US citizen
handling money
in Spain

Huge pile of cash




I am not a lawyer or accountant; this is not legal advice or tax advice; use at your own risk.



Spanish bank account



[Bank products and fees and policies are changing all the time, so don't rely too much on the specifics in this section, especially the older info.]

MumAbroad's "Setting Up your Finances in Spain"
movingtobarcelona.com's "Money & Banking in Spain"
NIE Barcelona's "Bank Account"
Martina Vitali's "Current accounts in Barcelona: Which bank to choose?"
I'm Moving To Barcelona's "Banks In Spain"
Expat Agency Spain's "Top 5 Banks in Spain Tips for Expatriates"
Living in the Canary Islands' "Are Your Savings Safe?"



Do you really need a Spanish bank account, if you're not working in Spain, not owning or renting property, etc ? Why not just use a USA bank account, and get cash out of Spanish ATMs ? I suppose a Spanish bank account would let you avoid ATM fees and foreign transaction fees, and help you get a Spanish credit card. A Spanish bank account is one option used to pay your Spanish income tax online, but you also can pay in person at any bank with your tax return (fees ?), or pay by credit or debit card. [But: I found that to file wealth tax form (714) you absolutely MUST put an IBAN on the form, even if you pay another way. This forced me to get a Spanish bank account.]

It seems that the Spanish tax forms, if you want to pay via direct-debit out of a bank account ("domiciliario"), force the first two characters of the IBAN to be "ES". So you have to use a Spanish bank account, not one from any other European country, if you want to pay this way.

Perhaps it is a bad idea to keep much money in a Spanish bank account. The banks seem to feel free to take out new fees, apply new charges from vendors you contract with, or freeze your account if some piece of paper is missing, and you have little recourse. Sometimes when you open an account, a bank may insist that you also buy life insurance with them; refuse and go to a different bank or a different branch.

From Practical Spain's "NIE / NIF Registration and Residencia Application":
You cannot enter into a contract for the supply of electricity, water or a telephone line etc without giving your NIE/NIF number together with your bank details because these services will only accept clients whose bills are paid automatically from a bank.

From Wagoners Abroad's "Tips For Getting Settled In Spain":
+/-
If you are moving to Spain from a non-EU country, you'll want to get a local bank account, as most recurring payments are set up as direct debits to your bank account. If you're coming from the U.S. or Canada, you will most likely not find your bank in Spain. From what we've gathered, Spanish banking is a bit non-standard. We banked with Bank of America in the U.S., but they have no presence in Spain, so you'll probably need to start from scratch.

When setting up a bank account, you'll need to provide your address, your NIE/Passport number, as well as a some nominal amount of Euro-denominated currency. ... Our understanding is that there is no free checking account, unless you're automatically depositing a certain amount of money each month (like what a retiree would do). This amount varies per bank, and by what type of account you set up, but our monthly minimum was €700. If you do not set up an "auto" account, make sure you're comfortable with the monthly fees.

The other thing to think about, there are different ATM networks in Spain. If you draw money from an ATM network that you do not belong to, you'll be charged a fee. Do some checking around, and ascertain that your bank has plenty of ATM presence. Our bank Sabadell belongs to the ServiRed network which is popular throughout Spain.

I would recommend against opening a bank account at a local Caja type of bank. These are typically very local, and don't necessarily have a broad presence throughout Spain or Europe.

From someone on "Expats in Barcelona" Facebook group:
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Two people in the same bank will tell you two different things. It seems that if the Spanish Admin people think your application is going to be even a tiny bit more paperwork for them - they will just send you away. Paperwork is key here. The bank must have printed out at least 100 sheets of paper for my bank account and I must have signed my signature at least 20 times. Preparation is the key! Make sure you have proof of address and your registration from the local police and your passport. You can open the account with as little as 10 or 20 Euros - but be prepared to go to same bank 2 or 3 times until you find someone who will actually help.

From comments on Young Adventuress' "10 Mistakes Auxiliares in Spain Make Again and Again":
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All the banks in Spain will try to screw you over ... And it seems to vary more from branch to branch than bank to bank, so it's a matter of luck. ... I suggest just being super cautious, asking tons of questions, and sticking to your guns no matter where you open your Spanish bank account.

Surviving for two years with a Spanish bank account may be the biggest accomplishment of my life. Sigh.

...

Before opening an account you should visit different banks, or even better savings banks to find the best one. You've got to carefully read the contract before signing just to see if there's a fee when closing the account, or to see if there's a monthly or yearly fee on the credit card, or the famous 'maintenance fee'.

Anyway, the best to do is to withdraw 99% of the money before closing the account, so if there's a fee of the remaining money you'll pay a tiny amount. ...

Don't let them force you to buy insurance in order to open an account. There is no law that forces this, they just want to make more profit from you. It's possible that getting a mortgage could require you to have life insurance.

An example of what a Spanish bank might require you to fill out for FATCA compliance (bank has to report your info to USA): HSBC's "FATCA overview".

8/2020: only US info I had to give to open my new account was US SSN. Everything else was my Spanish info: NIE, address, phone, email.

Regardless of what the bank person tells you about fees, when you get home, log on and check the contract on your account to check the info about fees.



From discussion on /r/Barcelona:
+/-
> I want a Spanish bank account which I can use via internet/phone app.

ING Direct. €0 bank fees with your salary, VISA Gold and debit VISA free, possibility to get your monthly salary in advance in the middle of the month for €8 (regardless of your salary quantity) with no limitation and everything is controllable via web/Android/Windows Phone/iOS app or mobile web. [But the web site has no English.]

Triodos: an ethical and sustainable bank. [But the web site is not good, and no mobile app.] Also: 5 free SEPA transfers/month, low fees, and good karma.

Evobanco: the cool thing is that you can use any cash machine in the world without paying commissions. Also the use of credit card is for free. I had trouble with La Caixa and was treated like an idiot, when I went to Evo they were very nice and treated me like a normal person. Their website is also quite clear.

