Opening a bank account in Spain as a foreigner is critical if you’re living in (or thinking about moving to) the country.
Like most places in Europe, expats discover that having a Spanish bank account is an important requirement of life here. The reason is that many Spanish institutions and local businesses will only transact with a local bank account.
For instance, for basic everyday purchases like utilities, gym memberships, and health insurance you’ll often need a Spanish IBAN and a local bank account.
Want to make a mobile purchase from Spotify in Spain or on the Spanish App Store on your iPhone? Then, you’ll need a debit or credit card issued by a Spanish bank.
Your Spanish banking experience is 100% dependent on the particular branch and specific banker you choose.
If you go to the wrong branch, get assigned a lazy or unprofessional (sorry Spain) banker, watch out. It’s a nightmare.
Literally, the “branch banker” factor, is the single biggest indicator of how good or horrible your banking life will be in this country.
Yes, the bank you choose matters everywhere. But, in Spain, the crucial tipping point is your branch-banker combo.
In this article, we’re going to tell you how to get started on the right foot, what major obstacles to avoid as a foreigner, and how to get the best accounts open with the least amount of headaches.
Let’s get started!
We asked 103 foreigners about their banking experiences at Spanish banks and opening a bank account in Spain as a foreigner.
And, we couldn’t believe the responses…
They were all over the map. Some people were disgusted with what they had experienced, others were overjoyed with the level of service…
Our team has never seen such drastically different customer experiences from the same bank in an EU country.
What was happening?
We dug into the data and what we found was that there are basically two groups of people in the 103 foreigners that we surveyed…
The first group was in the “my Spanish banker and branch are amazing” camp. These foreigners had glowing, gratitude-filled reviews and sang the praises of hard-working Spanish bankers, branch managers, and branches with off-the-charts service.
The second group? Basically, hate mail on steroids. People in this group didn’t just have “bad” experiences, they were gut-wrenching. Retirees duped into buying unnecessary products and services by unethical bankers. Lost applications. Disorganized branch managers. Questionable mortgage tactics. Aggressive upselling. Convenient “mistakes” that result in lofty commission bumps. Sitting in branches for hours to resolve simple issues.
We started to see a pattern…
Each person’s glowing review or banking nightmare was 100% dependent on the specific branch and a single banker.
And if you only take one thing away from this article it should be this: when choosing which bank, branch, and banker to open accounts at, be careful.
Of course, if you’re a GlobalBanks Insider and you need help choosing the right bank in Spain just message submit a request and we’d be happy to share our specific findings with you.
There are several reasons why opening a bank account in Spain as a foreigner is beneficial (and necessary). Here are a few of the most common reasons:
While it’s possible to use a foreign bank account, having a Spanish bank account is necessary for some aspects of life in Spain.
Before diving in, if you’re interested in opening non-resident bank accounts that meet your specific needs, we encourage you to download a FREE copy of the Non-Resident Banking Starter Guide.
Unlike many countries today, both non-resident and resident foreigners can open bank accounts in Spain. In fact, even opening a bank account in Spain as a non-resident without an NIE is still 100% possible. But the opening process isn’t always smooth.
Resident bank accounts obviously have more perks and services. Sometimes resident accounts have lower fees, and other times they’re extortionate. But as we’ve shared throughout this article, it really comes down to the bank, branch, and banker.
For instance, not all Spanish banks and branches will accept non-residents. So, you’ll have to shop around and go from branch to branch until you find one willing to accept you.
And, if you don’t speak Spanish, you’ll need to track down an English-speaking banker or take a friend with you.
If you don’t have the right citizenship and supporting documents, opening a bank account in Spain online as a foreigner without an NIE is nearly impossible. So, if you want to open a Spanish bank account while you’re abroad, you may want to consider alternatives.
In fact, even if you’re a resident, most banks will still expect you to show up in person at the branch with your documents.
There are, however, several strategies you can use to open an account from abroad without showing up in Spain in person. GlobalBanks Insiders can message us directly for specific details for banks that accept these methods.
You can always upgrade from a non-resident account to a resident account after you obtain Spanish residency and obtain the required documents. The process is simple and expats do it all the time.
Remember, some banks that are sticklers about residency status. Some banks will keep tabs on your residency status, and check to see if you still have non-resident status every 6 months.
So, if you plan on opening a non-resident bank account in Spain, and then leaving the country, make sure you get an account at a Spanish bank that won’t close your account in 6 to 12 months when you can’t submit proof of your non-residency status.
Unlike many places in the world, some Spanish banks require you to prove that you’re not a Spanish resident. To do this, you’ll need to provide a certificate of non-residency (certificado de no residencia).
To get your certificate of non-residency, you’ll have to apply at a Spanish police station and the process typically takes 10 days. So again, if you’re visiting Spain on a short trip and really want to open a bank account, choose a bank that does not require this certificate.
Like many places, requirements vary from bank to bank, branch to branch, and even banker to banker. So, choose all three wisely, otherwise, you could be in for a long and painful opening process.
And as you’d expect, the documents banks require for non-residents vs residents differ when opening accounts in Spain.
Challenges When Banking in Spain as a Foreigner
Some Spanish banks (and branches) are notorious for NOT responding to emails, phone, or online messages. This is a huge problem for foreigners who do not live near a branch, do not live in Spain, or simply don’t want to physically visit a branch in person every time a problem arises.
This unresponsiveness is especially frustrating when there’s an urgent problem. For example, if the bank has overcharged you, or you need to cancel your debit card.
Here’s a classic example…
Instead of being transferred immediately to a fraud department and canceling the card, it’s not uncommon for the bank to say “someone will call you back in 24 hours.” And even then, there’s a 50/50 chance of someone actually calling back.
That means, if you are not physically in Spain, it’s difficult to resolve banking problems remotely. Unless of course, you chose a solid branch and a competent banker on day one.
This is a red flag. And, it’s false. The banker just wants you to open an account at their bank or push you into a more expensive account where they’ll get a commission or hit a performance target.
Most Spanish banks charge fees. And as we said above, they can be high and opaque, compared to other countries in Europe.
Here are a few fees that Spanish banks charge that foreigners are surprised by:
Many foreigners are surprised to learn that after opening a bank account in Spain, banks can increase fees without any customer notifications. For example, it’s common to open an account, think you’ve committed to paying €15 per quarter, only to discover it’s double.
While this is illegal in most countries, it’s still common practice across many banks in Spain. So be careful and ask your banker before opening when the fee schedule will be increasing next.
Fortunately, if you’re looking to open a bank account in Spain as a foreigner, struggling with the process, not sure what to do, or need help figuring out the best possible banking options for your situation, we can help.
If you want to know which specific banks will accept you, which account opening strategies to use, how to avoid high fees, and overcome tough requirements, then we’d be happy to help you on your journey.
If you’re ready to take action and start opening international accounts now, you can access GlobalBanks IQ, our dedicated international banking intelligence platform.
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