When traveling from abroad to Spain, visitors will invariably need to exchange their cash from their local currency to the currency of Spain. Spain became a member of the European Union in 1986 and was among the first country to move over to the euro on 1 January 1999. The Spanish peseta and the euro were both legal tender for a transitional period of three years. This transition lasted until 28 February 2002. On New Year’s day 2002, Euro banknotes and coins were introduced in Spain.
As a member of the European Union and of the Schengen zone, citizens of certain countries will be required to apply for the European Travel Information Authorization System also known as ETIAS in order to enter Spain. ETIAS requirements are explained in detail and the ETIAS application online is fairly straightforward and takes very little time to complete.
Should travelers change money in Spain or should they convert their currency before leaving their home country? There is a smorgasbord of options when traveling nowadays, and considering money exchange, Spain is no exception. Self-education and knowing the pros and cons will stand any traveler in good stead when it comes to how to change money. Spain uses the Euro and the currency symbol for the Euro is €. Use the European Central Bank website for the best and most up-to-date conversion rates against other world currencies.
One Euro is made up of 100 cents. There are ten coins, minted in 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents as well as the 1 and 2 Euro. Euro banknotes can be accessed in seven denominations, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 Euros.
Do This Before Leaving Home
Travelers should contact their bank and credit card company before leaving home to travel to Spain to check:
- daily limits
- relevant foreign transaction fees
- dynamic currency conversion fee
- ATM withdrawal fees
- ATMs that offer free withdrawals in Spain.
- Whether your bank is a member of the Global ATM Alliance because the use of affiliated ATMs in Spain will be free.
Returning home from traveling to find they have been charged exorbitant bank fees and charges while transacting in a foreign country is not ideal for anyone after a trip abroad.
Before leaving home, pop into your local branch or check in with the bank and credit card company about:
- specific countries on the itinerary and exact dates of travel. Banks will regard any transactions in a foreign country to be suspicious unless they have been specifically notified that the bank card will be used in the country during a predetermined time frame. Unless the banks have notification of specific countries/cities and dates, travelers may face the inconvenience of having a credit card blocked while on foreign soil.
- ways to contact the local bank in the home country in the event of queries or issues so that help and assistance are available while in a strange country.
- Checking that your bank card is usable in Spain. To use your credit card in Spain, it must have a 4-digit PIN code.
It is imperative that travelers are in possession of one or more backup credit or debit cards to avert any inconveniences should unforeseen eventualities arise while in Spain. Backup cards should never be carried on a person while abroad. They should be in safekeeping and easily accessible in the safe in your hotel room, in a safe box at the hotel reception, or safely stowed away in a suitcase.
If you are wondering how to change money, Spain has the same options as you would have at home. Let’s take a walk through the avenues of alternatives.
When considering traveling to Europe and the associated money exchange, Spain is very much in line with the other countries that use the Euro as their currency. By all means, buy a couple of hundred euros in cash so that you have it on hand if necessary. Especially if you might not have easy access to an ATM from which to withdraw while you are in Spain. The safest bets to use for exchange currency are ATMs, Banks, and Bureaux de change. ATMs are the only of these options that are conveniently accessible. Banks and Bureaux de change are closed after banking hours and on Sundays. In Spanish cities such as Barcelona and Madrid, travelers will find a choice of opportunities for currency exchange. In smaller towns, banks are likely to only change the currency for their clients.
For better exchange rates, opt for banks and exchange offices that are not located near the tourist attractions, and definitely do NOT use any at the airport. Street vendors are an absolute no-no and it is not legal to use them for currency exchange. Banks and bureaux de change may have limited hours and be closed on Sundays and many Spanish banks, especially in smaller cities and towns, will only exchange money for their own clients.
Be sure to get notes of a smaller denomination than €50. You don’t want large denomination notes because chances are you will only use cash for low-value purchases or services. Shops and restaurants as a rule will be willing to accept only note smaller than €100. It is very possible that a taxi in Spain will refuse payment with higher-value notes. They are obliged to give their fares change up to €20 only. In the same vein, bus drivers are obliged to issue change up to a €5 note. You may be refused permission to get on the bus if you present the driver with a note of higher value than the €5.
For money exchange, Spain is much the same as other European countries as far as the use of ATMs goes. The country hosts a network of 53,000 or so ATMs. Mastercard, Visa, Maestro, American Express, and Discover debit cards and credit cards are accepted by the ATMs in Spain which are operated by one of three service providers: regional banks, international banks, and non-bank ATM operators.
For travelers who bank with an International Bank, cash withdrawals from their partner banks will likely not carry a fee. Banks abroad that are represented in Spain may not carry certain fees such as foreign currency conversion fees for cash withdrawals from an associated ATM.
Regional Spanish Banks that partner with large international banks offer local customers a wider network of ATMs.
Make sure to use ATMs associated with a legitimate bank and steer clear of generic cash machines.
Cash Withdrawal Fees are applied by the operator of ATMs for cash services. These could be a percentage of the withdrawal, typically 2% or 3%, or a flat fee between €1 and €5.
Out-of-Network Withdrawal Fees are charged by your bank when drawing cash from any ATM that they do not operate.
A Dynamic Currency Conversion or DCC is a currency conversion fee that shows the price in your home currency. This is always optional and should never be selected because it is very expensive. They charge a higher exchange rate than the market rate and the traditional exchange rate offered by banks.
The Currency Conversion Fee or Exchange Rate Margin is a hidden fee charged by the service provider when a traveler spends with non-local currency.
Credit Cards and Debit Cards
In Spain, Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted by stores and ATMs. The best option when using a debit card or credit card is one that waives the currency conversion fee for purchases.
To change money in Spain, withdrawing cash is by far best done at an ATM using a debit card. The same applies to point-of-purchase buys. Credit cards are great for emergencies as well as for purchases with a hefty price tag. Credit cards might provide certain perks when traveling as well as travel insurance. This is especially pertinent for those credit card products designed with travelers in mind.
Travel-friendly debit cards allow holders to withdraw without incurring international service fees. Debit cards must have a chip to be accepted in Spain. They can be used in-store, online, in hotels, and at ATMs without running up interest charges the way a credit card would.
Travel Money Cards and Virtual or Digital Cards
The contemporary option that is travel cards and virtual cards are the new it: the height of convenience, safe, and accessible. A virtual card is just like an old-school bank card although it never makes it into your leather wallet or purse. It is kept on your phone in a digital wallet and is secured through encryption. Likewise, a virtual card is also kept on your phone but it has a unique card number, expiry date, and CVC. Great for online payments or contactless payments in store and online.
The digital card is a copy of your bank card, sharing its card number, expiry date, and CVC but stored on your phone.
A disposable card is a virtual card usable only once and then rendered useless.
Don’t even bother. Traveler’s checks are not widely accepted anymore. When considering how to change money, Spain is very much in the loop with stores and service providers not accepting traveler’s checks.
Having meandered the avenues of alternatives, you are fully educated on how and where to and not to change money in Spain. All that is left is for you to get to the Iberian Peninsula, more specifically Spain. Salud!