Paraphrased from movingtobarcelona.com's "Money & Banking in Spain":
+/-
ING Direct:
  • There is no English language version of their Spanish banking website.
  • They currently have three branches in Barcelona which are open all day including Saturday. Most of the traditional Spanish banks only open their branches in the mornings.
  • Account types: cuenta naranja (a current account but needs to be connected to an existing account at another bank in Spain), cuenta nomina (an independent current account, however this can only be set up if you pay your salary into the account), cuenta sin nomina (aimed at self-employed people).
From someone on "American Expats in Spain" Facebook group 9/2014:
+/-
Cuenta Naranja is a savings account, that's why it needs to be linked to a current account.

...

"Nomina" means direct deposit from your employer. "Sin Nomina" means without direct deposit. So, there are two different types of checking accounts, one that requires direct deposit, and one that doesn't. It appears the "sin nomina" requires you to have a balance of at least 3000 euros, while the other one doesn't have that requirement as long as you have direct deposit. It's pretty much the same kind of deal as most banks.

From Mejor Inglés's "Getting a Bank Account":
"ING Direct - a great choice, but you will need the physical NIE card. Look into it after you get your card if you want a change. They have credit and debit cards that are completely free, even for those who aren't under 26."

From someone on "Expats in Spain" Facebook group 4/2016:
I use ING Direct. Steer clear. I will dump them when I have a chance even if it costs me more. While online is appealing, the Spanish way of doing business is still culturally face to face. The "Direct" services haven't yet matured.

It's my impression that Spanish banks charge low or no fees if you're depositing a salary or pension into the account automatically every month. But I'm a retiree living off savings, not pension, so I don't have this situation.

Bankia has a "SIN Comisiones" (no commissions) program that charges no fees if your salary/pension is deposited every month. For retirees with savings but no pension, to get the same program, you must maintain a balance of €75,000 !

Stopped in a Caixa Blue in Barcelona 11/2014, and the story was: maintenance fee of €12 every 3 months, and the only way to make the fee go away is to have direct deposit of paycheck or pension.

I asked about Triodos on /r/spain 6/2016 and got:
Yeah, I have an account with them.
- So far no problems, they never tried to contact me to sell me unwanted stuff, and I can do all my stuff online.
- The account itself doesn't require any maintenance fees, although, if you want a debit/credit card you'll need to pay a yearly fee (I think it's €18). Also, they will take a fee for every bank transfer you do after the 5th.
- No English after logging in.

...

Facebook page "Triodos Bank España"

No-fee bank accounts ?
+/-
[Note: no English on ANY of their web sites.]
Banco Mediolanum
bancopopular-e (backed by Banco Popular; use Banco Popular, Banco Pastor and Targobank ATMs for free)
Bankia's "Cuenta_ON" (has English)
EVO Banco (site has English once logged in as client ?)
ING Direct (no fees if keep €2000 in account ?)
Openbank (backed by Santander; use Santander and Banesto ATMs in Spain for free)
Self Bank (backed by La Caixa; use La Caixa ATMs for free)
Triodos (charges fee for ATM use ? now has a small quarterly account maintenance fee)

New app-based bank, and has English: N26 (credit card is only with business account)
Another app-based bank: Revolut

But about N26 from someone on reddit 8/2020:
+/-
Don't use it. They locked my account for over 3 weeks without notifying me that it was locked, and then refused to respond to me on why and how long it would take to resolve. Whenever I opened a chat with their customer service they would close it as soon as I got through. Of course, there was no phone number to call either. Since they're online only, it's pretty embarrassing that their customer service is so limited and rude.

In the meantime, I started doing research and found a lot of people had the same happen to them. Also discovered they seem to have a problem with individuals using their bank for money laundering. Not exactly a business I want to associate with.

When they actually did decide to get in touch with me almost a month later, they said they could not provide a reason and recommended that I close my account.

I was using it as my main account, so it was quite painful to switch all of my direct debits (some of which had bounced due to the account being locked and me not knowing), move money around to pay rent, and even had to have quite a lengthy process with my employer waiting for the rejected paycheck to get back into their account, and then send it to another bank account instead.

Hands down the worst experience I have ever had with a financial institution.


Traditional banks:
BBVA
CaixaBank (red signs)
Sabadell
Santander (no English on web site)

These days, there is a Facebook Group about just about every big bank, so you could go on there and see what customers are saying, and ask questions.

Spanish banks charge higher fees to non-residents than to residents. So when you get your residencia, go to your bank and get the status noted and the fees changed. And there may be an extra "non-resident certificate" fee if you open an account before having an NIE.

If US citizen has $10K or more in a non-US bank account at any time during the year, must file FBAR form, FinCEN Report 114 (by April 15 each year). See my Taxes in Spain page.

Some people complain of accounts (especially with ING Direct) suddenly and inexplicably being frozen. This seems to have to do with IRS form W-9. Perhaps you should ask your bank for this form as soon as you open the account.

I opened an account at Triodos 6/2016:
+/-
Office in Barcelona is near Verdaguer Metro. Office is open limited hours, so lots of people waiting. Find the roving receptionist-guy and put your name on the list.

Opening a "current" (as opposed to "savings") account without ATM card or credit card was quick and easy. The lady's English wasn't great, and my Spanish is bad, but we got it done. Showed my passport and residence card, also gave my Spanish mailing address and email address and mobile number and US Social Security number and US mailing address. Indicated on a form that I was paying taxes in both USA and Spain. They don't take cash; you have to do a bank-transfer to put money in, or just open the account with no money in it. If you're intending to pay bills (such as tax bill), as I am, you have to have a current account, not a savings account. I left with a copy of the contract, and information for logging in online (6-numeric-digit password, and 8-character authentication string).

