How to open a bank account in Europe

Moving to Europe? Here’s how to set up your own local bank account.

7 min read

Europe is a beautiful continent, full of complex history and a wide variety of cultures. While starting a new life here can be rewarding, there are also some bureaucratic obstacles you’ll have to consider—such opening your own European bank account. Having your own local bank account is going to be a crucial step in getting your life here underway. In this guide, you’ll learn the basic steps to set one up. Read on to find out more.

What do I get with a European bank account?

Whether you want to travel, start a new life, or run your own business, having a European bank account makes it possible to spend, receive, and transfer money in the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA). That includes every country in Europe—even those outside of the European Union (EU). 

In most countries, you can open a checking account for free. But once your account is open you might be expected to pay a monthly “maintenance” fee. Make sure you understand the terms and conditions expected of you before signing any paperwork.

Most European banks will automatically issue a domestic debit card that can be used at ATMs and select retailers in your country. However, you usually can’t use these kinds of cards abroad or online. Try and look for a bank that will offer a card that is widely accepted, like Mastercard or Visa. You also might want to look out for a card that’s compatible with Apple Pay or Google Pay, if you’re interested in contactless payments.

While online banking options are becoming more common, even at traditional banks, make sure your chosen institution offers online or in-app services that are easy to use and updated regularly. You should be able to access your balance and other banking information whenever and wherever you need to.

Am I eligible to open a bank account in Europe?

As a rule, anyone 18 or over with a valid passport or other form of national ID is eligible to open a European bank account. Residents of a certain country can usually apply with just their passport and proof of address. Slovenia, for example, even lets tourists open a bank account without having official residency. Other countries, like those in Scandinavia, have tighter restrictions and will likely take a little longer to get set up. Look for a bank that clearly communicates the eligibility requirements depending on your situation.

What do I need to open a bank account in Europe?

Every bank has different requirements for opening an account, but you’re most likely going to need at least the following documents:

  • Passport or national ID

  • Proof of address in a European country (utility bill, rental contract, or o

  • Proof of employment or school enrollment

Some banks may ask for additional information like income statements or your tax number. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t provide all the necessary documents right away—simply make arrangements to get your papers in order, or search for a bank with different requirements.

What’s the typical process? Can I open a bank account online?

There are over 40 different countries on the continent of Europe, which means it’s difficult to narrow it down to just one typical process for opening a bank account. The process will depend on the country you choose to settle in, and the type of bank account you sign up for.

If you opt for a traditional bank,the easiest way to open your account will probably be to go in person to your local branch. Either make an appointment or just walk in with all your necessary documents, speak to a teller about what you’re looking for, and let them guide you through the process.

Or, you also have the option of signing up for an online bank. With an online bank, you can usually complete the entire sign up process from your home, or anywhere you have a solid wifi connection. Have your passport and your residency document handy as you go through the sign up flow. You might have to do a short video call to verify your identity, but in general, the process for signing up for an online bank is much easier and less time consuming than with a traditional bank branch.

For more country-specific information, click on one of the following links:

Opening an online bank account, step-by-step:

In person

  1. Identify and print the documents required by your bank

  2. Make an appointment or walk in to your local branch with all your documents

  3. Answer some questions and verify your identity with the clerk

  4. Wait for your confirmation, card, PIN, and other necessary documents to arrive by post

  5. Activate your account and online banking

Online

While some traditional banks let you open an account online, it can be a tricky procedure. Often, you’ll need to know the local language. And in some countries you won’t get very far without a digital ID, which you have to set up in person. That’s why it’s usually easier to bring your papers to a branch. 

Check your chosen bank to see if you have the option of opening a traditional bank account online. If it doesn’t look feasible, you can always opt for an online bank, where all of your services—including sign up—can be done over the internet.

Opening an online bank account, step by step:

  1. Confirm your phone number or email

  2. Download your bank’s mobile app and select the type of account you want

  3. Finish the registration process

  4. Complete in-app ID verification 

  5. Create a PIN and wait for your card to arrive by mail, if you’ve ordered a physical card

Only real banks have a banking license

Fintech companies are financial technology companies that can offer many of the same services as a bank. Some even set you up with an IBAN account and debit card. But fintechs aren’t actually real banks. If you’ve never heard of a company before, there’s an easy way to tell if it’s a real bank or just a fintech startup: in Europe, only fully licensed banks are allowed to call themselves a “bank.”

European banks have to go through a rigorous application process before being granted a full banking license. That means they must all comply with rules set out by the respective country’s central bank, financial supervisory authority, and European Central Bank. 

A licensed bank has the power to offer more advanced banking services like overdraft and lending. Most importantly, it ensures the protection of your data and money—up to €100,000 under an EU-wide deposit guarantee scheme. 

With more than five million customers in 25 markets and growing fast, N26 is the first licensed bank in Europe built for the digital generation.

How to open an account with N26

How to open a European bank account online with N26

  1. Confirm your email and personal details

  2. Select the type of account you want—Standard (free) or a premium option like Smart, You, or Metal

  3. Prove your identity and link your smartphone to your new account

  4. Your account and virtual Mastercard will be active right away

  5. If you ordered a physical Mastercard in addition to your virtual one, this will show up via post.


Your money at N26 

N26 makes opening a bank account in Europe as easy as email. The basic N26 Standard account is completely free, while premium plans like N26 You, Business You and N26 Metal accounts offer perks like extensive insurance and innovative saving and budgeting features. Need to send money abroad? No problem—and no over-inflated exchange rate. N26’s Wise integration gives you the real rate, every single time. Finally, N26 Customer Support specialists are happy to assist you—in five different languages. Visit our compare page and find the plan that’s right for you.

By N26

The Mobile Bank

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