For expats living in Spain, opening a bank account is an important step towards managing your money like a local. If you’re considering the move to Spain or you’ve recently arrived in the Land of the Setting Sun, you can get a head start by understanding the ins and outs of banking in Spain.
As a member of the Eurozone, Spain uses the Euro (€) for physical and online transactions. This currency has eight coins:
- 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 cents, 1 and 2 Euros
and seven notes:
- 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 Euros
As in most currencies, very small and very large denominations might not be accepted at smaller stores.
Spanish Banking System
The Spanish banking system is part of the international financial market and is regulated internally by the Banco de España—Spain’s central bank. The banking system itself is composed of:
- Online banks
- International Banks
- Private banks
- State-owned banks (cajas)
Spanish banks usually open from 8:30 am until 2:30 pm.
Online banking is becoming a more popular option for banking in Spain, thanks to 24/7 accessibility, low fees and the convenience of not needing to visit a bank in person.
Four of the most popular providers of digital accounts in Spain are:
- N26. N26 operates in 22 European countries and offers a wide range of services plus a free virtual MasterCard.
- Bunq. Bunq is an easy-to-use banking app that facilitates instant SEPA (Single European Payment Area) transfers and grows trees while you spend. They offer their customers a metal card that is accepted around the world.
- Revolut. Revolut is a digital banking app that facilitates transactions in multiple international currencies and cryptocurrencies. Choose from a free standard account, premium account and (more expensive) contactless metal card account.
- Wise. Wise is an international operator that offers multi-currency accounts, excellent exchange rates, low fees and debit cards. Wise is an extremely popular option for expats and travellers around the world.
If you are thinking of starting a physical or e-commerce business in Spain, you will also need a global payment gateway and payment processor that is familiar with the European market. Unicorn Payment offers specialised online merchant services in Europe that can help your business venture succeed.
For expats who prefer in-person customer service, there are many banks in Spain with physical branches where you can open a Spanish bank account. Most banks in Spain offer mobile banking and electronic banking services as well as limited face-to-face support.
The largest Spanish banks include:
- Banco Santander
- BBVA Bank Spain
- Banco Popular
- Banco de Sabadell
Banco Santander, BBVA, Banco Popular, CaixaBank and Sabadell also have branches abroad, so these are good options if you’re likely to be travelling a lot.
Spain is home to many international financial institutions that are headquartered in other countries. These big-name banks frequently offer services for expats and are more likely to offer English-language services, as well. The most common international banks in Spain include:
- Deutsche Bank
If you already have an account with one of these banks, you should be able to continue banking in Spain by having your account transferred to a Spanish branch rather than opening a new local bank account. You should also be able to withdraw money at the ATM without paying additional fees.
Regional savings banks, commonly referred to as “cajas”, are either owned by the government or industry-based cooperatives. Rather than distribute their profits to their shareholders, cajas are not-for-profit and any profits are distributed back to their members. Regional banks are less likely to provide services in English and are mainly used for saving rather than commercial banking, investments or loans.
Opening an Account
Opening an account for banking in Spain is a straightforward process as long as you have the required documentation. Many Spanish banks will even allow non-residents to open a “non-resident account”, which is a perfect option for people conducting business in Spain from abroad as well as those who plan to move to Spain in the future.
When you go to open an account, you may be asked to provide:
- Photo ID
- TIE (Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero) for foreign residents, or
- DNI (Documento Nacional de Identidad) for Spanish citizens
- Spanish NIE (Número de Identidad de Extranjero) for taxation
- Proof of address
- Proof of student or employee status
- Certificate of non-residency (for non-residents)
Many banks will also require that you pay into the Spanish social security system for a minimum of 30 days before you open an account.
Types of Spanish Bank Accounts
A cuenta corriente, sometimes translated as a “current account”, is intended for everyday banking. You can expect to pay around €15–20 annually in fees for this kind of account plus €12–15 per year for a debit card.
Cuenta Corriente para No Residentes
This is an everyday-banking account for people who don’t live in Spain. You will typically pay higher monthly fees and receive no interest payments on your funds. However, you will be able to do business and make purchases in Spain via electronic and mobile banking.
Cuenta de Ahorros
A cuenta de ahorros is a savings account. This kind of account is usually free but you can expect to have a limited number of transactions each month, so it’s important to ask about these limitations before you decide on a savings account.
Cuenta Sin Nómina
If you live in Spain but don’t have a regular income, you will need to open a cuenta sin nómina. These kinds of accounts don’t have any regular fees or even require an opening balance—making them perfect for people who are self-employed.
Usually, you will be required to:
- Transfer a certain amount of money into the account within the first few months after opening it
- Spend a certain amount of money each year with the card linked to the account
- Carry out a minimum number of transactions per trimester, usually achievable by paying your bills online
Common Payment Methods in Spain
Many of the most popular payment methods in Europe are widely accessible in Spain. They include the following.
