Upon moving to Spain, one of the first things you need to do is open a bank account, together with purchasing private health insurance. If you haven’t learned any Spanish yet, I would also recommend that you get the basics nailed down.
You will need it for several things, most importantly for paying your monthly rent. A foreign bank account is not that useful in Spain as many institutions rely on direct debits to a local account. For example, if you make a gym subscription, or if you sign up for private health insurance, you will need to provide your bank details, and you need to give a Spanish IBAN number.
See also: Best broker for buying stocks in Spain
The same thing applies if you have an iPhone and want to use the Spanish app store; you need a Spanish debit or credit card.
When I arrived in Spain, I had a list of criteria that I used to search for the best bank here. Let me share them with you:
I’m giving money to the bank and they will use it to gain money, I shouldn’t be paying them. If anything, they should be compensating me for providing the capital.
- Straightforward to open and operate.
I didn’t want to jump through too many hoops to open a bank account, and I expect a modern web and mobile interface to operate on a daily basis.
- English-speaking staff and multilingual website and contracts.
Not so much of a deal-breaker as I’m fluent in Spanish, but it’s always a plus.
- Stable and highly-regarded bank.
I don’t want nasty surprises in the future, so let’s keep to the top banks and avoid going with the lesser-known ones.
Here are some of the typical bank fees charged by banks here that I was not prepared to pay:
- Maintenance fees
There is usually an average fee for having your bank account and this is anything from €40 year and upwards
- Transferring money
If you use your bank account to transfer money, even to another Spanish account, you may be charged. The transfer cost is usually around €2 or C3 for every transaction you make. Online transactions are usually free.
If you use a cash machine that is not linked to the bank you use then you will be charged a fee. This varies but is likely to be at least €2.
- Credit and debit cards
Some banks may charge a small fee per year for maintaining your card and can be around €8 and €10 per year.
After spending many hours in online research, speaking to people and visiting bank branches, these were my shortlisted banks:
Before we delve into details about each of these banks and my top pick, I’d like to make a special note for those who will be transferring money from other countries. The most common cases are GBP and USD but this applies to any other non-Euro currency.
I suggest that you use Wise for your conversions as you will save a ton of money versus any local bank. You can also set up a Wise Borderless account which gives you a debit card in multiple currencies that is perfect for travel.
Ok, now that you now know how to do currency exchanges the right way, let’s move on to Spanish banks. If you have any questions about currency exchange, leave a comment and I’ll try to help out.
Documents needed to open a bank account in Spain
Before you even attempt to open a bank account, make sure you have the following documents handy as you will need them.
If you’re opening your first bank account in Spain with one of the local banks:
- A valid passport or national identity card
- Your Spanish Tax identification number (NIE)
- A document to confirm your address such as a utility bill or Title Deed
- A document to prove you have an income – this could be a payslip, tax return or an official form connected to your pension (optional)
Proof of income documentation is not always required. When I arrived in Spain I did not have any payslips to show, so instead, they asked me for statements from the bank account in my country, and that was enough to open the first bank account here in Spain.
If you already have another bank account in Spain and you’re opening another bank account in Spain with a local bank:
- A valid passport or national identity card
- Your Spanish Tax identification number (NIE)
- The IBAN number of your other bank account
If you’re opening an account with one of the digital banks:
- A valid passport or national identity card
Banks trust each other, so if one bank has done its checks and opened a bank account for you, you can then open another account at another bank by just providing basic identification and the IBAN number for your other bank account.
Note that many traditional Spanish banks do not provide sign up instructions on their website in English, but it’s pretty self-explanatory in most cases.
Keep in mind that banks do discriminate openly against citizens of certain countries that they deem to be on their “blacklist”. My wife (Russian) was straight up refused consideration from various banks, while even myself (Maltese) was refused in one bank due to the manager claiming that Malta was on some kind of blacklist, which is very weird since it is in the EU.
See also: Should you buy Bitcoin in 2021?
N26 – Best Low-Cost Bank in Spain for 2021
Unfortunately, I haven’t been very impressed by banking in Spain. It’s decent enough, don’t get me wrong, and most banks have very good online systems and apps, however, support and compliance can get very frustrating.
That is why I would recommend N26, a German bank with the very latest technology and an amazing mobile app through which you manage your account.
Since April 2019, N26 gives its Spanish users a Spanish IBAN account, so you will be able to use the bank for any direct debits as you would use other Spanish bank accounts.
Now that we have the option, I recommend opening an account with N26, which is a new breed of bank that is totally app-based. This is the future of banking, so they give you best-in-class digital facilities such as an app and website to go with it, while also helping you track your expenses.
I use DEGIRO as a stockbroker in combination with N26 as a bank account, and I have zero hassle with local branches and any other issues.
The famous online bank Revolut is also available to residents of Spain. Revolut is a digital banking app and card that focuses on technology, low fees and premium features. It’s designed for those who travel a lot and offers ways to spend abroad, including international money transfers with no hidden fees.
When you sign up, you will need to choose between three account tiers, starting at €0 per month for the Standard account.
