Tapas Forever

Helping make the dream of moving to Spain a reality

Tag: Spain

Buying A Property In Spain: Obtaining A Mortgage

If you’re able to finance the entire purchase of a property in cash then you are ready to make your offer. But most people nowadays typically engage a bank or a lender at this point to obtain a mortgage to finance a portion of their property purchase in Spain.

The mortgage system in general here in Spain is quite a bit different than back home. Unlike in Canada where most mortgages are amortized over a longer period (such as 25 years), but are renewable every five years, most Spanish mortgages are fixed for the entire term. What that means is a person can get a mortgage here for a certain interest rate, say 2.5% interest, fixed over the entire 20 year term – that’s as close to free money as you’ll find nowadays in my opinion, without the risk of interest rates changing while you own your home.

When I first started talking to banks about getting a mortgage, I realized that with my limited Spanish and short bank history the process was likely to be a bit difficult. My own bank, BBVA, looked over all my documents and basically said they’d call me back at some point. But other than an initial indication of the offer they might be willing to extend to me, never followed up with me after I expressed interest. Shortly afterwards BBVA changed their lending rules to make it harder to non-residents to obtain a mortgage here, so I didn’t pursue that avenue any further.

Thankfully there are mortgage brokers here in Spain that can work in English and generally have good contacts at the banks. If you haven’t heard of a mortgage broker before, essentially they are experts in obtaining mortgages, and often get preferential rates since they do most of the vetting on their side and also send a lot of volume to the banks.

One difference though is that unlike in Canada, where the bank pays a finder’s fee to a mortgage broker directly (essentially making the service free for the purchaser), here in Spain you often pay the mortgage broker for their services. While the costs for a mortgage broker generally vary, in my case I was presented with an initial scenario that my broker said they would be able to get me from one of their banks. At that point I was asked to pay €495 to formally secure the mortgage, with the caveat that if they couldn’t officially obtain a mortgage that was the same or better than their initial scenario, it would be refunded. So I said sure.

When the offers came in, I initially had two different ones from two competing banks: 25 years, 2.9%, 70% down, or 20 years, 2.15%, and 60% down. As a non-resident (from a tax perspective at least, which I still am), typically the most you can obtain for a mortgage is about a 60% loan to value ratio (LTV). Residents can usually get 70-80%, but since I likely won’t be a fiscal resident for another few years, I wasn’t able to get 80%. The 70% was actually appealing, but the documentation required for that one likely involved me visiting the consulate here and authenticating some documents, which seemed like a huge hassle (with various unknowns).

As part of the mortgage broker agreement, once you choose to move forward with a mortgage, you need to pay an additional fee, in my case a final €1,000. Obviously the combined total isn’t cheap, especially when taken in the context of the overall cost of the property, but you really need to keep everything in perspective. First, I might not have even been able to obtain a mortgage on my own, which means I wouldn’t be able to even buy a property. Second, having someone handle the entire process while I was busy working was a huge relief. Third, the rates I obtained were far better than I would have been able to get on my own. I know a few friends of mine here who obtained mortgages through their banks and were given rates of around 2.9%: that difference alone, 0.75%, amounts to roughly €9,100 of interest over the life of the mortgage, so more than enough to make up for the €1,400 or so I spent.

While technically you don’t need to have a mortgage arranged before making an offer on a property, it will make the negotiation process (and subsequent closing) much easier if you do. So it’s probably a good idea to approach your bank or to engage a mortgage broker to obtain a pre-approval before you make an offer. You can certainly add a clause into the contract saying it’s dependent on you obtaining a mortgage, but to be honest it’s a bit of a bad deal for the seller since they are basically taking their property off for a month or two for your benefit alone. So many sellers will simply decline any contract with that clause in it. My advice is to make sure you can obtain a mortgage before you get that far.

If you are looking for a great mortgage broker in Spain, I highly recommend Mortgage Direct SL – they were absolutely great to work with, and obtained two pre-approval offers for me.

Once you know you are set with a mortgage, it’s time to put in the official offer. The next post in this series will deal with that, so stay tuned.

Buying A Property in Spain: The Search

For those of my friends that follow me online, you may have noticed that I’m currently in the process of buying a flat here in Valencia. While the process isn’t quite over yet, I wanted to give people information on everything that is involved here. I’ll break this out into a multi-part series, the first part of which is this one: how to find a property in Spain.