About 2 hours later, at home, I tried to log in online, and had problems. In Firefox, was able to generate a new password, which was sent to me via SMS, but never could get a login page. Switched to Internet Explorer, got the login page okay (works on Chrome, too), but no combination of information (NIE or passport number, and old password or new) was accepted. I sent a message about it to Facebook page "Triodos Bank España" and got a response, but then they were gone for the weekend.

But then 2.5 days after opening the account, logging in worked. No choice of languages; Spanish only. Can't get the "we use cookies" banner to go away, on any browser. Firefox still can't get login page; maybe one of my add-ons is preventing that ?

Transferred some money into the account from USA using TransferWise; no problem.

Triodos's web site has pages for paying various government taxes, IVA, Social Security, etc. I paid my Spanish wealth tax (714) through this.

An annual (I guess) maintenance fee of €0.67 appeared on my account 31 Dec 2016.

But then I realized: as of 12/2016, Triodos instituted a €1/month maintenance fee for "current" accounts ! Also instituted various fees on transfers, none of which should affect me (I do only internet transfers on a "current" account).

Closed my account 2/2018, because of the maintenance fee.

6/2017 I heard that Bankia now has a no-fee online-plus-ATM-card account:
+/-
Bankia's "Cuenta_ON"

HelpMyCash's "Cuenta_ON de Bankia"
AlertaBancos' "Cuenta On Bankia"

The account gives a debit card for free. No fees for maintenance or administration, or on transfers within Europe (SEPA). International transfer fee 0.75% or 1.5%. It's a "current" account, not "savings". You must do everything online; you're not allowed to go into a Bankia branch to do things. They WILL email advertisements to you and share your data with their partners. You have to give mobile number and email address.

They have English on their web site. Use Servired ATMs.

I tried to create an account, and it failed for some reason, on the first page after putting in my ID info. I think because I had NoScript running, in Firefox. Changed to Chrome without NoScript, it worked. Verified my identity using another bank account, several SMS messages sent to my mobile, sent photo of my residency card to them, signed contracts online. Got everything done except setting PIN on my ATM card; got an error that seems to mean their system is down for a while, try again later.

The next day, someone from the bank called me, but he spoke no English and my Spanish is terrible. I think he was asking me questions (which I've already answered on the web site) about my occupation, but when he tried to transfer me to someone else, he dropped me, and he didn't call back.

Bank account still is stuck in "some error before setting ATM PIN". Tried phone calls to Support, can't get through.
A few days later, went to local branch. The lady typed for a while, I signed several times, got a paper copy of contract, ATM card will come in mail, deposited €100. Left thinking everything was good, but at home I realized the account number has changed, she must have opened a second account. Login on the web site works, error is gone, but I'm still halfway through "sign the contracts" on the original account. Completed that, logged in again, all I get is a "wait while we verify your identity" web page.

So far, they have not asked for my US address or Social Security number, and I have not filled out a tax form.

A couple of days later, account(s) still not working, went back to branch again. Signed more agreements, and filled out a US W-9 form. Even after that, guy said "give me a couple more days to get this working".

Several days later, account still not working, back to the bank. Took 45 minutes, the guy wiped out my first two accounts and created a third, and this time it worked. I can log in online, the money is there. I'll probably get three ATM cards in the mail; I'll give the first two back to the guy, and keep the third.

A week later, I've received 3 ATM cards in the mail, and the 3rd one is the right one and it works. TransferWise transfer into account has worked, too. All looks good.

Their web site is very slow in some cases. And makes some mistakes using dates for programmed periodic transfers, in English OR in Spanish. Doesn't work with NoScript in Firefox [got it working later]; I have to use Chrome without NoScript. Sent a message to Support about date bugs in transfers, got no response.

Took me a while to figure out: you contact their Support through the "Help" menu, not the "Mailbox" menu.

At end of first month, they charged a €20 maintenance fee to my account ! Not supposed to happen. Got it removed.

Can't get monthly transfers to work; bug in their web site. Had to go to the branch to get them to bypass it. Went again and had them try the web page, and it worked fine for them. So maybe I'm using a different browser or something ?

Another €2.84 maintenance fee appeared on the account. Went to branch and had them remove it.

Account working okay for 6 months now. A few quirks:

  • Web site has a bug in creation and management of recurring (monthly) transfers. It mangles the start date and thus throws an error, can't get around it. I reported this a couple of times, and it did not get fixed. I was able to create a transfer by using the mobile app instead of the web site.

  • Web site also throws mysterious errors in transfer-creation if you type too many characters into some fields, such as concepto or referencia fields.

  • Same password/PIN is used for both ATM card and web site login, and it's limited to 4 numeric digits. This is okay for an ATM card PIN, since a thief would have to have the physical card to login. But a 4-numeric password is terrible security for a web site login. Only saving grace is that to actually do any transaction through the web site, you also have to "sign" the transaction with an 8-numeric signature code.

1/2020: Looks like they're instituting maintenance fees unless you have monthly-deposit or a high balance (not sure). Went to office and they said it doesn't apply to the internet-only account.

3/2020: Got charged a €1 maintenance fee because I didn't install their phone app and accept notifications in it. Chat support says I can install, accept, then uninstall. App takes 61 MB on Android phone, but an hour later it was using 200 MB. It's slow to connect, repeatedly asks for permissions. A disaster.

6/2022: Bankia was acquired by Caixa, and things worked okay for 6 months or so, but now Caixa is screwing me. €36/year fee for ATM card, old Bankia ATM card has stopped working and somehow my new (Caixa) ATM card is blocked, and somehow my account is stuck in Bankia and they're going to charge me €35/quarter for still having a Bankia account ?

Found that Caixa charges 0.2% on outbound wire transfers.

Transferred out all my money and closed the account. Was able to do it online; cancelled the cards, then cancelled/abandoned the account contract.

