Choosing a Spanish bank

Choosing a Spanish bank

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Things can get bewildering when you have a huge variety of Spanis banks to choose from. Sandra Piddock offers tips on how to choose a Spanish bank.

When you buy a home in Spain, you must open a Spanish bank account. It’s necessary for payment of utility bills, and it makes economic sense as well. If you use a Spanish bank for all your Spanish transactions, you will not be charged conversion fees.

As Spain has more banks per capita than most other European countries, the choice facing you can be bewildering to say the least. Here are a few ideas to help you to make the right decision for your needs.

When was the last time you used your cheque book? Ages ago, I expect, unless you send money through the post as presents. Well, in Spain, cheque books are becoming rarer than rocking horse manure.

While you can open a current account (cuenta corriente), most foreigners opt for a savings account. (cuenta de ahorro) Bank charges in Spain are high, but at least with a savings account you receive interest to offset the charges. You’ll receive a pass book, similar to an English building society book, plus a cash/debit card.

It’s possible to arrange direct debits (domiciliacion de recibos) through a savings account, and you can also make international currency transfers. The savings account therefore can deal with most of your needs. Some banks will waive account charges if you arrange for your pension or salary to be paid into the account, so it’s worth investigating.

Which bank to choose? Well, there are 15 major banks, plus lots of smaller regional ones. The most visible banks on the Costa Blanca are Banco Santander, La Caixa and Banco Popular. There are two main reasons for going with the big boys:

  1. The larger banks are more likely to have English speaking staff to help with your transactions.
  2. They will have a larger network of cash machines (ATMs) than smaller banks.


This is a very important consideration, because, in Spain, you will be charged for all ATM withdrawals from machines other than your own bank’s network.

Until a couple of months ago, this didn’t really matter, because it only cost around EUR 0.50 for each withdrawal, no matter how large or small.

However, as in England, the banks are feeling the pinch from the credit crunch and have raised their ATM fees in order to keep their profits up. With some banks charging up to EUR 4 for each EUR 100 withdrawn, that’s a big premium to pay for accessing your own money. When you use ATMs, you may be asked if the account you wish to withdraw from is a savings or current account. Quite simply, if you have a pass book, it’s a savings account.

We bank with Banco Santander; we’re shareholders due to the takeover of Abbey National, and there are lots of branches and ATMs nearby. This means we never have to pay for withdrawals, and we can get our book updated whenever we want. We also get monthly statements, but I quite like the idea of having all our transactions in the book, as it’s easier to check back if necessary.

A word of warning here, though. When you want your book updated, say: "Al dia, por favor." (literally, To the day, please.) A friend who requested, "Completo", because that seemed logical, found that her account was closed.


Sandra Piddock / Expatica

The writer, Sandra Piddock, is originally from the UK. She moved from Cornwall to Costa Blanca five months ago, but says it feels like home already.
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