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.
UAE’s du Teams With Huawei For Net-Zero Telecom Services
The telecommunications company aims to promote sustainable development across the region.
du, one of the UAE’s major telecom providers, is boosting its efforts to help the Emirate towards a low-carbon future. The company aims to upgrade its diesel generator sites in remote communities and has ambitious plans to achieve net zero in collaboration with Chinese tech giant Huawei.
The primary goal for du is to reduce reliance on diesel generators, which in turn will cut down on maintenance costs and lower fuel consumption. Over 300 remote sites will be upgraded to advanced hybrid power solutions, lowering the company’s carbon footprint while improving efficiency and network coverage. Huawei’s hybrid generators include state-of-the-art lithium batteries and will reduce carbon emissions by over 10,000 tons – the equivalent of planting 500,000 trees per year.
“This initiative not only lowers our carbon footprint but also ensures the delivery of more eco-friendly and sustainable services to communities in even the most remote desert regions,” explained Saleem AlBlooshi, chief technology officer at du. “Our unwavering commitment to environmental responsibility reflects our determination to contribute to a greener and more sustainable future for all”.