The digital payment revolution is well underway in the Middle East. The cultural changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the proliferation of smartphones and mobile internet access, as well as the increasing tech-savviness of the population have all contributed to a shift in the way people conduct transactions. As a result, a range of digital payment methods have emerged in the region.
Digital payment solutions in the Middle East promise greater convenience for consumers and businesses alike, allowing them to pay for goods and services without the need for physical cash. According to a Mastercard report, 85% of respondents in the MENA region have already used at least one digital payment method, and the number is expected to become even larger as time goes on.
In this guide, we provide a comprehensive overview of the most popular payment methods in the Middle East to help you transact efficiently and safely in the digital age.
Card-Based Payments Still Dominate In The Middle East
While the digital payment landscape in the Middle East is evolving rapidly, card-based payments still dominate it.
One study of the distribution of payment methods used for e-commerce in the Middle East and Africa revealed that credit cards and charge cards account for 31% of all e-commerce payments. The Payments & e-commerce report published by PPRO, a fintech company that provides digital payments infrastructure to businesses and banks, puts the share of card-based payments at 50%, so the reality is probably somewhere in between.
The same PPRO report states that the card market in the Middle East is split between Visa with 37 percent and Mastercard with 29 percent. The rest of the market is divided between American Express and other card providers.
E-Wallets Are On Track To Become The Most Popular Payment Method
In recent years, electronic wallets, or e-wallets for short, have emerged as strong contenders in the Middle East payment services market. It’s estimated that their use for e-commerce payments will grow from 17% in 2021 to 26% in 2025, and they are also becoming more popular when it comes to in-person payments.
E-wallets provide a number of key advantages compared with traditional payment cards, including:
- Greater Convenience: A single e-wallet can store multiple payment cards and sometimes even other payment methods.
- Enhanced Security: Unlike traditional payment cards, e-wallets can be easily protected with sophisticated biometric authentication.
- Faster Transactions: A payment made using an e-wallet is typically processed faster than a traditional card transaction.
The growth of e-wallets in the Middle East is in line with the global trend towards digital wallet adoption. According to a study by Juniper Research, the number of unique digital wallet users worldwide is expected to exceed 4.4 billion by 2025, up from 2.6 billion in 2020.
The Most Popular E-Wallets In The Middle East
Here are some of the most popular e-wallets in the Middle East. At the top of the list are apps developed by major global players, but there’s also no shortage of apps developed by local companies that cater to the region’s unique needs.
#1- Apple Pay
Apple smartphones are in the hands of many people across the MENA region. In Saudi Arabia, for example, Apple’s share in the mobile market is around 42%. It shouldn’t then come as a surprise that Apple’s own e-wallet, called Apple Pay, is so popular.
Launched in the UAE in 2017 and Saudi Arabia in 2019, Apple pay has since expanded to several other Middle Eastern countries, offering a seamless payment experience for Apple users. The contactless payment technology is supported by most major banks, and it takes full advantage of Apple’s Face ID technology for biometric authentication.
#2- Google Wallet
Google Wallet, formerly known as Google Pay, is another popular e-wallet in the Middle East. As the default e-wallet for Android devices, Google Wallet has a huge user base in the region, and it’s supported by a growing number of major banks, including Emirates NBD, Emirates Islamic, Mashreq, and others.
Google wants its e-wallet app to be a complete replacement for physical wallets, offering users the ability to store multiple payment methods, including credit and debit cards, as well as loyalty cards and event tickets. Some Android devices come with the Google Wallet app preinstalled, and the users of those devices that don’t come with it can install it from the Google Play Store app.
#3- Samsung Wallet
Samsung is the world’s largest Android phone manufacturer, and it has relatively recently launched its latest e-wallet app, called Samsung Wallet, in 13 new markets this year, including several Middle Eastern countries such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE.
Just like Google’s own e-wallet, the Samsung Wallet app makes it easy for users to store everything from payment cards to travel passes, driver’s licenses, and student IDs. All sensitive information stored inside the wallet is protected by Samsung’s security platform, Samsung Knox, which stores data in an isolated environment, making it impossible for Android malware to touch it.
#4- e& money (By Etisalat)
Developed by Etisalat, the 18th largest mobile network operator in the world by the number of subscribers, e& money is the first digital wallet licensed by the Central Bank of UAE, and its goal is nothing less ambitious than to revolutionize the financial experience of UAE citizens and residents through its innovative super app marketplace.
Indeed, the e& money app can be used for international and local money transfers (over 200 countries are supported), merchant and bill payments, paying parking fees, gifting, and more. To use it, you need a valid Emirates ID and mobile number.
#5- klip (By Emirates Digital Wallet)
Owned and operated by Emirates Digital Wallet LLC (EDW), klip describes itself as a digital cash platform. It aims to reduce the use of cash in the UAE and support the government’s digital transformation initiatives. klip is backed by 16 UAE national banks, and it gives all other banks the opportunity to integrate their systems with it.
