Banking, for expat freelancers in Spain, fits perfectly into that annoying category of necessary, but mind-numbingly boring. You’ve just moved to a new country that you’re eager to explore, yet you find yourself sitting in front of Antonio, who is in no hurry to help you out.
If only there were a way around this trial by patience. An alternate reality where you wouldn’t have to listen to Antonio sniffing away as his dead eyes drift across the screen.
Well here’s the good news, it doesn’t have to be that hard, and at Xolo, we want to show you how. We'll cover the Spanish banking landscape and offer all kinds of advice to make life easy for you.
Put simply, yes. You need a Spanish bank account to be a freelancer in Spain.
You might hear from Johnny Know-it-all that you technically don’t need one for your social security payments, but you also technically don’t need to wear pants to a job interview. Any expert will tell you to bite the bullet and open an account with the tax agency’s list of associated banking institutions. In any case, while you can pay your social security contributions, AKA the freelance quota, from a third-party account, you can’t make any payments to the treasury (Hacienda) without an approved account.
Yes, you’ll see foreign names on the tax agency’s list, such as Deutsche Bank and BNP Paribas, but that’s just the parent company. Banking for expat freelancers in Spain involves opening an account with the Spanish brand of these multinationals.
Furthermore, if the tax agency (Agencia Tributaria) checks what you’ve been up to and sees you’re channelling all your earnings into a third-party account, they’re going to smell a rat 🐀. Even if you know you’re innocent, it certainly looks like someone else is doing work on your behalf, so you can expect an investigation, possibly leading to fines.
With the right attitude — and a valid NIE card — opening a bank account in Spain as a foreigner isn’t all that complicated.
Obviously, if you already have an account on the Agencia Tributaria’s list of associated banking institutions, there’s nothing to see here. But for freelancers who have recently moved to Spain, and those who think they might need a change, here are some steps to successful banking for expat freelancers in Spain.
First things first, there are some basic requirements for everyone:
For freelancers, the process gets a bit trickier:
From there, you can research a bunch of banks and apply either online or in your local branch.
Spanish banking isn’t known for being at the cutting edge of efficiency. Therefore, if you’re going into a branch, make sure to arrange an appointment first. Similarly, if you haven’t got to grips with the language yet, you can request an English-speaking member of staff. However, you can’t guarantee they’ll have one, in which case, we’d advise taking along a bilingual friend to explain the finer details.
With those accounts in mind, what are the main points you need to consider when choosing a Spanish bank account?
Banking for expat freelancers in Spain is often very different from in other countries. Think you can just withdraw cash for free in any old ATM? Think again.
Like everything in life, you need to know what you're looking for to be able to find it, so here are some of the main banking factors that expat freelancers in Spain need to consider.
If you’re setting up a business, it’s easy to think you need to set up a business account. Most big names in banking have business accounts for both big and small organizations, with specialist features like loans and insurance.
As a freelancer, you don’t need a business bank account, but you can choose to get one if you need it.
One clear advantage of business accounts is that you can better monitor your business finances and separate your personal purchases. However, many business accounts require a minimum monthly deposit with aggressive fees if you don’t keep up with them, so bear that in mind as you decide.
As you’ll know, when you open a bank account, it’s not just for receiving your income and sending out payments for your freelance obligations.
Having a Spanish bank account allows you to deal with all those other areas of life that might not be front of mind as you're planning your first few weeks in the country. Below are just a few of the extra services you might need if you're looking to live and work in Spain long term.
When choosing a bank in Spain, keep an eye out for these not-so-obvious extras and you'll thank yourself later.
Yes, many Spanish banks will charge you simply for having an account. It's never a huge amount, but you aren't the only one thinking it's a bit archaic.
Bear in mind that if you go hunting for a free account, you could be sacrificing some of the other benefits. You might not have any nearby free branches to withdraw money, or get outrageously high insurance policies.
Whether you're too busy to go down to your branch or simply can't face waiting in line, mobile access is a regular demand these days. Banking apps give you access all around the clock and are much easier to use and track your cash flow.
Banking for expat freelancers in Spain is even harder when you can't understand what's going on. When it comes to your cash, you can't be too careful, so maybe don't treat the bank as a fun linguistic opportunity until you know you can take care of it.
With all of those factors front and center, let's look at some examples of the accounts we're talking about.
Although it may seem daunting at first, banking for expat freelancers is really pretty simple — especially when your friends at Xolo have done the research for you. We've found the five best banks for expats like you.
If you’ve already done a bit of research, you might spot some noticeable exceptions, such as N26, Revolut, and Wise — three online platforms that have been rising in popularity in recent years. However, the Agencia Tributaria doesn’t include these on its list of associated banking institutions, so you can’t make basic tax payments.
With that said, here are the best banks for expat freelancers in Spain:
As a big hitter in the banking world, Santander offers a fully online account with no issuance or maintenance fees. As everything is online and translated into English, you can take your time and fully understand what you’re signing up for.
