8 Reasons Banks in Spain are the Worst

Spanish banks: can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em. If you’ve spent time living in Spain, you know all the frustration, pain, and stress that comes from having a Spanish bank account. If you’ve never opened an account in Spain, consider yourself among the luckiest people in the world. They are the absolute worst. Yet I persevered and triumphed, and here I stand today, unbeaten, here to tell you my tale of sorrow and explain to you in 8 points why I am thrilled I may never set foot in a Spanish bank again. (Let me, in tiny text, make clear to any sensitive readers that this is no critique of Spain as a whole, and I recognize that bureaucratic institutions in every country have their flaws. After two years, I deserve a chance to rant about my Spanish banking experiences, gosh darn it!)

“The enemy is here.”

1. A million hidden fees
Want to open an account? Here, let’s charge you a fee. Depositing a check? Hmm, yes, let’s take away another few euros. You’ve gone a few weeks without account activity? Perfect, that’ll pay for our next caña! Have a last name that starts with Q? Congratulations! You’ve been secretly chosen to pay us five euros! Have two eyes and a nose? Excellent reason for us to take some more out of your account! Spanish banks love to charge mysterious fees for anything and everything, fees that will be charged one month but not the next, to you but not your friend, and with no explanation at all. Deal with it. Fortunately, I managed to get charged very few of these over the years, but I’ve heard a million horror stories. Beware.

2. The sovereign sucursal
Spanish banks seem to have a deep-seated belief that no one in the history of the world has ever moved. Not to another neighborhood and certainly not to another city in Spain. Why else would they make it impossible to conduct any business from another branch of the same bank? When I changed apartments in Sevilla, my sucursal, the bank where I had opened my account, was about a 45-minute walk from home, and when I moved to Madrid for my second year as an auxiliar, it was a 7-hour bus ride away. But that didn’t change the fact that if I needed to change my address, transfer money, fix a demagnetized card, close my account, or do any other simple bank procedure, I was required to go alllll the way to deep Triana, Sevilla to do so. Completely logical…if you’re living before the invention of computers.

3. Why rush?
Spanish banks are about as quick and efficient as the Ents in Lord of the Rings. There’s often only one person attending customers at any given time, and he graduated from Lollygag University with a Bachelor’s in Dilly-Dallying. Might as well bring a cot any time you have to do any business at a bank — you can ask the standard, “¿Quién es la última?” take a full siesta, and you’ll still be waiting in line.

“It’s been going for hours.” “They must have decided something by now.” “Decided? No, we have just finished saying, ‘Good morning.'”

4. The world’s least convenient opening hours
Most banks in Spain are open just Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 2:30pm. Perfect if you’re unemployed. For those of us with jobs? Out of luck. Fortunately, I had Fridays off, but if I ever had to get anything done at a bank, I had to plan weeks in advance so I could make their schedule. Because you couldn’t possibly expect anyone to work more than six hours a day or use a shift system!

5. Online banking? Maybe in another few decades
Hey, bank! That’s really cool that you have an online banking system where I can view my recent transactions! I just need to change my contact information now that I’ve moved to Madrid! So I’ll log into my online account and type in the new address. Easy. What’s that? I have to go all the way to my sucursal to do that? Oh, okay. If you say so. But I can do a quick transfer to another Santander account via the internet, right? No? System errors? Oh. So, um, what exactly is this “online banking” system for, then? Well, phew, I’m just praising the lord right now I can at least view my account balance and transactions via your website. You’re only about one decade behind the rest of the world. I’ll get back to you in 2044 when your online system serves any of its promised functions.

6. Who needs friendly customer service?
We customers are the entire reason these banks are in business, so that means employees will go out of their way to help us and be friendly, right? Think again. Rude employees, zero attempts to solve banking problems, no knowledge about anything bank-related. I get that the American idea of customer service (overeager, almost fake cheerfulness) differs from most of the world, but, come on, I’m letting you play with thousands of my euros, and I’m just asking for a little help. Obviously, I’m not exactly their most profitable customer, but rarely do I see them helping out their valuable customers either. That said, I have, shockingly enough, encountered a handful of incredibly friendly and helpful Santander employees, and every time I have, it’s just about made my week. High five to the few of you!