To use klip, users need to register through their bank (if it’s a partner bank) or directly with Emirates Digital Wallet. UAE residents who don’t have a bank account can register using a mobile number instead.
First Abu Dhabi Bank’s Payit e-wallet has become a popular choice for users in the UAE, offering a wide range of features that streamline daily transactions. The digital payment service is available to anyone with a valid Emirates ID.
Users can use Payit to easily withdraw cash from ATMs, make local bank transfers within 24 hours, and effortlessly split dinner bills among friends with just a few taps on their smartphones. In 2021, the company behind the e-wallet partnered with omni-channel conversational commerce platform Platx to enable merchants to collect payments through WhatsApp.
#7- Careem Pay
Careem Pay, the financial services arm of the widely popular Middle Eastern ride-sharing app Careem, introduced its peer-to-peer digital wallet in 2022. The app makes it possible for its users to send, request, receive, and store money with just a phone number, personal QR code, or personal payment link.
Developed in partnership with First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB) and Magnati, the digital wallet has been authorized by the UAE’s Central Bank. While currently available only in the UAE, Careem plans to expand the service to other countries in the Middle East in the near future.
No Shortage Of Alternative Digital Payment Methods In The Middle East
In addition to the rise of e-wallets, the Middle East has also seen the emergence of several alternative digital payment methods, each meeting different needs of the region’s consumers and businesses.
Global online payment solutions like PayPal and Payoneer make it easy for people in the Middle East to send and receive money across borders, and they are especially popular among freelancers and entrepreneurs. Both PayPal and Payoneer also provide mobile apps that allow users to manage their finances on the go.
No article about digital payment solutions in the Middle East would be complete without mentioning cryptocurrencies. According to the 2022 Global Crypto Adoption Index, MENA-based users received $566 billion in cryptocurrency from July 2021 to June 2022, a 48% increase from the previous year.
The growing popularity of cryptocurrencies in the Middle East can be attributed to the region’s favorable regulatory environment and robust infrastructure. In Dubai, for example, all transactions involving virtual currencies and digital tokens are regulated by the Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority (VARA).
Middle Easterners use cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin or Ethereum as decentralized alternatives to traditional banking systems, but they also recognize the potential of these digital assets as investment opportunities.
We hope that our guide to the most popular digital payment solutions in the Middle East has helped you gain a better understanding of the region’s diverse and rapidly evolving financial landscape. The growth of e-wallets alongside more traditional card-based payment methods, as well as the emergence of alternative payment methods like cryptocurrencies, showcase the region’s willingness to embrace technological advancements and respond to the evolving needs of its population.
How (And Why) To Start A Tech Business In Dubai, UAE
Embark on your entrepreneurial journey in the UAE’s most thriving tech ecosystem with our introductory guide on how to start a tech business in Dubai.
Just like plants, great business ideas can only thrive in the right environment. And when it comes to tech businesses, no other place in the world offers more fertile ground than the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Dubai, a city known for its architectural wonders and bustling markets, recently topped the rankings as the world’s fastest-growing venture capital (VC) ecosystem. According to PitchBook’s analysis of data from the third quarter of 2017 to the second quarter of 2023, Dubai boasts a VC ecosystem growth score of 72.8.
This remarkable achievement places it ahead of renowned tech hubs in Europe and the United States. These figures are a testament to Dubai’s strategic initiatives and conducive business environment, which have collectively fostered an unprecedented growth trajectory in its tech sector.
If you’re among those who would like to leverage Dubai’s booming tech landscape, there’s never been a better time to start. In the following sections, we’ll provide you with the essential information you need to bring your tech business vision to life in the UAE.
Why Should I Base My Tech Business In Dubai?
Dubai hasn’t become the tech hub of the world for no reason. The government has made starting a business in the city remarkably straightforward and efficient by setting up over 40 Free-Trade Zones (FTZs).
These special business zones offer such highly attractive benefits as 100% foreign ownership, 100% repatriation of capital and profits, 100% exemption from corporate and income taxes, and 100% exemption from customs duty for goods and services moving in and out of the Free-Trade Zones.
Tech giants like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google have already taken advantage of the prime commercial office space available in Dubai Internet City (DIC) FTZ. In addition, businesses in Dubai’s free zones benefit from simplified accounting requirements, adding to the ease of doing business.
Enhanced privacy is another key feature of Dubai’s business landscape. The free zones do not maintain publicly visible company registers, so they provide an additional layer of privacy that many business owners value.
The city’s global appeal and diverse population ensure that businesses can easily find the right mix of skills and expertise to meet their objectives. At the same time, Dubai’s infrastructure, including reliable internet, telecommunications, and state-of-the-art office spaces and facilities, provides a solid foundation for tech companies to operate efficiently and effectively.
