How to open a bank account in Spain

26.09.16
7 minute read
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Whether you’re looking to relocate permanently or even just for a few months, you’re bound to love Spain. Not only does it have great weather and stunning architecture, it also boasts some of the best quality of life in the world.

What’s more, opening a bank account is very easy, even if you’re a non-resident.

Read on to find out how to go about it.

Should I open a resident or non-resident bank account?

Spanish bank accounts are available to both residents and non-residents of Spain.

Of course, resident bank accounts tend to be more flexible and have more perks. On the other hand, if you’re new to Spain or do not plan to live there on a permanent basis, a non-resident bank account will be easier to open.

In any case, you can always switch your account once you obtain residency. Switching to a resident account is a relatively simple procedure - just make an appointment at your local branch and take the necessary documentation with you.

What documents do I need?

The documents you’ll need in order to open a bank account will vary depending on whether you’re applying as a resident or non-resident.

Some banks may also require more documentation than others, so it’s a good idea to check your bank’s requirements ahead of time. This will ensure you have all the necessary paperwork before you open your account.

Opening a bank account as a non-resident

In order to open a bank account as a non-resident, you’ll need the following documents:

  1. Your valid, unexpired passport or national identity card (if you’re an EU citizen);
  2. A document to prove your address, such as a recent bank statement or utility bill (less than 3 months old); and
  3. A document to prove your employment status (such as a payslip, tax return or a government letter confirming that you’re unemployed or receiving state benefits).

For the documents to be acceptable, you’ll have to get them officially translated into Spanish by a sworn official translator, called traductor jurado. Depending on where you live, you may be able to find an official translation service and get your documents translated before you move.

Certificado de no residente / Non-resident confirmation

Some banks may also require a so-called ‘Certificado de No Residente’ - a letter that confirms you are a non-resident. You can get this letter by going to a police station and showing your passport. Some banks may also offer to get this for you against payment of a fee (normally in the region of €15).

Different police stations have different responsibilities, so you should check ahead of time whether a police station near you offers this service.

Opening a bank account as a resident

In order to open a resident bank account, you’ll typically need the following documents:

  1. Your valid, unexpired passport or national identity card (if you’re an EU citizen);
  2. A document to prove your Spanish address (such as a lease, a recent utility bill or a recent bank statement;
  3. Your Spanish NIE number; and
  4. Proof of your employment status (such as an employment contract, a student card or unemployment paperwork).

You should apply for your NIE first, as you’ll need it to do anything that requires an official process. This includes getting a job, renting or buying property, getting connected to utilities and paying taxes.

Can I open an account remotely or online?

Yes, you can apply for a resident bank account online. In some cases, you can also apply for a non-resident bank account online. Either way, you’ll need to visit a branch or meet with a customer representative in order to hand over your documentation.

If you’re not particularly fluent in Spanish, it’s probably a better idea to apply for a bank account in person.

While most banks do have English versions of their website, translations often tend to be clumsy and a bit confusing. Opening an account in person can help you avoid possible misunderstandings.

If at all possible, it’s also a good idea to take a Spanish-speaking friend with you to your appointment. Talking to an English-speaking employee may be more challenging than you might think, even in Spain’s major cities.

Which bank is best for my needs?

There are dozens of banks in Spain, all of which offer broadly similar products. However, the four largest banks are Bankia, BBVA, La Caixa and Santander.

This is what they each have to offer.

Bankia

Bankia’s Cuenta Facil is a basic bank account that includes a free visa debit card as standard. You can apply for an account online and have a manager meet you to collect your documentation.

The Cuenta Joven is similar to the Cuenta Facil, but aimed at young people aged between 14 and 26. It’s main perk is that you won’t have to pay a monthly fee. You’ll also get a free visa debit card.

Bankia also has a Cuenta Negocio, a business bank account which also earns a variable rate of interest each month.

BBVA

Whether you apply as a resident or non-resident, BBVA is a great choice, thanks to its fee-free accounts. As a plus, their website is written in excellent English, making it very easy to understand and navigate.

BBVA has two main accounts: BBVA Online Account and BBVA Blue Online Account, which is for people aged 18 to 29.

