international transfers, you will only have to worry about destination costs. 

However, if you are using the National Commercial Bank, you’re in luck. They charge a flat rate of SAR50 per transfer, no matter how much you are sending or where it is going. Be aware, though, that you may still incur additional fees for exchanging currencies.

How long do transfers in Saudi Arabia take?

International payments in Saudi Arabia are usually very fast. For example, the National Commercial Bank states that their transfers are effective immediately. Generally speaking, you can expect your transfer to be completed within one or two business days.

Making an international money transfer in Saudi Arabia by bank

When it comes to making an international money transfer by bank in Saudi Arabia, you can expect the process to be similar to anywhere else in the world. You will need to provide a government photo ID and the recipient’s details. In addition, you can make your transfer in person at a bank branch, through online or phone banking, or at an ATM.

Importantly, you will have to provide a lot of details to make sure your money goes to the right place. These include:

  • Recipient’s full name
  • Account number 
  • IBAN or SWIFT Code
  • Recipient’s address
  • Purpose of payment

Receiving a transfer in Saudi Arabia by bank

If you are planning to receive international money transfers in Saudi Arabia, you will need to provide several details to the person sending you money. They will need your full name, bank details, and IBAN. Saudi Arabia uses unique IBANs which begin with the code SA and check digits 03.

International money transfers via online and mobile banking

As in most other countries, banks in Saudi Arabia offer the ability to do your banking online and through mobile apps. You can also use these systems to make international payments in Saudi Arabia. While each bank has its own unique systems and nuances, you can expect the process to be very similar across the board.

Two men using their mobile phones on a sidewalk in Medina, Saudi Arabia

First, you log into your online banking portal or mobile app and navigate to the international transfers page. Second, key in all the details about the transfer. For this, you should have the recipient’s full name, bank details, and IBAN or SWIFT code. Finally, you must confirm the transactions by going over all the details and then entering a one-time password.

Of course, you should factor in international money transfer costs in Saudi Arabia. Most likely, you’ll pay a transaction fee and a currency conversion fee. While these vary between the different banks, you should be able to see all the associated rates and charges before you confirm the transfer. With the National Commercial Bank, you pay the standard SAR50 international transfer charge along with any fees for foreign exchange.

Wire transfers in Saudi Arabia

Wire transfer services are also quite popular for making international money transfers in the Kingdom. There are several operators in Saudi Arabia, including the ubiquitous Western Union. While on the surface these might seem similar to making a transfer in a traditional bank or online transfer operator, the main difference is that you have the option to send and receive the money in cash.

Western Union is perhaps the most well-known wire transfer service. To make a transfer, you will need to go to one of their local branches. Then, simply show a government-issued photo ID, fill in the form, and make your payment in cash. In addition, you will need to provide certain details like the recipient’s full name. After this, you will receive a receipt with a Money Transfer Control Number. The recipient will need this to fill out a “Receive Money” form when they pick up the funds. Additionally, you can track your transfer online, although it is usually made within one business day.

MoneyGram bank in Riyadh
MoneyGram bank in Riyadh

Another option is MoneyGram. As with Western Union, you have to go to a MoneyGram agent to complete the transfer. While there, you will need to present your ID and provide the recipient’s full name, ID, and location while completing the necessary forms. You will have to pay the amount being transferred in cash, as well as the associated fees. Once the transaction is complete, you will get an eight-digit reference number. Your recipient will need this to pick up the funds. Importantly, MoneyGram transfers can also be made at ATMs throughout Saudi Arabia and funds can be sent to a bank account.

Foreign exchange brokers in Saudi Arabia

Widespread foreign exchange is relatively new to Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom only issued its first forex broker license in April 2019, to Riyadh Capital. Additionally, the industry is not regulated yet, therefore you should proceed with caution.

To make international money transfers in Saudi Arabia with a foreign exchange broker, it is important that you pick the right service. Security is crucial, so do your research to see if they are registered with any financial authority or use secure services.

Once you pick a broker, you usually need to register an account with them. This requires you to provide government-issued IDs and sometimes involves them vetting your credit. However, once your account is set up, you can begin trading straight away. First, pick your currency pair (e.g., SAR-EUR) and check the spread (conversion).

Once you are happy, lock in your transfer conversion rates and send the money (and associated fees) to your FX broker. They will then deliver the transfer to the named recipient – in the chosen currency – usually within one or two business days. Of course, you will need to provide all the necessary details for the beneficiary, including bank account number and SWIFT/IBAN. Some online brokers, such as OFX, allow you to track your transfers for extra peace of mind.

Some of the international forex brokers operating in Saudi Arabia include:

  • AVATrade
  • HotForex
  • Iforex
  • OFX
  • Pepperstone
  • SwissFS

What to consider when deciding how to make or receive transfers

There are many things that you will need to consider before making international payments in Saudi Arabia. You should weigh up things like costs, convenience, and timings before you begin any transaction. Here are a few things to think about:

  • Fees: Most banks and online services have international transfer costs in Saudi Arabia. Since you will be changing currencies, you will also have to pay conversion fees. Fees can vary between different services, so look for one that suits your needs.
  • Exchange Rates: All international transfers are subject to currency conversions. These can vary wildly between banks and even between different service providers. You will have to decide whether it’s worth paying more for faster, more secure services, for example.
  • Payment Methods: Most international payments in Saudi Arabia can be done from your bank account or credit card. However, certain services – such as wire transfers – require cash payments. You may need to consider if this is practical for you.
  • Transaction Methods: Convenience is crucial, so you will have to decide whether you want to make your transfer online, in person, or through apps. In addition, you have to decide whether the funds will be transferred into the recipient’s bank account or collected in cash.
  • Transfer Time: Think about how quickly the transfer needs to be made. Urgent transactions may require you to pay more or use an online service to make sure your money gets where it needs to go fast. If you can wait a little longer, you may be able to choose a cheaper, different option.