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Using a credit card in Spain
You can use your Visa or Mastercard at many locations across Spain – but your American Express might struggle to find acceptance.
With a booming tourism industry, you should have no significant problems when using your credit card in Spain. Both Visa and Mastercard find widespread acceptance, while American Express may only be accepted at a few locations. Several businesses may require that you show them a valid ID when you use your credit or debit card and some might insist on looking at your passport.
When using your credit card in Spain, you may incur the following fees:
- Foreign transaction fees. Usually around 2.5% to 3% of the total transaction cost, this fee is charged when you use your credit card overseas. If you’re looking to avoid this fee, it is possible to find a credit card that comes with no foreign transaction fees.
- Currency conversion fees. Don’t accept an offer by a hotel or a merchant to charge your card in Canadian dollars – always choose euros. If you end up paying for a purchase in Canadian dollars, the transaction will be subject to what is known as a dynamic currency conversion (DCC). You will likely face a currency conversion fee and a less-than-favourable exchange rate.
Unless faced with an emergency, think carefully about using your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM. Not only will you incur a cash advance fee, you’ll also end up paying interest on the borrowed amount straightaway – there is no grace period for cash advance transactions.
ATMs are present in all Spanish cities and towns, at train and bus stations, gas stations, shopping malls and popular tourist attractions. You can typically complete your transaction in English at most ATMs in cities and large towns across Spain.
When withdrawing money from an ATM, use your debit card. While you’ll still likely have to pay an ATM fee, you can avoid the high interest rates that come with a credit card. If you’re looking to avoid the ATM fee, look for a bank or debit card provider that has a global ATM alliance, such as Scotiabank.
You’ll typically need to pay for most small purchases – amounts up to €20 – in cash. Keep around €100 to €150 in cash to pay newspaper vendors, cafes, restaurants, bars and small souvenir shops.
By exercising some caution when using your credit card in Spain, you’ll have a relatively trouble-free experience. Keep the following tips in mind:
- Keep your PIN safe. Use one hand to enter your PIN and the other to shield it from prying eyes and hidden cameras.
- Select ATMs with care. Try and stick to ATMs attached to banks and avoid using ones on sidewalks.
- Watch out for skimmers. When installed in an ATM, a card skimmer works in stealing information from credit and debit cards. If you feel the card slot is not as smooth as it should be or if there’s a problem with the keypad, cancel your transaction and look for another ATM.
- Keep your card physically safe. Remain alert to street crime, especially in bigger cities like Barcelona and Madrid. Instances of theft at airports are not uncommon, so stay vigilant while arriving and departing. There have been numerous instances of thefts from hired cars so don’t leave your wallet or purse in a parked car. In some cases, thieves pose as cops and ask to see wallets for identification purposes. In such a scenario, make sure you’re speaking with genuine police officers –it’s very unlikely that a real cop will want to sift through your wallet.
- Choose a Visa or Mastercard. Carry at least two credit cards on your trip to Spain, preferably connected with Visa or Mastercard. You may take your American Express too, but you won’t get to use it in many places.
- Travel with at least one no foreign transaction fee credit card. When you can find a credit card that comes with no foreign transaction fees, you’ll save around 2% to 3% of each overseas transaction. It doesn’t sound like much, but it can add up quickly.
- Keep your bank informed. Banks, in their efforts to thwart fraudulent transactions, block credit cards if they detect suspicious activity, such as unexpected overseas transactions. To make sure your card works, let your bank know about your travel plans before you leave the country.
- Keep emergency number handy. Know which numbers you’ll need to call if you end up losing your card or if you need an emergency replacement.
- Know where you’ll get cash from. Plan where you’ll be able to withdraw money from once you arrive. If you’re looking to exchange money, try to avoid exchanging at airports and popular tourist destinations as you’ll typically be offered poor exchange rates.
Before leaving on your trip, ask yourself the following questions:
- Which cards will I take? Visa and Mastercard are commonly used across Spain. If you want to earn rewards while you’re overseas, consider taking a rewards credit card.
- Have I informed my bank of my travels? If you don’t inform your bank about your travel plans, you may end up with a temporarily blocked credit card.
- What fees do I need to pay? If your existing cards come with foreign transaction fees, consider applying for one that does not. Paying in Canadian dollars outside of Canada might also attract currency conversion fees.
- How will I get cash? Using your debit card at an ATM is the simplest way to access your own money. You can carry cash and traveller’s cheques with you. Exchanging Canadian dollars to euros is also common at currency exchange kiosks.
Using a credit card in …
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