Best bank account in Spain for expats

Spain is a sought-after destination for expatriates and businesses, boasting a high quality of life, a stable economy and the support of initiatives like the Beckham Law. Opening a bank account in Spain provides convenience for daily transactions and accessing local services, with a range of options available, from traditional to online banks, catering to both residents and non-residents.

When selecting an account type, factors such as fees, interest rates, accessibility and account requirements should be considered. With a diverse banking landscape including private, international, cooperative and online banks, expatriates above the age of 18, regardless of residency status, can open accounts in Spain. It’s advisable to opt for reputable institutions like Banco Santander, BBVA, CaixaBank or Banco Sabadell, known for their solid reputations, comprehensive services, multilingual customer service and accessibility.

Understanding Spanish banking for expats

In Spain, there are two main types of banks: “Bancos” and “Cajas”. While there are approximately 50 Bancos and 120 Cajas across the country, they differ in ownership and focus. Cajas de Ahorros, or simply “Cajas”, are state-owned savings banks that emphasise savings deposits and local community investment. They often bear the name of the Spanish region they operate in and prioritise local social projects. Bancos, on the other hand, are privately owned institutions typically co-owned by shareholders. They are commonly named after their founders and may offer a wider range of services.

The current bank account is assigned an identifying number or IBAN code that makes it unique.The 24-digit IBAN code means the following:

The first two letters identify the country, in this case Spain (ES), and are followed by two control digits (DC) used to validate the entire IBAN.

The next four digits identify the financial institution and are assigned by the Bank of Spain.

The following four numbers are the office code where the contract was formalised. They identify the office in a specific city and postal address.

The next two digits are control digits, an algorithm that validates the bank account. It is calculated based on the bank code, branch code and account number.

Common types of accounts, each tailored to different financial needs and goals, include:

Current/checking account (cuenta corriente): ideal for everyday banking activities, although interest rates are typically low for accounts in credit.

Savings account (cuenta de ahorro): offers higher interest rates but may have limited services or access to funds.

Deposit account (cuenta de depósito): provides higher interest rates but lacks day-to-day banking capabilities.

I am message box. Click edit button to change Additionally, banks offer specialised accounts for specific purposes such as mortgages, fixed deposits, credit cards, investments and payslip accounts. There are also accounts tailored for students and accounts in other major currencies, though these may not be suitable for regular Euro transactions like utility bill payments.

Banks establish specific hours for bill payments or in-person customer service at their branch locations.
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Opening your expat bank account

Top picks for expat bank accounts

Banco Santander is widely recognized as one of Spain’s top banks, known for its size and reputation both domestically and internationally. It’s a popular choice for individuals, including non-residents, looking to open accounts in Spain. For expatriates, Banco Santander offers specialised banking services with multilingual support and tailored accounts to meet their unique financial needs.

BBVA, another major player in Spain’s banking sector alongside Banco Santander, it’s praised for its user-friendly online platforms and extensive range of international services, making it another preferred option for banking in Spain. Expatriates find BBVA convenient with its online banking system and comprehensive international services.

CaixaBank’s HolaBank Account is tailored for non-residents and international clients, providing a host of personalised features including English-speaking assistance and access to exclusive events. HolaBank account targets individuals residing outside Spain but spending extended periods in the country, whether for work or leisure. Specifically crafted for real estate buyers eligible for Spain’s Golden Visa program. A standout feature of the HolaBank account is its accessibility worldwide. It allows users to open an account entirely online, eliminating the need for physical presence in Spain. On the other hand, CaixaBank’s MortgageNow is a mortgage application process for international property buyers in Spain. The secure online platform enables users to apply for a mortgage and submit required documents from their home country, expediting credit approval significantly. The platform provides a user-friendly sign-up process conducted in English through CaixaBank’s secure website, comprising six straightforward steps.

Sabadell Bank stands as one of Spain’s largest and most globally renowned banks with a notable presence in the United Kingdom, United States and South America. The Key Account is crafted to meet the specific needs of foreign clients residing in Spain. Setting it apart from other non-resident accounts is its unique offering of up to 10 free document translation services for its customers. Further enhancing its appeal to non-residents, Sabadell Bank boasts a professional team proficient in English, with contracts and policies available in this language. Additionally, the bank offers low commissions and convenient access to Banco Sabadell Spain online banking services, also available in English.

ING Direct Spain, Openbank and N26 are favoured for its transparent fee structure and easy-to-use online platform, particularly among expatriates who prefer online banking solutions.

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Traditional banks 

Those with physical locations are often referred to as traditional banks, encompassing various institutions such as commercial banks, investment banks, cooperative banks and retail brick-and-mortar banks.

Traditional banks offer simplicity and accessibility, allowing customers to interact directly with bankers at physical branches without needing advanced technological skills. This personalised service fosters familiarity and comfort, reducing transactional stress.

Additionally, traditional banks often provide free ATM access within their network and maintain strong community engagement by supporting local nonprofits and schools.

However, traditional banks typically offer lower interest rates compared to online banks, resulting in reduced earnings for savings accounts. Moreover, the operational costs of brick-and-mortar branches lead to various fees imposed by traditional banks, including minimum balance fees, direct deposit fees, late fees and debit card fees, contributing to the overall cost of banking with these institutions.

The ranking of Spain’s top traditional banks, determined by solvency, sees Kutxabank leading the pack with an impressive 17.61%, more than the European average of 15.91%. Following Kutxabank are Unicaja, Cajamar, BBVA, Banco Sabadell, Caixabank, Bankinter and Banco Santander.

Among the lineup of Spain ‘s leading traditional banks are Santander, BBVA, Caixabank, Bankinter and Sabadell.

