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Portugal > Articles


Should You Switch Banks When Moving to Portugal?

Thursday September 26, 2013 (01:03:59)


Navigating the world of banking can be difficult at the best of times, but when you’re moving to a whole different country it can be almost impossible to work out what to do with your money. Keep the bank you’re currently with and hope they have enough branches to make it worthwhile? Move to a local financial institution and hope that the legal jargon in their terms & conditions doesn’t say anything too prohibitive?

The major cities of most countries in Western Europe will have at least one branch of the larger banks you’re used to: HSBC, Barclays and Bank of America all have local branches across Europe. Unfortunately, Portugal seems to be one exception to this rule. Often it can be easier to just transfer money over to an existing bank in your newly adopted home country, however there are lots of things to take into consideration if this is something you want to do. Will the bank staff speak enough English to understand your consumer needs? If not, do you speak the local language fluently enough to understand some of the more complex financial jargon that’s unique to the finance world? How often do you travel back to your country of origin? And arguably the most important factor: where are you living? If you’re in an apartment in the centre of Lisbon, you’ll probably be OK. But if you’ve just bought yourself a beautiful little place in the most scenic of rural locations, you might find it difficult to withdraw money quickly.

If you’ve only moved there recently, you can use any card with a Visa symbol in most cash machines throughout the major cities, but after a while you will be expected to transfer over to a Portuguese-based insitution. It’s also worth noting that there is often a fee for withdrawing money every time you use your card at another bank’s cash machine, and that doing this in Portugal can cost you up to five dollars each time. If you want to keep your original bank, this is sometimes possible depending on how many international branches they have. Bank of America, whilst they have branches in various locations across Europe, haven’t yet broken into the Portuguese market, so if you’re currently banking with them, you might have to consider a change. J.P. Morgan also has no Portuguese branch, and neither do Wells Fargo or PNC. In fact, the only major international banks with branches in Portugal are Barclays and Deutsche Bank, so if your money is currently held with any other society, it may be easier to switch it. But where should you switch it to?

The easiest option might just be to change over to Barclays, if your first language is English. The corporation’s headquarters are in London, but they have over twenty branches in lots of different locations across Portugal, and they guarantee that you’ll find staff who speak fluent English in each one. Santander also has a Portuguese part of their business, although the English-speaking services are not so easy to come by. With 681 branches across the country, though, you’ll at least know that you’re not too far from a place to manage your money even if you’re not right in the centre of a city.

Of course, there’s always the option of opening an entirely new account with one of the locally-based banks. Millennium BCP, Banco Espirito Santo and BBVA are three of the biggest contenders here. In terms of convenience for people whose Portuguese isn’t up to scratch, Espirito Santo is probably the best bet, with an English online banking manager helping expats keep track of their funds without having to visit the nearest branch for every transaction. Millennium BCP also has an English banking option and some online account management facilities.

It’s also worth making sure that statements and letters can be delivered in English; BCP and BCI both automatically send out letters in Portuguese to all clients, which can be a problem if you’ve enquired about security policies or they’re changing their banking terms. Before opening an account, make sure the bank you’re looking at has the option of English written alerts, as well as online banking in your native language if this is how you’re used to managing your accounts.

Have you switched your bank account yet? How did you decide where to put your money when moving abroad? Let us know in the comments.

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