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Money & Banking in Spain

Opening a Spanish bank account

Euro coinsIt's easy to open a bank account in Spain, and there are many banks to choose from: Banco Sabadell (recommended), Santander, La Caixa, Catalunya Caixa, BBVA, Banesto, etc. Most of the banks that I visited didn’t have anyone who spoke English, although I originally managed to open an account with my basic Spanish when I first arrived here.

To open a non-resident’s account all you need is your passport, or your NIE and photo ID. If you have official resident status you can open a resident’s account, and you will need your resident's NIE or resident's permit (la tarjeta de residencia). Resident's accounts are better deals – better commissions and fewer charges.

I've recommended Banco Sabadell to several people who have all given positive feedback on the helpful staff there, and the ease of opening an account.

If you can, I recommend that you open a bank account on one of your visits to Spain before you move. That way you can transfer money in advance of your arrival. Most rental contracts require your bank account to be mentioned, so it's good to have this set up as soon as possible.

When opening a Spanish account, you will be asked for your address in Spain and a contact telephone number. My original choice was Catalunya Caixa, it seemed most appropriate for living in Barcelona. However, I found Catalunya Caixa expensive to use and with a high annual fee for their credit card. I eventually closed this account (there was a fee for closing it!) and moved to ING Direct, which I'm very happy with.

I've learnt that the Caixas (a Catalan word – Cajas in Spanish) tend to be expensive, and that the Bancos are more reasonable.

ING Direct – Free Spanish Banking Online

ING direct photoIf you speak Spanish, my recommendation is to open an account with ING Direct – you can do this very easily online if you know some basic Spanish (there is no English language version of their Spanish banking website). ING Direct have no bank charges, and you can do all your money transactions and view balances etc. online - They also have a 24 hour help line (Spanish only) which offers a great service.

They currently have three branches in Barcelona which are open all day including Saturday. Most of the traditional Spanish banks only open their branches in the mornings.

They have two main options, a cuenta naranja which is a current account but needs to be connected to an existing account at another bank in Spain. You can open this very easily online and transfer money between the two accounts and therefore do any transactions needed online from the cuenta naranja, thus avoiding queues and charges in local branches of a regular bank or Caixa.

The second option is a cuenta nómina, which is an independent current account, however this can only be set up if you pay your salary into the account (nómina means wage). You can maintain it though even if you later cancel the payment of your salary into the account.

I see that ING Direct have opened another account called Cuenta Sin Nómina, aimed at self-employed people.

Banco Sabadell

Banco Sabadell logoI've heard lots of good comments about Banco Sabadell, including how easy it is to open an account with them and how helpful branch staff have been. They have recently taken over Lloyds Bank International in Spain.

Banking in English in Spain

The Banco Sabadell website is in English, and they have a UK-Spain free and direct account which is focused on UK expats living in Spain. This Regular Transfer Plan account states that transfers from your UK bank will arrive within three days with no charges.

They also have a Prestige Care Account. With a quarterly charge of €24, you will have no other charges on transactions, credit card admin fees or cheque fees, and there is access to English internet and telephone banking.

Free banking for young people (between ages 13 - 25) is also offered.

Lloyds Bank International

Lloyds Bank International in Spain have been taken over by Banco Sabadell (see above).

Barclays Bank in Spain

Barclays logoBarclays offers banking in English – although the English version of their website sometimes misses the English translation. However, they also have minimum balance levels, although that doesn't apply at the moment for the first six months after opening a new account.

They have over 600 branches in Spain with an English-speaking person in many of them, and their online banking is available in English 24 hours a day.

Deutsche Bank logoDeutsche Bank

Deutsche Bank have several branches throughout Barcelona, and the few that I've been into have had someone who speaks English. The Deutsche Bank Spanish website is also in English (as well as French, Spanish and German), and has a branch locator so that you can easily find the nearest branch to where you live.

They have online banking and telephone banking in English – as well as other languages.

CitiBank logoCitiBank España

The CitiBank España website is only in Spanish, but they do have a Customer Login in English, which I assume means that once you've opened your account, you can do your online banking in English, maybe. At the moment they offer two accounts, a day-to-day banking account and a savings account. Again they have a branch locator to find the nearest branch to you, and there are currently five branches in Barcelona.

Citibank do free international transfers to any other Citibank account across 26 countries. However, to avoid monthly bank charges you have to maintain £2,000 in your account. However, they have a Foreign Currency Deposit account that comes without monthly fees.

Moving Money to Spain

Moving money directly from your bank account to a Spanish bank account can incur large fees. You will be charged a commission on the exchange rate of Pounds Sterling to Euros, and also an administration charge, which can be very hefty – anything from £25 upwards. However, with a little knowledge you can save on these fees.

Money transfer companies

There are several companies who will transfer money internationally usually for a small administration fee. These companies charge a lower fee, but sometimes don't give such a good exchange rate, so you need to carefully check both exchange rates on offer and fees charged.