7/2022: Opened an account with Openbank:
+/-
Openbank robot ATM

Fairly easy to open account: gave basic data, verified email and phone, gave photo of residency card, gave IBAN of account at another bank, read a long contract, gave signature (best to write on paper, take photo of it, upload photo), Openbank did a 0.01 transfer to other account and I had to give "concept" code from it. Didn't have to give US passport or SSN [but then a week later they called me, I do have to fill out a CRS tax form that has US TIN field]. Have to wait for papers to arrive in postal-mail.

Web site supports English.

They offer a credit card Tarjeta Viajera R42. No opening or maintenance fees. If traveling and you pay them €8/month (turn on and off when you wish), you get travel benefits [for purchases outside country, I think]: 5 free ATM withdrawals per month, commission-free purchases in any currency, discounts at some businesses (Iberia airline is only one I'm likely to use). If you don't pay the fee/month, the card still works, but transaction fees (3% to 4%) are charged.

They offer an Open Credit Card that costs €2/month unless you use it at least once per month. Credit limit up to €6000; you choose the limit when you create the card, but more than €3000 requires special approval.

No way to inform them that you'll be travelling, expect ATM use in another country. Open Credit Card does offer location-limiting, which doesn't apply to online purchases.

No secure messaging to Support on the web site; you send email to them, which seems insecure.

Use of Santander ATMs outside of Spain is not free.

Credit card transactions result in notification via SMS message, but it's not 100% reliable. Out of the first 10 or so transactions I did, 1 transaction did not result in an SMS.

Open Credit Card has separate PINs for in-person and online transactions. Had trouble getting the online-transaction PIN, I think both of my browsers were blocking pop-ups or something, I kept getting a "call us" dialog. Finally got it through my phone's browser.

8/2023: Struggling with Support. They take days to respond. First time I called English support line (Ukraine !) was a good experience, but now I just get transferred to someone in Spanish, who is not allowed to help me in English. Uploading documents through the web site seems to be failing silently: always says succeeded, but then they say no documents have appeared in my account. I have to upload a document to give the source of money for a lot of transfers I did, in preparation for buying an apartment. Eventually Support said "just email it to us", but that caused a "don't email documents to this address" response.

Note: If you close an online-only bank account, first note the maximum balance (amount and date) you had in the account during the year. You will need that info when you file FBAR and FATCA tax forms. After the account is closed, you will not be able to log in to find the information.



TPG's "Tips to save on overseas ATM withdrawals"

Stores don't do cash-back when you pay with a debit card.





Foreign address on US accounts



If possible, don't close your US bank account, and don't tell your US bank that you're living abroad (they might close your account). This would require that you still have a USA mailing address, and may have tax implications.

Andrew Hallam's "American Brokerages Slam The Door On U.S. Expats"
Creative Planning's "Why US Brokerage Accounts of American Expats are Being Closed"
Brian Ford's "IRA Custodians Turning Against American Expats with Retirement Accounts"

4/2019:
+/-
After living in Spain for a couple of years, I decided to change everything to my Spanish address.
  • Told my main US bank (ETrade) that I wanted to change the address on the account to a Spanish address, and they said no problem, I'd just lose the ability to do options and margin trading.

    But a few months later, I found out that they won't send a debit card (with CVV) to a foreign address, they'll only send an ATM card (inferior). I wasn't told that when I changed the address.

  • Was able to change address on my credit union, too.

  • 401K company no problem, but account frozen for 10 days as notifications were sent via postal mail.

  • Coinbase change triggered GDPR, closed USD wallet, had to re-verify ID, verifying Spanish address is a problem because I don't have any bank stmts or utility bills with my name and address on them. But Coinbase accepted a copy of my padron.

  • Transferwise no problem.

  • No problem changing addresses in my US domain and web hosting accounts.

  • US Social Security: until you start collecting benefits, they don't care about, don't display, and don't let you specify your postal address (at least in your online SS account).

  • PayPal: Can't put Spanish phone and address on a US account. Had to create a new Spanish PayPal account, and can't be same email address as that on US account, so I added "+pp" to my email address. Also, have to use USA phone number on US account, so I use my brother's phone number there.

  • Citigroup Mastercard: the first two times I called, agents said no problem changing to Spanish address, but their system can't do international phone numbers. But they didn't quite get the Spanish address correct. Third time I called, agent said the account must keep a US address in the "residential address" field or the account will be closed. So I did that, mailing address is Spain but residential address is USA. Bummer.

    The last agent said if I want a new card with only a foreign address, I should call their "new application" phone number. I did so and was informed that NONE of Citigroup's cards allow a foreign address only.

    Two months later: suddenly they closed my existing credit-card account; mailing address in Spain was enough to cause that, even with residential address in USA.

  • Realized that my Spanish Bankia account offers a credit card, but no-fee only if you charge more than €5000 in first year ! And I'd prefer a US credit card anyway.

  • Asked my main US bank (ETrade) if they offer a credit card. No.

  • I notice that IRS's online account service only accepts US phone number.

  • ETrade was acquired by Morgan Stanley around 12/2021 or so. In 10/2022, received a notice that my bank (but not the brokerage) accounts there will be closed 12/2022, they no longer service residents of "my country". Assume it's "all people residing outside USA", but I'm not sure.




Over time, I found various limits on my US accounts, some due to foreign address, some not:
+/-
  • Some banks won't mail a card to a foreign address.

  • Some banks make it easy to change your mailing address to a US address temporarily, so you can get a card delivered to a relative, then switch address back.

  • Some banks won't let you transfer a "beneficiary IRA" (inherited from a deceased family member) from another bank into their system.

  • Setting beneficiaries on an account, in case you die: some US banks have forms that don't accept foreign phone numbers, don't accept or truncate long names, don't accept two-part Spanish apellido in last-name field.

  • Morgan Stanley / ETrade 1/2023: not allowed to set any beneficiaries on an account at all if account has a foreign address on it.




