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. Moreover, 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. I bank with ING and am very happy with the service they provide.
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. When opening a resident Spanish bank account, you will be asked for your address in Spain, a contact telephone number, email and photo ID.
Open Bank is an online bank from Santander and they offer an account called a Basic Payment Account. Their website can be switched to English and the account can be applied for over the telephone, or at their branch in Madrid.
The Basic Payment Account is aimed at EU residents, so you don’t need a NIE to open this account. You must not however, have any other bank account in Spain – this is an important requirement that Open Bank makes. It’s a non-interest bearing account, with no costs. You get all the basic banking features of a current account and you can apply for a debit card.
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 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 Wise 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.
However, you do need to go into a branch to open an account. You can start the process by email or telephone, but before the account is activated you have to show your original ID and sign their paperwork.
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.
Wise (formerly TransferWise)
Wise offer multi-currency bank accounts with free banking for both personal and business bank accounts. You don’t get a Spanish IBAN, however, there are a lot of advantages of having an account with Wise.
This company offers a new and innovative way of transferring money into different currencies. I use them on a regular basis for both banking and money transfers. Their system is very clear and easy to use online. Fees are low, currency exchange rates are good and transfers are fast.
Their bank account is called a Borderless 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, for free.
Bank accounts can be personal or business and linked to other bank accounts in your home country. Therefore, you can send money or withdraw money to and from the Wise borderless account. It’s a very flexible system, with very low or zero fees depending on your balance and the type of transaction.
- A percentage fee is applied, but compared to zero fee currency transfer companies, the final total you have to transfer is less in most cases. Even with their fee, they beat other no fee transfer companies.
- Excellent service for banking in different currencies.
- Works really well when travelling.
- Excellent customer service.
Bank accounts come with Mastercards – see my separate review of Wise Mastercards below.
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.
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.
Revolut offer business and personal accounts. You can open an account quickly from their app. You don’t get a Spanish IBAN.
Currency transfers & foreign travel
Moving money directly from your foreign bank account to a Spanish bank account can incur large fees. Particularly from outside of the EU. You’ll lose on the exchange rate between currencies, and most probably be charged an administration fee by your bank. This admin fee can be hefty. However, with a little knowledge you can avoid or substantially reduce these fees.
Save money on currency exchange 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.
I recommend the Wise Mastercard. I have two, a personal one and a business one, and wouldn’t travel without them.
Wise are now so much more than a currency transfer company – they have recently changed their name because of this. With their bank account – which is free and easy to open online – you can apply for their Mastercard debit card. (The bank account also lets you send and receive international transfers in different currencies very cheaply.)
The Mastercard is linked to your Wise borderless bank account, giving very low or zero fees for withdrawing cash when abroad, as well as for purchases abroad.
Before you travel, add funds to your Wise account in the currency of the country or countries you’re travelling to. There’s no charge to use your Wise Mastercard when in those countries if you have a credit balance. What’s more, you can add multiple currencies.
The Wise bank account can be linked to other external accounts or debit or credit cards, making it easy to feed money into the Wise 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
Money transfer companies
First you need to register. You money is transferred from your bank account to a Currencies Direct bank account. Then Currencies Direct transfer an equivalent amount from their overseas account to your destination account.
The Currencies Direct website includes various tools to help you save the most on transfers, including a currency converter and rate watch/alert tool. They have several offices in Spain, where they’ve been operating since 1999.
Key Currency is also a money transfer company offering good exchange rates for international money transfers. They are authorised by the FCA and don’t charge fees. Again, you first need to open an account. Their website gives quotes on their current exchange rates. They offer personal and business accounts, and you can make single or recurring transfers.
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.