If you’re living in Spain, banking and payments will be easier once you open a bank account in Spain, especially if you don’t have a ‘chip and pin’ debit or credit card.
If you’re living and working in Spain, making and receiving payments will be easier once you open a Spanish bank account. This article aims to walk you through all the steps required to open a bank account in Spain, and the documentation required.
Since the 2008 financial crisis, the Spanish authorities have brought in additional banking regulations. For customers with day-to-day banking needs (rather than investment or business accounts) this primarily shows as increased security when opening an account. However, the process is still easy and more straightforward than in many other European countries.
Choosing a bank in Spain
Spain has over 170 financial institutions, most of which offer accounts for daily use (paying bills, receiving salaries and so on). These are split into two types: cajas and bancos. Bancos, like most banks in other countries, are privately owned or public limited companies and are more likely to be national chains.
Major banks include:
- ING Direct
- Banc de Sabadell (website in 6 languages, including English)
- Banco Popular (Spanish only)
- Santander (Spanish only, do not expect to transfer an account from another country easily)
- BBVA (Spanish only)
- La Caixa (Spanish)
Cajas are state owned, and are often very local. Some have just a few branches while others are spread across a large area. They tend to be more socially and ethically aware, investing in local infrastructure and other projects. It can be hard to choose a caja before you arrive in Spain as the easiest way to find one is to look for branches in your vicinity, and then check their websites for charges and number of branches.
Bank charges and fees in Spain
Most banks charge an annual fee for administration of a current account (cuenta corriente). This is typically €15–30. There are often additional charges for credit (tarjeta de crédito) and debit cards (tarjeta de débito); additional account holders; savings accounts (cuenta de ahorros) and other items like cheque/check books. Expect to also pay a number of small fees, such as a charge of €0.50–3 for withdrawals from other banks’ ATMs.
It is possible to avoid many of these fees by shopping around. A paycheque account (cuenta nómina) typically has lower charges but must be the account your salary is paid into. Special offers available at time of writing include free credit and debit cards with a no-fee salary account and no-fee online-only accounts with major institutions. Students, young people (30 or under) and those over 55 may also qualify for discounts.
Opening a Spanish bank account before you move
Many Spanish banks accept non-resident accounts, so it is possible to set up an account in advance of your move. It’s easiest to do this in person, though, as credit cards and cheque books typically can’t be sent internationally. Many banks have websites and phone services, and a few even offer these in English. Internet-only banks are typically only available for residents. A bank with a quick turn around can open an account and provide a card, cheque book and PIN (to collect from the branch) within a week.
As well as the standard documentation, you may have to prove that you are not resident by providing a certificate of non-residency (certificado de no residencia). To get one, you have to apply at a Spanish police station and the process typically takes 10 days. As a result, this option is primarily useful for those who spend a significant chunk of time in Spain but are normally resident elsewhere. Historically, the certificate has not always been required for foreigners. Some banks will do the paperwork for a nominal fee (around €15).
You must inform the bank should you become resident, which is defined as spending 183 or more days per year in Spain, or having a business or employment based in Spain or a spouse or minor child who are resident in Spain.
Opening a Spanish bank account after you’ve arrived
It’s best to visit the bank of your choice in person and request an account. Banks are usually only open 9am–2pm Monday to Saturday. Many do not have English-speaking staff, so either book an appointment with an English-speaker, if possible, or bring a translator (a fluent friend will do) with you. Accounts are typically opened almost immediately (within 1–5 days) with documentation, cheque books and credit cards dispatched within two weeks.
Documents for opening a bank account
You will typically need to provide the following:
- Proof of identity (eg. passport)
- Foreigner identification number and certificate (número de identificación de extranjeros)
- Proof of address
- Proof of employment status (eg. student card, employment contract, unemployment documentation)
Bear in mind that documents that aren’t in Spanish may need to be officially translated, and if they are from abroad, they may need to be authenticated using an Apostille stamp.
Cash, cheques and card: how do you pay in Spain?
Credit and debit cards are common in Spain. They must have chip and PIN technology to be used at businesses and in cash machines. Overseas cards with this technology are usually readily accepted. Contactless payment is not common in Spain, although some banks are now offering payment via mobile phone.
Many smaller businesses don’t have card machines or prefer not to use them, so it is best to carry enough cash to pay for a meal, public transport and other small purchases. Cheques are still common, and are often used to pay for services (such as a plumber or electrician), or deposits on housing and large purchases (such as furniture or a new car). Bills can be paid by cheque or by direct debit.
Transferring money abroad
Moving money from your account in Spain to an account elsewhere may result in a fee from both banks. Spanish banks usually charge fees of around €3–15 for outgoing payments, and may also charge for receiving funds. Find out your bank’s fixed rate (probably not published on their website) as it will normally be cheaper than a wire service for large amounts but likely more expensive than online systems (eg. PayPal or Transferwise) for small amounts. Banks will often refuse to send funds to certain countries, eg. North Korea. You might also see what rates private money transfer companies offer, although be sure to include any commissions in your cost calculations.