There are many expats in Spain. As a result the Spanish banking system is familiar with expats and most Spanish banks have made opening a bank account very straightforward. Legally you don’t have to have a bank account, but having one significantly simplifies daily activities such as paying utility bills and can save you money. If you choose to manage your finances with your existing overseas account, you are likely to incur higher charges (e.g. using ATMs, sending or receiving money). Both residents and non-residents can open a Spanish bank account.
Factors to consider
When choosing the best banks for expats in Spain we bear in mind costs incurred, range of services offered, face to face branches/online banking/mobile banking, ease of access, number of ATMs, likelihood of finding English-speaking staff, and reputation. Types of bank account include Current Accounts (everyday banking), Savings Accounts (better returns for savers), Digital Accounts (online and mobile banking), and Non Resident Accounts (some banks offer accounts for non-residents).
Bancos & Cajas
There are two types of banks in Spain: Cajas de Ahorros and Bancos. Cajas de Ahorros are non-profit state owned savings banks and Bancos are privately owned institutions which share profits with shareholders. The larger Spanish banks, Banco Santander, Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA), Caixa Bank, Banco de Sabadell, Bankia, Bankinter and KutxaBank, are where you are most likely to find English-speaking staff and numerous ATM cash machines. Santander is Spain’s largest bank.
A large network of your bank’s ATMs is important as in Spain you are charged for all withdrawals from any bank other than your own. The smaller Spanish banks, however, tend to have less ‘hidden costs’ and fewer or lower charges. Sabadell and Caixa Bank are renowned for offering services geared towards English speakers including documentation in English, English speaking customer service and help line, online accounts in English.
Opening a new account
Most of these accounts will be online and you will have limited access to in-person customer service. Many Spanish banks will require you to have been paying into the Spanish social security system for at least 30 days prior to opening an account.
Read the small print
Deciding on the best banks for expats in Spain really comes down to individual circumstances. It is vital that you know what exactly you need from your bank account and that you can understand all of the information you are given about it and that you can spot any ‘hidden charges’. If you are not a fluent Spanish speaker you should ensure that you opt for a bank that can provide information and services in your language.