Banks in Spain

The banking organization in Spain is sophisticated and well established. There are a lot of banks and all banking activity is monitored by the Bank of Spain (Banco de España), which has its main office in Madrid and branches in all provincial capitals. Spanish Banks are classified into savings banks, clearing banks and several foreign banks also operate in Spain. There are also few banks in Spain that are directly linked to UK banks. Spain has one of the maximum ratios of bank branches per capita in Europe; though, not all of these will offer an English-language service.

Clearing Banks

In the past, there were different clearing banks but this has changed by a long way in recent years as many banks have merged or been consumed by a larger bank. BSCH (Banco de Santander y Central Hispano) resulted from the unification of the Santander, Central and Hispano banks, and the BBVA (Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria), which is again the product of two major banks which includes the state-owned Argentaria. Other clearing banks in Spain include the Banco Atlántico, Banco de Andalucía and Banco Zaragozano.

Savings Banks

Savings banks (known as cajas de ahorro) are very common in Spain and the majority of Spaniards still prefer to get a mortgage with a Spanish savings bank as they tend to offer better mortgage rates than the larger banks and in general their services are more commercial. The provincial savings banks in Spain have always played an essential role in their respective regions, and enjoy a prestigious profile in local communities, promote diverse cultural, educational and sporting activities. Most of the savings banks are regional apart from the Catalan La Caixa and Caja Madrid that are both present in most of the country.

Caja Rural, Caja Mar, Caja Sur (Andalucia) and UniCaja (originally from Malaga province), La General (from Granada), Caja San Fernando (from Cadiz) and El Monte (from Seville and Cordoba) are main savings banks. Each Spanish savings have a big department called "obra social" (literally "social work") which spend the certain percentage of profits each year on cultural and educational activities. Savings banks, however popular, are significantly less so than the clearing banks.
Foreign Banks
There are also overseas banks that operate in Spain; however they tend to be concentrated mainly in coastal resort areas and in metro cities. Barclays(UK), the Royal Bank of Scotland (affiliated to the Santander bank), Solbank, (Banco Sabadel), The American banks, Citibank and Chase Manhattan, are prominent foreign banks which has branches in most of the cities.
Top 20 Spanish banks
  1. Santander Central Hispano
  2. Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria
  3. Caixa d´Estalvis i Pensions de Barcelona “la Caixa”
  4. Caja de Ahorros de Madrid
  5. Banco Popular Español
  6. Caja de Ahorros de Valencia, Castellón y Alicante (Bancaixa)
  7. Banc Sabadell
  8. Caixa d´Estalvis de Catalunya
  9. Caja de Ahorros del Mediterráneo
  10. Bankinter
  11. Caja de Ahorros de Galicia
  12. Caja de Ahorros de Zaragoza, Aragón y La Rioja
  13. Unicaja
  14. Bilbao Bizcaia Kutxa
  15. Caja España de Inversiones
  16. Caja de Ahorros Vigo, Ourense, Pontevedra (Caixanova)
  17. Caja de Ahorros de Salamanca y Soria (CajaDuero)
  18. Caja de Ahorros de Guipúzcoa San Sebastián
  19. Deutsche Bank -España
  20. Banco Pastor
Types of Account
The 3 main types of account are:

  • Current/checking account (cuenta corriente): A current account in Spain is much the same as that in any country and customers will be issued with a cheque book and ATM/ debit card. The most characteristic type of account for having vital, day-to-day banking activities. The current account interest rates that remain in credit are usually quite low; although by the time with-holding tax at 25% has been deducted.
  • Savings account (cuenta de ahorro): Saving accounts are usually different from current accounts in that they offer interest, however interest rates paid presently are very low (a tad higher than current account rates). Customers are issued with a cash book where all transactions are recorded and they can use the cash book to withdraw money from cash machines in certain banks.
  • Investment Accounts (cuenta de depósito): These are aimed at customers who want to earn a higher rate of interest on their money, although these generally have restrictions on the amount withdrawn or penalties for withdrawing funds before time. Investment account provides the best rates linked to stocks and shares but this type of account does not permit day-to-day banking operations.
Opening a bank account in Spain

Both residents and non-residents can open a bank account in Spain and most banks authorize up to four named individuals on a single personal account.
The following documents are required to open the account:

  • Age of applicants should be18 or over
  • Proof of identity (passport / National Identity Card from the country of origin)
  • Proof of employment or grade (Salary certificate/pay slip/ contract letter, pension or disability payment confirmation, student card). This is an additional requirement set up in 2007 by the Bank of Spain as a measure to fight money-laundering
  • Applicants also need to submit their Foreigner's Identification Number and certificate
  • Confirmation of address and proof of address must have been issued within the last 3 months((utility bill, passport , driving license or council tax bill)

With these entire documents available, applicant should visit a branch and have their account opened almost straight away, although it will take a few days for the cheque book and ATM/debit card (if applicable) to be issued. Some banks may provide a temporary pass book (libreta) so that money can be withdrawn till they get ATM cards. New accounts can also be submitted by post, although the applicants should visit the branch to complete the identification process and present the originals of the personal documents.

Most banks will not send cheque books or ATM/debit cards to overseas addresses for security reasons; applicants will need to be collect from the branch if there is no address in Spain to which they can be sent.