Banking for Expats

A New Banking Experience for Expats

Many of us are not too keen on banks at the moment, and particularly since the recession. I know of many expats who find banking in Spain a trial that has to be endured. Long queues, indifferent service, as well as high charges often make the Spanish banking experience unappealing, and with little attention to the needs of their customers. Both banks that used to operate in the village where I live have closed their branches, leaving many villagers who do not own a car with little choice, but to use the infrequent bus service to the nearest town. There is good news on the horizon, and I suspect that things will change for the better in the not too distant future.

New banks are springing up in many countries. These are app based banks that operate using a smartphone and the Internet. They have no branches and no reams of paperwork to sign. They offer a basic current banking account operated from a distance. They issue a debit card that can be used in cash dispensers in all countries and, best of all, there are no charges.

With Brexit, the new reality for expats is that banking facilities operating throughout Europe may become even more difficult. Most, if not all, British banks are now refusing to open accounts for expats with addresses outside the UK. I have received a number of complaints from expats living in Greece who are finding that difficulties with the Greek banking system are forcing them to seek alternatives in order to reliably receive their British pensions. Sadly, offshore accounts now seem to be the only alternative, since British High Street banks no longer wish to help.

One newcomer to the world of expat banking is an app based bank (operating on iPhones and Android smartphones) called ‘Monese’, which may help to solve some of these issues for expats. This British based bank offers a new approach to banking with an emphasis upon providing international low cost banking facilities for expats from all countries, which will help to overcome the increasingly restrictive banking services across Europe.

Expats can open an account with Monese in under three minutes (which is true, because I tried it a few days ago); users must have a government based ID document, such as a passport to use the app. Customers can use their overseas address and usual mobile phone number without difficulty. The bank charges a monthly fee of £4.95, and in return customers receive a Visa debit card to use in local shops as well as to withdraw cash in their local currency from most ATMs. Full banking facilities, such as direct debits, standing orders, pension credits and all that you would expect from a traditional High Street bank are provided, but without the hassle. The first month is free of charge to allow customers to test the service, and customers can also gain an additional five pounds in their account if they quote the code: HNMBXBUA as the referral code when they sign up using the app.

The account opening process is in English, which has made the entire procedure a pleasant and trouble free experience. The bank’s app and webpages are well designed, work smoothly and are in English. One other advantage is that I was not deluged with paper, as the only physical item being the debit card that was posted to me; the bank certainly lives up to its ‘green’ credentials. So far, I am impressed and this is by far the easiest way to open and operate a British based bank account. Give it a try; I suspect that you will like it. For further information, go to:, or download the app on your smartphone.

A similar account, operating in euros only, is offered by N26, which is a bank based in Germany and regulated and protected by the German Bundesbank, which is the broad equivalent of the UK’s financial regulatory authority. The opening process took exactly eight minutes by video call from my smartphone to confirm my identity. A very helpful lady took me through the process; they took a photo of my passport and me. A few days later, a MasterCard debit card arrived though the post, which I can use in Spain and the Canary Islands, as well as worldwide in the usual way, and there are no charges for drawing out cash from cash dispensers either.

Similar app based banks are being launched in the UK called Tandem, Monzo, Starling and Atom, and there are many others at the developmental stage. I particularly wanted a bank that operated in pounds and euros, as well as being protected by a state regulatory authority.  The banks that I have mentioned, as with other new start up banks, intend to offer joint accounts, credit cards, deposit and savings accounts, loans and overdrafts, insurance and other services once their basic service is established.

My new accounts can be used to make payments by direct debit, receive funds as well as processing all the other transactions that I currently make from my Spanish bank account. Being a cautious Brit when it comes to legal and financial matters, I am going to use the account for shopping and cash withdrawals, before I plunge headlong into completely transferring my account. However, these early days tell me that queuing in a bank branch waiting to see if someone can be bothered to attend to me are long gone. Gone too are the endless sheets of meaningless paper. Welcome to the new banking experience!

For further information and links to some of these new banks, please go to the Expat Survival section of my website: Expat Survival

Interesting reading and something to bear in mind but, to be honest, I can't remember the last time I was in a bank other than to push my debit card into a bank machine. Surely almost anyone under the age of 70 just uses online stuff most of the time now anyway?

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