Highly accurate representation of cheerful Santander employees

7. Inconsistency is their specialty
When I needed to transfer money to my U.S. account recently, I talked to at least 10 people at at least 5 different bank locations, asking questions about how the money transfer would work, how much it would cost, and how long it would take. How many of those answers overlapped? Zero. Or, there’s my friend who asked her bank how much it would cost to withdraw money abroad with her Spanish ATM card, was told it would be around three euros, and then got slapped with a €20 fee when she actually did an international withdrawal. Apparently, there is zero communication between bank branches or even employees working ten feet away from each other, and no one has the answers to anything. Maybe they’re just constantly inventing information, Cliff Clavin style?

8. Good luck depositing a check
While I was fortunate enough to be paid by direct deposit last year, this year, I entered a whole new world of Spanish checks, as my school paid me monthly by check. ‘Kay, cool, no problem; I’ll just go feed this into an ATM like I do with my checks in the U.S., right? Nope. Gotta go into the bank itself to deposit it. Fine, easy enough. But it can’t just be any bank. It has to be the exact location where the check was written. And if I try to deposit it directly into my account, I’ll be charged a fee. So I have to walk into the office, wait fifteen minutes for Mumbly Mustache Man™ to figure out what he’s doing with the customers ahead of me, and explain to him that I need him to exchange my check for cash and then manually deposit that cash into my account, which, by the way, I’ve explained to him every month, and he still gets confused about what I need. Thanks for the memories, Mumbly Mustache Man™.

Modern photo, taken in 2013, of a Spanish bank. Actually, this one may very well be decades ahead of Spanish banks.

Having had a Spanish bank account for two years without ever getting majorly ripped off may be the greatest accomplishment of my life. Hold the applause, please. Next in my “Spanish Banks are the Absolute Worst Oh My God I Can’t Believe I Survived Having an Account for Two Years I’m So Sorry to Those of You Who Still Have One but If You Can Survive This You Can Survive Anything” series, tips for successfully surviving a Spanish bank. In the meanwhile, think of your relationship with a Spanish bank as an adventure, because you’re in for a bumpy ride.

24 Responses

  1. Pedro says:

    Hola Kirste,

    I’ve come across some blogs of US citizens who are in Spain….first of all it makes me happy that you all like Spain, and above all that you do know that Spain is a lot more than bullfighting and flamenco…sadly that many people don’t know how green and beautiful the north of Spain is. It is our own fault because we’ve failed to show the world the reality of the landscape of the country. Any medieval village of Castilla with its castle or fortress and its people deserves more credit than a dumb village of Andalucia with its bullring and its people all day in the bar talking about bullfighting or talking about whether or not their neighbour’s wife deceives her husband just because she happens to get dressed lovely.

    Well as for the things you say about banks in Spain…well ….let me tell you that you can conduct any business from another branch of the same bank, as banks do have computers and internet, or do you think they place the documents on donkeys and order them to travel to a different village? (no offence i’m just kidding) .You can change any information of your account, transfer money, you can ask for new cards, close the account, etc whether you are in Sevilla, Madrid or in a lost village in a rural area as long as the branch belongs to the same bank. I just can’t believe that you were asked to go down to Sevilla, maybe the person who asked you was having a bad day and was upset with the world, and you were so unlucky to come across him/her. That’s the only reason i see. What you have to do if that happens again is to stand serious in front of the person telling that you won’t leave until everything is done, and that you do know your rights as customer.

    I’ve never had any problem with online banking with my savings bank. If you had problems maybe it was because of internet access, or maybe you failed to introduce the codes correctly….i don’t know.