Opening a US bank account while living in a foreign country:
SDFCU (State Department Federal Credit Union); might have to sign up for ACA's SDFCU deal (have to be ACA member, for $70/year or $600/life).
Sign up for a mail-forwarding service in USA, then use that address while getting a US online bank acct ?





Credit Card



I'm told it's a bit hard to get a Spanish credit card, and not many Spaniards use them ? [But my wife has credit cards with Caixa and Popular, and used to have one through Carrefour.]

From someone on "American Expats in Spain" Facebook group:
"Banks don't give out credit in Spain like they do in the States! You need stable income to qualify for a card, and even then the credit limits are extremely low."

From someone else on "American Expats in Spain" Facebook group:
"I was not given a credit card in Spain until I had been with ING for three years. Tried at Cajasol, La Caixa and Citibank. Good luck!"

From someone on reddit:
"There's not such a thing as a credit score in Spain. The closest would be the CIRBE report, but it contains information on current loans, mortgages and financial guarantees (and barely anybody knows what it is or how to access it)."

TheBanks.eu's "Compare Bank Credit Cards in Spain"

After my US credit-card company suddenly closed my account 9/2019:
I'm finding that some web sites accept my Spanish bank debit card, since it has a 3-digit CVV on back (like a credit card).

Virtual credit cards created via Privacy.com work on some web sites. Available for US and Canadian citizens only. My referral code for anyone who wants to create an account. Free account works fine. If you want 1% cash-back cards, you have to have $10/month account. But 11/2023: they're adding a 3% fee for international (non-USA) transactions.

9/2020 I got an Imagin account with credit and debit cards:
+/-
Did it through Caixabank. An agent friendly with my wife created a Caixa account, created the Imagin account, then closed the Caixa account. Apparently that's the quickest way to do it.

The two Imagin cards (green == debit, black == credit) are based on the same account. Put money in through either card, it ends up in the same place.

The Imagin web site does nothing but say "get our phone app". The phone app does nothing useful except maybe let you transfer money in from another bank account. You have to go to a Caixa ATM to get a printout of transactions and balance.

Ended up never doing anything with the cards. On the web site, was able to transfer out the balance and then cancel the cards (block - service cancellation) as I was closing the Caixa account.





Investing (stocks, bonds, funds)



EU residents generally cannot buy US ETFs or mutual funds, for regulatory reasons.
Gergely K's "Are US ETFs only available for US residents?"
Eugen Jurzyca's "Restricted access to US ETFs for ordinary EU retail investors"
StackExchange thread "Buying an US ETF from Europe using Interactive Brokers"



US citizens who are EU residents should avoid buying non-US ETFs or mutual funds, because of the Passive Foreign Investment Companies (PFIC) issue with US taxes.
Creative Planning's "Americans in the UK Need to Avoid this Catch-22 Investment Trap"



reddit's /r/inversionESP



Some options:



From Bogleheads' "US tax pitfalls for a US person living abroad":
+/-
The US requires you to compute capital gains on foreign assets in USD only, using the exchange rate in effect when the asset was bought to arrive at the basis, and the rate in effect when the asset was sold to give the sale proceeds. This can result in a taxable USD gain, even where there is no local currency gain. And worse, the US taxes foreign currency gains at income tax rates.





International money transfer



Shopping: always pay a local merchant or business in the local currency. Otherwise, they get to choose the exchange rate. Same with some ATMs; don't choose dynamic currency conversion or cardholder preferred currency.



Every money-transfer mechanism is going to have some costs, extracted from you in various ways: fees to put money in or get it out, flat fee or percentage fee to do the transfer, and/or less good exchange rate than the company actually uses to move the money. If someone advertises no fees, expect bad exchange rate. If someone has great exchange rate, check the fees.



Many online money-transfer companies boast about how easy and cheap it is to transfer money from one of their accounts to another of their accounts. But how easy and cheap is it to get the money into and out of their system ?

If some service boasts "no fees, AND great exchange rate", it's too good to be true. They have to make their money somehow.

Bank and money-transfer companies may change fees, policies, limits, exchange rate competitiveness from time to time. You have to keep an eye on them, monitor your transfers. Some changes have been in reaction to new US laws.

Don't keep a large amount in a money-transfer company account for a long time; they don't have the same insurance and regulation that banks have.



Talk to your existing US bank, and consider changing banks. Some banks have international branches. Some banks have special relationships with some online foreign-exchange companies. (But some banks are considering leaving Spain, too: Reuters article.)

I had thought of getting two Citibank accounts, one in USA and one in Spain, and doing no-fee transfers between them. Then someone gave me that Reuters article (saying Citibank may get out of Spain), and someone else said the no-fee transfer service has been eliminated starting 9/2014.



Wise (formerly TransferWise)

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Wise

From someone on "American Expats in Spain" Facebook group 8/2014:
If you're transferring money to your bank account back home, I've found that that Wise (formerly TransferWise) does it the quickest (most of my transfers only took one day), cheapest (fees only .05%) and with the highest exchange rate I've seen yet. I was using Paypal before but this is 10x better. You also only have to make one transaction because unlike Paypal it goes straight into your checking account.

TransferWise does local (no-fee) transactions to/from your bank accounts at each end.

From someone on "American Expats in Spain" Facebook group 9/2014:
Your first transfer with them is free, and if you have a debit card you should be able to do it that way.
Also: "don't go for the spot rate - if you can afford to wait they will put it through the peer system which will get you a better rate".

From someone on reddit 4/2023:
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For the past two years, I've been using Wise for my personal account and three business accounts. While I admit that their service has some appeal, I must also share the ups and downs I've experienced along the way.

First off, I used Wise to pay contractors abroad. Out of approximately 36 payments I sent from a US corporation, 3 never arrived at their destinations. Two of those payments were eventually recovered, but the third one, worth $800, remains in limbo. Wise stopped responding to my inquiries, and I decided not to pursue legal help, as it seemed more trouble than it was worth.

