Times really have changed for Egypt's banks!

Egypt's banking sector has transformed itself beyond all recognition in a mere handful of decades to become a model of modernity, transparency and openness. Understandably, it is probably difficult today for anyone from abroad living and working in Egypt to fully appreciate the changes that have taken place.

But the changes have been dramatic, not to mention rather timely, for they've enabled banks in Egypt to better weather the impact of the global economic downturn than many of their Western counterparts.

Indeed, no less a publication than The New York Times made that exact point in a recent article, quoting Hisham Ezz Al-Arab, chairman of the Commercial International Bank, Cairo, who said, “The country is still functioning, and it’s largely because of the banking sector. So let’s give credit to the market regulators and the players.”

For the majority of expatriates, interested in getting more bang for their buck from the day-to-day personal banking services now routinely offered by banks such as HSBC, Banque du Caire or Citibank, to name but a few, such praise will probably have sailed way over their heads.

Pity, really, because without the open doors policy of the 1970s, which for the first time allowed foreign ownership of banks, thus beginning the whole transformational process, current banking services as offered by HSBC, for example, would not be the reality they are today.

Now expatriates have little difficulty opening bank accounts in Egypt, obtaining loans and credit cards, or gaining access to their cash 24/7 thanks to the thousands of cash machines which continue to spring up all over the place.

Although opening a bank account is a fairly speedy and relatively painless procedure, the production of certain documentation is required by law in order to do so. That would be the same in the United Kingdom or just about anywhere else in the world for that matter. So nothing out of the ordinary there.

You'll have to prove who you are, so for an Egyptian national, that would mean producing their national ID card which they have to carry with them. For members of the expatriate community, the passport is obviously the main means of identification. However, you'll also need to take along your work visa and probably your residency certificate, too.

Bear in mind different banks may ask for more than just these basic documents. Some banks may want to see a headed letter from your home bank, and probably a number of your latest bank statements. They might also want you to show them some kind of utility bill – electricity, telephone – with your name and current address on it.

If you're in any way worried about what you should or should not take with you, telephone the bank before you visit them and simply ask. They'll be only too happy to help. And remember, language should not be a problem either because English and French are widely spoken within the banking sector.

Alternatively, why not check out the bank's website? These days, most Egyptian banks do actually have one. Yes, another indication that times really have changed!