    As for the customer service, i agree that in Spain it is not as polite and good as in the USA….i’ve been to the USA two times and i do admit you’ve got a top quality customer service…..in fact last year while on holidays in New York i bought a Nintendo 3ds game at Toys R Us, got back to the hotel and threw the till receipt in the rubbish bin….well next day i realised that US Nintendo 3ds games don’t work with european machines, but it was too late as hotel workers had already collected all the rubbish, however, i returned to Toys 4 Us and told a woman what had happened, i complained about not having told that 3ds games don’t work with euro machines, so even without the till receipt i was given a discount of the same value of the game to use it when buying again. Great customer service i may say as that is totally impossible in Spain if you lose the till receipt.

    As for 8, again i tell you that you can deposite a check into your account whether the check was written in Sevilla or in a lost village in rural Asturias as far as it belongs to the same bank. Even if the check is from a different bank you can do it as your bank will contact the other bank. I have done it many times in the past. As for paying a fee…..well some banks charge and others not.

    Pedro

    • Kirstie says:

      Hi Pedro! Thanks for your comments! The main thing I’ve noticed is that policies vary greatly from one bank office to another, and from one employee to another, so it’s definitely possible I’ve been misinformed about things I can and cannot do at them! Glad you’ve had better luck with banks. I’m sure a lot of my problems have come from my being foreign and therefore not expressing my demands as clearly/strongly as I otherwise would. Also, I realize that American banks can be insanely frustrating as well! Like when they blocked my account twice in two days when I was in Romania because they “didn’t know I was traveling there,” even though I had just called to tell them! Big institutions are frustrating no matter where you go.

      • Pedro says:

        Kirstie,

        the policies are the same, i mean, Santander or BBVA policies are the same whether you live in Andalucia or the Basque region…..sometimes you may come across a lazy worker who wants to piss you off i think.

        it is not about having luck, everyone has luck as banks are serious companies…you were truly unlucky to encounter such a idiot, that’s all

        was it a guy or a woman? if it was a woman it might be that she found you lovelier than her, so she got upset and tried to ruin your day, lol

        sometimes if you want to exchange your check for cash they may refuse if it is a high amount of money, they will say it has to do with security even if you do show legal identity…..if that happens what you have to do is to tell them you won’t leave until you are given the money, or at least they assure that you will have the money in some days if the amount is very high.

        what is for sure under law is that they can’t force you to go to the place where the check was written, sure.

        • Elle says:

          Pedro, I appreciate that you are proud of your country but your excuses for the poor service are not contradicting anything Kirstie has said. I’m working as an English Language Assistant this year in Spain (I’m from England) and I have already experienced what Kirstie is talking about but I would extend this from “banks” to “everything”. I cannot believe how inconvenient it is to live in this country and how bloody rude employees are “on the whole”.

          I’d like to take a minute to stress that “not every employee” is rude, I’ve had a few good customer service experiences (but literally only a few).

          The guy at my bank was quite helpful, allowing me to have an account with just my passport and was informative but still…he seemed miserable… I have also been told that I have to return to the branch a 40 minute drive away (at 70 miles per hour) in order to arrange a contract that allows automatic periodical transfers (i.e. direct debits) so…I’ll be setting up a new account soon with the bank next to my apartment! In England, when you make a bank transfer, it goes into the person’s account immediately even on a Sunday. Fair enough, that is a relatively recent change but at least we changed it. Here, it takes days and for wages? Not only does that take days, it’s only Monday – Wednesday between specific times. Why? Is there a Spanish person sitting at a computer manually processing all of the payments? Is this not automatic? Why the hell would it matter what time of the day it is?

          Now for Spanish customer service in general: supermarkets…never seen anything like it in my life. The till workers practically throw your food across the scanner, super fast so that you can’t keep up, don’t offer to help pack (unless they’re frustrated with you and trying to get rid of you quicker) and no-one smiles. Ever. There was not one isolated event that triggered this, this is my experience “every” time I go into a supermarket anywhere in Spain and I’ve been in a lot. I have yet to see a single “supermarket” that opens 24/7. I don’t mean a Mercadona, I mean an actual supermarket like Carrefour. This could just be because I’m in Andalucía, maybe the bigger cities have 24/7 supermarkets but again, in England, half of the main supermarkets open 24/7 (except Sunday of course). There are no cooking instructions on meat. I suppose everyone in Spain just automatically knows how to cook meat especially meat they’ve maybe never bought before? So many products randomly don’t have a price tag so when you get to the till, you have to leave it behind because they haven’t yet caught on that they could…put the weighing scale next to the…till ?

