Great online bank account options for expats in Spain
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Need a Spanish bank account? A lot of foreigners get by in Spain without ever opening a local account. However, if you need to receive a salary, buy a mobile phone plan, or put household bills in your name, a Spanish account might be a necessity for you.
Based on reviews I’ve seen in various expat forums, I’ve decided to evaluate 4 online bank account options for expats in Spain: EVO Banco, ING Direct, OpenBank, and Banco Mediolanum. All of them offer free current accounts. (“Current account” = “checking account” for you Americans!)
Benefits of getting an online bank account in Spain
Online banks tend to offer free account deals to lure people away from their trusted brick-and-mortar banks. And they are a promising alternative to traditional banks that often aren’t consistent in their policies from one branch to the next. One branch might tell you there’s a cost to open an account, while another will say it’s free. Some will tell you a Spanish residency card is required, while others will say a passport is fine (at least for a provisional account). You can see how this is going!
While many people seem to be happy with the service of traditional Spanish banks, like BBVA, La Caixa, Bankia, Banco Sabadell, and others, this post will focus on online bank account options for expats in Spain, that would be attractive for foreigners with limited local income and who aren’t sure how long they’ll stay in the country.
Definitions and criteria (i.e. my rating system)
I’ve defined a “free account” as meaning no fees on most normal transactions and processes. That means free transfers within the Eurozone (in Euro currency), free debit card replacement, and – of course – no silly maintenance or online banking fees.
I evaluated each bank by these criteria:
- What it takes to get a free account, and any penalties for not meeting certain requirements.
- How much interest the account pays, if any.
- How easy it is to open an account as a new arrival to Spain
- How many free ATMs are in their network
- What services they offer in English
I’d love to hear your feedback on your own experience with any of these banks in order to provide the most useful and accurate information! And if you think there’s a bank that also deserves a mention, please explain why in the comments and I’d be happy to add it to the list!
Here we go:
1. EVO Banco
EVO was launched as the new nationwide brand of Galician NCG Banco in 2012, and grew quickly in popularity thanks to its cool minimalistic and “revolutionary” marketing tactics, as well as it’s super flexible “Cuenta Joven”, which has become a hit with young people in Spain. Last year, the bank was bought out by American private equity firm Apollo Global Management, and continues to grow in popularity. I heard a rumor that the Cuenta Intelligente was designed by an ex executive of ING who was hired away by EVO, but I can’t find any official reports of that. Here’s a nice comparison (in Spanish) of EVO and ING.
Requirements for free account: For a free “Cuenta Intelligente” account, if you are over age 28, you need to set up monthly direct deposit or automatically pay at least 5 bills from this account. If you are between age 18 and 28 you can open a “Cuenta joven,” which doesn’t have this requirement and has the same benefits of Cuenta Inteligente with no annual fee.
Caveats: If you don’t meet the direct deposit/bill payment requirement for the “Cuenta Intelligente” I have heard that there is a charge of 36€ a year (although I didn’t see this information stated on the web site). There is no requirement, and therefore no penalty on the “Cuenta Joven.” It’s important to note, however, that there might be a fee for closing your account. I saw one person complaining that he was charged 14.14 euros for closing his Evo credit card.
Interest: Both the Cuenta Inteligente and Cuenta Joven offer a small amount of interest. As of October 2014, they paid 0.5% a percent on the first 3,000 euros in your account and 1.5% on amounts more than 3,000 euros.
Ease of opening: Easy to open with just a passport. (I think I’ve heard that non-Spanish residents can’t open online and DO need to go into a branch – need to check that.)
ATM network: Take out cash anywhere in the world with no fees (any ATM). That means totally free withdrawals throughout the Eurozone (exchange rates would apply in other countries). However, I’ve seen some complaints in forums that they were charged when they weren’t supposed to be and had to ask Evo to refund the money. I don’t know how often this happens, but apparently it’s a possibility.
English services: There is an English option for online banking once you go to the “client area”, although the bank’s home page is only in Spanish. There is no dedicated English customer service line.
Other pros and cons: There are not many branches, but those that exist are open in the afternoons. You can only deposit cash or checks at EVO ATMS (which there aren’t very many of) and they have to check the deposit next morning, so it’s not effective immediately.