Looking For A Property

If you’re starting out in a search for a property, chances are you are already looking at some of the more popular real estate websites such as idealista.es or fotocasa.es. For the most part, those are the two websites I used the most when I started searching.

Another good tip for people to find a property is to walk around the neighbourhood they are interested in and simple scan all the windows looking for “for sale” signs. Many older people likely don’t think of using the internet or an agency for their properties, so you may end up with a good deal if you do spot a private sale only listed privately in a window.

Differences Compared To Back Home

The Spanish property market differs in many ways compared to the Canadian one. For example, agents here in Valencia typically represent the seller, and when you engage an agent you typically can only see the properties they have in their collection. So that means if you want to see another property that isn’t in a particular agency’s collection, you need to contact the agency representing that property. The last part is a bit tricky as well, since agents aren’t exclusive here – it means multiple agencies can list the same property at the same time, and whoever shows the property and closes the sale will get the commission.

One of the inherent problems that creates is that every agency will make you sign a document basically agreeing that they will get the commission if you buy that property – so once you sign it, make sure you in fact do buy that property with that particular agency, otherwise you may end up paying commission twice.

While in many parts of Spain the seller pays for the entirety of the agency’s commission, in some other parts of Spain (like Valencia) the commission is actually split between the buyer and seller. That may be a bit shocking, but the argument could be made that the buyer is paying the commission in both cases since the price likely reflects the commission that needs to be paid as well.

Often the document you will sign to visit an apartment (here in Valencia at least) will state the agreed upon commission rate, typically on the order of 3% of the purchase price. If you don’t sign the document then you likely won’t get to visit the apartment, so really the agencies have all the power at this point. While I’ve been told you can negotiate those rates lower, you really don’t have any leverage to do so at the beginning, since you haven’t made an offer and are not in the process of making one.

In my case I was ‘lucky’ in that the property I was interested in was a private sale, so both the seller and myself didn’t have to pay any agency fees. My end of that would have amounted to roughly €5,200, so it’s not exactly chump change.

Once you find a property that you like, the next steps are to make sure you can obtain a mortgage for it (if required), and then make an offer.

Renewing The Non-Lucrative Visa In Spain

Well it’s hard to believe, but I’ve been in Spain nearly ten months now. My original non-lucrative residency is valid until August 30th, 2019, but the rules stipulate that a person can start the renewal process up to 60 days in advance, which means I can start the renewal process on July 1, 2019.

The renewal process is significantly less involved than the first application – you don’t need any criminal record checks for example, and the fees are basically administrative in nature. So I’m mostly looking at this as a formality. Compared to the original visa though (which was only valid for one year) this new renewal is valid for two full years.

The downside of that is that because the visa is non-lucrative in nature (in that a person can’t be working in Spain), Spain requires you to show that you can afford to live without making any money. For the first application, that amounted to one full year of expenses in the bank. But since this renewal is good for two years, basically you need to show two full years of expenses in the bank. Like most things in Spain, your mileage may vary. It’s quite possible a person can simply submit proof of funds for one year and have it approved, but in general most people need to submit proof of two years worth of savings at the current rates.

In terms of what’s required, here’s a rough list to assemble before renewing your non-lucrative visa:

  • EX-01 Form – this is the non-lucrative application form. The first time you applied you would have selected “INICIAL” for the type of application; this time around we need to select ” 1ª Renovación”, the 1st renewal.
  • Proof of funds (certified translation required) amounting to €2,130/mo, or €51,120. Sometimes they will ask for this to be in a Spanish bank account, but you should be able to get away without it. For the second case though, you will likely need a certified Spanish translation of the proof. I’m planning on taking one of my monthly reports for my retirement account and having it translated by a certified/sworn translator.
  • Padron Certificate – you need your empadronamiento certificate. If you have your digital certificate, you can easily generate a new one online. But hopefully you are still registered at a place, as this was one of my hang-ups with getting my TIE card originally.
  • Photocopies of every page of your passport – you need to actually prove you’ve been living in Spain for six months. In the old days people would obtain the non-lucrative visa and just come and go as they pleased, often only staying here a few months a year. Spain now only wants people who actually want to live in Spain (and ultimately pax taxes here – can’t say I blame them), so you will likely be denied the renewal if you didn’t spend six months here. So the point of asking for all the pages of you passport is to look at the stamps to get an indication of how long you spend in Spain.
  • Photocopies of the front and back of your TIE card – I’m not entirely sure why they need this, but apparently they do.
  • Medical Insurance – My Sanitas plan from last year (which I think was a great investment, they have been amazing to me) automatically renewed for another year on May 31, 2019. I did have to contact them via their online chat though and ask for proof of the extended period, since all the documentation I had only showed my plan was valid until May 31, 2019. But they send me a PDF via email in about 24 hours with proof of my renewal.
  • Tax Form: Code 790, Tasa 52 – You have to fill this out and pay the fee associated with the non-lucrative renewal. The option you want to select is “Renovación de autorización de residencia temporal”, and the fee at the time of this writing as €16.08, payable at most banks.
  • Proof of payment – keep your receipt for paying the Code 790, Tasa 52 form above.

