Banks in Spain: Foreigners, Spanish Bank Accounts
Posted by The Expatriator
Banks and banking for expatriates living in Spain. Includes information about: accounts for foreigners, VISA cards, debit cards, transaction fees, online banking, cajas and foreign-owned banks.
Cultural note: for writing large numbers in Spain they use a “.” to separate groups of thousands whereas we normally use a “,”
eg. 1,000,000.00 (expats) = 1.000.000,00 (Spain)
There are two types of bank accounts for foreigners:
- Resident bank account: You can open an account in euros or in a foreign currency (depending on what the bank offers).
- Nonresident bank account: If you don’t have an NIE card and you come from another country, you are considered nonresident. Based on the regulations of the Bank of Spain, nonresidents can hold bank accounts in euros or in foreign currency. As identification, you must have a valid passport or the ID number of your country of origin. You also have to justify your nonresident status when you open the account (or within 15 days). This is because for a nonresident account, the bank does not withhold a percentage of the interest earned. Generally every six months, the bank does a check to confirm your nonresident status. If you acquire resident status any time after opening the account, you must notify the bank and give them your NIE. The fees for a resident account are cheaper than for a nonresident account.
The regulations are clear, but be aware that when you go to a local bank to open your account, the employee probably won’t speak English, and won’t have experience in this type of account, or may offer you an account that does not earn interest. Furthermore, they may charge you extra fees -eg. setup costs - for this type of account; they may also tell you about “setup fees” that never happen anyway.
Paying the utilities and rent is typically done by granting the ability to debit your bank account. Checks are rarely used. A landlord may ask for the rent in cash—that’s so they don’t have to declare the rent on their income tax form. Undeclared money is called dinero negro or dinero en B—fairly common in Spain.
Banks charge high fees in Spain, and mutual funds/money markets are not very developed, so it may be better to keep most of your money back in your country. As an example of fees, La Caixa charges the following for transfers into and out of the account.
- 0,25% to/from a national non-La Caixa account.
- 0,25% to/from an international account, same currency, less than 12.500€
- 0,5% to/from an international account otherwise
There may also be yearly fees, fees for each debit card, even fees for the stamps they put on correspondence with you. Shop around, these fees may be negotiable. See a full list of links to Spanish banks.
Some banks will offer you a bank book, called a libreta.This is fine for balancing your accounts and keeping track of your current accounts, but much more convenient is the debit cards using the Visa transaction infrastructure. Try to get both if you can.
In general, the Spanish banking system is modern. It was recently pointed out that because the systems work so well, it facilitates the continued success of the black market. Almost all banks offer online banking, transfers between banks happen fast, and relative anonymity is relatively assured for now.
USA: There are Citibanks in Spain, but it doesn’t make your international banking any easier: the same charges apply as if it were a different bank. With some Spanish banks, you can open both dollar accounts and euro accounts, and transfer between them.
If you’re under 26 you can qualify for a foreigner’s account with Caixa Catalunya that includes a Visa debit card and all transaction fees are free (in general, not including other banks’ fees). They seem to have nice people, but you’ll probably have to speak Spanish.
Some online banking systems, such as La Caixa, are very good.
Cajas are nonprofit banks. Being non-profit, the Cajas spend their profits on cultural programs. The best art exhibitions I’ve seen in Spain have usually been thanks to the Cajas. As banks, they generally offer lower fees (but tend to have longer lines, too).
List of the Major Banks in Spain
La Caixa - A Catalan savings bank with a lot of services in English
Catalunya Caixa - Another Catalan savings bank. Used to be banking as Caixa Catalunya, but recently merged with Caixa Manresa and Caixa Tarragona during the recent savings bank mergers. They do customer service in English (via email even). I recommend them.
Banca Pueyo - banking Organization with a network of branches, services and products.
Sabadell Atlántico - New features and promotions includinig electronic banking, products and services, network of offices and client services. English website
Banco de Valencia - financial products and investments for companies and individuals, English site.
Banco Espirito Santo - a Portugeuese organization with activities in Spain and a network of offices and tellers.
Banco Gallego - Products and services, branches and electronic banking.
Banco Guipuzcoano - Products, results, new features and a network of offices.
Banco Herrero - Saving, investment funds, credits, mortgages and Internet banking
Banco Pastor - Products, services, network of offices and channel of the news.
Banco Santander - personal, enterprise banking, stock-exchange services, bank online, mortgages, credits and loans.
Bannesto - Internet office and other specialized services. For non-Residents. English website.
Bankinter - extensive banking Services via Internet. One of the largest online banking systems in Spain. English website.
Bankoa, S.A. - Individual and enterprise banking services.
BBK (Bilbao Bizkaia Kutxa) - Internet office and other services. English website.
Caja de Arquitectos - remote Bank, offices and products specifically designed for architects.
Citibank España - The American bank’s Spanish offices. Investments, loans and credits cards, accounts, local branches and other products and services. Surprisingly there’s no English website.
Compañía Española de Financiacion del Desarrollo (COFIDES) - financial support for investment projects for Spanish companies.
Deutsche Bank España - products, services and markets. My German friend banks with them but they don’t offer service in German nor English at the branch in Barcelona…
Banco Bilbao Vizcaya - corporative structure, financial and stock-exchange information, in addition to services for companies and individuals. Services for nonResidents. English website.
Grupo Banco Popular - Products and services for the group of banks around Spain.
Banco Sabadell- personal, enterprise and corporative services banking. English website.
Grupo ING Direct - financial products, interest accounts and deposits.
Lloyds TSB Bank - specializing in private management of national and international investments. English website.
OpenBank - used to be Patagon. They specialize in online banking services, particularly good online investment banking.
Unión Financiera Asturiana - private credit organization.