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Travel money guide: Spain
Spend with convenience and avoid unnecessary fees on your vacation to Spain.
Hola, amigos! Are you planning a trip to the land of bullfights and rich history? Organize your travel money options ahead of time and you can spend more time soaking in the rich culture rather than worrying how you’re going to pay your way. One of the things that makes Spain so travel friendly is the use of euros as the national currency.
But when you go abroad, the way you take and spend your travel money can make a difference to your hip-pocket. Foreign ATM fees, currency conversion fees and foreign transaction fees can eat at your travel budget. The good news is that if you take the time to get your finances in order before you go, you can easily avoid all the extra charges, and have more to spend on sangria instead.
Why you’ll need a combination of travel money options
You’ll need to take a variety of spending options on your trip to the Iberian Peninsula. Use a debit card or a travel card to withdraw cash from ATMs and for over the counter purchases, and save your credit card for emergencies and big ticket purchases.
Credit cards can offer up to 30 days interest free on purchases if you pay your account by the statement due date. And there are cards that provide travel insurance and travel perks. By spreading your travel money across a couple of accounts, you won’t be caught without cash if a card goes missing. Travelers to Spain may be surprised at how easy it is to get by without spending a fortune. With a few travel money tricks up your sleeve, it’s easy to sample all of the joys of Spain, from flamenco to Dali.
Compare travel credit cards
What should I budget for my trip to Spain?
Spain is a bit smaller than the size of Texas, and prices throughout the country vary. Cities like Barcelona and Madrid tend to charge more for accommodations and food. On average you can expect to spend between $50 to $350 a day.
Street food and tapas
Seafood paella and wine
Seafood dinner with wine
4 star hotel in the city center
|5 star hotel with a view
|Explore Plaza Mayor and Madrid’s Royal Palace for free||
Entry to the Reina Sofia National Museum
Private guided 1/2 day tour of Madrid
*Prices are indicative and subject to change
Exchange rate history
The euro, though a young currency, has historically stood up to the USD. If you watch forex markets and finda favorable rate, lock it in with a travel money card or traveler’s checks.Back to top
Travel card, debit card or credit card?
The national currency for Spain is the euro. As one of the major global currencies, all travel cards let you load and spend euros. But is a travel card the best travel money product for your trip? Visa and Mastercard have wide acceptance at shops and ATMs throughout Spain. You can use your debit card or credit card like you would in the US, just look for cards that waive the currency conversion fee when you spend.
How to use a credit card in Spain
Travel money options for Spain at a glance
|Travel money option||Pros||Considerations|
|Prepaid travel money cards||
This table is a general summary of the travel money products in the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.
How each travel money option works in Spain
Here’s how different travel money products work in Spain.
Using travel prepaid cards
Travel cards can lock in conversion rates once you load USD. Use it for purchases without worrying about rates each time you spend — debit and credit cards often charge 3% for each transaction.
Where you save in the conversion rates you may pay in fees. You’ll pay fees each time you load the card, ATM withdrawals and sometimes even an inactivity fee.
- Tip: Banks that provide travel cards make money by applying a higher margin to the exchange rate. You can get a better rate using a debit card or credit card.
Using debit cards
Travel-friendly debit cards can give you the best of both worlds: spending money you have and withdrawing it without paying international service fees. There are plenty of ATMs in Spain, and should have no problem accessing money when you need it. If you have a debit card with Visa or Mastercard, you’ll be able to make over the counter purchases.
- Tip: Make sure your debit card has a chip to avoid situations where you card won’t be accepted.
Using credit cards
There are a number of competitive credit card products designed for travelers, and the best for travel to Spain won’t charge foreign transaction or international ATM fees. Carrying a credit card gives you the added benefit of travel insurance and discounts, depending on your provider. For added savings, take advantage of the interest-free period by paying your balance in full each month.
We don’t advise using your credit card to get cash from an ATM. Cash advance charges and interest can add up quickly and eat away your available credit.
