Which are the best banks in Spain? More importantly – the best Spanish banks that offer free banking. Read on.
Money and Banking in Spain
It’s relatively easy to open a bank account in Spain, and it’s important to organise your money and banking in Spain as soon as possible. There are many banks to choose from such as: Banc Sabadell, ING, Santander, BBVA, etc. Some banks don’t have English speakers, although I managed to open an account on arrival with my basic Spanish. I bank with ING, and regularly use the money transfer company TransferWise.
Opening a Spanish bank account
To open a non-resident’s account all you need is your passport, or your non-resident NIE and photo ID. However, not all banks offer non-resident accounts.
If you have your resident NIE or resident status, legally you should have a resident’s bank account. To open an account you need to show your resident’s NIE (formerly called a resident’s permit: tarjeta de residencia) and photo ID. Residents’ accounts are better deals – usually having better interest rates, but with interest rates so low, this doesn’t really matter.
If you can, open a bank account on one of your visits to Spain before you move. In this 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 resident Spanish bank account, you will be asked for your address in Spain and a contact telephone number.
My original banking choice was Catalunya Caixa, it seemed most appropriate for living in Catalonia. 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, which I’m very happy with. Catalunya Caixa has since been taken over by BBVA.
N26 – The Mobile Bank
N26 is an online European bank, now also operating in Spain. There are no branches; all operations and transactions are implemented from the N26 app (therefore you need a smartphone to open and use an account). A resident NIE is a requirement to open an account with N26 in Spain.
There are three types of current accounts available. The basic ‘N26’ current account offers completely free banking. The ‘N26 You’ account has a monthly fee and gives extra services such as customer offers and travel insurance. The third account option is called ‘N26 Metal’, has a higher fee per month but includes even more perks, such as car rental insurance when travelling, and mobile phone theft and damage insurance (among many other things).
An N26 debit Mastercard comes with each account automatically. This card is accepted worldwide and there are no withdrawal fees anywhere in the EU. N26 offer two types of business account too: ‘N26 Business’ and ‘N26 Business You’.
It’s the ease of use, flexibility and security that make N26 so attractive. It’s a modern bank offering services in the digital age to make your banking and saving easy.
One particularly useful feature is that TransferWise is built into the N26 app. This allows you to make easy low-cost international transfers to 19 different countries.
The N26 customer service team speak several languages: English, Spanish, German, Italian and French. The bank was founded in 2013 and now has more than 5 million customers. Very importantly, every N26 bank account is guaranteed under the Compensation Scheme of German Banks up to €100,000.
ING – Free Banking in Spain
If you speak Spanish, my recommendation is to open an account with ING. I’ve banked with them now for several years. You can open an account online if you know some basic Spanish (there is no English language version of their website).
In order to open an account with ING you need to have your salary or earnings paid into the account and you need an NIE.
They have two main options: a Cuenta Nómina, which is a stand alone current account. However, this type of account can only be set up if you pay in your salary (nómina means wage). You can maintain it though, even if you later cancel the payment of your salary into the account.
Secondly, they offer a Cuenta Naranja which is a current account which needs to be connected to another existing Spanish bank account. Again, this account can be opened online.
ING have no bank charges, and you can manage your account online or via their app. They also have a 24 hour help line (Spanish only).
They 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 and not on a Saturday. ING partner with other banks so their customers have access to the 2B network of cash machines. It’s free to withdraw money from cash machines belonging to these other banks.
If you don’t speak Spanish, Banc Sabadell is a good option as they offer banking in Spain in English. That includes online and telephone banking in English, as well as several other languages. I know several people who bank with Banc Sabadell and their feedback is good. Staff at the branches are helpful and it’s easy to go to your local branch and open an account.
Several years ago Banc Sabedell took over Lloyds Bank International in Spain.
Their Key Account is aimed at expats. There is an annual charge for the account, but all transactions are free. You get free international transfers from a Banc Sabadell account up to €20,000, and a translation service for up to 10 documents a year.
Sabadell offer both non-resident and resident bank accounts.
Revolut is an online / app based bank. They offer three account levels with the most basic being free. This bank is great for people who travel a lot or are digital nomads – working remotely in different places or countries. International and foreign currency transfers are easy and cheap with Revolut.
If you’re planning to reside for any length of time in Spain, it’s not the ideal bank as you don’t get a Spanish IBAN. There are still many companies in Spain that require a Spanish IBAN in order to set up direct debits – such as utility companies and internet service providers. Many long term rental contracts require your Spanish IBAN too.
Revolut offer business and personal accounts. You can open an account quickly from their app.
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 can be accessed in English (as well as French, Spanish and German). The website includes 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.
