ATM machine on a street in Spain.

Understanding the Spanish Banking System for Residents and Non-Residents

Whether you have a resident or non-resident bank account in Spain, you will notice differences between your Spanish bank and the banking system you’re used to. Understanding the Spanish banking system is essential for making informed decisions. In this article, we outline some of the main features you can expect and explore available alternatives.

Banks: Similar But Different

While the basic principles of banking are universal, assuming your Spanish bank will provide the same services and conditions as your home bank is a mistake. The experience can vary significantly depending on your country of origin, and certain aspects of the Spanish banking system may surprise you if you’re not prepared.

Resident and Non-Resident Bank Accounts

To hold a resident bank account, you need to show proof of residence in Spain with the correct documentation. You can also hold a bank account even if you do not live here. For a non-resident account, you must provide proof of income, an NIE number, and your passport. These documents must be re-presented to the bank upon request, usually every two years.

Depending on your residency status, you can expect to receive different types of services and accounts.

Spanish Banking System: Credit Cards

You can generally request either a debit card or a credit card from your Spanish bank. As expected, debit card payments are processed immediately, while credit card payments are delayed until the end of the month. This allows you to either pay off the balance without accruing interest or with interest if paid off over time.

The maximum you can spend on a credit card and the repayment arrangements may be more limited than you are used to. This can prevent you from accumulating large credit card debts, which can be seen as an advantage. It is still a useful payment option, and at least you won’t be paying out huge amounts of interest over the years.

Spanish Banking System: Embargoes

This concept is unusual for many foreigners who consider their bank account to be a private matter. This is true unless you owe money to the Spanish authorities. If friendly reminders for overdue taxes, unpaid fines, or outstanding speeding tickets are ignored, you may find the authorities freezing and then collecting the amount owed directly from your account.

Spanish Banking System: Charges

Do not expect free banking from high street banks in Spain. There is usually a standing maintenance fee on the account, annual card fees, and charges on certain transactions, especially those performed “in-office” rather than online.

If you regularly receive money from another country, you might want to consider transferring funds through specialist exchange companies like Currencies Direct. These companies can help circumvent bank charges when sending and receiving funds between different currencies.

Additional Banking Services in Spain

Spanish banks offer various other services. One common pitch is insurance. If you already have an insurer, be careful and check what the bank offers. It should have the same terms and conditions as your existing insurance. Banks can be very persuasive and difficult to leave if you ever want to switch insurers.

You may also be able to rent or lease cars, take out a pension plan, and arrange a loan or mortgage, depending on your circumstances. Ensure that what you sign up for is what you understand it to be. Banks have been found guilty in the past of not making all terms and conditions clear to their customers. Most of these practices have been corrected, but as a foreigner, you can be vulnerable and should thoroughly check and compare offers.

Neo Banks

Neo banks are becoming increasingly popular. These banks do not have physical branches and offer all their services digitally. Popular examples include Wise and Revolut. These banks are quick and easy to join and usually offer services for less than high street banks.

However, there are disadvantages too. Some actions that you can take with a traditional Spanish bank may not be possible with a neo bank. Depending on the bank you choose, your IBAN account number might not be Spanish. Additionally, since there are no specific ATMs for your bank, you may incur higher fees for cash withdrawals. However, the feeling of having more control over your bank account and reduced fees makes them an attractive option.

Lines of Communication

All banks, whether neo or traditional, have become more distant. With fewer branches and more online services, we can feel disconnected. However, most banks offer a degree of personal service. You should have a contact person you can message if you have a problem. Keep your bank informed if an issue arises. In most cases, they will provide advice and may offer solutions.


What documents do I need to open a resident bank account in Spain?

You will need proof of residence in Spain, such as a rental contract or utility bill, along with your NIE number and passport.

Can I have a bank account in Spain if I am not a resident?

Yes, you can. You will need to provide proof of income, your NIE number, and your passport. These documents need to be updated every two years.

What types of bank cards can I get in Spain?

You can get debit and credit cards. Debit card payments are processed immediately, while credit card payments are delayed until the end of the month.

What is a bank embargo in Spain?

A bank embargo allows Spanish authorities to freeze and collect funds directly from your account if you have outstanding debts with the government, such as taxes or fines.

What are the advantages of using neo banks in Spain?

Neo banks offer reduced fees and more control over your bank account. However, there may be limitations on the actions you can take and potential extra fees for cash withdrawals.

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