Banking in Spain (and Hair-Tearing)

Three years later, and l still hate banking in Spain as much as the day (no, WEEK) that it took me to open a bank account.* As far as least-favorite errands go, it falls between being put on hold for an hour with the internet provider and sole-searching for illusive black flats. Banking in Spain promises the terrible waiting of the internet call, but with the frustration of hidden fees and shifting rules.

The “rules” l mention start at the entrance, with the glass box you must filter through on your way to the actual interior. The metal detector is to protect the bank from robberies by beeping at clients until they leave their things outside in the lockers. However, the unassuming little old ladies are waved through without having to spill the contents of their purse into the safes provided. When l try to go through, the box beeps one of my most-loathed sentences: “Aceso bloqueado. Hemos dectetado metal. Por favor, deje sus cosas en las taquillas de la entrada.” Of course there’s metal in my purse–keys, coins, zippers… And ya know what? l bet there’s just as much metal in that shopping cart that the was just brought in by the middle-aged woman in front of me!

Then, while l’m struggling to extract my ID card from my purse and fish my bank book from an interior pocket and grab my phone (to pass the time, you know), another old woman pushes past me to the box and is waved through without a beep. I glare at her back, warming up the visual daggers l will shoot her once the box finally spits me out on the other side.

When banking in Spain, there’s no guarantee that these older ladies will run you over. A few weeks ago the woman behind me kept creeping closer and closer until finally we simultaneously reached the spot in the floor that asks you to Please Wait Here. When the woman in front of us left, l threw a “Cómo está?!” to the teller to signal that l Was Waiting Here First. It worked, and the heel-nipper reluctantly halted mid-step.

You’re probably thinking, “Why worry about one person, that won’t make a huge difference in your wait time.” Oh, you would be so, so wrong. The wait is the second most-loathed thing about this errand, as each person in line represents, according to my scientific estimates, roughly 8.5 minutes of wait time. If there are more than 5 people and you’ve forgotten to bring a book, spin right around and leave.

Bank pile-ups are certainly not helped by the insanely limited hours. My bank is open from 8:30 to 2 Monday through Friday, which makes it impossible for those with a regular work schedule. Online banking seems likes an obvious choice then for those who need to make transfers, but those often incur unnecessary charges. I always prefer to go in person to the bank in hopes of avoiding yet another aggravating fee. And really, I have no choice to go in person because my school is one of only .002 percent of schools that still pay their auxiliares with a physical check.

banking in Spain

My bank “libreta,” where transactions are recorded

I have to go to three different banks each month. First and foremost is the trip to deposit my monthly check. Mid-month means that it’s time to pay the rent at my landlady’s bank. Her bank isn’t as close as the other banks in the neighborhood (of course it isn´t…), so l have to plan the trek there. Finally, there’s the water bill, which all those at our building have to pay at a regional bank after a cryptic bill–only a price amount–arrives in our mailbox. Three times waiting in line, three times praying that the line moves fast and that there will miraculously be a second teller to ease the traffic jam.

Because l spend so much time at the bank, l come prepared. If security guards were to examine the bag that accompany me through the metal detector, they´d discover that the provisions are quite similiar to those necessary for a weekend roadtrip; water, a book, pens and paper, a snack… Granted, l only have access to these lovely items if the almighty Box deems them worthy enough to bring to the other side.

If l’m caught without my trusty notebook, l turn my attention to the clientele. On a recent trip, my interest was held by a woman whose style was a grizzly mash-up of fashionista meets couch potato. Her hair was expertly coiffed, every unruly strand held in place. This gave the impression that she had somewhere fancy to be, but her pants, fashioned of the grey sweatpant material that is the same the world over, told another story. They would have oozed practicality…if they had reached her ankles, that is. A double set of neon-colored socks (pink and green) met her legs where the pants ended. She wore tennis shoes, and draped over the whole ensemble was a fur coat that hit her calves. Enjoy people watching here, as it is pretty much the only activity you can do here other than read offers for buying insurace from your bank. (Which is another rant entirely–who buys insurance from the same place they bank?! What is the logic behind this, and how many people do it?)

Once l reach the counter, l breath a sigh of relief–l’ve made it! The teller doesn’t rush, giving just as much attention to my requests as he did to the people in front of me. Unfortunately, I find that today my normal teller has changed, and therefore, so have the rules. Suddenly, the physical checks I´ve been depositing all year can not be deposited–didn´t I know that? Instructions are given for me to go back to the branch where I originally opened my account. I grit my teeth before my next request. Can I at least take out 300 Euros, then? I need to pay rent…

In leiu of a spoken answer, the teller simply nods his head–not in a “yes, of course” motion but rather to point out a notice tapped to the wall. It clearly reads “Hey, dummies! There is an ATM machine outside for your convenience. Only withdrawals 600 Euros and over will be accepted inside the bank.”

Fabulous! I love taking out hundreds of Euros on the street, quickly scanning to make sure it´s all there, and then stuffing said money into my purse. All in public. But that is my fate. And thus ends begins another day of banking in Spain.

If you hate banking in Spain as much as I do, please share your stories! Have you had bad luck with hidden fees, changing rules, long waits, or online banking? Please comment below.