Then there was the case of the mysterious dividend payment. I deposited this amount into my personal account two years ago, only to be asked for documentation about its origins much later. The catch? They wanted a recent document, no older than three months. The representative handling my EU account, based in Bangladesh (thanks, LinkedIn!), didn't accept my original documentation since it was "old". Subsequently, my personal account and all three business accounts were locked. During that time, I had to rely on Wise's support team to provide me with account balances and statements. After submitting an appeal with the exact same documentation, my accounts were unlocked. Ironic, isn't it?

Lastly, I experienced failed payments using their debit card with reputable vendors, such as universities in the US.

If you're considering Wise, my advice is to tread lightly. Don't keep money in their accounts for extended periods; transfer funds only when needed for payments. And if a payment goes missing? Well, you might have to accept the fact that it's gone for good. Take a look at Trustpilot reviews to see what others have experienced.

Since my adventures with Wise, I've moved all my balances elsewhere. As it turns out, my bank offers currency exchange at market rates and covers all wire expenses. So, before you dive headfirst into the world of Wise, check with your bank - you might find a safer and more reliable alternative.



My experience with Wise:
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  • Names on sending and recipient accounts don't need to match.

  • Sender:

    • The name on the bank account or card where the money is coming from has to match your name on TransferWise. You can have only one account on TransferWise. So if you want to send from two bank accounts with slightly different names, you're out of luck.

    • No way to save sender details (routing and account numbers) on TransferWise site; you have to enter them again each time. They claim this is for security, but I don't see why sender details would have to be any safer than recipient details. [But if you do a couple of transfers out of same account within a couple of days, they have remembered the sender info and don't ask for it again.]

    • For US bank accounts, TransferWise asks for your (sender's) online bank userid/password to verify the account existence, before they do the transfer. [But after you do a couple of transfers out of same account, they remember that the account exists and don't ask for the info again.]

      That's a huge security issue. If someone steals that info and drains your bank acct, the bank will ask if you gave the login info to anyone. If you did, the bank may say "your fault, we're not liable, the money is gone". [Sure enough, my bank says "If someone were to obtain access to your account using information obtained from the third party we would participate in an investigation but we would not carry any liability for losses in such a case."]

      TransferWise says they need this info to do the transfer, but I have other companies (such as PayPal and a credit-card company) pulling money out of my bank account without needing my login info. (But another service that behaves exactly the same way as TransferWise is Privacy.) TransferWise says they don't store your password.

      I change my bank password after each transfer where I have to give my login info to TransferWise. Don't have to wait until the transfer completes days later; I change my password minutes after the initial "your money is on the way" message on the TransferWise web page.

      After further discussion, TransferWise says they always do it this way for US banks and US dollar transactions. Apparently they don't do it for other currencies and other countries.

      Asked them for more details 6/2017 and got this response:
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      When you are making a transfer with us from the US using ACH, then we have two methods for verifying that the person that is making the transfer is the owner of the bank account.

      One method is that you log into your bank account and confirm your control of that account. You log into a portal to your bank within our website that allows you to go into your account and approve which account you want us to debit from. We do not keep any data in regards to your login and this whole process in not accessible to any TransferWise employee since this part is handled by your bank themselves.

      The other method is that we send you two micro-deposits, which you enter on our website after receiving them. This method is the slowest method since it takes a couple of days for you to receive the deposits. You are welcome to use this method if you do not feel safe to log in during the transfer. This can be selected if you select "other" from the list of banks it provides you.

      We need to verify the account ownership every time you make a transfer to a new recipient and we also reconfirm it every once in a while.

      Other companies, like Paypal, mostly do the verification once using the micro-deposit option. Since we work very closely with banks, we have the ability to speed up the process considerably using the login method.

      I'm sorry if this verification process does not suit you and I can see that you have reached out to us in the past about it.

      However, this kind of a verification will remain a necessity and we have noted your concerns about the safety of our verification process.

      We are a company regulated by the Office of Foreign Assets Control ("OFAC") in the United States and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority ("FCA") in the United Kingdom. Under these strict regulations, we go through frequent independent audits, which ensure that we keep a bank-level security.

      Around 2/2022, Wise has changed to use Plaid to get money from my bank account, and Plaid is allergic to the form of 2FA the bank uses. So I have to turn off 2FA in the bank, do the transfer in Wise, turn 2FA on again.

    • Never could get sending from my ETrade checking account to work, but sending from my ETrade savings account does work.

  • Recipient:

    • No way to edit recipient details on TransferWise site; you have to delete recipient and add again.

    • Recipient name in TransferWise must match name on bank account. So if your partner has multiple bank accounts, you're going to end up with multiple recipients with same name in TransferWise, which is confusing. You can't name a recipient something like "Jane Doe at Banco Popular"; if the account name is "Jane Doe", the recipient name has to be "Jane Doe".

    • If you have IBAN for Recipient, their SWIFT/BIC is calculated automatically by TransferWise.

    • Recipient's address is the person's address, not the bank's address.

    • No way to send to a person at Western Union.

  • I sent $600 from USA to Spain (to a Banco Popular account) in 3/2016. TransferWise took fee of $5.94, then gave exchange rate of $1.115/€. At approximately the same time, Google and currency sites were showing rate of $1.110/€. So I think TransferWise gave a very fair rate. Took about 2 days for the money to be withdrawn from my account.

  • I did a similar transfer (to a Triodos account) in 6/2016. Worked fine, everything the same.

  • I did a similar transfer (to a BBVA account) in 8/2016. Worked fine, everything the same.

  • Saw this item in TransferWise's FAQs:
    "Please note: TransferWise can only make transfers that involve a currency conversion. For example, we cannot complete a transfer from a Euro bank account to another Euro bank account."