As their name suggests, you can only apply for these accounts online. However, you’ll need to register as a customer first. This is very simple to do - simply supply an existing bank account number. Alternatively, a courier can come and pick up your documents for you once you’re done with the registration process.

The main draw of both accounts is that you won’t be charged a monthly account fee. You’ll also get a visa debit card free of charge.

BBVA also have specialised business banking facilities, which are tailored to your particular circumstances, as well as products for self-employed persons. These services include free transfers and free cheque deposits.

La Caixa

La Caixa’s current account for non-residents is a basic, no frills bank account.

However, you’ll get a number of complementary services that are great if you’re new to the country. These include legal advice in your language, 2 hours of free emergency services (for locksmith, electricity and plumbing emergencies) and an unlimited free interpreter service via telephone.

As you might have expected, there is a larger selection of accounts to choose from if you’re a resident.

The Cuenta Estrella has no monthly fee and comes with a free credit card. You’ll also get a free tablet, TV or smartwatch if you use the account to deposit your salary.

Alternatively, you can open a Cuenta Corriente Joven, which is free for students aged 18 to 26.

There are also two business accounts to choose from: the Cuenta Commercio, which includes 10 free transfers per month, two credit cards and unlimited free cheque deposits; and Cuenta Negocio, a similar product aimed at self-employed people.

Santander

If you’re from the UK, you’ve probably heard of Santander.

Santander’s Spanish products are largely similar to its UK accounts. In particular, the 123 Account is virtually identical to the UK product, and gives you up to 3% cashback on selected bills as well as 3% interest on balances between €3,000 and €15,000.

They also have tailored accounts for students and for business.

Unfortunately, Santander’s products are mainly targeted at residents. In addition, while you can apply online, the website does not have an English translation. This makes it practically impossible to apply if you don’t understand at least some basic Spanish.

Other banks worth checking out

While one of the ‘big four’ banks is probably your best bet if you plan to settle in Spain permanently, it’s also worth checking out Sabadell, especially if you’re a non-resident.

Sabadell is the fifth largest bank in Spain. It also owns TSB, so you may be familiar with the name if you’re from the UK.

Sabadell’s Key Account is made specifically for non-residents and comes with free visa credit and debit cards. Unusually for a bank account, incoming and outgoing transfers within the EU are free if the amount is less than €50,000. You’ll also get 10 free translations per year for documents up to 500 words long.

What are the bank fees involved in Spain?

Even though the market is quite competitive, the cost of banking in Spain is relatively high compared to other EU countries. Fees can also vary quite significantly from bank to bank, so you should shop around for the best deal.

As a general rule, current accounts are cheaper to open than other types of account. However, you must deposit your salary into the account to benefit from the more advantageous rates. Some banks run special offers from time to time, so you may be able to get a better deal.

With that being said, you should expect to pay at least some of the following fees and charges.

Account opening and maintenance fees

While some banks do offer free products (or waive the monthly fee if you meet certain conditions), most of the time you will have to pay a monthly fee simply for holding a bank account, called a maintenance fee. Depending on the bank, this fee can be upwards of €8 a month.

You may also be required to pay an account opening fee and to make an initial minimum deposit in order to activate your account.

ATM fees

Withdrawing from an ATM is usually free if you use your bank’s ATM machines. However, you can expect to be charged in the region of €2 per transaction when you withdraw money from another bank’s ATMs.

Transfer fees

Many banks offer free international transfers (or transfers at advantageous rates) on their non-resident accounts.

That said, in most cases you’ll either have a limited number of transfers (after which you’ll start being charged the normal rate), or you’ll be limited to a maximum amount per transfer. Either way, the foreign bank may still charge you a hefty fee.

More importantly, favourable transfer fees normally only apply to non-resident accounts. Making an international transfer through your resident account is rarely the best deal.

You may also be charged a fee for transferring money between two Spanish accounts. Quite often, this charge is a percentage commission with a minimum amount payable, often in the region of €1.50 to €3.50 per transaction. You should read your bank’s schedule of fees carefully so you can know what to expect.

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