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Banks and banking in Spain

The Spanish banking system is well established and modern with all banking activity controlled by the Bank of Spain (Banco de Espana), which has its central office in Madrid and branches in all provincial capitals.

Banks are divided into clearing banks and savings banks and there are several foreign banks that also operate in Spain.

Bank Charges

Spanish bank charges are notoriously high and a large part of some banks' profit margins are made thanks to the charges paid by clients for just about every banking transaction imaginable. Charges are particularly high for the payment of cheques into your account and for bank transfers. Before you open an account, ask for a breakdown of all charges including annual fees. If you plan to make a lot of bank transfers every year, you should carefully consider how much this is going to cost you. You may be able to negotiate more favourable terms if you agree to maintain a minimum amount in your account or if you treat the branch manager to at least a coffee in the local bar!

Financially savvy people prefer to leave overseas money transfers to their foreign currency brokers. These specialists operate on behalf of hundreds of clients and get much better conditions in the currency wholesale markets, just like financial brokers do for investors who invest their savings on collective investment funds in order to get a better return.

Bank Transfers

If you plan to make Currency exchange and money transfers to Spain, you should enquire about the facilities a bank offers for this (e.g. once the money arrives in your account, how long is it before you can use it) and what bank charges apply for using this facility.

Extra banking services

Banks sometimes offer a range of services such as insurance and investment banking, which could be useful to you. Bear in mind, however, that these services can be more expensive than those offered by specialised companies and aren't likely to be independent.

Banks with English speaking staff

If you're not planning to learn to speak Spanish or feel that Spanish banking language is beyond you, you may wish to base your choice of bank on the availability of English-speaking staff. Banks in resort areas and in large cities usually have at least one member of staff who speaks English, although you shouldn't count on this.

Banks in towns and villages in rural areas generally don't have English-speaking staff. When choosing a bank, it's also a good idea to ask friends and acquaintances for recommendations (or otherwise) and if after a while, you find you're not happy with your bank, you can always open an account somewhere else!

Opening your bank account

Both residents and non-residents can open a bank account in Spain. You need to be over 18 and provide proof of identity such as a passport. If you're a resident you'll need to provide your residence card details. If you own Property in Spain, the bank will probably also require your NIE (Numero de Identificacion de Extranjeros), which all foreign property owners must have. You can open the bank account in person or by postal application, although this is probably only advisable as a last resort.