This guide explores some of the best bank accounts available for expats in the Eurozone. Although it is primarily aimed at British and Irish expats (most of which live in Spain), it is also useful for EU citizens from non-eurozone countries that are considering a move to a Eurozone country.
If you live in the UK and simply need a Euro account, then see out article on the best euro current accounts. On the other hand, if you are living and working abroad the chances are you are going to need ‘local’ bank account.
With that said, we’ll get right to it, with a list and summary of the some of the best expat bank accounts.
Recently voted best bank in the world by Fobes Magazine, N26 is a German based digital account that previously operated in the UK. It withdrew from the UK market in 2016 partly due to Brexit, but also due to the huge competition in the UK market. It is however still active across the EU.
The N26 digital account is one of the best bank accounts for expats especially those in Spain and Italy. Sign up is all in English. It is quick and easy with simple photo ID verification. In some countries it is possible to open the account before you fly out to start your new life. Though in order to do that you have to be a little ‘liberal’ with the address you use (don’t worry it can be changed later).
If you sign up in Spain or Italy you will get a local IBAN. Joining from any other country will result in a German IBAN which should work well throughout the EU. Unfortunately there no French IBAN option. It is important to ensure you sign up using an address from the country you plan to live in, as the IBAN cannot be changed at a latter date. Instead the account would have be closed and a new on opened a week later. Why is this important? See out article on IBAN discrimination
Once registered your account will be ready you immediately. You need to deposit at least €20 before your virtual card is active, but this money is available to you and ready spend. It’s best to do this straightway so you can test everything is working.
It you want a physical card it will cost you a one off €10 delivery fee. The physical card is also limited to three free ATM withdrawals within the Eurozone. After that there is a €2 charge unless you opt for one of the paid membership plans. With chip and pin and contactless so widespread this is almost a non-issue.
Worldwide there is a 1.7% fee for foreign ATM withdrawals, which is better than many traditional banks, but won’t win any awards. You’ll get the Mastercard inter-bank exchange rate too. Transfers to non-euro accounts are handled by Wise.
Revolut started life in 2015 a pre-paid currency card. Since then it has transformed into the second largest Digital only bank in the world with twice as many customers as it’s nearest European competitor N26.
Like most of the accounts in our list sign-up is quick and easy, with photo id verification and few personal details. The account is usually available to use instantly. Where Revolut wins out over much of the competition is it’s fee structure, exchanges and transfers.
There are no fees for usage up to £5,000 and 0.5% thereafter. Though fee-free ATM withdrawals are limited to £200 per 30 days. If you need to exchange large amounts from one currency to another, it makes sense to forego the 0.50% free and instead sign up to the Premium service (then cancel at a later date). On a £10,000 exchange, this would save around £18 assuming you hadn’t already used £5,000 free allowance, or over £40 if you had.
Another benefit of Revolut that is worth pointing out, is that it is the only account in our list that can both send and receive SEPA instant payments. SEPA instant is similar to the UK’s Faster payments. It means payments sent to, or from participating banks show up in near real time. Compared to a day or two for regular SEPA payments.
Whilst on the subject of payments, another feather in the cap for Revolut is the payments confirmation statement. Many organisations abroad will ask for confirmation of payment when sending large sums, or initiating contracts. Starling offers this only on its GBP account. Revolut offers this for all transfers and also shows the payment status too. You’ll find this extremely useful when dealing with Spanish agencies.
What to watch out for
Although a UK headquartered company Revolut’s banking licence is via Lithuania. As such your deposits in Revolut are covered by the European Deposit Protection Scheme (DPS) up to €100,000.
There’s no special eligibility criteria other than the beyond having a UK or EU address. On signing up, you get an IBAN and SWIFT, and a virtual card. Physical cards can be ordered on request.
Wise is not so much a dedicated bank account, but a multi-currency account specifically aimed at expats, travellers, and freelancers. It’s another UK based company but is only account in our list that can be opened from outside Europe (non-European ID) and so is particular useful for US and Canadians moving to Europe.
The account offers free bank details for the Eurozone, as well as the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand and Poland:
- European IBAN
- British account number and sort code
- US account number and routing number
- Australian account number and BSB code
- New Zealand account number
- Polish account number
ATM withdrawals are free up to £200 per 30 days. This matches Revolut and UK digital bank Monzo. Starling has no such limitations.
There is also a small conversion fee when you convert your money, typically between 0.35% and 2%.
