Saudi Arabia: Few Joint Bank Accounts

In Saudi Arabia funds are generally kept separate between a husband and a wife.  I remember when my Saudi husband and I first came to the United States together as a married couple and his surprise when we established bank accounts and the bank manager suggested a joint account.  Although my husband had been widely traveled and exposed to many different experiences, it was his first time to share a bank account with a woman where both had equal access to funds, writing checks, making withdrawals and all associated financial transactions and decisions.

I understood his surprise better when we moved from the United States to Saudi Arabia.  Once there his accounts were HIS alone.  There were no checks with both of our  names.  The debit card had his name only.  After all, once in Saudi Arabia he was my mahrem (male guardian) and expected to take care of me.  Therefore there was no need for any kind of joint accounts.

By the same token once I began to work in Saudi Arabia (with my mahrem’s –husband—permission) I then had my own accounts…with a slight twist.  As a woman, I could have my own bank account but again it required the approval of my mahrem.  Once established, only I could access the account and it was in my  name only.  Information of my finances was not shared with my mahrem (husband) unless I chose to do so.

Perhaps there were options for joint bank accounts in Saudi Arabia but if so, I did not encounter any couples who exercised such an option.  Since separate accounts between spouses was a new and foreign concept to me, I frequently asked couples whom I got to know well enough that I felt comfortable to ask such a question.  None of them had joint accounts in Saudi Arabia. However it was not uncommon for some of them to have joint bank accounts outside of the Kingdom.

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34 Responses

  1. I find this so interesting!As you know Carol not long ago it was generally a husband AND wife who had an account together. The trend is drifting somewhat to the separate accounts now. The difficulty is who pays what if both partners work? Sometimes there is a big discrepancy in the salaries.

    Since I handle all the finances in our house and take care of the taxes etc. we have one joint account but I have two other accounts that are in my name only…I did that only because of ease of transactions/bill paying/ banking issues etc. Otherwise I always had to get an agreement or a signature to get anything done since it was a joint account. It was a pain…my husband knows about the other accounts and there is nothing hidden and he is totally fine with that. It was ONLY for ease of transactions. Plus, we don’t use our debit cards EVER…everything is done in cash (daily ordinary stuff I mean) and for the bigger things there is a credit card if we need it. He doesn’t want to deal with the finances and I am really good at it so it works well.

  2. Wow, interesting topic, and NOT one I would have thought to ask about! I love hearing about all the little ins and outs of daily life in addition to the bigger issues. It really makes it seem more real. Thank you! 🙂

  3. This is interesting. When we were newly arrived in Saudi and my husband opened a bank account, it was very inconvenient for us to not have an ATM card for me to withdraw money for household expenses. So we went in to add my name to the account. The bank was willing to do this, but there was an option of giving me limited or full access to the account. When my husband went to sign under the full access option, the banker looked taken aback and explained what that meant to my husband. My husband listened patiently and then signed for the full access option.

  4. when we lived in france, my husband and I had a joint bank account .like the most of spouses there.

    when we moved in saudi arabia, we oppened also a joint bank account , but the bank manager wrote ” mr and mrs”. it’isn’t like “mr or mrs” you know . he was very surprised when my husband tell him that he wants me to use the account like him at any time i want, without his approval, and for this the bank manager must wrote “mr or mrs”. even if we aren’t saudi my husband was supposed to have a bank account in his name, but nobody thinks how the wife is supposed to get money if her husband is ill or in journey …. I think that it had to do something with “the trust” between the spouses.

  5. They really aren’t set up for joint accounts here. There are a lot of the finances that I manage so my husband set up an account and then gave me power of attorney over it.-or something like that.

  6. Having a joint account does require an element of trust, but it just seemed natural to me to do it that way. (speaking from a Franco-American point of view)

  7. This is a very interesting article! It is interesting to see how the mahrem system affects various aspects of life in Saudi Arabia.

    I’ve heard of couples in the US getting separate accounts just for better managment purposes, or at least only one spouse having a debit card. I’ve heard of it where the woman is the one overspending, but I’ve also seen it where the man was the one overspending or forgot to tell his wife that he withdrew money. So I guess that separate accounts do serve a purpose. However, I think joint accounts seem easier to manage overall if both people trust each other and communicate to the other one what they spend.

