Purchases and cash withdrawals are automatically debited and deducted from your savings or cheque account and withdrawals are shown on your monthly statement. Withdrawals are limited to the funds in your account, so you cannot overdraw it.
Cards usually have a limit on the amount that can be withdrawn in any one day from ATMs: generally from $450 to $700 (£300 to £500) in local currency. Account balances and mini-statements can usually be obtained from these machines. Most ATMs accept a substantial number of both regional and international cards (compatible cards are usually displayed on the terminals) although you will usually pay a fee for using ATMs operated by banks other than your own. There are plenty of ATMs throughout the region: you will find them in shopping malls, supermarkets and hypermarkets.
Credit & Charge Cards
A credit card provides access to funds on credit up to a particular limit, at which point the bank may begin to charge interest, depending on the conditions of your account.
A charge card operates in a similar fashion but restricts the credit period (usually to a month). As Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted credit cards worldwide, they are also the most commonly issued by banks in Oman. The presence of the Visa or Mastercard name on an unrecognised Arab bank card is a major help if you are traveling to other countries in the Middle East. Charge cards issued by American Express and Diners Club are also available in the Gulf and are accepted, although to a lesser extent than the major credit cards, mainly because of the higher commission charged to the supplier of the goods or services you are purchasing.
The annual fee for a credit or charge card varies with the issuing bank but is usually around $15 (£10) for a standard card. Gold cards (which come with higher credit limits) carry significantly higher fees. Some cards come with added benefits, such as travel insurance or life insurance whenever the card is used to book travel arrangements.
When making purchases in the Middle East, you will usually haggle over prices (this goes for everything from rugs to taxi fares). If you try and pay with a credit card, however, you will be forced to pay the first price the seller or service provider demands. In fact, there might actually be a surcharge if you want to pay with a credit or charge card, especially if you’re buying from a small trader.
All credit and charge cards allow you to access cash from ATMs and you might gain some advantage from the rate of exchange between the tourist or commercial rate, though you’re likely to incur a charge for a cash transaction. In addition, you are required to pay with a credit card whenever you rent a car or book a hotel.
If your card is lost or stolen, make sure that you report it immediately by telephoning the issuing company or bank and then confirming it in writing or in person. This will protect you from liability for charges made by someone who gets a hold of your card. If you know your card has been stolen, make sure to report the incident to the police.
This article is an extract from Living and Working in Gulf States & Saudi Arabia. Click here to get a copy now.