With its rapid development from a desert to an oil-rich, futuristic oasis in just 50 years, the United Arab Emirates is one of the most fascinating countries in the world. Thanks to its open economy, focus on its financial sector, and huge oil reserves, it is among the wealthiest states in the region and the world. The good business environment and the rich local population have contributed to a powerful trading market, as well. The UAE and Dubai, in particular, have a huge concentration of Forex traders and this is hardly a surprise, considering the high-risk appetite of local investors.
The UAE, or the Emirates, is an elective constitutional monarchy and a federation of seven emirates located at the northeast end of the Arabian Peninsula. The largest emirate Abu Dhabi serves as the capital of the country, while the most populous city Dubai has evolved as the region’s business, transport, and financial hub. Interestingly, nearly 90% of the 9.6 million people in the UAE are expatriates from South Asia, Europe, North and South America, and Australia. Indeed, the country has the highest net migration rate in the world – the population is young, urban, and speaks English, along with the local dialect of Arabic.
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The economy relies on oil exports, tourism, banking, commerce, and real estate. While a third of the GDP is from oil revenues, the country is striving for diversification of the economy in order to reduce its dependence on oil. Traders here can choose from hundreds of online Forex brokers – either licensed locally or abroad. Despite authorities’ efforts to regulate the sector, however, there are still fraudulent firms and schemes investors should be cautious about.
UAE Forex Legislation
The trading of foreign currencies is legal in the UAE with little to no restrictions applying to the trading activity itself. While traders enjoy true freedom, however, Forex brokers are regulated under not one but several different regulation regimes. Also, the Emirates is an Islamic state with Sharia law, which means that there are certain operational requirements for brokerage firms, banks, and other financial businesses.
The UAE is quite an interesting place for investing and doing business since it has several special economic zones. In addition, the legislative framework is not the same for all brokerages in the country. Local Forex brokers are supervised and regulated by the Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Their licenses, however, are issued by the Securities and Commodities Authority (SCA). These firms are also known as mainland companies and need to meet certain criteria to obtain an operating license for offering trading services to UAE residents.
First of all, these brokers need to be owned by a UAE national. Alternatively, they need to be corporate organizations where shareholders must own a majority stake in the company and at least 51% of the capital. They are subject to the laws of the UAE and all documentation, agreements, etc. are drafted in Arabic. There is a requirement for having a minimum of $8.2 million in operating capital with an additional minimum of $5.5 million as a bank guarantee. All capital should be held in UAE-based banks and the local currency, the UAE dirham (AED).
Last, but not least, these brokers follow the Sharia law and are required to offer their clients specific Sharia-compliant Forex trading accounts, also known as swap-free accounts. These accounts do not come with interest rates and bonuses, which are considered against Islamic beliefs.
The other regulatory regime is based on the rules of the so-called free financial zones. These are exclusive economic zones for financial companies such as Forex brokers and they are a good option for foreign firms – i.e. firms owned by foreign nationals, without the need of a local sponsor. The free zones have their own regulation regimes, registration, and licensing procedures. Moreover, they have their own civil and commercial laws, distinct from the UAE legislation.
The zones include the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) and, most notably, the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC). DIFC operates under an independent regulatory and legal system and aims at becoming the financial center of the region. It is home to the privately held financial exchange NASDAQ Dubai, which is owned by the Dubai Financial Market and the Borse Dubai.
DIFC-domiciled Forex brokers are not required to comply with Sharia law. They are regulated by the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA), which restricts their operations in the financial markets. Most notably, brokers operating from DIFC are not authorized to hold client assets or client money and are required to work with third-party firms that keep clients’ funds in segregated accounts. Often, these firms are registered and regulated in other jurisdictions such as Europe and the United Kingdom. Due to the more liberal regulation, brokers in free zones such as DIFC offer their clients competitive pricing and spreads as low as 0.1 pips.
UAE Financial Regulators
As mentioned above, there are several regulatory bodies responsible for the supervision and licensing process of Forex brokers in the UAE. The Central Bank’s Board of Directors Resolution No. 126/5/95 states that the Central Bank of the UAE is responsible for regulating any business that acts as an intermediary in the trade of stocks, commodities, bonds, and currencies.
Of course, the Central Bank has regulatory authority over all banks, finance and investment companies, exchange houses, financial and monetary intermediaries, etc. The bank was established in 1980, replacing the UAE Currency Board. It is also responsible for the issuing of the local currency and managing the country’s monetary and credit policies. It acts as a state banker and manages the gold and currency reserves.
