The only reason this is a blog post is because opening a bank account in Spain is like getting accepted to medical school. It’s made even tougher if you don’t speak Spanish. And if you decide to move to another city, oh boy, get ready.
I got my non-lucrative visa for Spain almost a year ago and I’m in fact coming up for renewal soon. I initially tried to open a bank account in Barcelona but didn’t have my NIE yet. Fastforward and I have my TIE.
I managed to open a bank account when I moved to Sevilla at Caixabank. But because this account was a foreigner account it was a little limited. I didn’t even know back then that there is a difference between a resident and non-resident account.
Opening a Non-Resident Bank Account
I went to the ritziest neighborhood in Seville and found the fanciest bank office, Caixabank. There, a guy named Franco spoke English and was happy to help me open a bank account.
One thing that I have learned is that the bankers are often very eager to help you open a bank account but after that it’s rather hard to get anything from them. Perhaps they earn a commission, I’m not sure. Still, they are incredibly friendly and genuine.
Franco was incentivised to open a bank account for me because he wanted to sell me health insurance through their bank. Their brand of health insurance is Adeslas. Glad I got this because I was paying €75 a month before and now it’s down to €55.
I was trying to open a resident bank account which since, as a non-lucrative visa holder, I’m considered a resident. But he wasn’t able to do that. Instead, he used my passport number and my US home address to open a non-resident account for me. I believe this is referred to as HolaBank, their foreigner brand.
Getting a Credit Card
I tried to apply for a credit card online using Caixabank but the only place they were willing to send the card (if I even got approved) was the Seville location.
Since I was no longer living in Seville and had moved to Santiago de Compostela, this made the whole online access thing rather useless. I have since been unsuccessful in trying to change the bank branch on my account.
Moving to Santiago de Compostela
A few months later, I moved from Seville to Santiago de Compostela. Fortunately, they had Caixabank branches here as well. When I walked in with my NIE card to withdraw cash I was informed that they couldn’t find my account.
I totally forgot that it was under my passport number. So I once again ventured into the ritziest neighborhood and found the fanciest Caixabank branch and asked for help there.
Eva didn’t speak English but she figured out that the account I had was under my passport. Great, mystery solved. Now I wanted to apply for my first mortgage but my bank account was headquartered in Seville.
In the US it doesn’t matter where you bank account is even though they might ask you from time to time which is “your branch”. Eva couldn’t transfer that account to Santiago so I had to open another account at their local branch, which I did.
Applying for a Mortgage
Okay, let’s apply for a mortgage. That process actually wasn’t too bad. It seems a little more streamlined than the US, at least so far. And you can apply for a mortgage regardless of whether you have a non-resident or resident. I’m fairly certain that you will need that NIE, however, if you’re going to apply for a mortgage.
18% of all home purchases in Spain are made by foreigners – extranheros. The banks don’t mind lending to you as long as you can prove that you have the money to pay for it. You will need your tax statements, income receipts, and any other supporting document that’s needed.
Surprisingly, nobody has asked me for my credit report which in the US is reported as a number from around 300-850. There is also a physical report attached to this number.
Because Caixabank still considers me a non-resident I can only get a 50/50 mortgage and thus have to put down 50%. Not a problem, I’m happy to do that but, people, I’m a resident! My TIE card says I am! Alas…
Opening a Resident Bank Account
Okay, I know I can open a resident bank account, so let’s do this. I left Eva to handle my mortgage application process and send an online inquiry to another local bank, called Sabadell Galego or Banco de Sabadell.
From what I understand, this is a private bank which is under the parent company of big-momma Sabadell. I was hoping that by applying to a private bank I would have a better chance of opening a resident bank account in Spain.
The banks here seem to be divided into large banks and private banks. The private banks – bancos – take on the name of the parent bank.
I met Carlos who was very nice, and speaks amazing English.
Great, Carlos, can I open a resident bank account with you guys?
Also, can I apply for a mortgage?
So I went to his office, we chatted, he got my information, asked for my TIE card, and didn’t even ask for my passport. Sweet! Progress. And he told me that his boss will need to approve the account and he’ll be in touch.
The next day he emailed me and asked for my rental contract here in Spain. I emailed him the Airbnb agreement. He then needed some documentation of me having a business in the US as a sole proprietor. No problem, I sent him my form 1099.
He then needed proof that I’m trying to live here and that I’m trying to learn the language and get my medical license here, all of which I told him I was pursuing. Well, I don’t know how to prove that other than sending him links to the places I need to apply to and the courses I am taking online to learn Spanish. He accepted these as well.
The last thing he needed was a medical license or some other proof that I’m a physician in the US. I sent him my board certification certificate which has my licenses attached to it.
You’ll laugh at this. So when I opened my bank account with Caixabank in Seville, they issued me a card which I thought was my debit card. Well, it was my health insurance card. So I’ve been trying futally to get money from ATM’s using this thing and wondering why I’m not getting any money back.
As for a credit card and debit card, definitely get this issued when you open an account. Without it, it might be tougher for you to access your money especially since the bank hours in Spain are limited.
A Tedious Process
I hope nothing that I wrote so far comes across as complaining. I am simply pointing out my personal experience and how it has compared to the US banking system.
Don’t forget that I don’t speak Spanish and that I don’t know many of the rules. I have tried asking the locals and others who have become expats here but each experience is rather varied. If anything, I have found the bankers to be incredibly patient and kind and they have all tried to put up with my quasi-Spanish.
Taxes might be one reason why it’s a little complicated to get a resident account versus a non-resident. If I earn my money in the US and am a resident in Spain, I may have to pay taxes here. I have no intention of paying taxes here unless I can earn my money here – this is another factor which I’ll have to address when the time comes.
Because of this tax matter, the bank will have to prove to the government that I don’t owe Spanish taxes even though I have a resident bank account. I hope this makes sense. At least that’s what I’ve understood thus far.
For now, I have 2 bank accounts at Caixabank… want one? I will see how things go with Banco de Sabadell. Waiting to hear back from Mr. Friendly. So far it seems that I should be able to open a residency account.
I have also requested an online application for a mortgage with BBVA. Someone from a local branch is supposed to contact me to get that process started.
I feel that I learn something new each time. So, perhaps with this 3rd bank I’ll know exactly what to do in order to open an account successfully.
Each bank operates uniquely. And each bank representative will have their own idiosyncrasies. It’s a good idea to ping multiple different individuals at different banks. Don’t give up.
Getting to know your banker can be quite beneficial in Spain because they know a lot of people. You can shoot them a quick email and get a recommendation for a good lawyer, a good contractor, and a good restaurant. Quite different from how things work in the US.