  • Asked about sending a large tuition payment to a university, and was told:
    • Whatever name is on the account (probably university's name), use that as recipient name.
    • Can add student's name and ID number in the "Reference" block of the transfer. (But length of that is pretty limited, about 30 chars or so.)
    • To get a confirmation with details, go to the transfer and click on "Transfer Details" and then "Download as PDF". It should include the bank details and all other information you may need. (Really all it gives you that you didn't have before is: date of transfer completion, and details of a local bank account that was used to transfer to the destination account. No wire-transfer confirmation numbers or anything.)


  • Have done about 6 transfers now.

    Finding that their ETAs are not reliable: sometimes at the start it will say "money will arrive in 1-2 days", then it actually takes 3-4. Once they notified me "oops, we said 1-2, then it took 3-4, so we'll waive fee on your next transfer".

    On a large transfer, there was a delay because the recipient name and account name were slightly different. They don't allow non-Roman characters (I think that's the right term), so a Slovakian account name such as "abçd" may map wrong to a recipient name of "abcd". More likely, the person who gave me the account details was sloppy.

    TransferWise customer support is very good. Any question gets a relevant, detailed, helpful response.

    It seems the fee (from USA to Spain, for amounts of $300 or more) always is 1% of the amount being transferred. All of my transfers are from a US bank to European banks; maybe that's relevant. I thought the percentage of the fee would be lower for large transfers. If you can transfer $500 for $5, why can't you transfer $5000 for $5 ?

  • You'll have to declare source of funds, and maybe give supporting documents, if you transfer a large sum, or more than $10K in a 30-day period.

  • Fee on a large transfer from USD to EUR: Seems to be 0.6% of the first $135K, and 0.48% of everything after that. See pricing page.

  • Improvements I'd like to see:
    • Let TransferWise login name be different from sender account name.
    • Ability to edit a Recipient.
    • Ability to show a private note associated with a Recipient (e.g. "Joe's university tuition").
    • Longer "Reference" block of a transfer.
    • More info in "Transfer Details": confirmation numbers, and exact dates and times.
    • Send an email when a Transfer is totally, finally complete.

  • 6/2022: Left a large amount of Euros in my Wise account, and got a warning that they charge an annual total fee of 0.9% on amounts over €3000 left in the account. The fee is charged monthly, so for example for every €1000 you hold above your free allowance, you'll pay about €0.74 per month.

My referral code for anyone who wants to create an account.

All of my experience is with the old, "classic" TransferWise account. As of 2017, they also have a new "borderless" account which is more like a bank account:
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From reading a few articles, it looks like the new "borderless" account differs from the old TransferWise account in several ways, including:

  • Initially (May 2017) available in UK and Europe but not in USA.

  • Initially available only to businesses, sole traders, and freelancers.

  • Lets you hold a balance inside TransferWise, in any or many currencies. No mention of interest paid on balances.

  • Gives you an IBAN, to be used just like a normal bank account IBAN. (12/2019 this is changing from a "DE" to a "BE" prefix.)

  • Debit (ATM) card coming in the future.

So it's significantly different from the old standard TransferWise account.


reddit's /r/wise
reddit's /r/transferwiser
iCompareFX's "How to Send Money from PayPal to TransferWise" (only Borderless account; may not work in many cases)
Gabriela Peratello's "Can I use Wise as a bank account?"



My experience with Revolut:
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For no-annual-fee account, you'll get no-fee ATM withdrawals up to £200/month.

Transfers done on a weekend incur a fee.

Tried to sign up 10/2018 with a USA address, got message "Revolut not available in USA". And now I'm stuck; can't change to use my Spanish address, with same phone number. Service might be available in USA by the end of the year (end of 2018).

10/2019: Got email saying I can sign up now. But I've decided not to do it.

Someone online says Twitter is the only customer-support channel Revolut responds to.

10/2022: someone in Unredacted Magazine issue 4 says:
"There is seemingly no limit on the number of new cards that can be generated, however there is a limit on the total number of cards that can be held in the 'wallet' simultaneously - 6 physical cards, 5 virtual cards, and 1 disposable card at a time."
and
"Signup is done through the app and unfortunately you will be required to provide your real name and address, plus a valid mobile number that can receive SMS, and a picture of a real ID document and of your face to verify your identity"
and
"The merchants are able to tell if the billing address I've provided is not matching the address held by Revolut and some of them will reject the purchase"
and
[app is pretty noisy with features and advertising]
and
"Revolut's customer service generally is regarded as poor"

Andrew Henderson's "Revolut Card Review" (12/2017)
reddit's /r/Revolut
Revolut community



My experience with Caxton:
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I tried to create an account, and got a "fail; we'll send email to you" message. They sent email requesting ID; I responded. Then another email asking for another piece of ID such as a bank statement, and a PDF form to fill out. Asked them to close my account, and never got a response from them.



My experience with OFX:
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I created an account. You have to do a phone call to activate the account, and they ask a lot of questions. But the site is confusing; it's oriented more for currency trading than for transfers. They say all transfers will take 3-4 days, which seems slow. Created a "beneficiary" for my transfer, and had to specify all kinds of details (street addresses, etc) for bank and account holder. And then I got an email asking for ID documents and a signed paper form. Asked them to close my account, and never got a response from them.



My experience with WorldFirst:
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I created an account, to transfer money from USA to Spain. But they said since I spend most of my time in Spain, the account has to be based in UK, not USA. And I'd have to wire the money from USA to UK each time, incurring bank wire-transfer fees. That makes it useless.



From Wagoners Abroad's "Budget And Cost Of Living In Spain & Reality (First 4 months)" 1/2013:
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The exchange rates shown on the web aren't the same as what the banks or credit card companies use. When we wire money from US to Spain, it is usually $1.35 or so to the Euro. Even though the bank say they use the daily rate there is something else built-in. I can look on-line and see the rate for the day at $1.30 and the bank will be $1.36. ...