Their business accounts, even for freelancers, come with quite a lot of conditions to qualify. These range from a minimum monthly income and usage of a Santander card machine, to a series of insurance and protection policies.
You can expect ATMs to charge you for withdrawing money if you’re not with that specific bank. Call it unacceptable, call it retro, call it what you like — that’s just how it is. However, CaixaBank is perfect if you're all about that ATM life. With more than 13,000 cashpoints throughout Spain, you'll never be too far from free withdrawals.
Do they offer the best service? No. Can you find any reviews above one star? No. But are they on pretty much every corner in the country? Absolutely.
So if it's presence and general reliability you want, CaixaBank is great option for freelancers in Spain. Just hope you don't need to talk to their customer service 😲.
BBVA is another of the major Spanish banks that offers a variety of business and personal banking solutions. Among those is a specific bank account for freelancers in Spain. This can give you access to a BBVA card machine to take payments and offers specific financing solutions to help you grow.
However, while BBVA offers a huge range of online services, it can feel like the company culture is to get you into a branch at any opportunity.
Banco Sabadell offers a range of business banking products, including the Negocios and the Negocios Plus Accounts for freelancers. These accounts come with a range of starter perks like free transfers and no fees for the first six months.
They’ve worked hard at the digital transformation, with a reliable, feature-packed app. That said, Banco Sabadell isn’t great for non-Spanish speakers, with patchy translations across their website.
ING is a Dutch bank that is rising in popularity in Spain for its ease of use online. You can either go for the Cuenta NÓMINA, which gives you 1% APR if you pull in at least €700 a month. If you’re more unsure about your earnings, the Cuenta NoCuenta will give you 0.70% APR without charging any commissions.
Despite the advantages of ING, it stopped offering specific accounts for freelancers a few years ago, so if you’re planning to expand, you might want to look to a more purpose-built account.
If you're new to Spanish bureaucracy, you might be under the luxurious but ultimately unhelpful position of thinking you can breeze through admin with a few clicks online. You'd be doing yourself a massive favor to drop that idea like it's hot.
Banking for expat freelancers in Spain is always easier if you've got someone who knows the system inside out, but that's not always possible. Therefore, we'll give you a few tips on closing a Spanish bank account to avoid any nasty surprises.
It's easy to forget the basics when you're sinking into a quagmire of confusing admin, so here's a checklist of tasks to remember when closing a Spanish bank account.
Don't just remove your funds and bury your head in the sand. Usually, an official closure means going to the branch where you opened it, even if that's in another city. The bank doesn't actually want you to close it, so you can expect them to put some roadblocks in the way.
Banking for expat freelancers in Spain is hard enough without having to read a 500-page terms and conditions document. However, you need to keep an eye open for details that make closing your account costly to you. One common pitfall is closing before you've reached the minimum time you need your account open if you've signed up on a special deal.
There's nothing a branch manager likes telling you more than that you'll have to come back another day with two photocopies of your ID to carry out a transaction. Don't give them the pleasure — bring photocopies of your NIE card and passport to stay one step ahead.
Nothing is real until it's in writing, so whether you're closing your bank account online or in person, make sure to get a document confirming the closure so you can rest easy knowing you're not going to get fleeced later.
It's much easier to open a bank account in Spain than to close one, so get that done first. Sure, it'll allow you to check something off your list of errands, but you'll also need somewhere to put your funds once you've closed your old account.
The gym, Netflix, and your energy provider don't care that you've got a little confused when switching accounts. They'll cut you off straight away if you don't keep up with your payments, so you'll have to go through all your subscriptions and monthly payments with a fine-tooth comb and let them know you're switching. Similarly, if you haven't closed your account and it goes into a negative balance, you'll have problems before you can say ¿pero qué ha pasado?
On the flip side, you still want to get paid, right? Unless you're using a platform that automates your invoices, like Xolo, you'll have to update all your excel templates to include your new bank details.
By ticking off these six checkpoints, you should be able to close or change a bank account in Spain like the savviest of native Spaniards.
Now you've got to grips with the complexities of banking for expat freelancers in Spain, it's time to call Xolo for your next steps in self-employed life. OK, we can't give you a killer business idea or charm clients. But when it comes to day-to-day freelance business, we've got your back!
We'll handle your FREE registration with social security and the tax authorities, keep your accounting up to date with our online invoicing platform, and make sure your tax returns are filed correctly so you don't get hit with any penalties.
So if you'd rather forget about the boring admin and focus on growing your business, sign up for Xolo today!
James McKenna has been a freelancer since 2017, working in subtitling, translation, and his main passion — writing. He loves nothing more than falling down a rabbit hole, a habit that has helped him specialize in areas as diverse as biotech, climate change, higher education, and business strategy.
Based in Barcelona, James learned the ropes the hard way, making mistakes that turned into valuable learning experiences. After working hard to establish himself, he is now working smart, and is always on the lookout for ways to streamline his business.