One of my main sources of confusion is where to actually go to process the renewal. When I arrived in Valencia, I already was approved for my visa, and simply had to get my fingerprints taken while submitting the paperwork for the TIE card. This time around you need to get approval first, and then redo the procedure of getting an updated card.

I’m only about two weeks away from having to do this procedure, so I’ll update everyone with the results once I get started. I recently submitted a document to be translated by a sworn translator, and I’ll likely be able to pick it up in the next few days.

Update – I chose to attempt to renew my non-lucrative visa online. If you’re interested in that process, read how to renew your non-lucrative visa online.

How To Get The Non-Lucrative Visa To Live In Spain

I’m currently in the process of applying for a non-lucrative visa to come live in Spain for a year. While there are many different visa options you can apply for to enter Spain – such as a work visa or a student visa – the non-lucrative visa is great for people who want to enjoy Spain without being a student or working locally.

The name, “non-lucrative”, basically refers to the fact that you can’t earn any money with it. Unfortunately what that means is a bit confusing (as are many other things about Spanish visas in general, but we’ll get to that shortly). Basically Spain wants you to have an income stream for a year, but not necessarily get it by doing any work (and certainly no work in Spain itself).

Some people interpret the visa to mean that you can obtain this visa while working remotely and earning money in another country. So if that’s how you interpret this (and more importantly, how your consulate interprets it), then you are fine with applying for this visa and showing an income stream in another country to satisfy the requirements.

Another way to interpret this though is that you can’t be actively working in any country while holding this visa. I tend not to share this viewpoint, since technically even if you have passive income from investments in another country (like Canada, for example), it’s still income, and would likely be included on your tax return wherever you are. But this is a point of contention because people applying for the visa, as well as the consulates themselves.

For example, here is what the Spanish consulate in Los Angeles says:

Documentation proving economic funds sufficient for the duration of residence or proof of a minimum reoccurring monthly income. The minimum amount will increase for every additional member of the family. There must be proof of significant savings and proof of re-occuring, non-working income.

So they indicate that your income, if it’s recurring, must not be from active work – in other words, this income should likely be produced from investments.

The Ottawa consulate has this to say on the matter:

Sufficient economic means at the time of the visa application, or proof of a source of regular income without having to engage in any business or professional activity in Spain, for you and your family, where applicable, for the requested period of residence

Which seems to indicate that it’s fine to work, as long as that activity isn’t in Spain.

And to add even more confusion, let’s take a look at what Toronto says:

You must prove that you have enough means to live in Spain without working for the whole period that you want to stay in Spain.

Which seems to indicate that you can’t work at all.

Confused? Hold on tight, because we’re just getting started!

I think the safest option is to simply have enough savings to support yourself without working for the entire year, at least in terms of the application process. The current guidelines say you need to have at least 2,151.00 Euros available per month, or 25,812 Euros per year. So if you have that in some form of savings such as a retirement fund, bank account, or long-term savings account, you should be fine.

Official Requirements

I hesitate to use the word ‘official’, because it seems there is no real standard as to what each consulate wants to receive in terms of this visa. But there’s sufficient overlap for most of the items, and I’ll list the primary ones here (this particular list below comes from the Ottawa consulate):