There are however a number of things to watch out for. Firstly, there is no SWIFT support for incoming payments in Euros. That means accepting payments in Euros outside of the SEPA (the Single Euro Payments Area) is problematic. Though one would imagine the whole reason for Euro account is to accept payments from the Eurozone, and hence in daily use you are unlikely to have a problem. SWIFT payments are available for sending money to non-SEPA institutions.
Again, like Revolut, Wise doesn’t have with FSCS protection (though it is regulated by the FCA), but instead keeps all client funds in a Barclays bank account. As such, even if Wise went under, your money would be safe. However, if Barclay’s itself ceased to exist, your funds would be at risk.
It is also worth pointing out that the Wise account has had issues in the past with ‘micro deposits.’ These are small deposits made by companies to check your identity and other details. For example Netflix, Amazon, and Google all use micro deposits when sign up and using their services.
There’s no fee to open the account, but you will need to be over 18 and have proof of address and ID.
BCN10 is a Spanish digital challenger based in Barcelona. The account was due to close in July, but new investors have seen it remain open and add a number of new features.
As ever sign up is quick and simple. You need a Spanish address, but this isn’t checked, and a recognised European ID. e.g. a passport or ID card, but with these the account can be opened from anywhere in the world.
You get a Spanish IBAN (very useful) and a virtual MasterCard. A physical card is available for a €4.95 delivery fee. The good news is that there are no fees for using the account. But there are limits on ATM withdrawals at €250 a day, and €500 per month, with a maximum of three withdrawals a month, so this is clearly aimed that those who prefer to pay via chip and pin, and contactless methods such as ApplePay and Android Pay.
When travelling outside of the Eurozone, you enjoy the MasterCard exchange rate, and no additional fees or loading. The first three ATM withdrawals abroad are also free.
Crucially BCN10 works for paying bills from Spanish utility providers via direct debit (thanks the Spanish IBAN), and also accept SEPA instant payments, but sending money is via regular SEPA transfers.
The main drawbacks there are no official statements, and no transfer statements. In a country that loves bureaucracy this is somewhat strange, as some businesses may ask for proof that you have transferred funds. With BCN10 all you have is a screenshot of your account. That being said, it’s a great no-frills account that allows expats to get up and running before then even enter the country. Perfect as backup for those times you need a Spanish IBAN.
Openbank is Santander’s free digital account. There is security in knowing that your account is backed by the largest bank in Spain, but with that comes additional bureaucracy.
Opening an account is in English, but it isn’t as straightforward as it could be. You need to be a resident of Spain, and provide an NIE/TIE, along with all the usual ID, such as a passport and proof of address. Sign-up is done through the company’s website and it can be buggy at times, particularly when verifying ID.
Once registered, you’ll receive a physical card with 3 working days, have access to your account instantly. Unlike some of the true digital accounts in the list, you’ll also be able to use Santander branches, though the whole point of opening a digital account is to avoid branches. Nevertheless as this account is aimed at Expats planning on living in Spain for the long term, there may be times when that is useful.
Not to be outdone by Santander, BBVA also offers a free pseudo-digital account. Initial signup can be done in English online, but you need to go into a local branch to have your ID and documents verified. This outdated approach is typical of traditional banks. Likewise you must be a resident in Spain to open this account, and input your NIE/TIE during the application process.
Unlike most Spanish high-street bank accounts, the BBVA online account is fee-free. No maintenance charges and no card issue charges. It is however only available to new customers, so if you’ve ever had a BBVA account in Spain before, then you won’t qualify.
BBVA is a leader in SEPA instant payments, so of course this account and send and received payments within the EEA instantly.
Bunq ss a Dutch online bank and payments company founded in 2012. It’s slogan is “Bank of the free” which is unfortunate because it is the most expensive offering in our list.
As is par for the course with digital banks, you open the account via the Bunq app, following the prompts to upload images of your ID and other documents. It seems to be a semi-manual process, so approval can take a few hours.
There used to be an Easy Traveller subscription that was free, but now the lowest cost option is the Easy Bank Personal plan. Sending and receiving payments is free, but there is a €2.99 maintenance fee, and a myriad of other fees for various top ups and services including a €0,99 fee for the first five ATM withdrawals and €2.99 after that. In fact we couldn’t begin to list all the various charges and so linked to them above.
On item that is unique to the Bunq account is the ability to order Maestro cards. These died out in the UK a quarter of a century ago, but are still widely used in the Netherlands and Germany. They also used in Dutch Caribbean territories such as Bonaire. Outside of that, you are better off with Mastercard or Visa.