There were once numerous different clearing
banks. This has changed considerably in recent years as many banks have
merged or been bought out by a larger bank. At present the two banking
giants in Spain are the BSCH (Banco de Santander y Central Hispano),
which resulted from the merger of the Santander, Central and Hispano
banks, and the BBVA (Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria), which is again
the product of two major banks including the originally state-owned
There are foreign banks that operate in Spain, although they tend to be concentrated mainly in coastal resort areas and in the large cities. British banking is represented by Barclays, the Royal Bank of Scotland (affiliated to the Santander bank) and Solbank, owned by Banco Sabadel. The American banks, Citibank and Chase Manhattan, are also present. Other foreign banks include Deutsch Bank (which has an agreement with the Spanish Post Office) and several Arab and Scandinavian banks. But remember they still operate under the control of the Bank of Spain.
Savings banks (known as cajas de ahorro) are very common in Spain and apart from the Catalan La Caixa and Caja Madrid that are both present in most of the country, tend to be regional or provincial. Savings banks also act as charitable institutions and invest part of their profits in social and cultural associations. In Andalucia the main savings banks are Caja Rural, Caja Mar, Caja Sur and UniCaja (originally from Malaga province), La General (from Granada), Caja San Fernando (from Cadiz) and El Monte (from Seville and Cordoba). Savings banks usually offer a very high level of service and tend to charge less than the clearing banks.
Many ex-patriots living on the Costa del Sol have found it convenient to open accounts at banks in nearby Gibraltar, for many varied reasons. Be aware that from 1st July 2005 a European Union directive came in to force which requires banks within the EU, (of which UK, Spain and Gibraltar are members), to share information about interest earned on deposits.
In a bid to combat illegal money laundering, Gibraltar banks are required to ask account holders to provide some detailed questions concerning there identification, permanent address and account movements.
A current account (cuenta corriente) usually carries a very low interest rate, if any. You can ask for a cheque book.
Fixed Deposit Account
A fix deposit account (cuenta de imposición a plazo) will give you interest depending on the time period of the deposit and the amount deposited. Banks can be bargained with about these conditions!
Savings Book Account
A savings book account (libreta de ahorro) usually carries a very low interest rate (if any), but does give you a continuous written record of your account, and in some cases can be used in cash machines for withdrawing money.
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 (número de identificación de extranjeros), which all foreign property owners must have. You can open the account in person or by postal application, although this is probably only advisable as a last resort.
The identifying number of your account is the same on the statement and chequebook. It is recommended that the entire number be used in all correspondence to avoid any confusion.
You can order the bank to regularly pay certain
bills when they come due - local taxes, refuse collection, electricity,
water, phone, etc - by filling in a form supplied by the bank or the
business billing you. Both the bank and the billing business must be
informed of this standing order.
These can be requested from all Spanish banks. The format and period covered by the statement will vary. Online banking systems can provide statements directly from your personal computer for variable periods, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.
Foreign Credit Cards
Spanish Bank Cards
Spanish residents or non resident home owners who have a Spanish bank account will consider applying for a Spanish Credit Card. They are effectively managed by the host credit company – i.e. Visa or Master Card. They can be used to purchase goods and services, (including online shopping), or withdraw money from a cash machine.
Very often a one line summary of your credit card purchases will appear on your bank statement, whilst a separate detailed credit card statement will be posted to you.
Note: not all credit cards are accepted for online purchases. Cards issued by the bank backed by Visa and Master Card will almost certainly be accepted by most online companies.
Spanish Debit Cards
These operate very much as in the UK, in that transactions will be accepted as long as your current account balance is sufficient to cover the amount required.
Using Your Card in Shops, Restaurants & Petrol Stations
Be aware that many shops and supermarkets will ask for formal identification, or request your PIN no. via online terminals, when making purchases by cards. Most restaurants accept credit or debit cards without identification, or PIN no.. Most petrol stations will accept credit cards, but will ask you to type in your PIN no.
Lost or stolen cards should be reported immediately to your bank or credit company, so that they can be annulled. This can often be performed online. Normally, a new card will be issued within a short period.
There are numerous Cash Machines in Spain and you can even find them in larger villages, although you shouldn’t count on this, especially in rural Spain. Spanish Cash Machines are very sophisticated and start by offering you a choice of language (usually English, French, German or Spanish). Instructions are easy to follow and self-explanatory.
ATM networks operate in Spain –4B (the most common), ServiRed and 6000.
You can generally use any ATM to access money from your account,
although if the ATM you use isn’t one linked to your bank there may be a
charge. Some banks allow you to make three withdrawals a month from
‘foreign’ Cash Machines before they charge you. Others are not so
generous. Because of this, you may wish to consider opening a bank
account with the bank owning your nearest or most convenient ATM.
In recent years the Spanish banks have made great strides in enabling clients to manage their accounts from the comfort of their own homes, by providing access via the Internet. In conjunction with the wide use of cash machines, the necessity of physically visiting your branch has been reduced to a minimum. The current situation compares very favourably to that of 20 odd years ago when the simple task of withdrawing funds from your account, was complicated and very time consuming.
Here is a summary of some of the online banking facilities offered by many of the banks:-
· Statement of Accounts by variable periods
· Bank Card information
· Various types of national and international transfer of funds
· Bank loan information
· Standing Orders information
· Mobile phone charging.
Contact your bank for an application to go online. As a security measure, the bank will normally post to your User Code and Password. (You can normally modify one or both of these at your will). Ensure that your password is kept secure. In addition, you will be provided with an extra security password, used for transactions that result in withdrawal from your account, (also modifiable at any time by yourself).
Each time you wish to access your account you need to enter your User Code and Password. From then on you can perform “passive” tasks, such as checking the account movements and printing statements. Each time you wish to transfer funds or charge your mobile, you must provide the extra security password, (sometimes via some very convoluted security procedures!).
Many banks provide multi-lingual screens for ease of operation by the non-Spanish speakers.
The building society concept, traditionally popular in the UK, does not exist in Spain. (The nearest equivalent is the Spanish Savings Bank, “Caja de Ahorro”). Thus the mortgage and general loan role are taken up by the banks.
The mortgage market in Spain has opened up considerably in recent years and now all banks generally offer mortgage facilities to both clients and non-clients, although obviously clients receive more favourable terms. In order to obtain a mortgage from a bank in Spain you must be over 25 and have a fixed employment contract or have been self-employed for at least 3 years. Residents can theoretically borrow up to 90% of the value of the property, although the amount is usually nearer 70 or 80% and the actual amount lent will depend on your income. Non-residents can usually only borrow up to 60% and 50% maximums are also common. Note that not all banks will lend to non-residents. Mortgages are available for up to 25 years, although 10 or 15-year mortgages are the most common.
Most banks offer some type of investment advice service. However, expatriates living in Spain tend to consult one of the many private investment companies.
Bank charges vary considerably from bank to bank and even from branch to branch. Before opening an account, enquire in detail on this subject. It is a very important factor in choosing a bank.
If you have read and digested all the above sections, you will have ascertained that choosing a bank and branch in Spain can be complicated and in any case will depend on individual requirements. Good advice if you move to a new area is to start by asking for recommendations from the local ex-patriots.
Here is a summary of the factors involved:-
· Ease and cost of transferring funds
· Interest rates on Saving Accounts
· Bank Charges
· Bank Card facilities
· Cash Machine Charges
· Online facilities
· Mortgage/Loan facilities
· Helpfulness of staff
· English spoken
Final piece of advice – visit the branch a few times to see how busy it gets – periodic long waits in queues are a pain!