          Spanish homes don’t have ovens. Most of the viewings I did were for homes that didn’t have ovens (the landlords always offered to buy the standalone ovens the Spanish use so that wasn’t a problem) but why? I know the Spanish eat out a lot but even so… why would you not have an oven? Is there not a single day in your life that you can imagine you might decide to cook a chicken at home?

          This “split working day” of closing at 2pm and re-opening at 5pm is a joke. Why can’t the Spanish work a full 8 hour shift like the rest of us? Imagine if a Spaniard had to work seven 12 hour night shifts in a row like I used to do – they would probably quit half way through day one (or night one!) – the excuse is ‘because it’s so hot’. Well that only applies during summer and actually, you work in an office with air con so that doesn’t really make sense. Do you know how difficult it is trying to run errands in this country? By the time you get into town mid-morning and finish queuing in the first couple of places (Spanish businesses seemingly only employ the bare minimum staff they can get away with having to pay) it’s already 2pm and you have to go home and twiddle your thumbs until 5pm at which point you then have to make the trek into town again, pay for parking again (street parking is “never” available as the Spanish park their cars on the street and then never touch them again in case they lose their parking spot) and then try to finish your errands in 3 hours. 8pm might be early for the Spanish but it’s late for me so that’s an entire day wasted!

          The tiles on the ground. I know I’m stretching “inconvenient” but I have to mention that: if I slip on these tiles one more time, I will shoot someone in the face. Why has Spain put slippery tiles everywhere?

          Why does Spain not employ translators in their foreigner’s office, or at least people who speak English?

          In England, I don’t believe there is a single park that doesn’t allow dogs. It would just be ridiculous. Grass is for animals. Yet Spain doesn’t see it that way. In Spain, grass is preeciooous and must be reserved for humans only. Dogs are not allowed in parks in Spain and every bit of grass I see even on the side of the road has a “Perros, No” sign on it. Luckily I chose an area that “happens” to have a special park where dogs are allowed so my poor dog does indeed have a bathroom. Most of us in England train our dogs not to go to the toilet on the floor but in Spain, it is preferred that dogs wee and poo on pavements/tiles on the ground and “no-one” cleans it up. I have to walk everywhere with my eyes glued firmly to the ground because I dare not take my eyes off the ground for even a second in case I stand in dog poo. It’s out of control and the reason is because the Spanish know they can’t take their dogs to parks where the poo should be going. I don’t blame the government for having this rule as it’s a catch 22: on the one hand, you can’t allow dogs in parks because this is where Spanish people socialise and Spanish people never pick up their dog’s mess but on the other hand, if the government passed a law that dogs must be allowed access to grass then eventually the Spanish might learn to clean up after their dogs once they realise their parks have become a cesspool of poo. Oh and apartment buildings don’t allow dogs in the communal gardens. Anywhere. Not even one section is reserved for dogs so whilst they’ll allow them in the building, you will just have to train your dog to use the terrace (eww) or take your dog for a walk 5 times a day, even while you’re at work, to make sure they aren’t suffering. This isn’t ideal late at night as I don’t really feel safe.

          Spain doesn’t have unlimited data tariffs for mobile phones or mobile broadband (!!!) Literally the only way to get unlimited data is through a phone line. Great for those of us who can’t get a phone line! Internet is sooo bloody expensive here it’s unreal. By expensive I mean €10 per GB if you use a dongle and want more than 600MB per month. No, I’m not joking.

          There’s no such thing as compensation and I don’t necessarily just mean money. There’s no-one to complain to if you experience poor service.

