How to open a bank account as an entrepreneur in Spain

5 min read
30 Jan 2019

hether you are an entrepreneur with dreams to revolutionize the Spanish startup ecosystem, or simply enjoyed Spain on holiday and think it would be the right place to call home, one step you can’t avoid is having a financial footprint. Opening a bank account as an individual or business in Spain is important, and actually very manageable.

Spain is a country filled with tasty food, tons of culture, and more than enough sun, making it a desirable place to start a business, move a business, become a maker, or just live in general. The startup ecosystems in cities such as Barcelona, Madrid, and Valencia are growing – some would say booming – so it’s a pretty great time to adventure there.

Setting up shop in a new country can be exciting but also a bit nerve-wracking. One step in settling both personally and professionally in a fresh locale is making sure your finances are safe and sound, and this means making friends with the local banking sector. New transplants to Spain definitely have a lot to learn in that arena.

On the level of a privately employed citizen, setting up and maintaining a bank account is pretty simple. Once you get to being self-employed, however, banking becomes a bit more complex. Setting up a small entrepreneurial business, the next step in your innovative Iberian journey, brings with it a new level of complexity.

Let’s focus first on opening an account as an entrepreneur, then dive into what it takes to navigate the labyrinth that is Spanish bureaucracy and successfully obtain the most appropriate account for your business.

A building in Barcelona. Photo: Unsplash/Siarhei Plashchynski

Choosing a bank that suits you

Whether you are opening a bank account for yourself or for a business, it’s important to figure out which bank is right for you. Spain is home to a staggering number of national and local banks, so it can be tricky to choose.

First off, Spain has two major types of banks. On the side of privately owned and/or public limited national chains, you have bancos. For state-owned, local, and often more ethically organized options, you have cajas (de ahorro).

Going with a banco will be easier for international usage and access to services in English, while cajas may offer better local services and be more sustainable. The latter are not for profit, so they’re more focused on personal and family savings, social projects, and offering good lines of credit for businesses.

Major banks in Spain include ING Direct, Banco Sabadell, Santander or Banco Popular, BBVA, and La Caixa. These banks are larger than their caja counterparts, and they offer a wider range of services. As these banks are more international, they also offer customer services in English.

Choosing a bigger bank in Spain is also useful, as it’s easier to locate ATMs for larger banks.

Banking in Spain is lauded as expensive, one of the reasons being that withdrawing cash from an ATM that is not from your bank can cost from 50 cents to €3. Many banks will charge €4 for any withdrawal of €100 or more. It may be a better option to go with a large bank, to save seemingly unimportant cash increments that add up in the long run.

All banks in Spain will incur some sort of fee for maintaining the account (somewhere in the range of €15–€30 a year), with extra fees being tacked on for specific kinds of accounts, such as credit card or checking accounts.

Setting up your account

Personal bank accounts are rather easy to set up in Spain, both from abroad and in person. Non-residents and residents alike have the right to a bank account.

While both options are simple enough, it’s definitely the best practice to open an account in person, as applying for an account from abroad brings with it extra paperwork (you have to prove officially you are not a resident).

Once you are in Spain, all it takes to open an account is walking into your bank of choice, handing over the requisite paperwork, and waiting a short while. Most accounts are ready and activated for use within one to five working days, and credit cards should only take two weeks to arrive at your doorstep.

Before going to the bank to set up the account, make sure you have the necessary documentation. For a personal account, you will need:

  • Proof of identity, meaning a valid passport for non-EU citizens, or your EU ID, although having your passport readily available never hurts
  • A rental contract or other paperwork showing you have a domicile in Spain
  • A Spanish identity card and accompanying number, known as the NIE (you’ll hear expats all over the place musing on how tricky it is to obtain this)
  • Proof of employment, unemployment, or status as a student

If any of these documents are in English, you will have to get translated versions, and the official documents might even need a stamp from the Apostille of the Hague. You can obtain this stamp after the document has been officially notarized. The Apostille stamp legalizes documents for use in other countries other than the one from which they are issued. It is definitely worth looking into this step before walking into a bank and attempting to open an account.

To help you out, you might want to take a native Spanish speaker along for the ride to make sure you are getting the type of account that you want. Remember that banks are usually only open weekdays from 9 am to 2 pm, so be sure to get there early before the tellers hit the terraces for lunch and wine.

And don’t forget, if you have yet to obtain your Spanish identification, close this browser window and get on that first. It’s the most important official document you need living in Spain as a non-EU expat.

A building on Calle de Montalbán in Madrid. Photo: Unsplash/Brian Kndeneh

Taking care of business

Now that you have a personal bank account and are settling in to Spanish life, it’s time to get down to business.

Opening a business, becoming a freelancer, or creating a sole proprietorship are complex subjects, so at least we can lead with the good news that there are many solid options for business bank accounts.

As a freelancer or sole business, you will be paying (most likely) higher taxes with more complicated rulings – in Spanish! – so you will probably want a bank that won’t add to your woes.

Santander, for instance, has the Cuenta 1|2|3 Profesional, designed for freelancers and small businesses. This account is either free or comes with cheap fees, and includes the ability to invoice clients. You can also transfer up to €50,000 without a transaction fee (depending on how you make the transfer).

Banco Sabadell has options for freelancers and small to medium business owners as well, such as Cuenta Expansión Negocios or the Plus version, or even the Cuenta Expansión Empresas for larger business transactions.

If you’re looking for something with free credit cards, then perhaps check out ING Direct’s Cuenta Negocios account, which also includes the ability to make daily transfers of €50,000.

While opening a business bank account can feel like the start of a long journey into bureaucratic processes, some of them connected to specific tax legislation, a positive aspect is that nearly all Spanish banks have business accounts.

Whichever option you end up choosing, be sure to research which has the lowest costs for processing international transfers, great multilingual customer service for the important questions you’ll need to ask when navigating taxes and business costs, and a focus on entrepreneurship.