  1. A valid passport or travel document recognized by Spain with a minimum validity of one year (some consulates only need six months).
  2. If the applicant is not a Canadian citizen, he/she must provide documentation proving his/her residence status in Canada (permanent residence permit, working permit, study permit, etc.)
  3. A medical certificate issued by your family doctor worded as follows:
    “This medical certificate states that Mr./Mrs.….. does not suffer from any diseases that may have serious consequences on public health in accordance with the provisions contained in the 2005 International Health Regulations” – [Read This]
  4. A Police Check issued by the authorities of all the countries where an applicant has resided for the last 5 years, including Canada.
    NOTE: The Police Check should be issued by the RCMP and contain the fingerprints of the visa applicant. You can find information on how to obtain one here.
    We will not accept Police Checks issued by local Police Stations.
  5. Sufficient economic means at the time of the visa application, or proof of a source of regular income without having to engage in any business or professional activity in Spain, for you and your family, where applicable, for the requested period of residence…
  6. A public or private medical insurance with an insurance company authorized to operate in Spain.
  7. A completed and signed visa application form with one (1) recent full-face photograph attached to its right top corner. The photograph should be a Canadian passport size picture, in color, on a light, plain and uniform background, without dark glasses or any garment that may prevent identification of the applicant
  8. A completed and signed non-lucrative residency permit application EX-01
  9. A completed and signed permit application form Modelo 790 Codigo 052
  10. Visa fee: CAN $ 91.20 (year 2018), except when a reciprocity fee applies to other countries, such as Canada and USA. Visa processing fee for Canadians is $ CAN 762.00. Please refer to the consular fee chart for other nationalities. Only cash, money order or certified cheque payable to the “Embassy of Spain” will be accepted.
  11. Non-lucrative residence permit fee: CAN $ 16.10 (year 2018). Only cash, money order or certified cheque payable to the “Embassy of Spain” will be accepted.

I’m guessing Canada did something really bad to Spain at some point, which is why we get hit with an extra $762 reciprocity fee. We’re sorry, Spain, please don’t hate us.

I’ll update each of the above items as I work my way through the process, as there is confusion at many of the steps. In addition, at least in Canada, it’s next to impossible to get ahold of anyone either by email or telephone at any of the Spanish consulates. Which basically means you have to rely on whatever information you can find.

Some consulates seem to want everything that’s in English to be translated (officially) into Spanish, while some seem to be fine with everything being in English. In addition certain documents (such as the criminal record check) also potentially require an Apostille (legalization of a document for use in another country).

Canada never signed Hague Convention, so legalization of authentication of official documents is very cumbersome involving:

  • Obtain the official document, such as a criminal record check, from Ottawa
  • Send that document to the department of foreign affairs where they will verify that the signature on the document is legitimate and stamp the document saying it’s official.
  • Send the now stamped document to the Spanish embassy in Ottawa and have their consulate investigate the stamp on the document, and add their own stamp to verify that the stamp from the department of foreign affairs was legitimate

Only after all steps have been done will the document be considered legal and official for use in Spain. There’s confusion as to whether this is necessary at all embassies (and in fact, given that the criminal record check comes from the government, seems completely redundant to have yet another government department verify the document, at least for use in Canada), but that’s what some people seem to have to do. In the United States you’ll need to find someone to act as an Apostille for your criminal record check.

Once you gather all the required documents (and pay your fees of course) and send them to the consulate, you’ll be able to live in Spain for a full year. I’ve heard in the US it often takes less than a month to be approved, but in Canada you should expect more like three months.

I’ve also been told it’s a good idea (and a silent requirement for some consulates) to include proof of travel to Spain for after you obtain your visa. That seems a bit risky to me, since you aren’t entirely sure when your visa will be complete, but I know some consulates (namely the one in Toronto) have asked other people for it prior to approving their application. At some level it may help guarantee you get your visa back before a certain date, but the consulates also say they aren’t liable if they don’t get it back to you in time, so it’s definitely a financial risk. I’ve chosen to be an optimist, and have booked a flight back to Spain, timed to be approximately three months after the date I plan to submit my application.

Once the process is done you’ll hopefully receive your passport back with a Spanish visa inside that’s valid for 90 days. You have to get to Spain generally within a month, after which you will obtain a place to live and apply at the local police station for your residence card. Once you have the residency card, I’m told the renewal process each year is much simpler, involving only showing proof of income or proof of funds, and also proof that you stayed in Spain for at least six months each year.

Given that the residency permit is renewable twice for two years each, in theory once you obtain your non-lucrative visa you can live in Spain for up to five years. And after those five years are up you quality for permanent residency, which would start the five year clock towards becoming a Spanish citizen.

If you want help with this process, make sure you buy a copy of our comprehensive 61-page guide for completing the non-lucrative application package. You can buy a copy of the Guide to Obtaining the Non-Lucrative Visa via our store.

