Banks, no matter which country you’re in, can be a nightmare at the best of times. In Spain, they’re different in their annoying ways compared to England, and as a resident, trying to comprehend everything in a different language, you can feel out of your depth quite quickly. It’s worth noting that like England during the financial crisis, many of the smaller banks disappeared or merged with the bigger ones. But things in Spain were a lot more extreme.
Depending on where you are, you are very likely to find some very localised obscure banks. I noticed that was a major disadvantage for anybody connected with them. There were less branches nationwide, their cards didn’t work with many other banks, and they couldn’t do as many things compared to a larger bank. When I lived in León, I saw a prominent bank called Caja España, which was connected with my student card. However, when I moved to Catalonia, that bank did not exist at all, I didn’t even see one in Barcelona. but I did see other banks like Caixa Guissona and Caixa Catalunya (the latter of which is now part of the BBVA group).
Clearly when I needed a bank, one that was everywhere made sense. So I chose Santander, as it’s everywhere, and had a great reputation. My first year with the bank was with just a booklet which had to be taken to a clerk to withdraw money. I got so fed up of having to do that, I applied for a card after discovering I had a potential long-term future in the country, and the application was surprisingly easy. However, there are fees for the first year. something that usually doesn’t happen in England, 25€ just for the card. I understand that doesn’t always happen in Spain (especially the last couple of years, and it depends on the type of account you’re opening), but it could happen, so just be aware of it.
There are also some difficulties in getting an account depending on which country you’re from. I was lucky that at the time. I had obtained residency in Spain and that, alongside my photo ID and proof of address was what I needed to open one. If you don’t have residency however, many banks will reject you, even if you have a permit to work in the country. One such bank I’m aware that did allow you to open an account in that way was Bankia. I’ve also heard that Kutxa bank also allowed it. Take from it what you will.
Banks here are not nearly as student-friendly as they are in England. They might charge less for things, but generally speaking, an overdraft is not easy to come by. They are quite difficult to deal with when it comes to mortgages as well, but that’s from what friends have told me. I guess the crisis forced banks to make it that way after too many people fell into debt, but it certainly didn’t give me much confidence in them if I needed any financial backing, so don’t get into the red, people!
You also have to know where your local branch is, not just in case you need a member of staff to help you, but because you need your branches’ cash machine to avoid getting charged when making a withdrawal. This is another reason why I would go for a larger bank with branches across the country. Fees range between 0.50€ and 3.50€ per withdrawal, depending on which bank you use, which just doesn’t happen in England. Sometimes I take more out than I need just to avoid any tricky situation of not being able to pay by card. Not ideal if you are living on a shoestring budget.
The worst thing about banks in Spain by a mile, are their opening times. They are without a doubt, the most inconvenient places to try and get what you need done. Most open around 8:30 in the morning, but close at 14:00 or 14:30. Maybe once a week, they open in the afternoon, but unlikely to be after 20:00 and you can forget Saturdays, as they are never open. I was also feeling at times that I was spending half of my day in there when I had just my booklet, as there were often queues during the free hours I had.
Things however, have changed since my first few years in Spain. Most banks, including Santander, have finally updated their software, and things have now become a lot more efficient. my Last experience there was actually very pleasant, and the staff were exceptionally helpful, and I was in and out in just 10 minutes. Some banks can still be rather unhelpful and contradictory, and it just seems to me, that it really depends on which member of staff is having a good day as to how much they will help you. One such example, was that I wanted to sign up for a running race, which meant going to a Cajasur to pay the money into the account. I went to one branch, and they claimed they couldn’t do it because the name wasn’t clear, and wanted to charge me extra to make the transfer. I went to another branch, and they did it without any fuss. Need I say more?
My bank’s customer service has been a great highlight to my experience here. Only once was I not able to solve an issue over the phone, and I’m not hanging around on hold for very long either. Many banks also have an English-speaking service in case you really aren’t following what they are saying at all. It’s also very likely your internet banking app can also be in English, so if you are not confident with your level of Spanish yet, don’t panic. Start panicking if you need to go into a branch though, or have someone come with you, because it’s unlikely the clerks will be able to speak English to you there.
So there you have it. Banks can be just as annoying in Spain like in the rest of the world. But if you are living here, you can’t avoid them, so you have to bite the bullet eventually. But my key advice is to open an account with a bank that has branches everywhere, like Santander, Sabadell, La Caixa, BBVA. Those I know are everywhere. Also, make sure you know where they all are in your town, and most importantly, be patient. Things are more efficient than before, but leave yourself plenty of time nonetheless, as you are probably gonna be hanging around for a while.