Conclusion about EVO:
Due to its short trackrecord, EVO probably isn’t the bank to put your whole life savings. But it’s great for people who have a small quantity of Euros that they need to put somewhere without being charged fees, and who want to be able to access that money at any ATM while traveling.
A new arrival to Spain from the States said: “I went into EVO today and opened an account so easily, they were way more helpful than ING who I had tried (couldn’t open one without my actual TIE card) and La Caixa who said the same.”
And a British expat who banks with EVO: “I can confirm that in my experience of Spanish banks (Santander, Unicaja, and Evo Bank), Evo bank has been by far the easiest to use, and free ATM withdrawals anywhere is great. Mind you, I don’t have many complicated transactions to make, so I don’t know how they’d hold up under ‘proper’ conditions. All I know is they don’t charge me fees just for the privilege of having an account with them!
2. ING Direct
ING Direct is the online bank of Dutch bank ING, and is also popular among young expats in Spain.
Requirements for free account:ING has two types of free checking/current accounts, called the “Cuenta Nomina” and “Cuenta Sin Nomina.” That means “Account with direct deposit” and “Account without direct deposit.” They are both basically the same.
The “Cuenta Nomina” requires that you have direct deposit, but has no no minimum balance requirement.
The “Cuenta Sin Nomina” requires a deposit of at least 600 euros per month and a minimum balance of 2000 euros.
I’m told that ING has a 6 month grace period, so if you don’t meet these income requirements, you will not be charged any penalty, as long as your income resumes within 6 months.
Caveats: Euro transfers within the Eurozone are free, but there is a 50,000 limit (I assume that’s annually. I had trouble finding information on what the penalty is if you don’t meet the requirements after the 6 month grace period.
Interest: The free checking/current accounts do not offer interest, but there is some kind of gas reward program if you have a car! They do, however, offer a savings account called “Cuenta Naranja” that offers an introductory interest rate of 2% for the first three months, and 0.70% after that.
Ease of opening: ING’s web site says you need a valid residency card in order to open an account, and that’s in line with what I’ve heard from new arrivals trying to open an account there. Please tell me if anyone had a different experience!
ATM network: You can use any ATM on the Spanish 4B network for free. Charges would apply outside of that network.
Other pros and cons: ING has long opening hours at its (few) branches. Mon-Thurs 8.00 -20.00 Friday 9.00-15.00 and Saturday 9.00-14.00.
Conclusion about ING:
ING seems to be a great choice for those who are already established in Spain, speak Spanish, and are looking for a more well-known brand. Everyone raves about the quality of service, and there are plenty of free ATMs in their network, however compared to EVO they are not quite as accommodating for those who don’t have residency in Spain yet, and they don’t offer online banking in English.
One English teacher in Madrid: “I switched from Santander, because they started charging me fees in the summer months when I had no income. ING gives you 6 months grace period, no income, no fees at ALL, no paying or transferring fees.”
Another rave review from an American expat: “ING has no charges for cashpoint withdrawal, credit cards, transfer of money, standing orders and also gives you a small % back every month of any bills you have on direct debit. Can’t complain at all and I’ve been with them 8 yrs now. Interest rate has gone down but lucky to still get some seeing the state Spain is in!”
3. Banco Mediolanum
This bank is a subsidiary of Italian financial services firm Gruppo Mediolanum. It’s truly an online bank! It doesn’t have any branches, just 600 “personal banking consultants” throughout Spain. Each customer is assigned a consultant, so the service is very personalized. This bank also offers retirement and investment accounts, so your personal consultant might try to convince you it’s time to invest 😉
Types of accounts and fees: Mediolanum has a few types of current accounts but I’ll focus on the “Cuenta Unica,” which is marketed as a totally free account. This account requires either direct deposit, or that you pay two bills from the account.
Caveats: If you don’t meet the direct deposit/bill payment requirement you’d have to pay 2.92 euros for each month of non-compliance.
Interest: As of October 2014, the account offered an introductory interest rate of 1.8% for the first six months. The following six months the rate plummets to 0.1%. However, once you’ve had the account for one year, your interest rate would stabilize at 0.95%.
Ease of opening: I’m not sure if you can open an account before having your TIE residency card in hand.
ATM network: You’d have free access to almost any ATM. Within Spain, you could use any ServiRed, Euro 6000 or 4B ATM, as long as you see the mark of “VISA” or “VISA Electron.” Outside of Spain, you’d have free access to any “VISA” or “VISA Electron” ATM.