  8. strangeone…

    That is why we did it…my husband would withdraw money and forget to tell me (the finanacial manager LOL!) and we were having difficulty keeping track of it…with one person doing it we never had that problem again.

  9. I think joint bank accounts have declined in past years.

  10. We have a joint savings account for travel but otherwise are accounts are separate.

  11. It never even came to my mind that me and my husband would have a joint bank account..! We have never talked about it and I think it’s not common here or in my home country. I would never have a joint bank account with anyone and I wouldn’t expect my husband to share his account with me. It is just such a strange idea, I’ve got used to it that every person has their own separate bank accounts. I believe that this is the safest and the best way.

  12. Actually we also have separate accounts. The joint account is for the household. I pay school fees, groceries, doctor/dentist bills etc. from this account. It’s very convenient.

  13. It would perhaps be illuminating to remember that in its classical form, Islamic jurisprudence just does not have the concept of marital property. In a classically contracted Islamic marriage the couple’s assets do not commingle regardless of duration of the marital union or the progeny it produces. Husband’s assets and income remain completely his and the wife’s, completely hers. There is an exception in the sense that the husband is responsible for the financial maintenance of the household – but note that this is couched in terms of “allowance”, not any sort of claim or right that the wife may have to his assets or income. As long as the husband provides proper maintenance to his family, how much he makes remains nobody’s business.

    This obviously could not be done in any other way while polygamy remains an option – can you imagine four wives coming up with claims of property division?

    Contrast this with a classically contracted Western civil marriage, where spouses acquire rights and claims over each other’s property and assets (if acquired during the course of the marriage) simply by virtue of being married.

    These arrangements obviously result in markedly different outcomes for the non-earning spouse. Imagine the same couple, a breadwinner husband and a homemaker wife, divorcing after twenty years of marriage under let’s say the U.S. laws or the sharia law. Under the former, the wife retires comfortably with a healthy chunk of her husband’s assets despite never having worked. Under the latter, the wife is forced to look for other means to survive after her three months of support run out.

  14. NN spouses acquire rights and claims over each other’s property PERIOD, it does not have to be aquired during the marriage only. There would have to be a pre-nuptual agreement for the spouse to agree to have no claim on the other’s assets aquired before marriage.

    The wife who did not work (home making and child rearing IS work) does not get a healthy chunk. She gets half! She even gets half of his pension! Even if he remarries.

    Carol, if you and your husband were used to joint bank accounts and it IS legal to have them in KSA then I have to wonder why you would change the way y’all ran your lives just because you moved. It’s not like it is mandatory that you have a joint bank account in the states, it was a choice y’all made so why would you make a different choice just because you lived there? When you took that joint bank account did you divide it in two when you got to KSA?

  15. @Lynn

    “NN spouses acquire rights and claims over each other’s property PERIOD, it does not have to be aquired during the marriage only. ”

    Yes, it does. Marital property by definition is property acquired before marriage was contracted. To make it simple, if I have a house fully paid for, and you have a car fully paid for, and we got married tomorrow, you won’t have rights to my house, and I won’t have rights to your car.

    “The wife who did not work (home making and child rearing IS work) does not get a healthy chunk. She gets half! She even gets half of his pension! Even if he remarries.”

    That is true only in community property states, currently about a dozen of them. In the rest of the U.S., it will be a “healthy chunk.”

  16. Sorry, meant to say “DURING” marriage. Not before.

  17. Hi,
    This very interesting. I never thought of joint accounts. my husband and I each have separate accounts, we share all household expenses. Sometimes I feel that I pay more and we end up in arguments. I know also being a Saudi my friends and family always advise not to contribute to the household expenses and keep my money to myself. the biggest fear, I guess, is that after years of marriage my husband my want to have another wife and I will end up with no money and no husband!!! (God forbid).
    at the same time, I think it would be very selfish of me to not contribute with the rise of everything in Saudi and everything is expensive. this post actually gave me the idea to discuss a joint account to save money for both of us. I don’t know it sounds scary after I just wrote it.
    As one of the comments said it comes down to trust between husband and wife.