          I used to spend my days at work in England dreaming about living in Spain (for a while at least) but now I know never to take my home country for granted again. It is so much more convenient living in England, our beaches are nicer than a lot of beaches I’ve seen here (and they allow dogs) and if someone treats you badly in a bank or shop, you can complain to their manager and they will likely apologise and discipline the employee.

          I’m so glad I have experienced this though because now I appreciate my own country so much more. I appreciate the convenience of living in England and the emphasis we place on customer service. I feel incredibly lucky that of all the places in the world, I happened to be born (and raised) in England and so I can’t complain about Spain too much because living here has taught me to be grateful for my home country.

          • I think your comment is longer than anything I’ve ever posted on here!

            I know I’m commenting on a post in which I ranted about Spain, but it is important to realize and accept that Spain and England (or the U.S.) are different countries, and each country has its pros and cons. The cultures and histories are very different, which explains, for example, the lack of ovens in Spain – it’s simply because the Spanish cuisine developed differently and doesn’t involve as much baking! You can hardly blame them for that 🙂

            Believe me, I understand the need to rant about a foreign country when you’re living abroad and feeling frustrated, but I hope you’re also able to appreciate the cultural differences and some of the advantages Spain has over other countries!
            Kirstie Jeffries recently posted A Little Taste of Travel at LastMy Profile

            • Elle says:

              Haha! I know! Once I started, I couldn’t stop! I know the point got lost in all my rambling so apologies to anyone who reads that and thinks I’m saying Spain is bad, I’m not, I promise! My point was that Spain is much more inconvenient to live in than England and there’s nothing wrong with me being proud of England – I actually began the post because I wanted to explain to Pedro that his excuses didn’t contradict you and didn’t justify anything: your point about how cultures developed e.g. ovens is spot-on and I agree, I’m not saying it’s bad, just inconvenient for me!

              Anyway, if I’m honest, with this particular topic being so old, I never expected my post to be published (I thought it would need moderating or something and you either wouldn’t check it or would see it and not be ars*d reading it!) so I was just ranting, mostly through stress. I’ve calmed down now 🙂

              • Elle says:

                Have to add or I’ll never forgive myself: the public transport service…one bus every two hours…massively inconvenient. There, I added it.

              • Fair enough! I’ve definitely done my fair share of ranting about Spain. Sometimes it’s necessary! I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Spain, but, then again, I also do with my home country, the U.S., and my current country, Australia, so I guess it’s inevitable 🙂
                Kirstie Jeffries recently posted A Little Taste of Travel at LastMy Profile

            • Peter says:

              I am Spanish born , French educated and lived in Australia for the last fifty years. I was planning to retire to my country of birth for the first time in my life … after three tears of banks, mobile companies and utilities I have decide to remain in Australia for ever to live in Spain is a nightmare that never finish… the worse enemies of Spain are the Spanish themselfs that do horrible thing like if the Spanish Civil War was still raging … pedantry, ignorance and plain stupidity is rampant … they do not want to be wrong what ever what… only Amazone and el Corte Inglés function without an itch… The political parties what ever the right or the left lives Trump looking like a good Samaritan. I was born in the middle of the Spanish Civil War and now i understand what my father told me years after being pardoned from Militarey Death Row in North Africa, where half or more of the political prisoners were innocent, both the right and the left are wrong, period. Franco what ever you like it or no saved Spain from anarchy. Politicians were not removed they were shot in the street. It was chaos like it is today in democratic Spain where Dictator Franco is being replaced with many Banana Republic Dictators with defiantn arrogance the worse being in the Banks. I will not renew again my Spanish passport, why I tried to call there is no one answer the phone and no one replies my emails. For me I am pleased I never lived under Franco but then I had the most democratic passport in the world that Americans never had … even as draft avoider I was entitled to my Spanish Nationality for ever … democratic Spain has removed that privilege. To get my birth certificate was a total nightmare and only valid for six month, my Spanaish passport is useless within Spain you I need a DNI who’s has exactly the same name and date of birth as my passport has… but you must have and be ready to cue for weeks to get it only with specially issued birth certificate including your grand parents and it is only issued ONCE in your life time, so at 80 years old I do not need to worry about my life time anymore. Adiós España Soñada, por ti no viviré.

