We decided to come to Portugal because we wanted to start a new phase in our lives and have a great adventure. Working with the Portuguese banking system has been part of the adventure, for sure!
We were able to open a bank account in Portugal before we moved here simply by getting our NIF (the Portuguese equivalent of a social security number) and taking it to the bank along with our passports. As American citizens, we had to have a bank account open in Portugal prior to getting our visa and had to demonstrate that we could make transfers from the U.S. into our Portuguese account. International transfers are easy to manage using services like Transferwise (see links below).
Banking in Portugal is in many ways different from banking in our country of origin. Here, we go to the bank much more often than we did in the States, and for many more purposes. We get all the expected services like checking and savings accounts, credit and debit cards, and access to ATMs all over the country. But we were very surprised to learn that our bank is an insurance broker! Home, car, life and health insurance are all available.
We bought medical insurance through our bank. When we have questions about coverage or documents, we go to the bank and get excellent assistance related to our insurance. Premiums are automatically paid through our checking account and renewal is all handled through emails from the bank.
The Portuguese banking system is highly regulated and controlled; you need to go into the bank personally to complete and sign documents to open or close an account, and for any changes like a new address or phone number. Making a cash deposit can be challenging; only some branches accept cash, either at a teller’s window or at a special ATM. There always seems to be a line of people waiting for assistance. We often have to take a number and wait our turn, but we have always found the bankers to be ready and willing to help. There is always someone who speaks English.
Most bank branches are open Monday – Friday: 08.30 – 15.00 and are closed at the weekends and on public holidays. Many have Multibanco (ATM) machines in a lobby that is accessible 24 hours per day. Some have a Multibanco that accepts and dispenses cash, including coins and various denominations of bills. There are Multibanco machines all over in the cities, including in supermarkets and on street corners.
Portugal is in the eurozone and thus the euro is the currency. For small purchases, coins are used extensively, especially in the public markets where vendors really appreciate small change. Many fruit or vegetable purchases cost less than 1€. Buses cost between 1€ and 5€ to ride and you will want to have correct change so you won’t have to stand in line. You’ll want to have a coin purse or carrier. The smallest bill is 5€, the largest 500€. The smallest coin is .01€, the largest 2€.
Mostly, people in Portugal pay by Multibanco (debit) or credit card. VISA, Mastercard and (rarely) American Express are accepted at most stores and restaurants.
Electronic banking – Multibanco
When you open your first account, you will complete forms to obtain an electronic bank card. It takes approximately 7-10 days to get your card. You can walk up to any Multibanco machine to perform a variety of tasks, with no transaction fees. The electronic banking system is very efficient and allows you to pay bills (IWP dues, telephone, electricity, water etc.), make transfers between accounts (yours or those of other entities), or even buy a bus, train or concert ticket. If a bank machine ‘eats’ your card, go to your branch office immediately, telling them the exact location of the machine where you lost your card, and you should be able to get it back within a couple of days.
Helpful links to information about the banking system
The internet has many excellent sources for comprehensive information about the Portuguese banking system. Here are some that I found especially helpful: