European Bank Account for Non Residents: A Complete Guide


If you work or study in Europe - or even if you’re just a regular visitor - having a European bank account can make a lot of sense. You’ll be able to manage your money more easily across currencies, ride out exchange rate fluctuations and cut your international payment costs significantly.

This guide gives an overview of how to open a European bank account as a non-resident. We’ll also highlight TransferWise as a smart way to trim your international transfer fees - and the TransferWise borderless multi-currency account as a great non-resident account for Europe.

European banking - an overview

Europe has a strong and sophisticated banking system, with global, regional and local banks and specialist financial institutions represented throughout.

The largest bank in Europe is HSBC, which has headquarters in London - followed by BNP Paribas and Credit Agricole, both based in Paris. It’s interesting to note that European trends are towards fewer physical bank branches as more and more customers move to online services, and modern alternatives to traditional banks. Online banking is used by 58% of people in Europe as a whole, with some countries such as Estonia leading the way on digital banking and fintech solutions. More on that later.

If you’re new to banking in Europe, it’s also useful to understand SEPA - the Single Euro Payments area. This was set up to make it as easy to make international payments within Europe as it is to send a local transfer. At present, 36 countries - including some which do not use the euro as their national currency - are part of SEPA. SEPA payments happen fast - electronic payments arrive in no longer than one business day, with a maximum of 2 business days for paper-based transfers.

Can a non-resident open a European bank account?

It is possible to open a European bank account as a non-resident. However, different banks have their own systems, eligibility requirements and application processes - which can make it tricky to get started in some places.

For example in some European countries the norm is to open a bank account in person, to provide signature samples and documentation. If you’re a non-resident and not planning on visiting Europe, this may prove impossible. Other banks might need a suite of documentation which is problematic to get as a non-resident - again effectively making accounts harder to open for expats. 

However, with a bit of persistence and research, you’ll be able to find a bank account in Europe which suits your situation.

TransferWise can save you money on your international payment

If your primary reason for opening a European bank account is to make international payments, it’s worth considering using a third party provider such as TransferWise instead of your regular bank.

TransferWise international payments are made using the mid-market exchange rate with no markup or margin added. You’ll only ever pay a low, transparent fee which can work out much cheaper than traditional banks.

You’ll also be able to make cross border banking even more straightforward with a TransferWise borderless multi-currency account. Hold dozens of different currencies, switch between them using the mid-market rate, and send and receive global payments from your laptop or mobile device. 

How to open a European bank account

While banking legislation is broadly similar from one country to another in Europe, there are some variances in both the regulations and normal banking practices. 

For example, all countries in Europe have strict Know Your Customer rules, to make sure banks verify the ID of anyone opening an account. However, how these rules are interpreted can vary depending on the country, bank processes and systems, and the local competition. As a result, you’ll want to do some research depending on your specific situation and needs to make sure you find the right bank for you.

Open European bank account online

Some banks will allow non-residents to open an account online - but this is not possible with all institutions. 

The best option for you will depend  on your personal situation. If you’re a non-resident but do have an address in Europe you may find more banks which can accept your application. This may apply if you have a business interest or second home within a European country, for example. You’ll also be able to access specialist expat accounts which are designed for high-wealth individuals, and offered by most global banking brands. We’ll cover these in more detail later.

Otherwise you might find you can open an account online with a digital bank as an alternative. European digital bank N26 offers accounts in the US as well as in most European countries, meaning you might be able to open an account in the US and still access services in Europe. The exact products and accounts you can access depend on your region, though, so you’ll need to research the feasibility for your specific situation.

Finally, check out the TransferWise borderless multi-currency account as a great online option which lets you hold, send and spend money in euros as well as dozens of other currencies. The customer verification process is done online for convenience so you can get started without leaving home.

Open a European account in person

If you’re able to visit a bank in Europe in person you might find you have a broader range of options to choose from. In some countries it is simply the accepted practise to attend a bank meeting when opening an account - resident or not.

If you’re opening your account on a visit to Europe and need to access services from outside the country, do make sure that online banking covers all your needs before you select an account. In some cases you need a local phone number to use online banking, which can be tricky from overseas.

Are there any other options to open a European bank account as a non resident?

The best option for you will depend a lot on your personal preferences and situation. Here are another couple of ideas to help your research.

Multi-currency expat accounts 

Most global banking brands offer international banking services which allow customers to open and operate accounts in different currencies. However, these accounts often require high initial deposits and have relatively pricey fees. The services available tend to be slanted toward high wealth individuals who want to invest overseas, or maintain multiple businesses and properties. 

Estonia E-residency

Estonia has embraced all things digital, with traditional commercial and public services largely done online. One big bonus for people looking to get a foothold in Europe is the Estonian e-residency program. You can become an e-resident online, giving you the option to open a bank account - and even a business - in Estonia. This is a great service for people looking to do business or make freelance income in Europe.

There are options out there if you need to open a bank account in Europe as a non-resident. However, the best one for you will depend on your specific situation, and how you intend to use the account.

Do your research carefully to make sure you find the best deal for you. By checking out traditional banking options as well as online alternatives like the TransferWise borderless multi-currency account, you’ll find the perfect solution.

Disclaimer: This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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