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Expat Banking: Tips for Expats in Portugal

By Joshua Wood, LPC

Summary: All expats in Portugal contend with managing their finances while living there, and that always starts with finding a bank. Here are some tips from expats already living in Portugal on how to navigate that process.

Expats Banking - Tips for Expats in Portugal

Expats in Portugal, or anyone moving to Portugal, inevitably has to choose a banking service to use in Portugal.

Here is some advice offered by expats already there to people in the process of moving there or considering such a move. Remember that individual banks and Portugal have policies, but every case will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Read what we've edited below, and the original articles and message-board threads so you have as much information as possible.

Expat Banks in Portugal to Consider

An expat asked about banks in Portugal on our Portugal expat forum. Here's some of the advice they received:

One expat wrote: "I haven't noticed huge differences between most of them, have accounts in three. Activo (owned by Millenium) is by the far the best I've used for online management of banking. They also are the fastest to respond. They have fewer offices than most other banks and are probably best if you are in Lisbon.

There are some negative reports on the stability of Novo Banco so that's probably one to avoid. While there is deposit insurance, it would still be a pain to have to deal with getting your money back if the bank failed."

Another expat wrote simply: "Millenium"

In another thread about banking in Portugal, an expat wrote:

"I use Schwab Bank. I use a USA address (my daughter). I transfer money at least monthly. I watch the rates using the XE.com website. I have found Transferwise.com to be the cheapest way to transfer funds. For example, 5 minutes ago I transferred $1300 into euros. The fee was $12.87. It will be in my bank in Portugal in 7 hours. I use BPI here and they have been good to me. Friendly and helpful, at least at my local branch. I had worked in banks for many years so they aren't cheap. I suggest calling your US Bank and ask them how much it would cost to transfer $1300 to a bank in Portugal. That way you have a basis of comparison. If I had to guess there will be at least a $20+ wiring fee plus they take a cut on the exchange rate. The exchange rate is constantly moving. That is why I check xe.com."

Another expat wrote about Banks in Portugal:

"To queries about schwab and other US financial institutes disallowing acount holders to move abroad: There is a growing trend due to onerous Federal reporting requirements, with the work-around being to use a US mail address...a friend's or relative's or a forwarding company address, and go paperless. The fine print at schwab doesn't say how many transactions you can make outside the US, or over what time period, the last time I read it, so the US address does the trick."

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How to Open A Bank Account in Portugal

As with other countries, you cannot just wander into a bank in Portugal and open an account without following the proper procedures. Again, and perhaps most importantly, while each bank will have certain policies, each case is different. Here is a helpful conversation to consider:

One of the most knowledgeable expats on our Portugal forum wrote:

"How to open a bank account... There are three steps: ONE, have a residence visa; TWO, have your NIF (numero de contribuente); THREE, go to a bank and bring your passport, NIF paper, contract for where you are living or staying here, your social security card (due to newer IRS rules). All persons who will be accessing the account must appear with you, in person, to sign the papers.

"To get your NIF, you do NOT need an attorney, but having one builds confidence in some people so decide for yourself. I talked with Financias, the organization that is like the US IRS and who issues NIFs, last week. They currently require: passport, proof of US address (driver's license, recent utility bill) and a financial representative. Banks are not all equal here; some are private and have been pillaged by their owners. Research the current bank ratings before you choose, and also consider that you will often have to go to your bank branch in person to handle things so find a bank branch near your residence."

Another expat responded and just said:

"I just opened and account at Novo Banco and they do not require residence visa. I suspect some banks do and others don't, perhaps."

Again, each is different, but the 3 steps outlined above should be your guide!

Another wrote: "I also opened an account when I was in Lisbon at Santander without a visa but it did take a month! Lots of financial statements having to be provided. Every document they send is written in Portuguese."

Yet another example from an expat: "We are leaving today after our own 10 days here. We got our FIN, opened a bank account and signed up for private health insurance. To get the FIN you need a financial representative. We used an attorney we found on line. Only needed our passports. We then were introduced to Mellinium Bank by an expat couple we first met on line. You need an appointment. Process took about 2 hours. Only needed FIN and passports. They also could sign us up for private health insurance, but for my age (70) I found a better deal with Medal through AFPOP. Did all this before we have our residence visa, which we will apply for when we get home. Once we come back will have a (different) attorney handle the SEF appointment for the resident card (which also gets us access to public health care) and the NHR, which gives us a 10 year tax exemption from US income. Lots of steps to move here, but just take them one at a time! All the planning and wondering that you are going through like we did becomes a lot clearer once you are on the ground. (P.S.)... when you are here, use the Metro...it is easy, quick and clean!)"

"Further....we did not need a [Portugal] address for any of this...the bank used our US address...we will change once we have local address. Not all banks are so accommodating since it creates extra paperwork for them reporting to the US."

How Expats Can Secure Necessary Paperwork To Open a Bank Account in portugal

As there is certain paperwork that needs to be completed to secure some of the necessary documentation, do read our article United States Citizens Moving to Portugal: Demystifying the Paper Trail, written by Susan Stults Korthase. Here is an excerpt:

"Because it takes so long to get that first appointment with SEF, you'll likely apply for your NIF, N?mero de Identifica??o Fiscal, before getting your Permit. The NIF is issued by your local tax office (Finan?as). The NIF is required in order to open a bank account, buy a car or apply for a credit card, among many other transactions. Since 2017, Financias is requiring that you have a Financial Guarantor with you to get your NIF. As defined earlier, this is a permanent resident or citizen of Portugal willing to assume your financial responsibility if you default. Financias states that the role of Financial Guarantor expires in one year."

Also read our 10 Tips for Living in Portugal and join our Portugal Forum for expats. It's free to join.

Join our Portugal Expat Forum

Visit our Portugal Forum and talk with other expats who can offer you insight and tips about living in Portugal.

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About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000. Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Some of Joshua's more popular articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 10 Best Places to Live in Ireland and 5 Best Places to Live in Spain. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.

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Updated On: Jul 17, 2018

First Published: Jul 17, 2018

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