The Securities and Commodities Authority (SCA), on the other hand, issues the licenses of Forex brokers and other intermediaries. It determines market rules and issues guidelines and codes of conduct for all Sharia-compliant brokers. Another regulatory agency is the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA), which supervises all operations within its jurisdiction. This includes all businesses based in the DIFC.
UAE Forex Payment Methods
Before choosing a Forex broker, traders in the UAE should take into consideration several important things. It is essential that you register with a licensed and reliable broker, but the firm should also meet your needs when it comes to payments. First of all, most UAE-based traders would prefer to register their trading account with the AED as a base currency. Since the US dollar is also a preferred currency, especially among Western expatriates and affluent locals, brokers processing USD payments are also a great option.
The other thing to take into account is, of course, the range of payment methods offered by the online Forex broker. In the UAE, just like in the rest of the world, Visa and Mastercard-branded cards are the most popular way to pay electronically. Fortunately, practically all reputable Forex brokers available in the country support debit and credit cards – Visa, Visa Electron, Mastercard, and Maestro are the most widely used options. Deposits are instant, usually free of charge, and completely secure. Withdrawals usually take up to 3 to 4 business days to complete and a processing fee of up to 4.5% may be charged.
The other payment option offered by all Forex brokers is bank transfer. For many traders, this is a great option since bank transfers are traditionally incredibly secure (unless you transfer money to a fraudulent company or a thief) and refundable in certain cases. On the other hand, deposits and withdrawals through a bank transfer are slower and come with high processing fees. Of course, this varies a lot, depending on the bank.
A great alternative is to use a digital wallet for Forex trading online – major e-wallets such as PayPal, Skrill, and Neteller are available to traders in the UAE. These services offer relatively low service fees, paired with high levels of security, and fast processing. Moreover, they are extremely straightforward and easy to use, which makes them a preferred option for many UAE-based investors. Another e-wallet available here is CashU, a company from Singapore that offers several different payment options to clients in the UAE who want to make transfers in AED.
Popular Trading Software in the UAE
The next step when selecting a suitable Forex broker – whether you are based in the UAE or not, is to check whether the firm provides a good, reliable software platform. It is the software platform that facilitates the actual trading of currency pairs and for traders to buy and sell pairs in the volumes and at the rate they want, they need a fast software solution that performs well.
It is also essential to make sure that the type of software is suitable for your individual level of experience and understanding of the Forex markets. Some online brokers offer trading via their own, proprietary software – in this case, clients can usually enjoy more advanced trading tools, customization options, etc. The majority of brokerages, however, focus on providing their customers with fast, reliable service and instead, they rely on third-party software solutions, which they offer for free once you register an account.
One such platform is MetaTrader 4 (often, along with MetaTrader 5) developed by the Russian, yet Cyprus-based developer MetaQuotes Software. It was released 15 years ago, while MT5 followed a few years after that. The two platforms are quite similar, although they were designed to offer different types of trading instruments.
For Forex trading, MT4 has no competition on the market right now, with around 90% of all FX traders around the world using it. It has a customizable, multi-lingual interface, a good number of technical indicators built into it, nice charting capabilities, and relatively good analytical tools. It also offers automated trading, a copy trading option, and full mobile compatibility.
There are, of course, many other software platforms available to traders in the UAE. Some of them are great for more advanced trading and are suitable for professionals. Some are also used for serious analysis and backtesting of trading strategies. Popular options are cTrader, TradingView, NinjaTrader, TradeStation, and others.
Mobile Trading in the UAE
New technologies in mobile application development are affecting every sector of the economy, every market, and business. It is driven by the unprecedented demand – customers today want to be able to do everything from their phone or tablet. While only two decades ago, phones were used almost exclusively for calls and text messages, today they are our preferred way to browse the Internet, watch movies and other content, connect on social media, shop online, pay our bills, play games, etc.
Of course, mobile trading has become extremely popular in the past few years, as well, especially among Forex traders. Since prices constantly change and trends are affected by economic news and investor sentiment, it is now essential to be able to access your account and your trading positions at any time. This can be done through a fast, reliable trading application for iOS or Android.
Virtually all Forex brokers these days offer mobile trading and apps that can be downloaded for free from the App Store or Google Play. The installation is easy and takes just a few minutes. After that, traders can simply log in, make a deposit directly from their phone and trade they currency pairs they wish. As long as they use a stable connection to the Internet and a reliable app, the trading experience should be just as seamless as on desktop platforms.