However, here are my recommendations for transferring money overseas.

Currencies Direct

Currencies Direct logoCurrencies Direct offer very competitive exchange rates to transfer money abroad, and more importantly they don't charge a transfer fee or any sort of fee for that matter. They make their profit on the exchange rate – whilst remaining very competitive.

You can send a single payment or set up regular payments. You money is transferred from your bank account to a Currencies Direct bank account. Then Currencies Direct will transfer an equivalent amount from one of their overseas accounts to your bank account in the destination country. This way you avoid any banking charges for international payments – from both your issuing and receiving banks.

The service is also very speedy. As soon as Currencies Direct have received your payment, they will make the transfer.

The Currencies Direct website includes various tools to help you save the most on transfers, including a currency converter and rate watch tool.


Transferwise logoTransferwise is a whole new concept of sending money. It's very cheap to use, because it works by having reserves of money. The money you transfer isn't actually transferred, therefore there are no transfer costs.

Here's how it works. You open an account with Transferwise; create the transfer, and then send the money you are transferring to Transferwise – this can be a credit card payment or a bank transfer. Transferwise then make a payment in local currency to the account you are sending the money to. That second payment comes from reserves that have already been created in the destination country.

The transaction takes from 1 - 3 days, and you can receive money as well as send it. Transferwise charge 0.5% for payments over £200 and for payments less than £200 there is a flat fee of £1.

You are able to see the exchange rate at the time of the transfer, and these rates are determined by the global market rate. At the moment there are 22 currencies supported.

Note that you can't use Transferwise to transfer money within the same currency – it has to be a currency conversion.


Paypal logoPaypal is also good to use in order to move money internationally, but the money has to be sent to a PayPal account in another name – so this works well for couples, family members or trusted friends. By using PayPal you can transfer money to anyone with an email address.

Both people need to open a PayPal account, and one of them has to be connected to a bank account in the destination country. Money can be added to one account either from a bank account or credit card. You then send that money to the other person's PayPal account using their PayPal registered email address.

You can also leave credit in any PayPal account and use it to spend online. PayPal's fees are 2.5% charged to the person sending the money.

A few other companies worth looking at are below. They all offer a fee free transfer over a certain amount of money.

Avoid Credit Card Commissions & Charges When Aboard

These are UK based card services – so for people from the UK who are travelling abroad.

My Travel Cash – Prepaid Commission-free Mastercard

My Travel Cash Euro Card My Travel Cash give you a pre-paid Mastercard which can be used just like any other credit card, but without the charges for using it overseas, when paying in different currencies and when withdrawing money from a cash machine. At the moment it's available to UK residents.

You can buy a prepaid card in either Euros, US Dollars or buy a multi-currency card. Simply choose the amount you want to prepay, and order your card before you travel. The My Travel Cash website gives you exchange rates when you purchase currencies so you can check that you're getting a good exchange rate.

There is no credit application or check because you are prepaying, the Mastercard is chip and pin protected, and there is a dedicated Lost & Stolen phone line.

There is no commission or any other charges and if you buy online you get a discount internet exchange rate which can save you about £30 for every £500 exchanged.

A sensible and secure solution to avoiding credit card fees and exchange commissions when travelling abroad.

Visit the My Travel Cash website.

FairFX Prepaid Currency Cards

FairFX Euro CardFairFX offer prepaid Mastercards which can be loaded with money before you travel. As they are Mastercards they are accepted worldwide, with the major difference being that you save on credit card charges when using the card abroad and get very good exchange rates.

Cards can be purchased in US dollars, Euros and there is also an 'Anywhere' card. With the Euro and Dollar cards there are no transaction fees for using the cards in their own currency, no management fees – just a low charge for withdrawing cash from an ATM.

You can transfer money to the cards by another credit card, debit card or bank transfer, and the cards are valid for three years. Keep tabs on your balance online or by using FairFX's sms service.

Using cards like this is a much safer way to travel than by taking cash, as if you get your wallet or purse stolen your money is lost, but a card can be cancelled.

So, you save on exchange rates and transaction fees. You can also use these cards to purchase items on the internet to avoid transaction fees, even if you're not travelling abroad.

FairFX also has no charges on international transfers if the transfer amount is above £600.

Apply online from the FairFX website:

Halifax Clarity

Halifax Clarity credit cardThe Halifax Clarity has 0% exchange rate fee worldwide and there are no charges for cash withdrawals, but you will be charged interest on the cash withdrawals even if they are repaid in full. The interest charged is reasonable though, and still makes this card the best on the market to use outside the UK for UK residents. Don't use it in the UK – use it as your travel card – and repay in full every month.

Halifax Reward account holders currently get £5 a month if they spend over £300 per month, if they apply for the Clarity card.


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Money Saving Expert

Martin Lewis' expert advice on moving money overseas:

Moving money abroad


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