19 October 2017, updated 8 November 2017
Spain is one of the most popular destinations for expats around the world, especially those looking to retire. Spain attracts in particular British expats with the weather, the lifestyle, relatively low cost of living as well as investment opportunities. Although it's possible to live in Spain as a foreigner without opening a local bank account, a bank account (or strickly speaking a current account, or a checking account) is needed to buy a property, pay household bills, buy an insurance policy or mobile phone plan. The following factors are worth considering when choosing a bank where to open a current account:
Several current accounts offered by Spanish banks are compared in details below using these factors, namely:
Spanish banks offer current accounts to both residents (resident accounts) and non-residents of Spain (non-resident accounts). A non-resident account is required, for example, when owning a property in Spain. A non-resident account can be converted into a resident account upon obtaining Spanish residency, a resident account can also be converted into a non-resident account when dropping Spanish residency.
When opening a resident as well as non-resident bank account, a natural person is typically asked to provide the following documents:
Additionally the following documents are required:
when opening a resident bank account:
when opening a non-resident bank account:
It's possible to apply online for opening a resident as well as a non-resident account. However, a branch visit will usually be needed later to meet a bank representative and to provide required documentation. Nevertheless, some banks can open a current account without having to visit the bank's branch, for example, when one already has an account in another bank in Spain.
The following bank accounts can be opened online:
A debit card is usually issued when opening a current account. However, credit cards are not always available. A bank can charge its customers for issuing additional payment cards.
Although there are usually no opening or closing fees for a current account, a bank may charge the account holder a monthly maintenance fee just for holding the account; under certain conditions there may be no maintenance fee.
ATM fees are applied when performing banking transactions via ATMs. Withdrawing money from the bank's proper ATMs is usually free. ATM fees are typically applied when withdrawing money from another bank's ATM, the fees can be less or even not applied when using affliated banks' ATMs. For example, withdrawing money from CaixaBank's ATMs using a card issued by Self Trade Bank is free.
Transfer fees are applied to sending and receiving transactions and depend on the currency, destination and urgency of the transfer. The transfer fees may be different for national, European and international transfers, for Euro and other currencies.
Overdraft can also be offered as an additional feature of a current account. Overdraft is a loan automatically provided according to a prior agreement with the account holder when the available account balance goes below zero; an interest of an agreed rate is charged for using the overdraft.
Spanish banks usually provide various ways to perform banking operations: branch banking, telephone banking, online banking, mobile banking. However, English-speaking personnel is not employed is every single bank branch. Moreover, despite a rather dense branch network, bank branches are often overcrowded.
Knowing about availability of ATMs and bank branches when choosing a bank is important to enjoy free ATM withdrawals and branch visits. A branch visit is usually required to finalize the account opening procedure.
International clients support includes providing websites and other materials, online banking services in different languages, as well as employing bank representatives and phone customer support specialists speaking foreign languages.
Unfortunately, not all Spanish banks have online banking and corporate websites translated into foreign languages and it maybe tricky to find a branch with English-speaking personnel.
In 2015 the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness of Spain established a new system of alerts to provide financial services customers all the necessary information to evaluate the products offered and understand the risks associated with the products.
According to this system, the risk level indicator must be provided for bank current accounts. This indicator reports on the risk of the financial product in the numerator. This number is indicative of the risk of the product, being 1/6 indicative of lower risk and 6/6 higher risk.
In addition to the risk level itself, a description of deposit guarantee scheme the bank participates in, should be provided. All credit institutions operating in Spain, except for branches of EU-banks, participate in the Deposit Guarantee Scheme of Spain, while the branches of EU-banks operating in Spain participate in the deposit guarantee schemes of their home countries. Spanish Deposit Guarantee Scheme as well as Deposit Guarantee Schemes of other EU-countries guarantee up to 100.000 EUR per a depositor (an account holder).
Several current accounts with the following characteristics offered by Spanish banks have been chosen:
Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA) is one of the largest Spanish banks, operating as a global universal bank and offering retail, private, corporate and investment banking products and services to its customers.
Cuenta Online is available to both residents and non-residents of Spain.
Account Cuenta Online is classified as having the lowest level of risk. Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, S.A. participates in the Deposit Guarantee Scheme of Spain, Cuenta Online is covered by the scheme's guarantee of 100,000 EUR per account holder.
It's possible to open this account without visiting a branch when having an account in another bank in Spain or an address in Spain so that a courier can come to collect the documents. It is also possible to sign the account contract via the account holder's cell phone (via text message) free of charge.