  18. What my spouse and I did in Saudi is that even though we had joint accounts, I could use his ATM card when necessary. However he became “quite Saudi” once I started working on insisting that any money I made was my money and to be kept separate from his. I had no problem though with readily volunteering and making contributions to our living expenses…guess that is the American in me coming out!

    It really does come down to trust in regards to joint accounts irrespectively of nationalities!

  19. NN, I’m no divorce lawyer but I do realise that divorce laws are different for different states but what would be the purpose of prenuptual agreements if your assets were all protected? If that house that my husband had pre marriage and was paid off was used as our marital home it would become a marital asset, would it not?

    But this post isn’t about division of assets in case of divorce anyway.

  20. Islamicly a woman’s money is hers alone,it is an insult to say to a man that he’s living of his wife’s gold.We have a joint account and I have my personal account.

  21. If finances are kept so separate what happens if the man dies, for example? How does the woman know were all his savings, investments, etc.. are located? If it’s not joint, can she access the funds for her and her children? I’m thinking not.

    How about wills and insurance? Is it a common practice for spouses to draw up wills and name each other (or their children) as beneficiaries or inheritors?

    I can see a woman getting screwed every which way in a scenario where her husband passes away.

  22. I was married 20 years…got absolutely nothing upon my divorce….except my freedom.

  23. Coolred, you managed to get your kids though, a tremendous achievement!

    Madalenas, I think most women will get screwed, especially foreign wives. That is maybe an advantage for cousins, as they are family there might be less chance of being screwed because it’s still all in the family…

    I remember we talked about spouses and finances a while ago on this blog. Saudi men make very sure their wives do not know how much money they have and I remember a lot of women responding that they were very careful to get a separate bank account and saved as much money as possible on it. That both Saudi and savvy foreign wives made sure to collect as much of a nest egg as possible and to make sure the husband doesn’t know about it.
    I remember how the Saudi women have all kinds of tricks to get as much money as possible out of their husbands, using ”lost” sums, extra household expenses, etc.
    They need to do this as there will be nothing in case of divorce, or death of the husband. It is their only financial security.

    Also, the older a wife gets the greater possibility of him deciding to upgrade the first wife with an young chick, and that means the first wife and her children might get a lot less for their living expenses and schooling.
    And if the wife decides to divorce, and actually manages to divorce she will have to pay back the mahr (money for sex) and the bribes to husband and judge.

    I also remember all wives of Saudi men, foreign wives too, were very clear that any wife who lives in KSA and is married to a Saudi man has to be very careful to save up as much money as possible, and keep it secret end preferably in a foreign bank account.

    I remember one of the wives explaining the great lengths her Saudi husband has gone to to secure money safely away for her and his children so it will be hers and the family can’t touch it when something happens to him but he is the exception.

    I also remember a foreign wife who helped pay for the villa they lived in but when the husband dies the family stole the house and all her possessions and forced her to live in a crappy apartment which she wasn’t allowed to leave and she was forced to wear niqab when she was allowed to leave.
    After a husband dies the wife becomes the property of another male member of the family. This husband had not taken care to sure his wife’s safety.

    On the whole Saudi wives need to get together as much money as possible because she never knows, she could get divorced, replaced, made a co-wife or widowed and she would be left with nothing to live on.
    It seems a very unpleasant thing to keep in the back of your head.
    It also seems to me that being married and having to think of securing your own safety and future in secret seems to indicate that there can’t be real trust between spouses. Making marriage useless in my opinion.
    If your husband of 15 years decides to upgrade with a younger second wife, then there cannot be any trust left. And it is so sad all these women warned every foreign woman to follow the Saudi women’s example and start secreting money as soon as you are married.
    That is no basis to build a relationship on.
    And it all starts with the lack of rights for women of course, and the danger to a woman that her husband can divorce her at any time, or take more wives at any time, and that society will support him and his lies at any time.