*Click this link to read more about my first experiences banking in Spain and getting trapped in the bank metal detector.

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  1. Ugh, the worst! Banks are definitely something I do NOT miss about Spain. This is my ranting post I wrote just before leaving Spain.

    When I got back to the U.S. soon after that, my bank sat me down in a cushy chair, asked if I wanted anything to drink, politely chatted with me, offered me bonus services I didn’t even ask for, and was genuinely friendly. It was quite the reverse culture shock.

    • Cassandra

      I am starved for this sort of customer service!! Ahh, America you spoiled me!!

  2. Ugh I have heard horror stories about Santander. I guess I lucked out with banking in Spain. I went with La Caixa simply because it was the closest bank to my apartment back when I lived in Prosperidad! I don’t think I got charged any fees for opening an account with them, just handed over my passport and other necessary info to open my account. They have awesome online banking too and when my bag got stolen, I was able to replace my debit card online without even having to go to the bank or call it in! Within a week my new debit card arrived at the bank. Closing my account was fairly easy too. All in all, it was mostly a hassle free experience.

    But I totally remember those metal detector glass boxes at Santander! That was our landlady’s bank so that’s where we had to go to deposit our rent. I hated those so much, they really confused me. The La Caixa banks I went to never had those (not to say they’re all like that but I can’t remember ever walking into a La Caixa bank and having to deal with those stupid glass boxes).

    • Cassandra

      Wow, I can’t believe how painless it was for you to report your stolen card and receive a new one!! Good job, La Caixa.

      My previous landlady had La Caixa, and I HATED making a deposit there because the teller usually wouldn’t let me give her the money at the counter. Because the amount was less than 600 Euros, I had to use that dreaded drop-machine. Did you ever have to use those? You have to enter the account you were depositing money to, and this is printed on an envelope. Then, you stuff your money inside the envelope, seal it, drop it into the abyss, and hope that everything made it safely.

      I was always sweating bullets, terrified that the money wouldn’t make it to the correct account; even though there is a “confirmation” ticket, it doesn’t print the last 4 digits of the account for supposed security sake. I’d get home and wonder–ACK! Did I enter the last 4 digits correctly?? OR–even worse, what if my landlady knows about this system and claims that I didn’t deposit it to the right account, even if I did?? Luckily everything worked out forme, but I’m sure mistakes have happened.

  3. I completely relate to all of this! Banks in Spain are my pet hate. I can cope with most other official admin if I psych myself up, but I’ll do anything to avoid a trip to the bank and do as much online as possible. I recently TRIED to go to the bank: I went to two different branches of Santander and couldn’t actually get inside thanks to the ridiculous entry system you mention. At the second one, I had a man right behind me, plus an abuelo trying to exit. I could feel the rising rage and decided just to give it a miss! I also almost got thrown out of a bank once. The teller made me go home and get my NIE to show him (despite having passport & driving licence as photo ID) before I could make a transfer. This is despite the fact that I knew the number off by heart. It’s just a piece of paper! I then started telling him all about banking in England… big mistake!!

    • Cassandra

      Argh, these two stories are infuriating.

      I’m not usually asked for ID when making a transfer–usually showing the libreta is all that is asked. I’d actually prefer it if the teller DID ask for some ID in this case–I’d hate for it to be easy for a thief to simply transfer money using my libreta!! I don’t understand why a driver’s license and passport weren’t enough in your case–what if your NIE happened to have been stolen at that moment?? How would you have made a transfer at all??

  4. Ugg I think the only thing worse than extranjería has to be the banks in Spain. I honestly don’t understand how people who work office hours (9-2, 5-8) can ever get anything done because the bank is always open when they’re at work! They basically have to take a vacation to run an errand! >:(

    But I loved your story about the abuelita who slowly crept up from behind you who you managed to stay in front of…those grandmas may look sweet and nice but that’s just a façade! 😛

    • Cassandra

      Yes, I never understand how people with normal jobs go the bank, either!

  5. Oh, and as far as strange bank practices, this year in Galicia I had to provide my bank information to the Xunta de Galicia, but for whatever reason the number of my bank account just wouldn’t cut it so I had to go directly to La Caixa and request some kind of justificación de cuenta or whatever that cost 18€ to process…of course, had I requested that form from the bank branch I originally opened my account in—which was a day’s drive south in Úbeda (Andalucía), it would have been totally free. WHYYYY

    • Cassandra

      WHAT!!!! I think this story takes the cake.

      That go-back-to-the-exact-branch-you-opened-your-account-in practice is way too antiquated, I just don´t get it!!!

  6. Banks in Spain suuuuuck. We have Santander, though I wish we hadn’t. It’s the worst.

    • Cassandra

      I have Santander too, but I often heard horror stories from all over the bank-o-sphere. Sigh…

  7. I have had ING for four years, and am really happy. I can do everything online, can use any 4B ATM and answers my calls at 10pm. The only time I’ve ever had to wait in the office was to ask about a mortgage 🙂

    • Cassandra

      That´s great, Cat. I bet you´re gearing up to blog about the mortage experience, then, woohoo!

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