Cash is still the predominant form of payment used in Spain—especially in rural areas where card facilities might not be available. It’s a good idea to take some cash with you when you go out in case you want to make a small purchase (below €10-15) and the shop doesn’t take cards.
Debit cards with a chip or pin are accepted in most Spanish stores and some stores also offer contactless payments for sales up to €20. You will usually receive a Visa or MasterCard debit card when you open a bank account in Spain although you may need to pay a monthly or annual maintenance fee.
Credit cards are more popular than debit cards in Spain, with Visa, MasterCard and American Express being the three most popular brands. You can apply for a credit card when (or after) you open a bank account and need to pay off the card either monthly or quarterly (depending on the bank) along with annual percentage rate (APR) fees, as applicable.
Standing Orders and Direct Debits
For the payment of utility bills and municipal taxes, standing orders and direct debits are usually the simplest solutions. A standing order (domiciliación de pago) instructs your bank to make regular fixed payments to another account, whereas a direct debit (domiciliación de recibos) authorises another party to make repeated withdrawals, sometimes of differing amounts. You can cancel these regular payment arrangements by contacting your bank and/or service provider.
Cheques are a somewhat antiquated method of payment in Spain. While most businesses will still accept cheques, you won’t be issued a cheque book when you open a bank account unless you specifically request one.
Mobile and Online Payments
Digital payment methods have been on the rise in recent years thanks to the growing percentage of the population that has a smartphone. The most popular online payment method in Spain in 2017 was PayPal and the most popular mobile payment providers are Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay and Bizum.
Withdrawing Money Using a Foreign Bank Card
If you’ve just arrived in Spain, chances are that you’ll need to withdraw money from your foreign bank account to get you through the first few days and weeks before you start banking in Spain.
In the major cities, there are plenty of cash machines around and you’ll have no trouble accessing your funds if your card was issued by one of the major card associations. Every ATM in Spain should accept cards issued by Visa, MasterCard and Maestro. Most ATMs will also accept Amex cards.
When you go to withdraw money, select your native language if available and follow the instructions on the screen. You can generally withdraw up to €300 per day and will be charged a small fee (between 50 cents and €3) to withdraw money using a foreign card.
Most expats need to transfer money internationally at some stage, whether it’s to send money to friends and family back home or receive funds for making a purchase in Spain. While making a transfer directly from bank to bank might seem like the most obvious and secure option for international transfers, it is also the most expensive way to make a transfer as you’ll pay the highest possible exchange rate (if applicable) and both banks will charge you fees.
International Bank Transfers
Within the European Union and the European Free Trade Association, banks can transfer money more quickly and easily with a SEPA (Single Euro Payment Area) transfer, which takes around 1-2 working days to arrive. Transfers to countries outside of the European Free Trade Association take around 3-5 working days to arrive.
In order to complete a transfer, you’ll need the IBAN (international bank account number) and the BIC (bank identifier code) for the recipient’s bank account.
What most expats do when they need to transfer money internationally is use a specialised company such as CurrencyFair, XE or Wise. There may be a small fee for the transfer, depending on the amount you want to send. However, the rates are generally much more favourable than the rates that you would get with a bank.
To transfer your money internationally, you will usually make a domestic bank transfer to the company’s account or your own digital account in the company’s system. You will then provide the details of the recipient account and make a transfer order to transfer the funds to the recipient account.
For security, transfer companies usually require two-step authentication and ask for your identification documents. They may also ask for ID for the recipient and proof of the nature of your relationship (family, friend, work) to help protect their customers against fraud. Once you have added a new recipient successfully, you can continue to send transfers to that recipient without providing any further documentation.
If Your Card Is Lost or Stolen while Banking in Spain
If you lose your credit or debit card in Spain or suspect that it was stolen, you should report the incident immediately so that the issuing bank can block the card.
If you speak Spanish (or your bank offers your language), call your bank or card provider first. Many banks and card associations have a 24-hour emergency phone number that you can use in these kinds of emergencies.
If you only speak English and your bank doesn’t offer an English-language option, you can call the English-speaking helpline on 902 102 112 and tell them that your card is lost or that you were the victim of a crime. You will then need to go to a local police station within 48 hours to ratify the report.
Making a Complaint about Your Bank
Any complaints about the way you were treated by your bank should be made first to the complaints department of your bank. If the problem is not resolved, you can contact the Banco de España.
If you don’t speak much Spanish, it could be helpful to take someone along with you when trying to resolve a problem with your bank. They will be able to explain the problem clearly to the staff and help you understand the bank’s point of view.
Final Tips for Banking in Spain
Whether you are already a resident of Spain or are considering moving there in the future, the best thing you can do is to do your research before choosing a Spanish bank. The banks’ own websites will provide a lot of useful information and you can often consult with other expats about their experiences through online expat groups and forums.
If in doubt, online banking is often the most convenient option for banking in Spain and around the world. Otherwise, try the Spanish bank that best suits your needs. You can always switch banks if it doesn’t work out!