      • Peter says:

        correct 100% the same with me, period. Pedantic ignorance is the norm with banks what’s ever 50 years ago as it is today and that’s why I never lived in Spain and I only visit as an Australian Citizen not an Spanish one, sorry did Spain forgotten the Spanish Civil War and the reasons for it … well I believe the Spanish civil War never ended … they continue with the same anarchist rules that caused the civil war …

    • Lisa says:

      I tried to raise a query with a branch of Sabadell about a double card fee charge. The account is a joint account I hold with my father, but the double fee was for my new bank card, so I wanted to deal with it. But my father’s original branch is near Alicante. I was down in Marbella. No can do. The Marbella Sabadell is unable to log into the system and check why the account was charged twice. It has to be done with the issuing branch. This is 2016, right?

  2. Erik R. says:

    What’s interesting is how 15 years ago, when Americans were still standing around like schmucks in bank lines to deposit their paychecks every month, Spain had long since been using direct deposit for paying employees. The tables have turned completely.

    • Kirstie says:

      Didn’t know that! Oh man, for all my complaining, having my paycheck direct deposited last year was SO nice. I’d probably be a lot less frustrated with Spanish banks now had I not been paid by check this year.

      • Erik R. says:

        Somewhere, there’s a really good blog post, I think by a Spaniard, who spent the crappy years in the States and then moved to Spain just in time to spend the crappy years again in Spain. I can’t find it, though…

        • Pedro says:

          i spent 15 crappy days in a place of Pennsylvania whose name i prefer not to recall, lol i am writting like Cervantes! it was back in 2010 and was my first travel to the USA…..i also visited New York city for just one day, but because of the same reason i prefer not to recall it was a crappy day as well.

          happily i returned last year to visit again New York as i felt it like a must in order to enjoy the city.

          i think that i shall visit again that place of Pensylvania when pigs have wings, lol

  3. Sandra Danby says:

    Your piece made me smile. But we have more issues with the Government taking money from our bank account without us knowing, than with the banks themselves. SD

  4. Tom says:

    There seems to be a lot of negative comments on here about “oh how inefficient Spain is” etc…
    Yeah – it’s true. But I think it goes with the lifestyle they have. Not hurrying, not over-stressing like is more common in the UK / USA. All these young Brits and Americans escaping their stressed out lives to move to sunny Spain to teach English for a few years, thinking it’s going to be paradise, then spend all their time going on about how inefficient and un-customer servicey everything is in Spain. Well – what did you expect?

    If you just spend a year or two in Spain you are never going to get to know the reality. It takes years, perhaps decades, to fully understand the good and bad sides of living in the country. Best thing is just to go with the flow. Expect nothing to work or to be done on time, then be pleasantly surprised when things do go well.

    But to speed things up a bit and get things done, best to use the good old “enchufe” , or “contacts” system, as the Spanish. Everyone in Spain has a friend they know who they can recommend in any profession you need – dentist, doctor, bank manager, civil servant, teacher, etc.. etc..

    Spain, Italy and France (to a certain extent) have completely different cultures to Anglo-Saxon countries. That’s why they are such wonderful places to live in as well. Stop comparing things with your home country and just enjoy those nice, long lunches.

    Oh – and if your Spanish is good enough, try cracking a joke with that miserable cashier in the supermarket. I usually find it soon gets the smiling.

  5. Peter says:

    Well at 80 and three years enduring plai imbecility I had enough of it … I will NOT retire in Spain and sell it all and repatriate to Australia where some civility still is present.

  1. October 1, 2015

    […] may not be paid on time, there may be miscommunication about your schedule, banks may drive you insane, and you may not be able to get a straight answer on anything from anyone in the government, but […]

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