Last but not least, Dubai’s banking system is notably business-friendly. The presence of numerous international banks and a smooth process for financial transactions ensures that businesses can manage their financial operations with ease and assurance.
Who Can Start A Tech Business In Dubai?
Think Dubai’s tech scene is only for the big players? Think again. It’s a land of opportunity for anyone with a vision and the drive to see it through, including:
- Entrepreneurs: If you have a unique idea and the determination to make it a reality, Dubai’s tech ecosystem is the perfect place to start. The city provides not just the technological infrastructure but also a supportive community to guide and nurture new entrepreneurs.
- Startups: The city’s dynamic market and forward-thinking policies create an ideal environment for startups to grow and thrive. Plus, with numerous networking events and startup accelerators, young companies can find the support and resources they need to reach the next level.
- Established Companies: The city’s global business environment and access to a wider market can propel established companies into new realms of success without turning their accounting into a complex maze.
Regardless of which of these categories your tech business falls into, Dubai offers a conducive environment for growth and innovation.
What Do I Need To Start A Technology Business In Dubai?
The beauty of starting a technology business in the United Arab Emirates is that it doesn’t take much effort to complete the process. Here’s a quick overview to get you started:
- Identify your business activity: First, you need to decide on the nature of your tech business. The UAE free zones offer various types of business licenses based on your business activity, ranging from e-commerce to innovation, and including options like Commercial Trade, Consultancy Services, and more.
- Decide your company’s legal structure: Your business can take one of three legal forms in the UAE free zone: Free Zone Limited Liability Company (FZ LLC), Free Zone Company (FZ Co.), or Free Zone Establishment (FZE). This choice will depend on your business’s specific needs and the nature of your activities.
- Register your trade name: Choosing a unique trade name is crucial. It should not only be distinctive but also comply with certain terms and conditions, like not containing inappropriate words or the names of rulers or government agencies.
- Select your business location: With over 40 free zones in the UAE, pick one that aligns with your business activity. As we’ve already mentioned, most tech businesses are located in Dubai Internet City, so that’s probably the right choice for you as well.
- Obtain initial approval & pay fees: Getting initial approval involves fulfilling specific requirements and submitting necessary documents. Commonly required documents include:
- Completed application form: The official form for registering a new business.
- Business plan: A detailed document outlining the business’s goals, strategies, and operations.
- Passport copies of shareholders and appointed manager: Identification documents for the business’s key personnel.
- Notarized Registry Identification Code Form for the manager: An official, notarized document verifying the manager’s identity.
- Specimen signatures: Official signature samples of the company’s key personnel.
- Letter of Intent: A document outlining the intentions or plans of the potential investor or business owner.
- Financial reports or bank reference letters, if required: Documents showing the financial health or credibility of the business or owner.
- Registration application: The form used to apply for a freelancer or professional license.
- CV or profile: A resume or professional profile detailing experience and qualifications.
- Bank reference letter: A letter from a bank vouching for the individual’s financial reliability.
- Pay registration fees: Now you just need to pay the required fees to complete the registration. These fees vary depending on the type of business license and the specific free zone you choose for your company.
For more comprehensive information, check the website of the UAE Ministry of Economy.
Dubai Tech Success Stories To Inspire And Motivate You
The following success stories showcase the immense possibilities when entrepreneurs harness the power and potential of Dubai’s thriving business ecosystem.
Anastasia Denisova, a 23-year-old Russian expat, is a shining example of youthful ambition meeting opportunity. As the CEO of a Dubai-based AI property portal, she has steered her company to generate an impressive $1 million every month since 2022. Denisova’s journey is remarkable for her focus on personal well-being and work-life balance, proving that success doesn’t have to come at the cost of personal happiness.
The story of Rabih Bou Rached, a Lebanese expat, is an inspiring tale of evolution. From waiting tables as a teenager to running a drone company in the UAE, Bou Rached’s journey underscores the transformative power of perseverance and vision. His entrepreneurial path, which began in the food and beverage industry, took a pivotal turn with his introduction to drones, leading to the successful establishment of a commercial drone service provider in Dubai.
There’s also Charbel Nasr, who transitioned from a banker at age 21 to the head of a payment platform at 33. According to the Lebanese expat, his shift from a secure banking job to the world of FinTech in Dubai wouldn’t be possible without the city’s ability to foster innovation and encourage entrepreneurial ventures in diverse fields.
Dubai’s position as a global tech hub is firmly established, and there’s nothing stopping tech businesses from around the world from joining it and reaping the numerous financial, operational, and strategic benefits it offers. We hope that our concise guide has illuminated the path for your own entrepreneurial journey in this thriving city and the United Arab Emirates as a whole.
Bonus: Check out our comprehensive guide on how start an online tech business in Dubai.