For all account tiers, Revolut gives you a free IBAN account, a free UK current account and a bank card so you can spend your money. You can spend in over 150 currencies at the interbank exchange rate and exchange 29 fiat currencies. There are a number of features that come with each account tier, such as free ATM withdrawals plus exclusive features that come with the Premium and Metal accounts.
Revolut has three tiers: Standard, Premium and Metal. The Standard account is €0 per month, the Premium account is €7.99 per month and the Metal account is €13.99 per month.
One of Revolut’s most appealing features is that it lets you spend fee-free at the interbank rate in over 150 currencies.
Using it abroad is much like using it in Spain. However, don’t forget that while there’s no spending limit for card payments, free ATM withdrawals are limited to €200 per month with the Standard account (higher for Premium and Metal), after which you’ll be charged a 2% fee.
Revolut received its European banking license from the European Central Bank in December 2018. This means that if you open a current account with Revolut in the future your funds will be protected up to €100,000. However, at the time of writing, this was still being put into place. For now, Revolut still has obligations to safeguard your funds in a separate bank so you can get them back should anything happen to Revolut.
Revolut stands out from its competitors in cryptocurrencies. In 2017, it became the first challenger bank to let customers buy cryptos within the app.
What’s more, it’s incredibly easy for anyone to use cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin with Revolut. Revolut’s aim is to make cryptocurrencies accessible. Customers have access to five different cryptocurrencies: Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ether, Bitcoin Cash and XRP. However, you have to hold a Premium account or higher to access the cryptocurrency feature automatically. Otherwise, you will need to invite three or more friends to use the app to unlock the feature.
Revolut shows you real-time cryptocurrency graphs which shows you current rates. You can also set up price alerts to hear when your cryptocurrency hits a certain value.
Revolut applies a markup of 0.5% on major currencies and 1% on other currencies over the weekend when markets are closed.
You are charged at least a 1% markup for currencies such as the Thai baht, Russian rouble, Ukrainian hryvnia and the Turkish lira. This rises to 2% on weekends.
You can make fee-free currency conversions up to €6,000 per month, after which a 0.5% fee applies.
The big disadvantage of using Revolut at the moment is that you don’t get a Spanish IBAN. Although according to EU rules, businesses here in Spain should accept European IBANs for direct debit purposes, in practice there are some big companies that still refuse to do so. You might want to check which companies you will need to work with and decide accordingly.
Having said that, since there is no cost to signing up to and maintaining a standard Revolut, I would still recommend having it, especially since you like to travel. Having more options is always better than less options. If you’re worried about managing multiple cards, have a look at the solution I found for that further down in the article.
Before you move abroad consider opening a TransferWise multi-currency account. You get your own free local bank account details in Europe, UK, US, Australia and New Zealand so you can have a local bank account before arriving.
It comes with a debit card so you can pay and withdraw money at ATMs once you come to Spain with much lower fees than with your bank.
Read my full Wise Borderless review or go ahead and open an account using the link below.
BBVA Cuenta Online – Best Spanish Bank
BBVA is a Spanish bank with an excellent reputation, and their mobile app has won numerous awards.
You can open a Cuenta Online with no commissions in 10 minutes using the mobile app. Their website is available in multiple languages including English.
You can’t really go wrong with BBVA if you want the extra peace of mind of having your money in a Spanish bank. BBVA is consistently rated among the top 3 banks in Spain.
This is now my favorite local bank in Spain. I am very happy with the service they provide and the application is excellent, even allowing you to aggregate other banks’ accounts into the BBVA app for your convenience.
Let’s move on to Bankia now. Bankia is a Spanish bank that was formed in December 2010, consolidating the operations of seven regional savings banks. It is now one of the top 5 largest Spanish banks. It has a somewhat rocky past and is currently recovering, but that shouldn’t put you off.
Their best offering at the moment is Cuenta ON, which gives you zero commissions, similar to ING Direct. In Bankia’s case, there is no minimum balance requirement. There are no commissions on outgoing or incoming Euro transfers either.
The most important requirement in order to keep this account commission free is that you conduct all operations online without visiting the branches. For example, if you want to make a transfer, you would do it online rather than visiting the branch and asking them to do it for you. Perfectly fine for me, as I find it way more comfortable doing everything online.
Bankia doesn’t have an online chat system, but you can ask for a callback for free, or use the contact form on their site to send in queries. ING Direct is better in this respect.
On the other hand, Bankia offers its website in English and Spanish (apart from Catalan and Valencian), so you can find all the information easily.
With Bankia, you can send or receive money from friends using the Bizum system, and you can also use Bankia Wallet to pay directly with your mobile phone, in a similar way to ING Direct’s Twyp Cash.
You can withdraw money from Bankia ATMs (up to 600 Euro daily) and no commissions will be charged. If you’re abroad and need to withdraw cash they will charge 4% with a minimum of 4 Euro.
You can use your card to spend up to 1,500 Euro daily.
The best thing about Cuenta ON is that it is completely commission-free. I prefer ING Direct’s and BBVA’s interface, related services and also their facility of withdrawing from other ATMs commission-free. Therefore Cuenta ON is a good secondary or backup account. I would always suggest having two bank accounts in place just in case conditions change with your usual bank. Keep in mind that terms can change at any point with Spanish banks, so you’ve got to be on the ball and read any communication they send you.