June 2019 Update – This all worked! I’ve been a resident of Spain for ten months! You may be interested in what’s involved with renewing the non-lucrative visa in Spain

The Completed Non-Lucrative Visa Process

Yesterday I received my passport back from the Spanish consulate in Toronto – inside was my non-lucrative visa, which contains my NIE number that I’ll need in Spain. It’s possible to obtain a NIE without getting a visa (for example to buy a house), but they are issued automatically with your visa as well.

My completed non-lucrative visa

I started assembling my documents In May, and mailed my application at the end of June. It took roughly six weeks for them to process the application, and approximately one more week to send them my passport and for them to mail it back.

When I received the email saying my visa was approved and that they needed my passport, they also asked me to forward along my flight confirmation. I had a flight already in October, but decided to move it backwards and send the new flight information in. I’m glad I did since they used the date of my flight to set the start date of the visa. Had I not done that, my visa would have started in October, which meant I wouldn’t be able to fly to Spain early. So if you are doing this process, pay attention to when your flights are since your visa will likely be dated to that.

In just one week, I’ll be heading to Valencia. It would be nice to say this process is over, but there are still things I need to do in Spain upon arriving, and not all of them are easy. As you can see from the photo, the visa is only valid for a few months. What is supposed to happen is that I have to make an appointment within one month and apply for the TIE (Spanish Foreigner Card) which is what will ultimately let me stay in Spain for a year or longer. One of the requirements for the TIE though is that you have a permanent place to stay – that doesn’t really work for me since I plan to bounce around for a few months at first. I’ve been told you have to show at least a six month rental contract, which I won’t have. So this is still a problem I’m working to solve. I do know a few people in Spain, so I may see if one of them would be willing to state I’m living (i.e. couchsurfing) at their house for a while, just so I can complete the registration at the town hall.

Also, since I’m flying into London and will receive my entry stamp there, I’ve read I have to make sure I keep my boarding pass stubs for my flight to Spain to prove when I arrived there (since I won’t receive an entry stamp there). Without that they have no idea of when I actually showed up in Spain, and apparently that can cause a problem.

But I’m definitely excited to have the non-lucrative process behind me – it ended up being fairly straightforward, and despite some complaints I read online about the Toronto consulate, my experience with them was really quite good .

Being Notified of Approval

Just the other day I received notification from the Spanish consulate in Toronto that my visa had been approved. Since Toronto is three hours ahead, I received the notification while checking my email messages from my bed in the morning – what a great email to wake up to!

In total, it took about 42 days from the time they received my application in Toronto until I received the approval notification. While I was purposefully trying not to bug the consulate with emails, I did send one at the two week mark just to make sure my application was around and they knew about it, and a final email politely requesting a status update at close to the six week mark. Since it was summer, I was trying to poke them from time to time just to hope my application stayed near the top of the vacation pile. But I was pleasantly surprised that it was approved in only six weeks as I figured it would take closer to twelve (like the website says).

A few of the items I was potentially worried about in my application ended up not coming into play at all. For example, the Spanish health insurance I had purchased with Sanitas was primarily meant for entrepreneurs – even though I’m not working in Spain, it was accepted just fine. Also, none of my documentation was certified or translated into Spanish, which would have been a huge hassle to organize. I’m sure your mileage may vary depending on the consulate, but in general this process was fairly straightforward and my application was accepted without any issues at all.

I mailed my passport to the consulate a few days ago, and it appears that it just arrived there this morning. As part of my original application I had to include a return express post envelope to mail my passport back to me. I scanned the tracking number into my phone prior to sending it off originally, which means as soon as the consulate mails my passport back to me, my phone should chirp and show me its en route.

I had originally planned to fly to Spain at the start of October, but not that I have early approval, I’ve decided to head there at the end of August. As of yesterday, my house in Canada is officially rented for a year. I also sold my Mazda SUV a few weeks ago, which means I don’t really have any reason to come back, at least not for a year or longer. So in short, I’m ready to hop on a plan and start my new Spanish adventure!

Why Move To Spain?

Last winter I was sitting around a bar near Vancouver, BC, watching the rain fall down while sipping an India Pale Ale. I was thinking about my upcoming trip to Europe, still about four months in the future, and talking to a friend of mine about just how bored I was. Instead of living life, I guess the truth is I sort of felt like my life was on hold until that plane lifted off again, taking me to Europe.

