Using a Portuguese Bank Account

Find out how the Portuguese banking services work...

The most common and convenient way to use a Portuguese bank account is through the Multibanco system. The Multibanco system (Caixa Automático MB) was set up with the co-operation of all the banks in Portugal in 1985, and is now widespread throughout the country, with ATM (cashpoint) machines on just about every commercial street in the country and in every shopping centre in the country.

The Multibanco system

Once a bank account has been opened in Portugal a Visa Electron card/Multibanco Card (Cartão Multibanco) will be sent within three weeks to the home address. A PIN code will arrive separately some days later. The PIN number can be changed (Alterar Código) in the bank or at a Multibanco machine. Cards are typically valid for one year.

As well as being used in cash machines most shops, restaurants, supermarkets, cafés, airports, stations, garages and commercial places accept Multibanco cards and have special swipe machines where the purchaser simply keys in their personal PIN number and presses the green OK button. The amount is debated automatically and instantly from the card holder's bank account. Sometimes at peak periods the transaction may take a few minutes. If there are not sufficient funds in the account the transaction will be rejected. If the card is suspected stolen or registered lost or stolen the shopkeeper or retailer has the duty to retain the card.

Normally the minimum purchase value for Multibanco use is five euros.

Using the Multibanco card at an ATM

The card can be used at any ATM machine to access a range of services, including:

  • Withdrawals (Levantamentos)
  • Payments (Pagamentos) (Some of the latest machines enable the client to pay in cash and credit the account)
  • Paying in cheques (Many banks have machines that enable cheques to be paid in electronically); cheques are being used less frequently as automatic electronic transfers take over
  • Transferral of funds between accounts in the same bank (Transferências da primeira conta para segunda conta)
  • Transferrals from one bank account to an account in a different bank (Transferências Interbancárias)
  • Paying utility and telephone bills (Pagamentos de Contas/Facturas Correntes)
  • Charging credit to a mobile phone (Carregamentos)
  • Paying Income Tax and Value Added Tax (Pagamentos dos Impostos IVA/IRS)
  • Paying National Insurance Contributions and Social Security (Pagamentos do Segurança Social)
  • Paying Municipal Taxes (Impostos Municipais)
  • Paying for goods and services (Pagamentos dos Compras e Serviços)
  • Paying for concert tickets, plane, bus and train tickets
  • Paying motorway tolls (Portagens)

What to do at the ATM machine

  • Key in the four-digit PIN number
  • For withdrawals press Levantamentos
  • For payments select Pagamentos then several boxes will appear: Entidade (key in number of the entity the payment is for), Referencia (key in the reference number on the bill),  Montante (key in the amount) then press Confirmar (Confirm). If a mistake is made press Anular (Cancel)
  • For mobile phone credits press Carregamentostelemóveis then choose between TMN, Optimus, Vodafone
  • To transfer money select Transferências
  • To pay taxes or social security: select Pagamentos ao Estado whereupon several options will appear such as Segurança Social (Social Security) etc.

Joint debit/credit card

A bank account holder can apply for a joint Multibanco card and credit card. When using this card the client must state if the transaction is against the credit card account or direct debit from a bank account.

Using Multibanco cards abroad

A Portuguese Multibanco card with a Visa Electron sign can be used in most ATMs abroad using the personal PIN code. A transaction fee will usually be charged by the entities in both countries.

Cheques

Cheques are now rarely used except in business payments. Unlike some countries where banks issue a cheque book automatically, in Portugal a customer must order cheques separately, and there may be a fee for this. The cheques come loose but numbered in a plastic wallet or paper envelope (Livrete de Cheques), and include a transaction record sheet. They are written out in the same way as in most countries – to the order of/pay (à ordem de). They must be signed and dated.

Cheques will contain the following information: Account Number (Conta Numero), Cheque Number (Cheque), Name (Nome), Signature (Assinatura), payable to (à ordem de) amount (à quantia de). At the bottom of the cheque is a 10-digit cheque number (Número de Cheque), 11-digit account number (Número de Conta) and an 8-digit Interbank number (Z.Interbancária).

Note: The Portuguese are extremely strict about bouncing cheques. If more than three cheques are written without sufficient funds in the account to cover them, the client will be charged and will be prohibited from ordering cheques for two years. The client's name will also appear on a Bank of Portugal blacklist and be circulated to all other banks in Portugal. The person paying in the cheque will also incur a fee.