How to Survive Spanish Banks

Banks in Spain are often a nightmare, as I recently ranted in another post. Unfortunately, they’re a necessity when living and working in Spain. So, what can you do to successfully hold a Spanish bank account?

Spanish bank tips

If these guys can do it, so can you! (photo credit)

Ask around.
See which banks your friends have used. There may be some near you that are known for treating customers (and foreigners) much better. Stick with those and hope you’ll have the same luck.

Open your account with a NIE (instead of a passport) and request a student or joven account.
Usually, fewer fees will apply if you’re a student/youth or a local resident.

Ask questions when opening your account.
When opening your account, don’t hesitate to ask any questions you may have about fees, policies, and procedures. Arrive at the bank with a list of prepared questions. I’ve complained about some bank employees’ customer service, but many are friendly and helpful, particularly if you’re a potential customer.

Read your contract.
Contract language is dense in any language, so reading a bank contract in Spanish may not seem like a party, but make sure you’re aware of all your account’s stipulations to avoid problems in the future.

No promise it won't put you to sleep, and it may be about as indecipherable as this.

No promise it won’t put you to sleep, and it may be about as indecipherable as this. (photo credit)

Try to get paid via direct deposit.
If your school or employer has the ability to pay you via direct deposit, it will save you hours of wasted bank time, since depositing checks in person can be tedious. That’s likely the easiest method of payment for them as well, but make sure to ask!

Research relevant vocabulary before going in.
No matter how advanced your Spanish skills are, if you’ve never dealt with banking in a Spanish-speaking country, bank vocabulary isn’t part of your lexicon. Think through what you need to accomplish at the bank, research translations (I recommend WordReference as opposed to an automatic translator) and bring that list to the bank for reference.

Bring a Spanish-speaking friend if you need to.
If you’re new to Spain and not yet confident in your Spanish abilities, see if a native or more comfortable speaker can tag along as a translator or even just for moral support.

Stand your ground.
If a bank tries to take advantage of you, call them out on it. Yes, it’s difficult in a foreign language, but let them know you’re paying attention to what they’re doing.

You got this. (photo credit)

You got this. (photo credit)

Close your account if necessary.
If you feel like you’re getting majorly attacked by your bank, walk away. That’s what I did when La Caixa tried to steal from me. They lost a customer, and I ended up with a bank that worked much better for the next two years.

Get lucky.
Some banks and branches will take advantage of you, and some won’t. It’s often just a matter of luck. If you’re having bad luck at one bank or branch, head to another! There’s likely one just a few blocks — or even feet — away.

Stay calm, and be patient.
Successfully dealing with a Spanish bank can be a major challenge, so keep the right attitude. I constantly complain about banks in Spain, but don’t worry too much; plenty of people come out alive. If you go in smart, confident, patient, and calm, you’ll survive!

And once you succeed, you'll deserve to treat yo self.

And once you succeed, you’ll deserve to treat yo self.

Have any bank horror stories? Success stories? Recommendations? Questions? I’d love to hear in comments!

7 Responses

  1. Kathy says:

    The clear message here: banking in Spain is for the dogs!

  2. Pedro says:


    it is very important to read the contract carefully so you can’t get surprised with fees, and if your salary is going to be direct deposited, don’t forget to tell them that you want a gift or get rid of fees.

    if they refuse, then you tell that you are going to close the account, and will open a new one with a different bank, then they will give you something to keep you.

  3. Dawn R Starr says:

    Love your helpful advise about banks. That is the one thing I am really dreading when I move to Spain in a few months. What bank have you had success with?

    • Kirstie says:

      Hope it helps! I had Santander and was occasionally frustrated but never cheated. I know a few people who haven’t had as good of luck with them, though. I think you’ll be fine if you’re vigilant and ask about hidden fees, though.

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