English services: From what I can tell, online banking can only be done in Spanish or Catalan. If you need help in English, it should be possible to request that your “personal banking consultant” is someone who can speak English!
Other pros and cons: Thanks to a collaboration, cash deposits can be made at any BBVA branch. http://www.bancomediolanum.es/es-ES/cuentas-depositos/cuentas-corrientes/bancos-colaboradores.html
I spoke to two people with Mediolanum accounts and both seem to be really happy with their personal banking consultant and the personal attention they receive.
Conclusion about Banco Mediolanum:
Besides its extremely hard to remember name (at least for me!) Banco Mediolanum seems like a solid choice. It has pretty much the same benefits as EVO – namely an interest-earning checking account, and a worldwide network of free ATMs. And, if you don’t have direct deposit, it only requires two bills to be paid from the account, in comparison to five at EVO. However, I’m not sure about the level of English service or the possibility to open an account without a residency card in hand.
One British expat says: “No charges (and even a bit of interest on current account) if you domicile a couple of utilities. No ATM charges anywhere. You get a personal representative, online banking, and if you want to do physical things like paying cash in, you can go to any BBVA.”
4. OpenBank (Santander)
OpenBank is the online bank from Santander, Spain’s largest banking group. I’m a little unclear on the details, but it seems that at some point Santander bought an Argentine online bank called Patagon Internet Bank, which was already operating in Spain and had a good reputation. In 2007, they changed the name to Openbank (which was a brand name they already owned), and they moved it over to Santander’s online banking system. Nowadays Openbank accounts are basically a type of Santander account, and you can even change an existing Santander account to an Openbank account with the same account number if you like.
Requirements for free account: From what I can tell, the “Cuenta Sin Nomina” at OpenBank has practically no requirements. There is no minimum required balance and no deposit requirement. They have a second account type, called the “Cuenta Nomina,” which requires direct deposit or transfers of at least 900 euros per month.
The only difference I see between these two accounts is that with the “Cuenta Nomina” account you receive 1% cash back for any bills you pay from your account.
Caveats: I couldn’t find any! There don’t seem to be any financial penalties for anything with OpenBank.
Interest: There is no interest on OpenBank’s current accounts, but like ING they offer a savings account with an introductory rate of 2% interest for the first three months. It’s not clear from their web site what the interest rate would be after that. As mentioned above the “Cuenta Nomina” current account offers 1% cash back on bill payments.
Ease of opening: I’m not sure if you can open an account before having your TIE residency card in hand.
ATM network: It is only free to withdraw money from Santander ATMs. Luckily there are quite a few in Spain! If you use other 4B ATMs you would be charged 75 cents.
English services: The log-in page for OpenBank does not have an English option. It’s not clear if once you enter you might be able to switch to English. It’s curious because Santander’s online banking log-in page does allow you to switch to English!
Other pros and cons: The main benefit of OpenBank compared to the other banks talked about here, is that you have access to Santander branches (there are about 3,000 all over spain). You can deposit money via those branches twice per month for free. After that it’s 1 euro per deposit. At ATMs there is no limit on free deposits, and there are plenty of Santander ATMs. I’ve seen mixed reviews about this bank in different forums.
I didn’t find any expat comments on this bank, but here’s a comment from a happy Spanish customer: “It’s the best account on the market that doesn’t require direct deposit. There are no commissions, you get a free debit card, they don’t charge you for transfers and you don’t need to set up direct deposit or bill payments, and neither do you have to have “x’ amount of money in your account. For awhile I had zero euros in my account and they never charged me anything for that.”
Conclusion about OpenBank
It’s a good option for those who might have trouble meeting the requirements on other accounts, in terms of direct deposit and bill payment. And, as I mentioned it’s good for those who like to be able to pop into a branch to talk to someone in person.
So, there you have it!
To be fair, I should give honorable mentions to BBVA and Banco Sabadell. They are both traditional brick-and-mortar Spanish banks, but that have pretty good reputations among English teachers and other expats I’ve spoken to. Both let you open your account while your residency card is in process, and both have pretty good service in English. So, if you want to go the traditional bank route, you might look into those two.
If you have had a different experience, or would recommend any other Spanish banks, please let me know and I will update this post!
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