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Banks in Portugal: Managing Your Finances

What are the best banks in Portugal for foreigners? Where can you keep your cash? How can you get a local debit card? The chaos of moving abroad can be overwhelming, particularly for your finances. These are just some of the questions people ask us when getting ready to move.

So, if you are planning to relocate or spend an extended period of time in Portugal, understanding the country’s banking landscape is crucial for managing your finances effectively. Luckily, Portugal boasts an advanced bank system, making it relatively easy for both residents and non-residents to open an account.

Frederik Pohl
Frederik Pohl, CEO
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The Banking System in Portugal

Portugal’s banking system is hailed as being particularly modern and includes one of the world’s most advanced inter-bank networks through ‘Multibanco’. This network connects over 150 banks, including private national retail banks, public and cooperative banks, international banks, and mobile banks. Despite the decline in the number of physical bank branches over the last decade, Portugal still has about 32.8 branches per 100,000 population – nearly three times the global average.

Meanwhile, digital banking is growing in leaps and bounds. One such example is the Portuguese’s very own ‘MB WAY’, a mobile payment system that allows users to make instant money transfers, online and in-store purchases, and even cash withdrawals without a card. Operated by SIBS, the entity behind Multibanco, MB WAY is accessible to anyone with a Portuguese bank account and offers a convenient way to manage your finances digitally.

The majority of banks in Portugal are members of the Portuguese Banking Association, and the Banco de Portugal (Portugal’s central bank) serves as the regulatory authority.

Banks in Portugal

The good news is: You’ve got options. Whether you’re looking for a traditional retail bank, an international bank with a local presence, or a digital banking solution, below you can read all about the most prominent banking institutions in Portugal to help you make an informed decision about how to manage your money.

National Private Retail Banks
  • Millennium BCP: As the largest private bank in Portugal, Millennium BCP offers a broad range of services, including personal and business banking, investment services, and insurance. Its expansive network, comprehensive digital banking platform, and customer service lines in English are major draws.
  • Novobanco: Novobanco is a common choice thanks to its innovative product offerings and robust online banking platform. It also provides a dedicated service for expatriates, which can be a significant advantage for foreigners living in Portugal.
  • Banco BPI: One of Portugal’s largest and most popular banks, Banco BPI offers a comprehensive range of services and is often preferred for its expansive network of branches and ATMs, facilitating banking access across the country.
  • Banco Best: This bank is known for its comprehensive digital services, including an award-winning online platform, and its versatility with a wide variety of accounts and investment and insurance solutions.
  • BancoBIC: Specialising in personalised customer service, BancoBIC is preferred by clients who value a more traditional and personalised banking approach.
  • Santander Totta: Part of the global Santander Group, Santander Totta is a popular choice for its reputation for stability. It also provides international banking options, which can be beneficial for expatriates or those with cross-border financial needs.

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Public Retail Banks
  • Caixa Geral de Depósitos: As a state-owned banking corporation, Caixa Geral de Depósitos is Portugal’s second-largest bank and is known for its reliability and comprehensive services. What’s more, they are arguably the most understanding when opening a bank account in Portugal for foreigners since they are well versed in legislation and requirements.
Digital Banks
  • ActivoBank: A digital banking subsidiary of the Portuguese bank, Millennium BCP, ActivoBank is known for its free, user-friendly mobile banking services, as well as its streamlined account opening process.
  • N26: This German online bank has gained popularity for its easy-to-use mobile app, low fees, and easy account setup process. It’s a popular choice for tech-savvy customers and those preferring to handle their banking needs digitally.
  • Openbank: Part of the Santander Group, this digital bank is popular owing to its comprehensive services and no-fee banking options.
  • Revolut: Revolut is a British fintech company that provides free digital debit cards, currency exchange, cryptocurrency exchange, peer-to-peer payments, and budgeting tools, all in one mobile app.
  • Monzo: Another UK-based digital bank, Monzo does not have any traditional branches but is easy to manage from Portugal via the intuitive app.
  • TransferWise (Wise): Although not a bank in the traditional sense, TransferWise offers a borderless account that allows users to hold and manage money in multiple currencies. This makes it a popular choice for people who frequently travel, work abroad, or make international money transfers.
Other International Banks Operating in Portugal
  • Spanish:
    • Abanca
    • BBVA
  • British:
    • Barclays
  • French:
    • BNP Paribas
    • Credit Agricole
  • German:
    • Deutsche Bank
  • American:
    • Citibank

Managing Your Finances

Opening a Portuguese Bank Account

Opening a bank account in Portugal is generally straightforward. You will need a passport or valid identification, proof of address, and a Portuguese NIF number. In some cases, you will need a residency permit and proof of employment or evidence of income. While most traditional banks require you to open an account in person, digital and mobile banks often offer the option to open an account online.

Bank Charges and Fees

It’s true what they say: Banking in Portugal tends to be slightly more expensive than in other countries, with most banks charging a monthly service fee. Additionally, charges apply for services such as overdrafts and credit cards, so read the fine print before signing up for anything.

Transferring Money

Money transfers within the Eurozone are extremely easy and can be done via Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) transfer. However, if you wish to transfer to or from outside the EU/EEA, your transactions will be subject to fees applied by Portuguese banks. For this reason, and for larger transfers, you may want to consider alternative solutions, such as CurrencyFair or Wise, that might prove cheaper and more convenient.

Pearls of Portugal Is Here to Help

We sincerely hope this blog post has helped you feel empowered in the face of financial decisions. If you have more questions, please contact us today for a consultation with our financial experts, who know everything about traditional bank branches to cryptocurrency. We’re here to help you navigate banking in Portugal with confidence and ease!

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