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Credit cards around the world: Saudi Arabia

Our series moves to Saudi Arabia. This wealthy, oil-rich nation is slowly beginning to embrace the use of credit cards, like much of the world, but some of its traditions and customs are making their transition a bit more challenging than others. 

 

Credit report

Credit card penetration growing quickly
There were 1.8 million credit and 18.5 million debit cards in circulation in Saudi Arabia at the end of 2007. Credit card circulation is up nearly 1.5 times since 2003 (Euromonitor International).

Shariah and credit cards
The rise of credit cards that are “compliant” with Shariah, or Islamic law, has helped fuel the dramatic rise in card use in Saudi Arabia. Still, the cards are controversial, with some Muslims saying that credit cards of any kind violate Shariah’s prohibition against businesses that charge interest.

“Play today and forever pay”
In an Arab News story, a writer laments a friend’s choice to pay for groceries with a credit card. It’s an example of how Saudis, like many others around the world, are coming to grips with cultural changes that have come with great credit card growth.

Gender differences stand out
Men in Saudi Arabia received 1.721 million new credit cards in 2006. Women got 211,500 (Saudi Credit Information Co.).

Cards and crime

The trouble with checking ID
Reports indicate that credit card fraud is growing rapidly as Saudis use more plastic. According to a report at ArabNews.com, some basic anti-fraud steps — such as checking identification — can be troublesome in Saudi society. For example, at one store, “the clerks, all of whom were male, stated that they would never ask a woman for identification.”

Cybercrime hits Saudi Arabia hard
Saudi officials say that cybercrime — including various financial crimes — are costing the kingdom “millions of dollars annually.” Officials said many Saudis are involved in hacking and a March 2008 tougher law says hackers “will be jailed for not more than a year and fined not more than 500,000 Saudi riyals” (or US$134,000).

Local voices

Official tourism site
General Commission for Tourism and Antiquities

Financial news sites
Saudi Gazette
ArabNews.com
MenaReport.com

Russian personal financial blogs
The Islamic Finance Blog
Crossroads Arabia

Country info

Location: Middle East, bordering the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, north of Yemen (map)

Population: 28 million (July 2008)

Area: 2,149,690 sq. mi. or 829,999 sq. km. (about one-fifth the size of the U.S.)

GDP: $546 billion (2007 estimate)

Currency: Russian ruble (RUB)

Key exports: petroleum and petroleum products make up 90 percent of Saudi exports

Key imports: machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, chemicals, motor vehicles, textiles

Famous Saudis: NFL player Jordan Kent, ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and King Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz

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