With long, hot summers, family friendly culture and relatively low costs, Portugal is a popular place for expats seeking a better quality of life. The cities have a vibrant atmosphere, while off the beaten track, you can lose yourself in the warmth of rural life.
If you're planning a move to Portugal for retirement, work or to start a business, then one of the first things you need to do is set up a local bank account. This is an important step in getting settled, but can be tricky for expats trying to negotiate a new system. Here’s our guide to get you started for opening a bank account in Portugal.
Foreigners can open a bank account in Portugal, and you don’t need to be living there yet. But if you haven’t yet moved to the country (and don’t have an address), you could find that you’re limited to non-resident bank accounts only. These can have more restrictions than ordinary resident accounts.¹
The first thing you’ll need to do before you can open your new bank account is to get yourself a Portuguese Número de Identificação Fiscal, or NIF number¹. You can apply for this from the tax authority in Portugal using your passport and proof of address. Your NIF is used for things like paying taxes, getting a phone contract and of course, opening your new bank account.
With your NIF sorted, you can head to a local branch of your chosen bank to apply for an account. It’s a good idea to find out before you visit whether the branch has any English-speaking staff, especially if your Portuguese is a little rusty. Or, you can take a Portuguese-speaking friend or interpreter with you.
Take the required supporting documents along (we’ll look at what you need in just a moment) and submit them with your application. As long as nothing is missing, your new account could be opened in as little as 30 minutes², although it depends on the bank. It can sometimes take a few days to receive any debit or credit cards linked to the account through the post.
The process of opening a bank account in Portugal can vary from bank to bank, and so can the documents required. But generally speaking, here’s what paperwork you’ll need to have ready²:
- Proof of identity - such as a current, valid passport
- Proof of address - in Portugal if opening a resident account, overseas if opening a non-resident account
- Proof of employment or a recent pay slip
- Documents confirming your Portuguese NIF number
- Additional documents relating to the specific account type - such as proof of studying if you’re applying for a student account
Some banks may also require a minimum deposit in order to open the account. And if it’s a resident account, you may be asked to provide a residency or citizens card.
Some banks in Portugal require you to visit a branch in person, but it’s certainly possible to open an account online. For example, you can open the Santander Account with Mundo 123 entirely online, using your computer or mobile device³. Novo Banco also has a selection of bank accounts and packaged accounts available for online opening⁴.
There’s also the option of opening an account with a mobile bank. You can usually do this in just a few minutes using an app on your smartphone, sending any required documentation using a photo or scan. We’ll look at which mobile banks operate in Portugal in just a moment.
As we’ve looked at, many banks in Portugal will accept applications from non-residents - and customers looking to apply online. This makes it much easier for expats to get a headstart on sorting out their banking in Portugal before moving there.
So, if you’re still in the UK and are getting organised for your big move, you should be able to find and set up a Portuguese bank account. It may end up being a non-resident account with some limitations and conditions, such as the Novo Banco NB Account 100% Gold RE⁵ - this is a non-resident account designed for people without a Portuguese address. But you can always upgrade your account or move banks once you arrive in Portugal.
If unsure which banks accept customers from overseas, it could be a good idea to get in touch with your shortlist of preferred banks and find out more about their application process.
Portugal has a sophisticated banking system with plenty of choice in local and international banks. In fact, there are over 150 banks⁶ to choose from, including global brands such as Barclays, Santander, Citibank, Deutsche Bank and BNP Paribas.
Let’s take a look at a handful of your key banking choices as an expat moving to Portugal:
Global banking giant Santander has a Portuguese operation with over 600 branches⁷, offering some of the same accounts and deals that you can get elsewhere in the world. If you have an account with them already, you may find it easier to switch to their local business in Portugal.
Services and products offered by Santander in Portugal include:
- Current accounts, including the popular Santander Account with Mundo 123
- Foreign currency accounts
- Debit, credit and prepaid cards
- Savings accounts
- Investment funds
- Insurance products
- Mortgages, car credit and personal loans
- Online and mobile banking.
Headquartered in Lisbon and with around 387 branches⁸ in Portugal, Novo Banco offers a full range of products for residents and non-residents. All information on the website is in Portuguese only, so you’ll need to use your browser’s translation function or ask a friend to help you sift through if you're not a Portuguese speaker.
