Please note, this article was written in 2013 and is based on Alex’s personal experience of opening a bank account. He’s an EU citizen with a Latvian residence permit.
There are a number of banks in Latvia, but the main players, and the banks with the most branches are Swedbank, SEB, Luminor and Citadele.
The first thing to take note of is where your nearest branch is, and the bank machines nearby which you are likely to use. Some machines will charge you if you don’t do your banking with that particular bank or its partners.
For those in Riga, your likely choice is going to be Swedbank, SEB or Luminor. Those three seem to have the largest spread of branches in the city, and Swedbank in particular have quite a presence, with their prominent skyscraper across the Vanšu Bridge from Riga’s old town.
Most banks in the centre of town will have English speaking assistants. The closer to the old town you are, the more likely that is.
I opted for Swedbank since they have plenty branches.
What you need
Before striding jovially into a branch and demanding they take your money, you’ll need to have a few things.
If you’re a resident, it’s wise to take note of your Personas Kods (the ID number featured on your residence permit or ID Card). Having it to hand makes the process much easier. I don’t have experience opening an account without a residence permit!
If you have a job, you’ll need to take your “work agreement” (an employment contract) and if you’re unemployed, you may need to take some form of paperwork that proves your connection to Latvia and why you’re living here (more importantly where your money is coming from). This is a formality to ensure that you will have money going into the account once it’s been opened.
I tried to open an account with Swedbank without a work agreement, and after lots of back-and-forth with the staff, they kindly refused to let me open an account until I could provide proof that I would be getting paid into this account.
Applying for the account
With Swedbank, you can either go into a branch or you can apply for an account online. Either way you’ll need to fill out some paperwork.
Information on Swedbank’s “Salary Account” (their basic current account). – (Take note: See the link on the right hand side of this page stating “Documents and other requirements for opening a Swedbank account“)
If you apply online, there is a simple form on their website, but then they will follow up and require that you fill out a “new client” questionnaire (the link above – check the right hand column for a “Know Your Customer” link to find this), and you will have to scan and email your completed questions, along with a work agreement to them before they open the account. Even after that has been completed, you will still need to go into the branch to collect your card and sign some further agreements anyway.
So the recommendation here is to pop into a branch and inquire there.
You will need your personal details and I would recommend taking your passport. Be prepared to sign a few bits of paper.
Collecting your card
After your initial visit, they take a few days to process your application, and then you will be notified via phone, email or text message that you card is ready for collection. When you apply you can specify the branch at which you would like to pick the card up.
When you collect your card, you will likely have to sign something else to say it has been received, and you may want to ask about internet banking at that point.
Having the account
I have a standard personal account with Swedbank and after the first month which costs 1.75 LVL, it costs me a further 0.50 LVL a month to have (at the time of writing).
I have a small code calculator, which I paid a few extra lats for which gives me a pass-code for my internet banking and seemed an easier option than the code-card.
To pay into the account, I can go into a branch and pay in at the cash desks for a small fee or I can use one of their machines to pay in which is free. It seems all branches have deposit machines.
The cash deposit machines accept a bunch of up to 100 notes at a time, and they can even be of mixed values. It seems to just *magic* them into the right value which you confirm and add to your account.
Banking in Latvia is very similar to banking elsewhere once you have the account set up. Each bank will have differences in fees and account options but ultimately they all provide much the same service.
Have you had any problems opening an account here? Please let us know how you got on in the comments below.