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MONEY

The hidden costs of opening a Spanish bank account

Spanish banks are notorious among foreign residents for charging fees which don't necessarily exist in other countries. Here are the hidden charges you should be aware of when opening a “cuenta bancaria” in Spain.

The hidden costs of opening a Spanish bank account
Photos: AFP

In 2019 we asked our readers to tell us which bank accounts they thought were the best for foreigners in Spain and what new arrivals should watch out for when opening an account. 

Most respondents stressed that hidden costs are rife in the Spanish banking system and recommended that future account holders go through their contracts with a fine-tooth comb before signing on the dotted line.

In the first quarter of 2017, Spain's six biggest banks made more than €5 billion in hidden costs alone.

According to Guillermo Vicandi, co-founder of banking app BNEXT, “Spanish banks base their strategy on selling accounts that are apparently free of charges, but with lots of requirements.

“The first trick they play to get their hands on those extra costs is to include conditions that most people are unaware of or will not be able to meet, because they don't read the extremely small print”.

In 2020, with Spaniards’ attention turned to keeping their jobs during the coronavirus crisis, there is little to suggest the state of affairs in Spain’s banking system has changed.

On October 1st, Caixabank – which is due to merge with Bankia – will start charging its current account holders up to €240 a year in maintenance costs.

According to Spanish consumer watchdog Facua, the Bank of Spain doesn’t generally set a maximum limit of fees that financial institutions can charge, which gives them absolute freedom to lay out whatever charges they see fit.

And as you’re about to see, there are plenty.

 

Debit/credit card replacement fee (Comisión por duplicado de tarjeta)

If you lose your bank card or it stops working, you are likely to have to pay for a replacement.

Most banks in Spain include instructions online on how to cancel a card if your wallet has been stolen or you want to order a new card, but they don’t necessarily mention how much it will cost you to get a replacement.

BBVA for example charges €5, Abanca charges €3, but other banks may charge more depending on whether it’s a debit or credit card.

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Debit/Credit-Card Maintenance Fee (Comisión por mantenimiento de tarjeta)

That’s right, banks in Spain even charge you for having a bank card, even though it’s not clear what kind of ‘maintenance’ they’re actually providing.

Spain’s three biggest banks (Santander, BBVA y CaixaBank) charge an average of €20 to €40 a year for debit cards, whereas the maintenance costs for credit cards is around €20.

According to a study by HelpMyCash.com, Santander is the most expensive overall in this regard, charging its customers an average of €36 a year to own a debit card, although the latest news suggests CaixaBank is now on par with this.

Overdraft Fee (Comisión por descubierto)

This may seem like an obvious one that exists in other countries as well, but consider this: if you have a small amount of money in a Spanish account which you hardly use and aren’t paying much attention to, you could be charged hidden fees that end up putting you in the red.

The overdraft penalty is the percentage that is applied to the largest amount that the client has owed during a specific period of time.

The average fee is reportedly 4.35 percent according to HelpMyCash, although a recent study by consumer group Asufín suggests this rate is even higher now.

The table above shows the interest charged by different Spanish banks when it comes to overdrafts, the fees and fixed penalty charges, the total amount charged and the APR rate per bank. 

Most banks apply a minimum cost of €15 to €18, as well as factoring in interest rates and sometimes other fixed financial penalties.

You would’ve hoped that during Spain’s lockdown the banks would’ve given their struggling clients some breathing room. But unfortunately, this system has continued in place, with Bankia, Banco Santander and Liberbank charging the highest fees for overdrafts at over 10 percent.

Returned item fee (Cargo por suspensión de pago)

Similarly to being charged for being overdrawn, you could also be charged if you try to make a transaction that can’t go through due to insufficient funds in your account.

This is a hidden bank fee you’ll be charged if a payment is blocked, and is quite common in other countries other than Spain.

Fee for breach of contract (Comisión por incumplimiento de contrato)

Different Spanish banks use different names for this fee which applies to customers who do not meet the account requirements for it to be ‘technically’ commission-free.

There are also cases in which banks have changed the initial conditions which the account holder agreed to (which were often more beneficial) and then started charging them fees as a result of these sudden breaches they were unaware of.

For example, Santander applies a “liquidación de contrato” charge for account holders who fail to swap over to their newer accounts or don’t abide by the new conditions, sums which amount to around €60 every three months on average.

Make sure you stay on top of your emails from your Spanish bank and provide them with an up-to-date address so they can send you the latest in the post.

This could also apply to “cuentas sin nómina” (accounts which don’t require you to have your salary paid into them), as they usually entail instead that you put a certain amount of money in each month or make a number of withdrawals in order to meet their conditions.

Inactivity fee (Cargo por inactividad)

The Bank of Spain considers overdraft fees and other charges on dormant accounts is bad practice as the banks have not provided a real service that encourages the collection of any commission. That’s not to say they won’t try it on.

Punitive inactivity charges are generally a bit more common with credit cards.

If you’re not using the account at all the best thing to do is to close it for good. If you are being charged fees for an inactive account, contact either consumer group OCU or the Department of Market Conduct and Claims of the Bank of Spain.

Paper statement fee (Comisión por extracto bancario en papel)

If you hadn’t figured it out already, banks in Spain will charge you for practically everything.

Every bank statement sent in the post will cost account holders an average of 60 cents. So unless this is something that you explicitly want, cancel the service and use online banking instead (you can always print the statements for less than 60 cents).

Early closure fee (Comisión por cierre anticipado)

Are you put off by everything you’re reading and wondering if you should close that Spanish account you just opened? Well, some banks require you to keep the account open for a certain period of time, especially savings accounts. This may also apply to loans (préstamos) that you can pay ahead of schedule and cancel.