Novo Banco offers a huge range of products and services, including:
- Current accounts and package accounts, such as NB 100% and NB 360º
- Non-resident and new resident accounts, such as the NB Golden Key account, which comes with perks⁹ such as health insurance and discounts to help you settle into life in Portugal
- Savings accounts
- Personal loans and mortgages
- Investment products
- Debit, credit and prepaid cards
- Online and mobile banking.
CGD is one of the largest banks in Portugal, with a whopping 948 branches⁸ countrywide. It offers products ranging from commercial and investment banking to asset management and specialised credit. But CGD also offers products and services for retail customers too, including:
- Current accounts, including a Minimum Banking Services Account and Conta Extracto account
- Foreign currency account
- Savings deposits accounts
- Investment and pension funds
- Personal, car and housing loans
- Credit, debit and prepaid cards, including digital payments such as Apple Pay
- Online banking.
One of the largest private banks in Portugal, Millennium BCP has around 478 branches in Portugal and a total of 1,380 branches internationally¹⁰. It serves nearly a million customers in Portugal alone, with a choice of retail banking services including:
- Current accounts, including its popular Millennium Account
- Savings and investment products
- A huge selection of debit, credit and prepaid cards
- Personal and mortgage loans
- Online and mobile banking.
It’s also handy to note that the Millennium BCP website is in both Portuguese and English, which should make it easier for UK expats to find the info they need.
There are lots of banks to choose from in Portugal’s impressive banking sector, so the above are just a handful of what’s available. Here are some other good options to look into as a soon-to-be Portuguese resident:
- Banco CTT
- Banco Best
- Deutsche Bank.
When you open a bank account anywhere in the world, be sure to read the terms and conditions carefully. This is especially important if you're opening an account in a new place, where banking fees and charges could be quite different from what you’re used to.
In Portugal, there are a few fees to watch out for. Let’s take a look at the main charges and costs.
Many current accounts in Portugal are free to open and use, although the bank may ask for a minimum deposit - usually from €100 to around €250¹¹. But some accounts (particularly packaged accounts offering extra services and perks) do come with a monthly charge, which could be between €2.50 up to €7.50 a month¹¹.
In some countries, you’ll be charged a fee if you use an ATM that isn’t owned by your bank. The good news is that isn’t the case in Portugal. Most of the main banks are part of the Multibanco service, which is a network of ATMs all over the country. So, you shouldn’t be charged anything for using your Portuguese debit card to take out cash, but it always pays to double check.
Sending and receiving money to other countries using your Portuguese bank account can be expensive, as most banks charge international transfer fees.
These will vary from bank to bank, but you can expect to pay between €15 and €30 per transfer⁶ depending on the amount and where you’re sending it to. You may also end up paying currency conversion fees, and get an unfavourable exchange rate due to a mark-up being added on top - this is how banks worldwide make their profit.
If you do want to manage your money across more than one country, there’s a cheaper way to do it than using either your Portuguese or UK bank.
Open a Wise multi-currency account and you can send money worldwide for low fees and the real, mid-market exchange rate. This means no mark-up added on top.
With Wise, you can get your own international debit card, which automatically converts currency to the best possible rate whenever you spend. You can use it in 200 countries, including Portugal and the UK, to spend, shop and withdraw cash from foreign ATMs without the high charges. In fact, if you have the currency in your account, there’s no fee to pay at all.
Wise is FCA regulated and uses sophisticated security measures to keep your money safe, wherever you are in the world.
And that’s pretty much it - all the essentials you need to know about opening a bank account in Portugal. If you have the right documents ready, you should find that it’s actually very quick and straightforward, especially compared to other European countries. You’ll be up and running with your new Portuguese bank account in no time.
Sources used for this article:
- N26 - how to open a bank account in Portugal
- Expatica - opening a bank account in Portugal
- Santander - Conta Mundo 123
- Novo Banco - open account online
- Novo Banco - Conta NB 100% Gold RE
- Expatica - guide to banking in Portugal
- Santander Trade - discover Santander
- Corporate Finance Institute - top banks in Portugal
- Novo Banco - Conta NB Golden Key
- Millennium BCP - about
- Novo Banco - compare accounts
Sources checked on 2-August-2021.
This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.
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