Over the last six years or so, I have visited roughly 39 countries while working remotely. And for me, Canada has always been my home base I go back to. But often I end up in Canada during the winter months, which are quite depressing (rainy and cold for months), even though I have the ability to be anywhere due to my job. But unfortunately renting my Canadian cottage out during the winter months is a bit of a challenge, and it doesn’t make sense for me to leave it empty while I travel the world, since I still have a mortgage on it and monthly payments to contend with.

Of all the places I have visited over the last few years, only a few have stood out in terms of places I would actually want to live for a long period of time. Of those, Spain is one country I always seem to love coming back to – I love the people, the climate (320 days of sunshine a year in some areas), the beautiful architecture, and the proximity to the Mediterranean.

So not long ago, I came up with a solution to my winter dreariness problem – what if I actually rented out my cottage for a year and simply moved to Spain? While it’s hard to rent my place just for the winter, it’s much easier to rent out if it includes the summer too since I live near a lake in a resort-like area. Plus, moving to Spain would finally let me finish learning Spanish too, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

I actually recently had a conversation with a new friend about ticking off boxes in your life. That is, if you made a list of five to ten things that were important to you, where could you live in the world that allowed you to check off the most boxes?

For me, learning Spanish is near the top of that list, as is being able to sail from time to time (I learned how to sail in New Zealand years ago, but haven’t had the chance to sail since). I also would like to get in better shape, so somewhere where I can be outside for longer periods of the year I imagine would help with that (I hate going to the gym, but love doing things outside like rollerblading, etc.).

So in terms of checking off boxes, moving to Spain would help me tick off almost all of them – it would allow me to skip a dismal four to six months of rain and cold back in Canada, let me finish learning Spanish, give me access to the Mediterranean (and hopefully a sailboat), and also let me spend more time outside each year – sounds heavenly!

In terms of visas that would let me move to Spain for a year as a Canadian, there are really only two visas that apply: the entrepreneur visa, or the non-lucrative visa.

The entrepreneur visa is available to anyone who wants to open a company and employ Spanish workers. I’m not opposed to that at some point, but it seems pretty daunting to open a company if you don’t even have a comfortable grasp of the language. So I scratched that one off the list for now.

The non-lucrative visa is much easier to get with two caveats – you can’t work in Spain with this visa, and you must be able to provide proof of income (or savings) for the entire year. Since I sold my company a few years ago and still have a chunk of money in the bank, I should easily qualify for this visa.

So right now I’m actually in Spain on a tourist visa, working through opening a bank account and acquiring medical insurance. In about a month I’ll head back to Canada, and with luck, submit my entire application for the non-lucrative visa. I’m also in the process of renting out my cottage back in Canada, so hopefully will have that sorted out shortly as well.

So hopefully in approximately four months I’ll be on an airplane, heading towards Madrid, ready to spend an entire year living and travelling around Spain. I can’t wait!

How To Open a Bank Account in Spain as a Non-Resident

So if you’re here, you’re likely thinking about moving to Spain at some point. I know this, because that’s my end goal as well. Maybe not forever, but likely for a year or more.

One of the first hurdles you may encounter is opening a bank account. Once you have a long-term stay visa or a temporary residence in Spain, you can open an account as a resident. But there are certain advantages to having one sooner. For example, I thought moving larger amounts of money from Canada to Spain would probably be much easier when I am actually physically present in Canada, so I thought opening a bank account before heading back should make things smoother.

Given that I was in Spain for a month recently, I decided to go down to the bank and try to open an account – you need to be physically present in Spain to open one as a non-resident. While I speak enough Spanish to usually get by, I wasn’t confident that I’d be able to navigate the wide world of banking with my limited vocabulary. At this point I could have found someone local to help me, or hopefully someone who speaks english at the bank.

In terms of choosing a bank, you have a lot of options. After asking around most people locally recommended BBVA or La Caixa to me, since they have really great online access as well as mobile phone access. Since that will likely be how I use most of these accounts, I decided to go with one of those. And since BBVA was right around the corner from where I was staying, a few days ago I walked in there.

Luckily for me, I found someone who speaks english, so it made the process much easier. When I asked her what documents I need, she told me she needs my passport, proof of income back in Canada, and something to show I’m still a resident back in Canada. I went back to where I was staying and printed out a few pages from my 2017 Canadian tax return, and also my latest cable bill with my Canada address on it. When I went back with these documents, she looked over them and said they were fine.