Interesting read  Property Conveyancing in Spain 

Digital banks for expats

A neobank or digital bank is a direct bank that operates solely through online banking,without the traditional physical branch network.

N26 is a German online bank with over 10 years of experience innovating in traditional banking. This bank holds a European banking licence to offer products such as accounts with Spanish IBANs. Its 4 accounts are designed to meet the diverse needs of its customers, ranging from the Standard account to the Metal account, which provides access to all advanced app tools.

Among the most prominent features of N26 accounts are virtual and physical debit cards, free cash withdrawals in the eurozone and abroad for certain accounts, and its interest-bearing N26 Smart savings account.

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Revolut is one of the world’s leading digital banks, hailing from England and with more than 2 million Spanish users, it has revolutionised the industry with its mobile application, allowing users to make purchases, payments, save and even invest in financial assets. Revolut offers 4 types of accounts tailored to different needs, all with a focus on the global traveller.

Revolut accounts stand out for their ability to exchange over 36 currencies within the app, cashback on Revolut accommodations, and commission-free stock trading (subject to limits depending on the account). Additionally, they provide travel and accident insurance.

Openbank, the first 100% online and digital Spanish bank within the Santander Group, focuses on retail banking for individuals and offers a wide range of banking products, notably accounts and mortgages. With currently over a million customers, this number has steadily grown over the years. Openbank serves as Banco Santander’s digital subsidiary, meaning that being a client of this online bank also makes you a client of a large banking group with international presence and access to all Santander network ATMs, totaling around 30,000 worldwide.

In addition to traditional banking products such as commission-free accounts and mortgages, Openbank has expanded its product catalogue to attract younger clients, offering experiences, discounts on sports events or shows and even a book club.

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Opening your expat bank account

Spanish banks offer different types of bank accounts that serve various purposes. Current/checking accounts are  Ideal for everyday banking needs, though interest rates for credit balances are typically low. Savings accounts offer higher interest rates but have limited services and/or restricted access to funds, especially on short notice. Deposit accounts provide higher interest rates but lack day-to-day banking capabilities.

While all banks provide basic services to clients regardless of residency, some are more expat-friendly than others, with varying requirements.

To open a bank account in Spain, you generally need:

Valid passport or national identity card (for EU citizens)

Proof of address in Spain (e.g., recent utility bill)

NIE number (for foreigners)

Proof of employment status

Residents also need to obtain tax residency certification from the Spanish Tax Authorities, and civil residency documentation from the police station (TIE CARD).

The documentation required for opening a bank account will vary depending on the internal policies of each banking institution and they often differ.

Banking fees and considerations

The five major Spanish banks, including Santander, BBVA, Caixabank, Bankinter and Sabadell, have recently disclosed their annual results for 2023. They reported record profits totaling 26,088 million euros, marking a significant increase of 25.96% compared to the previous year, according to AS newspaper.

There are numerous banking fees, although the main ones related to current accounts are:

  • Maintenance Fee: This charge, imposed by the bank, covers the management of the account. While these fees are common, they can usually be avoided with relative ease. Simply reach out to your bank to inquire about the necessary steps to circumvent them.
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  • ATM Usage Fee: Typically, you won’t face an extra charge for ATM transactions within your bank’s network. However, utilizing ATMs outside your bank’s network may incur fees. The exact fee amount will typically be displayed on the ATM screen, allowing you to decide whether to proceed with the transaction.
  • Transfer Fee: Banks may levy charges for specific types of transfers, particularly those outside the SEPA area, urgent transfers, or those conducted at the bank counter. These fees may also apply to transfers of significant amounts. The European Union will put an end to these practices through a regulation by which banks will have to ensure that all transfers are received within a maximum period of 10 seconds without charging an additional amount compared to conventional transfers.
  • Overdraft Fee: If you attempt to pay a bill without sufficient funds in your account, your bank may cover the payment, resulting in an overdraft.
  • Debit and Credit Card Charges: Additional banking products, often tied to accounts, may incur fees when used. These charges can usually be avoided by meeting certain criteria, but it’s best to confirm requirements with your bank.
  • In-Person Transaction Fee: For online accounts, transactions conducted in person may be subject to fees. Determine which activities can be performed in-office and which ones can be done independently to avoid unnecessary charges.

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Faqs about Spanish bank accounts

Before choosing a bank or opening an account, ensure they meet your needs. Consult with bank representatives, seek input from family and friends and review online feedback and the bank’s website. Here are some FAQs to guide your decision-making:

Both foreign residents and non-residents,  aged 18 and above, are eligible to open bank accounts in Spain. However, the process and requirements with non-residents face more strict criteria. Tasks such as utility bill payments and mortgage applications are significantly more challenging without a Spanish bank account.

Navigating language barriers by choosing a bank with multilingual support can simplify financial transactions. BBVA Bank offers tailored solutions for non-residents with its user-friendly mobile app. CaixaBank’s HolaBank Account provides English-speaking assistance and global accessibility. Santander’s Non-Resident Mundo Account offers online banking and English support, while Sabadell Bank’s Key Account includes free document translation services and English-proficient staff, appealing to non-residents.

Interesting read How to set up utilities in Spain 

Maintaining a bank account in Spain has become increasingly costly. In recent months, many clients have encountered steep fees imposed by their banks for basic account operations or services that were previously free or more affordable.

Nevertheless, there are exceptions, particularly with online banking. Some banks still offer accounts without maintenance fees. These may require regular salary or pension deposits, or simply maintaining a minimum balance.

When transferring funds to a Spanish bank account, you’ll need personal details, the transfer purpose and recipient account specifics, including:

  • Beneficiary Name
  • Beneficiary Account Number
  • SWIFT Code or BSB Routing Number
  • Bank Name

Transfers through the bank may take 3-5 working days to complete.

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