We are lucky enough to have 2 free wire transfers a month, so we avoid any of the $35 charges per wire. That would just be money wasted, so we made sure we qualified for the free transactions. We also hunted down a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. This way we don't have the extras tacked on there. The credit card seems to use a better exchange rate than the bank so we us it for as much as we can. Of course we pay it off at the end of every month ...



If doing a large-amount transfer (such as to buy a property or vehicle), check very carefully to determine fee to send the money, exchange rate, and fee to receive the money. Comparison shop. Also you might be able to do a "forward contract" with a foreign-exchange broker, to lock in the exchange rate now but transfer the money later. Be flexible on date. Maybe get the details in writing, ahead of time.



Various sources caution about PayPal: fees seem low, but recipient pays to get cash out, exchange rate is not good, if money actually comes out of a credit card there will be more fees there, fees are not easy to predict, fees are not always what was promised, fees vary by countries and direction of transfer, may be an annual limit on total transfers. But someone on reddit 2/2017 says:
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None of that matches my experience.

Fees have been set at 1% for the 2-3 years I have used them. I have both accounts attached to bank accounts, and so there is no fee for adding, sending, or withdrawing aside from the 1% fee taken at the time the currency is exchanged.

Recipients without PayPal accounts, or who are merchants [not the "Friends and family" category offered on the site], may need to pay or make accounts to withdraw.

I always make electronic funds transfers in and out of Paypal, so I don't know about interactions with credit cards.

And I've only used this plan to and from the EU, so YMMV elsewhere.

From a PayPal agent on a PayPal forum 7/2012:
"You can't add a [non-US] bank account to a US PayPal account as PayPal is country-specific."



May be no fees if you use an international bank such as HSBC or Citibank, and have accounts in both countries.

Just mailing cash from one country to another: exchange rate to get Euro's in USA or change USD to Euro's in Spain may be bad, someone has to be physically present at both ends to do the transaction, and possibility of theft or loss of the mail.

Just mailing a personal check from one country to another, and depositing it at a bank: may take a month or more to clear, there may be a fee charged to handle an international check, and the exchange rate may be bad.



From Timothy B. Lee's "Bitcoin: Seven questions you were too embarrassed to ask" 12/2017:
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One of the most often-discussed applications for the bitcoin network is international money transfers. Conventional financial networks like Western Union and Moneygram are expensive, and it can often take a long time for money to go through. In theory, a bitcoin-based money transfer system could be cheaper and faster.

In practice, however, bitcoin has struggled to gain traction as a platform for remittances. One way to see this is by looking at the prices charged by bitcoin ATMs, which allow people to exchange cash for bitcoins and vice versa. The average transaction fee for a bitcoin ATM - at least according to one website that tracks these things - is currently around nine percent for buying bitcoins and six percent for selling them. So to send money to an overseas friend or family member using bitcoin ATMs, you could wind up paying transaction fees as high as 15 percent.

That's on top of the transaction fee charged by the bitcoin network itself, which was historically quite low but has been rising rapidly in recent weeks. On Thursday, the daily average transaction fee on the bitcoin network was a record high above $50. ...



From two people on The MoneySaving Forum circa 2010:
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... I signed up with CurrencyDirect, MoneyCorp and am part way through with HiFX. Other newbies might find it useful to know that although they all made it sound as though you could register and be trading in a few minutes, it actually took weeks for me (eg you may have to wait for them to post you a letter to the address you gave). If you plan to move house or go travelling, do make sure you get all this set-up well in advance - having just moved made getting my address verified a lot more tricky.

The other thing I found is that although many companies claim no fees, it isn't so simple. When not all my money appeared, I followed up and was told by CurrencyDirect that it's only in Europe that they can ensure no fees apply and that for transfers outside Europe, some inbetween bank can mysteriously charge a fee without them knowing. I was astonished so I asked Moneycorp and they said pretty much the same. CD did refund the charge this time as a good will gesture but say they can make no guarantees of whether this will happen in future transfers. ...

...

I find this [inbetween bank fee] happens a lot with the US and Canada, the reason for this is because the routing bank take a fee to receive and forward the funds to the final bank.

For example: Currencies Direct bank (Barclays) sends USD to their correspondent in the USA (JP Morgan Chase), and they then send the funds on to the final bank. Chase will probably take a 25 USD charge for their services.

Unless the remitting bank has a direct correspondence with the final bank, there will nearly always be a charge.



Finder.com's "Compare international money transfer services"
Janet Fowler's "8 Low-Cost Ways To Transfer Money"
Consumer Reports' "The best ways to send money abroad"
Nora Dunn's "How to Manage Your Money Abroad to Maximize Currency Conversion"
Kosta Peric's "Faster, Better, Cheaper Ways To Transfer Money - Chapter 2: UKForex"
MoneySavingExpert's "Sending Money Abroad"
movingtobarcelona.com's "Money & Banking in Spain"

CurrencyFair
Atlantic Money
Wise (formerly TransferWise)
XE
Site that compares the other sites: Currency Live



Latest currency exchange rates:
FXStreet's "Interbank FX Rates"
WorldFirst's "All About Foreign Exchange"





Miscellaneous



Bank of Zimbabwe 250 million dollar bill

Can't pay more than €1000 in cash to buy something: anti-money-laundering / tax evasion laws.



How to get a USA phone number to use for banking (4/2023):
Have someone in USA buy a cheap used cell phone that works with T-Mobile and can be used on Wi-Fi. Then on Ebay order a Ultra Paygo SIM for $13, have them activate the phone in the USA, turn on Wi-Fi calling/texting, test it, and then ship it to you. From then on it costs $3/mo for 100 min of calls and 100 texts. Works perfect for 2FA, and short calls to your bank if you have problems.



Not specific to Spain:
GiveWell's "Our Top Charities"