Bank accounts in Hungary - a guide for freelancers and expats

If you're a newly arrived expat in Hungary and you're looking to set up a bank account for personal or business use, you're probably wondering what your options are and what you'll need to do to get it sorted.

This is a quick guide to answer some of your questions.

What are the main banks in Hungary?

Hungary has a diverse range of banks to choose from with many of the bigger banks having hundreds of branches all over the country. Some of the major ones include:

OTP Bank

K&H Bank

Erste Bank

Granit Bank

Budapest Bank

CIB Bank

MKB Bank

Raiffeisen Bank

Sberbank

KDB Bank

What to consider when choosing a bank?

One thing to consider is the fees that banks charge. If you're from the UK in particular where free cash withdrawals are the norm, you'll be in for a shock. Almost everything you do in relation to your bank account costs - ATM withdrawals, over-the-counter deposits, even changing your pin number.

The law entitles residents in Hungary to the first two cash withdrawals per month up to 150,000 HUF for free - but past that, you'll pay a fee. And that fee will be much higher if you take cash from an ATM not owned by your bank. So, take a look around your neighbourhood when choosing a bank.

If you're needing to transfer money abroad, particularly outside the SEPA countries, then that's going to cost you a lot as well. Consider a service like Transferwise to avoid these high fees.

Past that, if you don't speak Hungarian, the bigger banks might be a safer bet as they are likely to have a higher number of staff that speak English.

How to open a bank account in Hungary?

Opening a bank account online, or while outside of Hungary is practically impossible - especially if you're not Hungarian. Instead, pop in to your local branch (and try to avoid doing it during the morning rush or close to closing time). Prepare for a wait while they find someone with extensive enough English to help you out. Or you can take someone who speaks Hungarian with you to speed up the process.

As a foreigner, all you'll need is your passport or national ID card and, if you're from outside the EU/EEA, a valid travel document or visa. You'll also need a local phone number and address.

Expect the process to take around 30mins or more, with lots of signing forms and watching as multiple staff pull out ink stamps to decorate said forms. Each bank has several different types of account, so it's best to inform yourself as best as possible before you go in.

All the major banks have web and mobile apps, most with English versions. So, once your account is set up, you should be able to everything else going forward online.

I'm a US citizen, will I have problems opening a bank account in Hungary?

You may have heard stories of US citizens being refused bank accounts in Hungary and other countries around the world. This all stems from the FATCA regulations - a set of US laws that require banks all over the world to report back to the IRS with information on any bank accounts owned by US citizens and permanent residents abroad.

The regulations have been controversial and required costly process changes for banks everywhere to be able to meet them. While anecdotally, some banks seemed to have turned US customers away in the past, this no longer seems to be the case, and all major banks in Hungary will accept US citizens as customers. There will usually be a box to tick when signing up.