    That is not ever what I would want from marriage. I want a partner, somebody I can trust 100%, he should be the man I can trust most in the whole world. He should be my soul mate, my best friend, my closest family. I want a husband who will not only love me but take care of me and protect me, on whom I can safely put my trust and with whom I can share everything.
    Even bank accounts….. 😉

  24. In the event of death, shariah law applies for distribution of estate and assets. However if a foreign wife married to a Saudi does not have the marriage recognized (approved) by the Saudi government then she would be at the mercy of the family on whether to recognize and give her a share. But in any event, women will have their entitlements but again through the next mahrem.

  25. I have been married for over 25 years. We would never think of having seperate accounts. When we moved to Saudi my husband insisted on the joint account with the bank. I have my own atm card. SAMBA did not give him any problems with it but I think they are used to Americans. I do all the banking where I can. My husband has to fill out any transfer of funds to our American account but he takes me with him. We pay all our bills with cash or EFT. Now that takes some getting used to. When I started work they did not want to do a automatic deposit into OUR account so I had to get a check from them and deposite it myself. If I had my own account they would have done an automatic deposit. Funny huh?

  26. @Aafke ‘I want a partner, somebody I can trust 100%, he should be the man I can trust most in the whole world. He should be my soul mate, my best friend, my closest family. I want a husband who will not only love me but take care of me and protect me, on whom I can safely put my trust and with whom I can share everything. Even bank accounts…..’

    I honestly cannot fathom marriage being anything less than that. I feel very blessed to have had exactly that kind of marriage for the last 21 years.

    And, if my husband died tomorrow, EVERY thing that he owns whether it is held jointly or not, even if he owned a house or car or an ISLAND, free and clear, before we got married it is now 100% MINE (unless, of course, if there is a will that says differently) Children will get their share when I die unless I spend it all before then. 😉

  27. Lynn, yes, I think that kind of full trust-soulmate-relationship is the only one I can call marriage. Anything else is just a business contract.

  28. @Lynn

    “If that house that my husband had pre marriage and was paid off was used as our marital home it would become a marital asset, would it not? ”

    No, it would not, at least not automatically. Only assets and money acquired during marriage are considered marital property. Your marital obligations kick off after the marriage is contracted, not before.

    Example: I bought a property four years before I got married. Equity I paid into it during these four years is mine alone. Equity I paid into it after the date of marriage is marital property.

  29. Wow – with that type of permissions and etc. required from the mahrem it would seem divorce is and will be pretty hard on the wife (wives).

  30. NN, in the even that you die without a will, who would be the owner of your house and/or property (regardless of when it was purchased)?

    Mezba, it seems that that is the intention.

  31. Lynn, if you die without a will in a state where the spouse is considered a priority inheritor, the spouse will inherit all (in some states children get a priority place in line). My distinction above applies to divorces: i.e. if you divorce your spouse, assets acquired prior to marriage by both of you are considered exempt from marital property division. Death is a different scenario in that the marital bond is still intact at the time of death.

  32. I work in Saudi and my income goes into the joint account that my husband set up. The bank had no problem with this, but they may be used to expats. My husband and I have always had a joint account from the beginning of our marriage, so it would be strange to have separate accounts now. Besides trust, it also depends somewhat on where you are at when you get married. Both of us were poor, on student stipends when we started out; if we didn’t pool our incomes, we couldn’t have paid our rent or food bills. So those habits have carried over. I suppose it’s harder when both spouses have worked and had separate finances for a long time before they got married. In any case, for Saudis, based on the legal system here, it is prudent for women to have a separate account.

  33. There is little protection for women in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi women know this and try their best to protect themselves financially by squirreling away money and keeping it secret. Marriage in Saudi Arabia is not between equals because the laws and inheritance favor males, this is reality regardless of love and/or commitment to your Saudi husband.

    The reality is that he can abuse or replace you at will, neither the government or society will stop him. Protect yourselves financially ladies. Make sure you have your bank account setup in a foreign country, do not cancel it when you move to Saudi Arabia. And always send your money to your home country and build up credit. Get a mortgage to pay for your own house (in your name only). Saudi men will NEVER share assets if you divorce.

    When he knows you can leave him any time, he will behave. Otherwise good luck in Saudi Arabia – if you go with romantic intentions be prepared to end up just another sob story…..

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