Barcelona Tourist and Expat Guide – I'mMovingToBarcelona



Depending on where you´re from, your experience with banks may be different. I doubt, though, that it can be worse than what you’re about to discover here in Barcelona. Few words about banks in Spain, banking  – the Spanish way.

The good news is that times change and during the past year some banking services have improved considerably. And at the same time others got worse. To give an example currently, many banks offer quite good mobile apps. On the other hand, since Jan 2016 they started charging higher for taking the money out of an ATM that doesn’t belong to your bank.

If you can, keep one personal account from your country. You will probably visit home from time to time and, when facing issues with Spanish banks, you might get surprised how grateful you will be to your home bank.

Here´s how to open an account in Spain:

  • There are many banks to choose from: Banco Sabadell, Santander, La Caixa, Catalunya Caixa, BBVA, Banesto, ING direct, etc.
  • To open a regular (resident) account you need to have your passport and NIE ready – more about NIE here
  • You will be asked to give your Spanish address and your telephone number (sometimes needed to confirm online operations),
  • Normally you will be asked to identify the source of your salary, Spanish nómina, in order to be able to open a nómina current account. This tends to be is a cheaper account with fewer commissions.
  • If you are self-employed, Spanish autónomo, there are possibilities to get an account-without-salary – just ask in the bank.
  • Be prepared as it might be difficult to get someone to attend you in English.
  • Reco: if you know some Spanish try ING direct bank, it has good online banking services with most products being free of charge. This means: very good mobile app and no fees for debit or credit cards, no commissions for bank transfers even within other EU countries.
ING direct mobile app

ING direct mobile app

Here are a few surprises you’ll find in Spanish (and Catalan) banking system:

  • Banks working hours seem like a joke:
    – LaCaixa – Mon-Fri 8:15AM–2PM, only on Thursdays open also in the evening 4:30–7:45PM (in the winter)
    – Sabadell – Mon-Fri 8:15AM–2PM, only on Thursdays 8:15AM – 6:30PM  (OCT-MAR)
    – Santander – Mon-Fri 8:30AM–2:30PM
    – ING Direct – Mon-Thu 8AM –8PM, Fri 9AM–3PM, Sat 9AM-2PM (has only 3 offices in Barcelona but they open on Saturdays)
  • Your debit card probably won’t work in ATMs with different currency (outside of eurozone) – we realized it when we were somewhere deep in Asia. We had also a credit card from the same bank and it would have worked… only that to our astonishment the conversion rate was so poor that instead of buying around 40 baht for 1 euro, we were offered 20! This is an official credit-card rip-off. We were saved by our home bank which offers  free checking accounts in foreign currency and we could use our USD & EUR cards there.
    You will be able to pay with a EUR debit card in shops, just no cash from the ATMs. And in case of ING direct no foreign currency checking accounts are available.
  • You might be offered to make more important transactions in the bank (unavailable online) – this is what we were told during our first visit in LaCaixa. I remember the lady telling us that to make some specific transactions we will need to show up in the bank within the opening hours and make the queue. Hmmm… no thanks! After that, she described a very complicated-sounding system of online payments. This is when we decided to never visit any of LaCaixa offices anymore.
  • You might need to pay a fee for transfers to other bank entities – all my friends from LaCaixa are used to it. ING DIRECT won’t charge you for neither national nor international transfers inside the EU (provided that your nómina arrives monthly on your checking account).
  • You may find yourself paying many commissions – in general, the rule is that if your salary, nómina in Spanish, is transferred monthly to your checking account then you shouldn’t pay for bank account management. With other fees it differs depending on the bank. I heard my friends complain a few times that even though their nómina was arriving on their LaCaixa account they still charged them for their service – if this happens to you, go to their office to straighten things up. They normally revoke the fees. (Yet it´s just another occasion for you to skip lunch and queue in their offices.)
  • Normally, you won’t be attended in English – but I assume you are not surprised with this one anymore.
  • You’ll find homeless people making their homes in the ATMs – some ATMs are inside of the buildings, most of LaCaixa ones at least. If you are sensitive to strong smells better find an ATM that is out in the open air.
La Caixa bank in Spain

La Caixa bank in Spain

Coping with the banks in Spain has been one of the most tiring experiences so far. Looks like the big banks have too much of an advantage in the market for things to change. The same happens with telecommunications, electricity and gas companies, etc… All big players that rule in this country. As you see, I´m struggling to find even one bright side to it. If you have one, please share in the comments! 🙂

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*featured image: creds to Pablo Suárez, Flickr

5 Discussions on
    • hahaha… we are surviving using ING direct bank, other users also recommend Evo Bank, maybe those will make your life easier in Barcelona.

  • Folks, we recently moved back to BCN after many years in the US and through a friend we started banking from scratch with Banco Mediolanum. They operate in a similar fashion as ING and our experience so far has been outstanding as they alllocate a ‘family banker’ just to check on you for every possible need. Sincerely I have been impressed so far and I can only recommend them. Also, prretty much anything can be done online with them.

  • Hi Everyone,

    I can recommend Banco Sabadell as, contrary to for instance ING direct and CaixaBank, they do not require a “certificado de ciudadano comunitario” (EX-18). I have opened a “Cuenta Expansión” there in about 30 minutes.



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