The Spain Transition, Part 1: Finances

When you study abroad, it’s not permanent or even long-term. Even as a Conversation and Language Assistant, it’s not for more than one or two years (most likely). But my situation is a bit different—I married a Spaniard. I’m here for the foreseeable future, much to my father’s chagrin.

One thing that often worries expats is money. Naturally. Money can be the root of many problems, and it can cause endless frustration for the involved parties. Naturally, I’ve encountered my share, having spent the last four years in and out of Spain. When I earned money in Spain, I wanted to use it in the US. Likewise, as I spent the last year earning money in the US, I wanted to use it in Spain. How to go about that?


Some banks make it easy to make an international money transfer of this sort, while others do not. You will have to speak with your bank in order to find out which is the case for you.

In Spain, most banks require a NIE (meaning “Número de identificación de extranjeros” or Tax Identity Number); however, I’ve heard that some only require a passport. Luckily for me, being married to a EU resident means I get a five-year NIE, unlike students who are forced to go through the renewal process every year. (A pain in the ass, if you ask me!) Another thing to have in mind is that in Spain there are two types: bancos and cajas. NPR’s Planet Money did a rather enlightening podcast that will help you to understand what these are, but basically bancos are general retail/commercial banks, while cajas are savings banks. You will also need proof of address, like a water or electricity bill.

In Spain, it’s common to pay certain bills by direct debit, which means no checks! In fact, I don’t even know if checks exist here. Online banking is also becoming more common, a huge relief for technology-dependent American expats in Spain.

What were your experiences opening a bank account in Spain? What advice would you give someone looking to open one?

7 thoughts on “The Spain Transition, Part 1: Finances

  1. This is so timely! I wanted to write about opening an account in Italy, but guess why I haven’t yet? Because I still don’t have an account! lol. It’s been so silly. I have waited for 9 months for a pin and card to arrive in the mail and still nadita de nada mami, nada.

    Plan B is to go tomorrow morning to a different bank and pray that I get a card within a week. I have been here for 7 months with only my US credit card, which, of course, loves to charge me exchange rates every time I use it. Luckily, my husband has a bank, so I have cash for certain things, but I still need my own account and Italian credit card! ay dios mio.

    Some banks are great for online, others are not. One bank requires that I have an Italian bank account before I opened an account with them. Is it me, or is that nuts? Well, it’s been interesting. I’m just happy that I’ve survived without one for so long, but still.

  2. When I was living in Spain it was indeed a pain to deal with banks. But the real kicker was when I tried to leave. I needed to close my bank account but I wouldn’t get my last paycheck until after I had already left. How could I close my accounts after I was back in the states? I had to find a Spaniard that I trusted, add them to my account, have them transfer my money to me and close my account for me.

    As if that weren’t complicated enough, we BOTH had to go to the bank where I opened my account to sign papers and make copies of IDs etc. That was impossible. Both because of the location of the bank as well as the hours (9-12am, M-F!!) My trusted Spaniard was a teacher I worked with. She worked 9-2pm in a different town.

    So they allowed me to take the contract to her and make our own copies. Twice they rejected her photo copies because the “placement” was wrong and they warned me that if I FOLDED the contract it would be invalid!! Whew. (Luckily I was well prepared for all of the Spanish red tape we had to go through, but I was certainly concerned for other, not so lucky auxiliares.

  3. I was thrilled to be able to open a bank account with ING direct when I started receiving a nómina, or paycheck stub. FINALLY a bank commited to online banking, international transfers (though at a cost) with relatively little hassle and open M-Thurs in the afternoons AND Saturdays! Consider getting it if you start getting a nómina.

    And agreed with the pain in the ass on the NIE renewal. I am happy to say I am extranjería-free since July 2011!!

  4. I opened an account at La Caixa within a few weeks of arriving in Spain. It was relatively hassle free, it just took awhile because the bank teller had to input all my personal info into the system. I used my French passport at the time and I had to pay a nominal fee to open a checking account. I could have updated my account info once I got my NIE in November 2011–however as an EU citizen, I didn’t get a card. I got a piece of paper that was a certificado de comunitario de la Union Europea, with a NIE listed on it. It wasn’t a card, so I never carried it around with me.

    I used La Caixa all of last year for Direct Deposit when I was an auxiliar and never had a problem. I was able to send an international wire transfer to my account back in the USA (it cleared within 48 hours, I have Wells Fargo in the US) before I left. I then closed my account a few days before I left with no problem.

    When I got my handbag stolen (along with my La Caixa debit card), I was able to go online and cancel the card, and replace it with another. The new one arrived at the bank within a week and I was able to go pick it up. Never experienced any problems with La Caixa so I highly recommend them!

  5. Ok, so when you go and transfer money from the U.S. to Spain or vice-versa, you’re still paying currency conversion fees, right? I’m just going off my limited experience as a tourist having had to exchange the currency from one country for that of another, usually just a few hundred dollars at a time. Now, when I did that I seem to recall paying a couple percentage points in fees, which isn’t too much trouble for a tourist who only wants to exchange a few hundred dollars, but I can’t imagine having to pay those sorts of fees on any real significant quantities of money!


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