Fee for using another bank’s ATM (Comisión por el uso de cajeros automáticos)

This is one of the first hidden costs foreigners in Spain learn about: use your card at an ATM that doesn’t belong to your bank or the same bank group and you will get charged between €1 or €2.

The only silver lining is that according to a 2016 Spanish law, only the bank of the ATM being used can charge the customer, whereas previously the card user’s bank would also often try to get a cut.  

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ENVIRONMENT

How to get involved with urban gardens in Spain

If you fancy yourself green-fingered or live in an apartment without access to your own outdoor space, you'll find that Spain has many urban gardens and allotments that you can potentially join.

How to get involved with urban gardens in Spain

Urban gardens or huertos urbanos have become very popular in Spain’s big cities, so popular in fact that in some of the bigger cities there are now long waiting lists if you want to be able to have your own little vegetable plot.

According to Focus on Spanish Society, a publication edited by Funcas, almost two-thirds of the total population (65 percent) of those in Spain live in apartments, the second-highest number in the EU, after Latvia.

This means that over half of Spaniards don’t have their own gardens, fuelling the need for green spaces in cities where people can fulfill their green-fingered ambitions or simply learn more about the cultivation of vegetables.

Urban gardens were created to meet this demand and have been around in Spain since just after the Second World War. Today, the report on Urban Agriculture in Spain, says that there are over 20,000 allotments around the country.

All of these work slightly differently – some are owned by the city council, others by cultural or social associations and some are private. There are different ways to get involved, from signing up to waitlists provided by your local Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) to paying a monthly fee to rent your own plot or joining a communal garden to work with others, instead of having your own individual space.

Here’s how it works in some of Spain’s main cities, what you need to do and how to get involved.

Barcelona

Barcelona has an extensive network of urban gardens in almost all barrios across the city, even in the very central ones such as Ciutat Vella and Raval.

Barcelona’s Urban Gardens Network is aimed at people over 65 in the city. They must be physically capable of agricultural work and at the time of requesting a plot and must not live with anyone else who has been given one. Part of the program is also reserved for people at risk of social exclusion.  

To be able to get your own little garden in Barcelona you must ask at the offices of Atención Ciudadana de los Distritos and bring the original and a copy of your DNI/TIE, as well as a certificate of convivencia, which can also be applied for at the same office.

Neighbourhood gardeners at Madrid’s community garden “Esta es una Plaza” (This one is a Square) Photo: GERARD JULIEN/AFP

Madrid

There are 74 urban gardens distributed throughout the Spanish capital, which receive training and advice from the City Council. They are also part of the Network of Ecological School Gardens of Madrid so that kids can learn about gardening and planting vegetables too.

The Network of Urban Gardens of Madrid is an initiative promoted by citizens who are dedicated to community agriculture within the city. On their website, you’ll find a list of each urban garden, as well as details on how to contact, join or rent a plot at each one. 

Malaga

There are several urban gardens located both within Malaga city itself and on its outskirts. While there isn’t a central organisation managing all the urban gardens like in Barcelona, if you want to get involved, you’ll have to contact each one individually.  Some of the best located closest to the city centre are La Yuca, El Caminito and Huerta Dignidad.

El Caminito is one of the most well-known and is located next to the old San Miguel cemetery. It’s managed by the El Caminito association and the main purpose of the project is to raise awareness of environmental issues.  On their website, they state that all you need to do to join in is to show up and be willing to participate. You can also e-mail [email protected] to find out more.

gardening

How to get involved with urban gardens in Spain. Photo: jf-gabnor / Pixabay

Valencia

There are several urban gardens in Valencia city. The four main ones are Parque de la Torre, Huertos de Benimaclet,  Hort de la Botja and El Espacio Verde Benicalap.  

Parque de la Torre is the largest urban garden in Valencia with a total of 274 plots. There is currently a waitlist to be able to get one, which you can join by contacting them via their website. 

Huertos de Benimaclet is a dedicated space of 60 plots for residents of the neighbourhood to grow fruits and vegetables and learn about cultivation and the environment. The cost to join is €22 per year and currently there is a waitlist. You can contact them via their website to sign up.

Hort de la Botja-Velluters grew out of the need for education and including those who were at risk from social exclusion. They have an active Facebook group, through which you can contact them and ask about getting involved. They also organise lots of activities such as those for local children.

El Espai Verd Benicalap is an urban garden and civic centre which was created between 2020 and 2021. It has just 15 plots, as well as an edible forest. The garden is reserved for those who live in the area of Benicalap and join one of the Benicalap barrio associations.

Seville

Seville currently has 13 urban gardens within its city limits, located in several of the main neighbourhoods. Click here to find out where they are and information about each one.

There’s also a website dedicated to Huertos Urbanos in Sevilla, which lists events, tours and open days when you can go and help out. You can contact them directly about the availability of renting your own patch or how you can get involved on an ongoing basis.

Just last year, the Ayuntamiento of Seville created 33 new vegetable plots in the Parque Guadaíra. Each one has been given to a different association to manage, so you may find that by joining a local association, you’ll have access to an allotment too. 

What if I can’t join an urban garden?

If you’re unable to join an urban garden because the waitlists are too long, you can’t afford to rent a plot yourself or you are in the right age bracket, then remember it’s always possible to create your own mini vegetable patch on your balcony.

No matter how small your balcony is, there’s always room for planters that hang off the edge, where you can grow smaller edible plants such as cherry tomatoes, herbs and small peppers. You can also place pots around the edge to grow various vegetables instead of flowers or traditional house plants. 

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