There’s much to look forward to when you're moving to Portugal, or if you’ve decided to buy a holiday home there. The weather, relaxed lifestyle, gastronomy and friendly locals beckon. But, like with any move abroad, there are some administrative hoops you have to jump through, too. This guide gives you everything you need to know about the banking system. After all, moving to Portugal wouldn't be much fun if you can't get hold of your money!
While it might seem daunting at first, the process of registering with one of the big Portuguese banks is relatively straightforward. You’ll be paying for your superb restaurant meal or golf club membership with your new card in no time. And if you wanted the simplest option of all (though not the cheapest), you could even go with an international bank like Barclays or Citibank.
The Portuguese banking system
The country’s banking processes are advanced, as you’d expect, with the largest banks networked with the Multibanco system, which allows customers to share ATM facilities for cash withdrawals, transfers and even making tax or social security payments.
The Banco de Portugal is the Central Bank in Portugal, monitoring the stability of the country’s financial system (like the Bank of England). The 20 or so biggest banks (including some international ones) all belong to the Associacao Portuguesa de Bancos (Portuguese Banking Association), which sets the rules.
Moving to Portugal permanently? Open a local bank account
It’s straightforward for a foreigner to open an account with a local bank, and this is the recommended option if you are working in the country and have monthly bills to pay because shifting money in and out is simpler.
The documents you need vary but will always include your proof of ID and proof of address. Some banks require your Numero de Identificacao Fiscal or NIF tax ID number.
As an expat it pays to identify which of the local banks offer online banking. You’ll be funding your account from home initially, but also likely moving money between Portugal and the UK regularly. Don't forget, when sending money to Portugal you will be subject to currency fluctuations, so make sure you speak to a currency broker (such as us, Foreign Currency Direct) who can save you money compared to using the High Street banks.
What are the major local banks in Portugal?
The equivalent of the big UK High Street banks includes Banco BIC, Banif, Novobanco, Millenium BCP, Banco Santander Totta and Caixa Geral de Depositos.
If you want to shop around, take a look at a full list of major Portuguese banks here.
I’m moving to Portugal, what banking services are there?
Almost everything you recognise from the UK. You will get access to debit and credit cards, be able to make bank transfers, order a chequebook and set up an overdraft facility. There’s that network of 12,500 Multibanco ATMs, too, which are free to use (although there will likely be a fee if you’re using an international bank). There is a daily withdrawal limit of 400 euros.
You’ll get a Multibanco card that you’ll use as a debit card (you can apply for a credit card option), and use as you’d expect in just about every retail outlet. You can also use the cards online or over the telephone. Incidentally, all the major banks offer online banking.
Banking services are widespread across the major banks. Living in Portugal is made more relaxing with easy banking services to you as an individual, or business options if you’re moving to Portugal to set up an enterprise.
There are a variety of loans, insurance products, mortgages and savings and investments plans, all things you know from the UK.
As for the actual bank accounts, Portugal has three main versions:
- Current account, which is the standard everyday bank account, just like the UK
- Savings account, with higher rates of interest (some current accounts offer a low rate), which is ideal for saving up cash in the short-term.
- Deposit account, which offers better still levels of interest for long-term savings plans. There will likely be deposit conditions as well as a minimum investment period.
There might also be options for students, while joint accounts are easy to set up. Some banks offer bespoke accounts for non-residents, which would be ideal if you are not moving to Portugal but visiting a holiday home regularly.
If you’re in Portugal and need to make a payment using your international credit or debit card, then be aware this will usually come with a fee. It's worth checking with your card supplier before you travel.
Portuguese bank opening times
Banks in Portugal haven’t quite caught up with the opening hours in the UK.
The standard times for opening up are from 8.30 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon. Some remain open until 4 pm on a Friday, presumably so customers can sort their affairs out or get some cash before the weekend. A few are beginning to open on Saturday mornings.
Why use a currency broker to send money to a bank in Portugal?
Remember, you do have the choice of foreign currency companies converting and sending your money, not just the UK banks.
There are some drawbacks to using the banks, usually the exchange rate and the efficiency of the transfer. A standard currency transfer using a bank can take 4-6 business days, and there may be an extra cost for an express (1-2 day) transfer.
Specialist foreign currency brokers excel in both of these categories. A bank will vary the rates they offer for commercial customers and private individuals, using a currency brokerage can reduce this gap. The difference of 1 cent in the GBP/EUR exchange rate can save hundreds, if not thousands of Pounds, especially on a large transfer. Currency brokers also have in-house payment teams that manage large volume transfers. In most cases money can be in the recipient’s bank account the same or following day.
Find out more about moving to Portugal
Banking is just one of a list of things you need to arrange if you’re thinking of moving to Portugal or buying a holiday home there. For information on things like getting yourself set up with healthcare in Portugal once you've made the move, or how to navigate the Portuguese tax system read more articles on our blog.