Banks to Avoid
I don’t recommend this bank due to the various reports of multiple charges that are now associated to having accounts with them (see comments section).
ING Direct used to be my favorite local bank, but as of April 2019, I would recommend N26 above ING Direct. They have a weird policy of letting all incoming transfers in, then suddenly asking for documentation about all incoming international transfers months later. It’s quite maddening because they typically don’t even know what they need, they just ask you for documentation for everything, which of course can be incredibly time-consuming to retrieve given that some transfers might have been done years ago.
They have also blocked many clients’ accounts even during the sensitive Coronavirus crisis times, piling more difficulty on families when they should be helping alleviating the burden. I find these practices extremely insensitive and unprofessional and cannot recommend this bank any longer.
Their customer support is only available via phone (long waits) and usually turns out to be quite incompetent, barely able to answer basic questions.
In short: Stay away from this bank.
You will no doubt have your own requirements for bank accounts. Perhaps you are already thinking of a loan or mortgage, or you’re interested in finding a bank with great stock brokerage facilities, or even other products such as life insurance or deposit accounts.
Make sure you make a list of things that are most important to you, then start your search by visiting all the sites of the local banks. You will usually get a gut feeling about certain banks that will allow you to narrow things down. You can then proceed to visit the local offices of the shortlisted banks and get a feel for the kind of people that work there and get more information about their products.
Finally, you can make an educated decision on which account to use. Remember that you can always close an account without any hassle or cost if further down the line you understand that the bank is not well aligned with your needs.
When you open a bank account at any entity, be aware that they will usually ask for your passport and your NIE at the very minimum. They might also ask for things like your rental contract, statement from your foreign bank, tax statements from your previous country of residence etc. Banks are on the lookout for money launderers and have very strict parameters within which to operate. All the banks I mentioned above are very reasonable in what they require and will not make things difficult for you. Others may have stricter policies, and they might reject your application without providing any specific reasons.
Over the years, I’ve come to prefer online banks, so here would be my favorite options:
Accounts for traveling outside the Euro zone:
Good luck with opening a bank account in Spain, and if you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments section.
Curve – Managing multiple cards
It’s a hassle having many cards in your wallet. You might lose one without even noticing, not to mention the inconvenience of a fat wallet in your pocket.
The solution to that is to use the Curve app and card. Basically, Curve allows you to load all your cards into its app, then use just one card (the Curve card) to make your payments. Before you make a payment, you can use the app to choose which bank card you want to take the money from. Incredibly useful for those of us who have many debit and credit cards.
Savings and Investment accounts
None of the banks mentioned in my article are great places to earn any interest on your money. As you know, banks nowadays offer very low interest for leaving your money in their accounts. However, there are some good online options if you’re seeking some return on your money.
Raisin – Best Investment accounts
Raisin puts more than 70 savings products at your disposal. The platform collaborates with many European collaborator banks, all of which count on the European deposit guarantee scheme (up to €100,000). It is basically an aggregator of all the savings account offerings across Europe.
I find it extremely convenient to be able to access all these investment products in one place. The traditional way would be to actually sign up to a bank in order to be able to access its savings products, which is incredibly more laborious and harder for the customer to compare offers between banks. Check it out, I think you will like the idea behind Raisin.
Finizens – Best Roboadvisor
Finizens is the Spanish version of Betterment or Wealthfront, two extremely popular roboadvisor platforms in the United States. With a roboadvisor, you put your money in their account and then let algorithms pick out the best long-term passive investment strategy for you.
It’s a valid alternative to investing in index funds and like I said these kinds of platforms are already extremely popular across the Atlantic. In Europe, they are just starting out but I’m betting Finizens will be a strong player in the space.
P2P Lending – Mintos
If you’re interested in making the most of your money, don’t leave it sitting in your bank account where it generates low returns.
Take a look at my results (above 10% returns) investing through the Mintos P2P lending platform, it’s been excellent so far. If you’re not familiar with P2P lending, read my review of the best P2P lending sites in Europe, which includes a thorough guide on how this sector works.
Another option is to invest in property via online platforms. I have lots of content on that subject as well on this site, and a good place to start from is my post on the best property investment platforms in Europe.
Spanish Banking Glossary
Let’s talk about some of the most common words used in Spanish banking.
- Cuenta = account
- Cuenta Corriente = current account
- Tarjeta = card
- Seguros = insurance
- Saldo Contable = account balance
- Saldo Disponible = balance available
- Traspasos = transfers
- Inicio = Start
- Extracto = statement
- Cuenta para residentes = resident account
- Cuenta para no residentes = non-resident account
- Caja = savings banks
- Account number – usually a ten digit number
- Sort code – four digits for your bank reference and four digits for your branch
- Control number – a two-digit number
- BIC – Bank Identifier Code. It begins with letters that refer to the bank you are using. It is used in conjunction with the IBAN
- IBAN – ‘International Bank Account Number’ and is a standard way of identifying banks across different countries.