Spanish banks’ ATMs are disappearing or being replaced: What you need to know

Spanish banks are closing thousands of ATMs across the country, forcing many people in Spain to have to change the way they withdraw money.

A woman uses an automated teller machine (ATM) in Madrid, Spain.
In five years, taking out money in Spain may involve a trip to the supermarket or a visit to the post office. Photo: Dominique Faget/AFP

Withdrawing cash is becoming harder in Spain.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, Spanish banks have closed 2,200 of their ATMs across the country. 

This means that there are currently 48,300 cajeros (ATMs in Spanish), levels not seen since 2001.

The disappearance of ATMs has often come as a result of the recent closure of the hundreds of bank branches that they’re attached to.

This is part of a huge shift toward digital banking services rather than in-person customer service by Spain’s financial entities.

There are now the same amount of bank branches in Spain as in 1977.

The banks justify the closure of branches and ATMs by highlighting the increasing trend among account holders to pay by card rather than cash, as well as handle other banking processes online. 

The pandemic has only served to further vindicate Spanish bank’s cost-cutting move (ATM withdrawals dropped by 31 percent),  but the trend was already being seen before Covid-19. 

For example, in 2007 there were 157 ATMs in Spain per 100,000 inhabitants, whereas in 2019 this number had been reduced to 106 per 100,000 people. 

Who is the closure of ATMs in Spain affecting most?

Despite Spain’s population becoming more internet-savvy and accustomed to card payments, cash is still the preferred method of payment in the country. 

For some, this legal tender is the only means of payment they know or that they can use.

Branch and ATM closures are therefore affecting in particular the elderly and residents of small rural communities in so-called ‘Empty Spain’.

To paint a picture of the situation, when the only bank branch in the village closes its doors for good, getting your hands on money can become a lot more challenging. 

This rings especially true in rural areas in the Spanish regions of Castilla y León, Galicia, Aragón and Andalusia, where people, especially the older population, are finding it harder and harder to access their pensions and deal with online banking systems.

The Bank of Spain has warned that almost three percent of the Spanish population, around 1.3 million people, struggle to get their hands on legal tender.

The European Central Bank also recognises that these groups are at risk of financial exclusion as a result of Spanish banks’ changing strategy.

READ ALSO: How rural Spain is rebelling against rampant bank closures

People queue to buy Christmas lottery tickets in Spain

Spain’s lottery shop associations want to help residents of rural communities to have access to cash. Photo: Oscar del Pozo/AFP

Is there a silver lining?

Whereas the number of bank ATMs is dropping, other cash dispensers are being set up in Spain, often following agreements between the banks and third parties. 

Spain’s national post service Correos has announced that in 2022 it will install 1,500 ATMs across all of Spain’s regions, 300 of them in small rural areas with a population under 3,000 which currently don’t have a single cajero at their disposal.

Correos’ new automatic teller machines will not only be set up at their post offices but in shopping centres and in other strategic street locations.

All debit and credit cards belonging to Spain’s main banks will be able to be used and Correos will not charge users any commission, although the banks themselves may charge a fee depending on their conditions.

Correos has also signed a deal with Santander to allow their bank customers to withdraw money at the post office counter as if they were at one of Santander’s branches, as well as for postmen to be able to deliver cash in person to customers.

Valencia’s regional government has a similar deal with Caixabank aimed at helping rural communities to fight financial exclusion.

Withdrawing money at shops, often referred to as getting cashback, is also slowly becoming an option in Spain. 

German company Viafintech has launched Cash 26 in Spain, which allows N26 bank account holders to withdraw money from a growing network of shops that have signed up to the scheme. 

ING bank also has a similar app service called Twyp which allows customers to withdraw cash at DIA supermarkets and other stores, and French neobank Nickel is also starting to offer such services as well in Spain. 

Furthermore, Spain’s lottery associations are in talks with the Bank of Spain to find a way for their kiosks and small lottery shops to also serve as cash dispensers for people struggling to find other ways of withdrawing cash. 

Fortunately, even though banks are focusing their in-person services on financial products, mortgages and investment rather than over-the-counter withdrawals, new options are emerging. 

In five years, taking out money in Spain may involve a trip to the supermarket or a visit to the post office rather than searching for an ATM belonging to your bank. 

EXPLAINED: What are Spain’s new rules and limits on cash payments?

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Can British people in Spain claim the UK’s winter fuel payment?

In the UK, there are various benefits available to help eligible people through the cold winter months – one of which is the winter fuel payment. But can Britons living in Spain claim this benefit to cover the cost of heating their Spanish homes?

Can British people in Spain claim the UK's winter fuel payment?

Energy costs are on the up in Spain, and with the winter fast approaching the added cost of paying for heating when the mercury drops can result in some very high bills.

Not all of Spain has freezing winters but there are often cold spells and many houses in the country tend to get even colder than it is outside.

READ MORE: Why are Spanish homes so cold?

The average winter temperature across Spain is 8C (1981 to 2010 average). That’s higher than the average in other European countries, but in Spain’s interior and mountainous areas it can be truly chilly from November to March.  

That means that overall, there’s a chance you’ll need to use a radiator or the central heating to keep your Spanish home warm.

So are some of the 400,000+ UK nationals who reside in Spain eligible for winter fuel financial support from the UK?

What is the UK’s winter fuel payment?

The UK’s winter fuel payment is a tax-free payment to help older people with heating costs during the cold winter months.

Those eligible must have been born before September 26th 1956, according to the UK government website.

How much people receive depends on their age and whether anyone else in the household is also eligible, but the amount is usually between £250 and £600.

I’m a UK national living in Spain. Can I claim the winter fuel payment?

The UK government states that those living abroad can benefit from the winter fuel payment if:

  • You moved to an eligible country before 1st January 2021
  • You were born before September 26th 1956
  • You have a genuine and sufficient link to the UK – this can include having lived or worked in the UK, and having family in the UK

While many EU nations are on the list of eligible countries, such as Austria, Germany, Sweden, and Italy, unfortunately Spain is not on the list.

This means that if you live in Spain, you will not be able to claim the winter fuel payment at all, even if you meet the age conditions.

Why isn’t Spain on the eligible list of countries?

The UK government services website nidirect states that “you cannot get the payment if you live in Cyprus, France, Gibraltar, Greece, Malta, Portugal or Spain because the average winter temperature is higher than the warmest region of the UK”.

This is despite the fact that some parts of Spain are a lot colder than the average UK winter temperatures. This includes cities, towns and villages near mountain ranges such as the Pyrenees or Sierra Nevada, or regions in the interior like Castilla-La Mancha, Aragón​​ and Castilla y León.

According to the British government, during winter the average temperature is between 2 and 7 C in the UK.

READ ALSO: Where are the coldest places in Spain?

Foreigners in Spain used to be able to claim this financial benefit, but it was scrapped in 2015 after many UK taxpayers were angry that UK winter fuel payments were going to help people that lived in countries that were generally warmer than the UK.

READ ALSO: Which UK benefits can Brits keep if they move to Spain?