On Your Side: Banks offer limited services to non-residents

The end-of-service gratuity is payable no matter the circumstances of the end of employment .

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I do not live in Dubai, but travel here for business and it would be useful to have a local bank account. I am being told different things about whether I can open an account without residency, so would be grateful if you could clarify the issue for me. FB, Johannesburg, South Africa

To benefit from the full range of banking services in the UAE, it is necessary to be a resident. But many banks will allow non-residents or those who do not yet have residency to open a basic account. This would be an account with just a chequebook and an ATM card. It is not possible to have an overdraft, loan or a credit card. However, I understand that some banks, including Emirates NBD, RAKBank and HSBC, will allow the opening of such accounts with an initial deposit. You must open the account in person.

I have worked in Abu Dhabi for nearly six years and am about to be transferred back to the UK by my company. I was working for the same company before I moved to the UAE. Am I entitled to the gratuity under the UAE Labour Law or do I have to be fired or resign to receive it? The addendum to my employment contract mentions that my base salary includes pension/gratuity, but the table is confusing, with figures in sterling pounds and the UAE dirham, while some comments are actually contradictory. There is no statement about gratuity in the terms of the contract. MB, Abu Dhabi

From the information provided, it is hard to establish if MB is on a local contract, although this appears to be the case because he is being paid in dirhams. It also depends on the general practice of the employer and the law of the country the employment is being conducted in. Because MB was transferred to the UAE, with apparently continuous employment, it cannot be assumed that UAE law will apply. The law is considered as a matter of public policy and thus certain cases may be different in other jurisdictions. In addition, the country the employee is being transferred to may contain different regulations regarding the transfer of staff to and from other jurisdictions. The acid test is whether MB's contract is registered with the Ministry of Labour. If, for example, he has retained membership of a home country retirement plan, to which the employer is contributing, it would be assumed that he was not on a local contract. If, however, the employer suspended membership of any such scheme and was not making an alternative arrangement on the individual's behalf, it is likely that local rules would apply. If they are, it should be deemed as a local contract and UAE Labour Law will take precedence. If MB is on a local contract, he is eligible for an end-of-service gratuity payment. There are cases where it has been agreed that an employer will make a contribution to a retirement plan of some sort on the individual's behalf, but this must be agreed in advance, signed by both employer and employee, and offer no worse terms to the individual. The end-of-service gratuity is payable no matter the circumstances of the end of employment (unless the employee is dismissed for illegal behaviour) and is calculated on the basis of 21 days' wages for the first five years of employment and then 30 days' wages for each additional year, provided the total does not exceed two years of total wages. If MB is on a local contract, then he is entitled to an end-of-service gratuity. If the employer refuses to pay, then he has the right to take his case to the Ministry of Labour.

I have been trying to organise identity cards for my family, but when I visited our local typing centre I was asked to leave all the documents with them because they had a backlog of applications. Obviously, I was not happy to leave our passports with anyone so refused to do so, but was told that they wouldn't give me an appointment if I didn't leave them. Surely people aren't happy leaving something as valuable as a passport at these centres? What should I do? KP, Dubai

The advice from Emirates Identity Authority (EIDA) is that no one should leave documents at any typing centres. They are concerned that people are being asked to do this and have been taking up the issue with any that are making this request. I understand that typing centres have signed service agreements stating that they will not retain documents because it is unlawful. I would suggest that you report the particular centre to EIDA so action can be taken.

I have a mortgage on a property in Abu Dhabi, which was organised by the agent who sold me the apartment. He also arranged life insurance to cover the loan. I have since been given a quote by another insurance company for the same level of protection that is significantly cheaper. The estate agent has told me that I have no option but to keep the original policy. Is he right or can I change it to save some money? PC, Abu Dhabi

In this instance, the situation has nothing to do with the estate agent. The restriction is from your mortgage lender. You will need to ask the lending bank if they will allow you to change the plan. If your bank does allow it, it will want details of the new provider and the type of policy to ensure that it provides proper protection. You must make sure that the new policy is on risk before cancelling the old one to ensure you have continuous cover. The plan can be cancelled by stopping the monthly payments, but you should ensure that the new plan is appropriate for your needs and provides the right kind and amount of cover.

Keren Bobker is an independent financial adviser with Holborn Assets in Dubai. Contact her at keren@holbornassets.com