The process took about 30 minutes, and the lady who helped me was very thorough in making sure I understood everything. Unfortunately you have to sign a few documents, all of which are in Spanish, but most of them just seemed to be related to me understanding that I had a small (600 Eur) line of credit, and also what their privacy policy is.

At this point, she told me to go home and come back the next day, as apparently the bank account needs to be approved at their head office. When I came back the next day at roughly the same time, she checked and everything had been approved. At that point she helped me set up the BBVA app on my phone and make sure it was working for me before I left. I was actually amazed just how far ahead the Spanish were in terms of banking, possibly due to the ease of use of the IBAN number here compared to our complicated institution/branch/account format back in Canada. But you can simply scan a barcode to send a friend or a company money from the application, which makes paying bills trivial each month.

Tomorrow I’ll receive my Visa/Debit card (apparently you can use the same card for both – withdrawing money from your account, and also paying for items in stores and what-not – once a month the card will pay itself off from my bank account, which is fine by me), but for the most part after only 48 hours my bank account was ready to go.

Ok, so now what?

One of the first issues I wanted to solve was how to exactly fund the account from Canada. Canada banking is pretty archaic, and I assumed I would have to take my Spanish banking information into a branch in Canada and set up an international wire transfer. Those transfer are error-prone, and usually quite expensive ($20 fee to send, and often $20 to receive). So I was looking for something that was cheaper.

I found a few people talking in various online forums about using TransferWise, so I decided to give that a shot. Basically TransferWise is a company that facilitates transferring money between international accounts with what they claim to be really low fees.

I quickly added my Canadian bank account information into TransferWise, and also my Spanish bank information. Once that was done, I simply clicked ‘Send Money’ on the Spanish bank account and started the process.

Sending money with TransferWise

Once you start the process, you can select how much money you want to send and also see all the relevant fees. The cheapest option in my case is to directly fund the transaction from my Canadian bank account. But there are other options too, like starting a wire transfer, or even funding via a credit card.

The fees are a bit deceiving in that TransferWise boasts really great currency conversion fees – this seems to be true, but instead of those fees changing, the actual “Our Fee” field seems to be based on a percentage as well. So instead of a 3% currency spread at most banks, you’re looking at roughly a 1% total fee for the transaction with minimal explicit exchange fees. It’s still roughly a 1% fee, but I doubt I could do any better myself in person, not without using a Forex company to exchange a larger amount of money. And in that case, it would take me two or three individual transactions and a lot of stress to pull off.

I thought for some reason when I started this transaction that it would simply grab the CAD from the Canadian bank account I set up. But in terms of TransferWise’s terminology, those accounts only seem to be destinations, not sources. So once you initiate the transaction, you have to fund it yourself, either by doing an explicit transfer to TransferWise (they give you the information after you start), or by linking your bank account to the transaction (by clicking on your bank icon, like TD Bank in Canada, and authenticating). Once that was done, TransferWise started the transaction.

TransferWise Transfer in Progress

TransferWise is really great at letting you know what’s going on. For example, the moment my TransferWise transfer received money from my Canadian bank, TransferWise sent a push notification to the application on my phone, as well as an email. Both of these let me know they had money, and were now converting it between currencies (at the rates they advertised previously), into Euros. Later that evening the money physically (or virtually I guess) showed up in my account, and was listed on the BBVA application. All in all it took about 24 hours to move money from my Canadian bank account to my Spanish one, and cost me approximately 1% in the process (or about $4 on $400).

Completed Transfer

If you’re looking to move money between your accounts, I definitely recommend using TransferWise – the process was really straightforward, and the transaction completed in probably the same amount of time it would take if I was trying to send money to someone else in Canada. Plus, their exchange rates seemed to match what Google said the rates were at the time, even though they had an explicit fee that seems to be roughly 1% of the total. But as I mentioned, I doubt I could do much better myself by moving money between two currencies, and certainly not without a bunch of hassle and stress.

If you want to sign-up to TransferWise, you can do it by clicking here (affiliate link – if enough of you decide to use it, I may earn enough to buy a few beers 🙂 ). But regardless TransferWise is going to be my go-to tool for moving money from Canada to Spain while I am here.

Final Thoughts

All in all the process took about 2 hours of time spread out over roughly a week. The account was active after the first 48 hours, but took roughly a full week before I had the Visa/Debit card in my hand and money in my account. So if you are in Spain and want to get this done, make sure you have enough time in one location to see it through.

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