Self Bank is a Spanish bank which offers free personal and business banking. Their website is only in Spanish though. Open an account online.
Moving Money to Spain
Moving money directly from your bank account to a Spanish bank account can incur large fees. Particularly from outside of the EU, and with a currency exchange. You will lose on the exchange rate between currencies, and most probably be charged an administration fee by your bank. This admin fee can be hefty – anything from £25 upwards and often a percentage of the transfer. However, with a little knowledge you can save on these fees.
Money transfer companies
There are several money transfer companies who transfer money internationally without charging an administration fee. If an admin fee is involved, it’s considerably lower than the banks.
Here are my recommendations for transferring money internationally to Spain (or any other country for that matter).
TransferWise offer a new an innovative way of transferring money into different currencies. Once you’ve opened an account, their system is very clear and easy to use online. Fees are low, currency exchange rates are good and transfers are fast.
TransferWise also offer a bank account called a borderless account. Once you’ve opened a bank account with TransferWise, you apply different currencies to that account.
One account can have several currencies attached to it. You’re then able to accept payments to this account in any of those currencies. Likewise, you can add your own money to the borderless account by transfer.
Bank accounts can be personal or business and linked to bank accounts or credit cards in your home country. Therefore, you can send money or withdraw money to and from the TransferWise borderless account. It’s a very flexible system, with very low or zero fees depending on the balance and type of transaction.
- Most suitable for smaller money transfers as their fee, though small, is a percentage of the transfer amount.
- Excellent service for banking in different currencies.
- Works really well when travelling.
Key Currency is a money transfer company offering good exchange rates for international money transfers. They are authorised by the FCA and don’t charge fees. Before using their service you need to register with them. Their website gives quotes on their current exchange rates between various currencies. They offer personal and business accounts, and you can make single or recurring transfers.
If you need to transfer larger amounts Key Currency are a good option as they are competitive on exchange rates and don’t charge a fee.
You need to register first, and can then 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 transfer an equivalent amount from otheir overseas account to your destination account. This basically means that your inititial transfer is not international, hence no international transfer fee.
They have several offices in Spain, where they’ve been operating since 1999. So, if you wish to, you can meet someone in person.
The Currencies Direct website includes various tools to help you save the most on transfers, including a currency converter and rate watch/alert tool.
With Key Currency and Currencies Direct you need to plan ahead and give yourself time to register with them before being able to make a transfer.
Save Money When Travelling
Avoid credit or debit card charges and poor currency exchange rates and commissions when travelling by thinking ahead and using a credit or debit card designed for use in different countries.
The credit and debit cards that I recommend below do just that. I have two TransferWise Mastercards, a personal one and a business one, and wouldn’t travel without them.
TransferWise are now so much more than a currency transfer company. You need to open a bank account with them first – which is easy to do online and free. Then you can apply for their Mastercard debit card which is linked to your TransferWise borderless bank account. The Mastercard has very low or zero fees for withdrawing cash when abroad, as well as for purchases abroad.
Before you travel, add funds to your TransferWise account in the currency of the country or countries you’re travelling to. There’s no charge to use your TransferWise Mastercard when in those countries if you’re in credit. What’s more, you can add multiple currencies.
The TransferWise bank account can be linked to other external accounts or debit or credit cards, making it easy to feed money into the TransferWise account when needed.
Here is a summary of the charges:
- Free to pay with currencies in your account
- Free ATM withdrawals up to £200 a month
- Only pay a small conversion fee when you convert your money – typically between 0.35% and 1%
- Automatically convert your money at the real exchange rate
I recently used my TransferWise Mastercard on a trip to Norway, both when spending and to withdraw cash from a cashpoint. It all worked very easily, securely and cheaply.
FairFX Prepaid Mastercard
FairFX offer a Prepaid Mastercard which can be loaded with money before you travel. As Mastercards they are accepted worldwide, with the major difference being that you save on credit card charges when abroad, plus you get good exchange rates.
The FairFX Prepaid Mastercard can be purchased in either US dollars or Euros, or you can apply for an Everywhere card. With the Euro and Dollar cards there are no transaction fees for using the cards in those currencies. There is a small charge for withdrawing cash from an ATM on all cards.
Keep tabs on your balance and top up online at the FairFX website or by using their app.
It’s a much safer way to travel than by taking cash, as the cards can easily be cancelled if lost or stolen. The FairFX Prepaid Mastercard can also be used when you’re at home to purchase items online from overseas companies, again avoiding transaction fees and poor currency exchanges.
movingtobarcelona.com is a partner of FairFX and therefore the standard card application fee is waived if you apply via this website. Simply click on the link below or the card image above:
The 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 one of 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.