Although much of Europe is joined up in terms of banking and financial services, there are some variations in how institutions work across the different countries. One notable difference is in which account products are available for non-residents — and the processes required to access banking services if you’re not physically present.
If you’re a foreigner and not a legal resident of a European country, you will usually be able to open a European bank account. However, you’ll need to shop around to find the products which work for you. Non-resident bank accounts offered in some countries may still require you to attend a branch to provide documentation, for example, or come with service limitations or higher fees than the products usually available. Doing some research in advance can help make sure you get the right deal.
This guide covers all you need to know to get you started, as well as an alternative to opening a European account with a traditional bank.
For a modern and flexible approach to managing your money in Europe, you could try a TransferWise multi-currency borderless account instead. You’ll be able to hold your money in euros, pounds, or whichever European currency you need and make and receive low cost international payments which use the mid-market exchange rate. Read on to learn more.
Europe has a well developed banking sector, and although each country has its own rules and processes, much of Europe works together to streamline financial payments under a system called the Single Euro Payment System (SEPA).
SEPA exists to make it as easy to make a payment from one European country to another as it might be to make a domestic transfer. All of the euro area countries are part of SEPA, as well as Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Norway, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.¹
If you’re looking for a way to make easy payments within Europe, to SEPA countries, TransferWise can help. You can make cross border payments all over the world, using the mid-market exchange rate and for just a small fee. Or choose to get a borderless account to make it even easier to send and receive money in Europe. More on that later.
If you need an account in Europe you might be considering opening a bank account in Germany, or a local account in Portugal for example, to hold your funds easily in euros. Or you might want to be able to send or save money in pounds, and decide to get yourself a bank account in the UK.
It’s possible to open a bank account in Europe for many US citizens. However, there is another option. Instead of opening an account in one country, why not get a multi-currency borderless account to make it easy to manage your money in Europe easy, no matter whether you’re working in euros, pounds, krone, lev or any of the other 28 currencies used in Europe.
How you go about accessing financial services in Europe depends a lot on exactly what you intend to do. You might want a European bank account for any of the following reasons:
- You love to travel and need a simple way to spend across different countries
- You’re buying a second home or investment property, and need to send and receive international payments to do so
- You’re an entrepreneur building or expanding a business into Europe
- You’re a freelancer paid by clients in a range of different currencies and need a simple way to hold and convert your money
- You want to build a nest egg, invest or increase your pension funds and are looking to diversify and keep some of your savings in a foreign currency
No matter what your specific situation, there is a solution out there for you. However, you’ll find it easier to find the right bank account or financial product for your needs if you’re really clear on how you’ll use your account on a day to day basis.
Spend some time thinking about what matters to you in a European bank account. Do you need low fees for payments, convenient account access, or the best available interest rates, for example? You can then check the features and fees of different options against your likely requirements.
Foreigners who are resident in European countries can normally open a bank account there easily, and will typically have a selection of banks and products to choose from. However, if you need a European bank account and you’re not actually a legal resident in the region, your choices may be a little more limited.
When it comes to opening a non-resident bank account, each bank will choose their own policy, based on demand and local competition. That means you can open a bank account as a non-resident in some countries more easily than in others.
If you want to have a euro-denominated account from a traditional bank, you could try opening a bank account in Estonia, for example. Several major banks offer non-resident banking, if you can show you have some link to the country, such as property or a business there. You can also become an e-resident, and set up a business based — virtually — in Estonia, to access business banking services remotely. More on that in a moment. ²³
You could also choose to open a bank account in Cyprus, although you might need to work with an intermediary in your home country, or visit one of the major banks’ international business units to complete the paperwork needed. ⁴
Similarly other countries like Spain allow non-residents to open a bank account but in practise, banks often require you to call into a local branch to complete the documentation, or provide a signature. This might be possible if you’re visiting the country — but isn’t practical for everyone. Check out this guide on opening a bank account in Spain, for details of banks offering non-resident accounts there.
One smart way to access banking, services and even open a business in Europe, is to become an e-resident of Estonia. Estonia has an advanced digital infrastructure, allowing residents — including e-residents — to manage their affairs online. You can vote, pay taxes, open a business, sign legally binding documents and much more, all online using a secure digital identity. This means less paperwork and has allowed Estonia to open its doors to the world, offering e-residency to people who live outside of the country.
Although e-residency has a number of benefits, it’s especially popular with those looking to open a business within Europe. You can set up and manage your business online, including accessing banking and other essential services, without needing to be physically resident in Estonia or Europe.
Interested? There’s more information in this handy guide to the definition, benefits and eligibility requirements for Estonian e-residency.
If you’re looking for a flexible way to send and receive payments in Europe, a TransferWise borderless account might be just the thing.
With a multi-currency borderless account you won’t need to worry about opening bank accounts in different European countries. It only takes a few simple steps to get set up and you can then manage your money across dozens of currencies. Check out a few of the borderless account's great features:
- Send money all around the world, in multiple different currencies, often quicker than a regular bank can
- Receive payments fee free from countries in the euro area, as well as the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand
- TransferWise payments aren’t usually processed using the SWIFT network — so there are no intermediary fees to pay
- Access the mid-market exchange rate for all currency conversion. Just pay a small, transparent upfront fee
- Open a multi-currency borderless account online and use the app to manage your money on the go, across over 40 different currencies
- Sign up for a linked debit card, to make spending from your borderless account even easier
- Use your borderless account for personal or business transactions — and always get great terms and low fees
- TransferWise is registered and regulated by the financial authorities in each country it does business in — that means your money is safe no matter what currency it’s held in
- Access helpful customer support whenever you need it
There are a few different ways you can go about getting a European bank account as a non-resident. You might choose a traditional account from a regular bank based in one of the European countries, take Estonian e-residency to get your business set up in the EU, or consider a modern alternative from TransferWise — the borderless account. With such a range of options out there, you’ll definitely find a solution that suits you.
All sources last checked 21 April 2019
This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.
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