- Tip: Some credit cards offer complimentary international travel insurance when you charge the cost of your travel ticket to your card.
Using traveler’s checks
Security is the main advantage of using traveler’s checks. Each check has a unique serial number and can only be cashed with photo identification. Fees are the main disadvantage. Banks charge you to get checks and to cash them. You’re better off using a debit or travel card which lets you make cheap or free ATM withdrawals to get euro for your travel.
- Tip: Traveler’s checks are good for locking in a good exchange rate. So if you watch the forex market, get them while the getting’s good.
Paying with cash in Spain
It is advisable to always have some cash with you when you travel. You can expect to need cash for things like coffee and tapa shops and anytime you need to make a purchase for anything between €10 and €20. When you’re visiting the larger cities of Madrid, Barcelona and Seville, you should be able to live on your credit and debit cards. Keep in mind that you’re going to need cash for purchases under at most shops.
You can always send your money to Spain ahead of time with a money transfer service and have it waiting to be picked up when you arrive.Back to top
Case study: Interview with Michael about travel money on his trip to Spain
Merrymaking in Barcelona and Madrid
Michael left Paris to visit Barcelona and Madrid on his way to Lisbon. He traveled on the Eurostar to get from city to city, and found it a bit expensive. But it saved him a lot of time that he could have wasted on a bus. Barcelona was his first stop where he found the Sagrada Familia and the Gothic Quarter to be the highlights of the city. He traveled a bit in the Catalonia countryside and then headed to Madrid where he spent a week.
What cards did you take?
Michael says he took two credit cards and one debit card to Spain.
Why did you take these cards?
Michael used his Chase Sapphire for big purchases like his Eurostar and airline tickets and hotel stays. He likes this card because not only does it waive the foreign transaction fees, it also offers rewards for travel that he can use towards his next trip abroad. The Simmons Visa® is the card he uses most at home because of the low APR — but it also offers travel insurance. To access his cash, Michael brought his Bank of America debit card because it was part of the Global ATM Alliance. He was able to find Deutsche Banks to withdraw money, without paying transaction fees.
Where could you use your cards?
Michael said he used his card more than cash in Madrid where there were lots of places that accepted Mastercard and Visa. Most places required him to purchase a minimum of 10 or 20 euro, but he found supermarkets like Mercadona and Carrefour didn’t require one.
Did you use ATMs?
Michael says he made withdrawals from ATMs from Deutsche Bank because it was part of the Global ATM Alliance to save him on fees. He didn’t have to look far to find one of these machines anywhere in Spain.
What tips do you have about travel in Spain?
He was offered the Madrid tourist card, offering entry to museums, free guide books and access to guided tours. He turned it down because he found it pricey at €50 for a 1 day pass. He thought that it could be worth it if he was interested in seeing lots of museums while he was in Madrid. Michael also says watch out for the Value Added Tax (IVA) tax, which isn’t included in some bills and can be as high as 20%.
Why we like: Travelex Money Card
Load GBP, EUR, CAD, AUD, JPY or MXN onto this prepaid travel money card and use it at millions of locations worldwide.
- Not linked to your bank account for safety.
- Convert currency with a 5.50% foreign exchange fee
- Contactless payments
- Reload, withdraw, or replace your card for free.
Buying currency in the US
There’s no limit to the amount of cash you can bring with you to Spain. However, you’ll need to make a declaration at customs if you’re traveling with more than €10,000 cash, including traveler’s checks). You bank will sell you euros at a competitive rate, though you’ll pay a commission fee. You can use a money transfer company like Western Union or Travelex to order euros and pick them up once you arrive at the Spanish airport. They don’t charge a commission and that can offer a slightly better rate than most banks.
If you wait to exchange your money in Spain you’ll have lots of choices in Barcelona and Madrid. You’ll find better rates if you venture away from tourist attractions. Try not to exchange your money at the airport if you want the most competitive rates.
You’ll be able to find ATMs in all Spanish towns and cities, gas stations, shopping centers and bus and train stations. Bank affiliated ATMs generally won’t charge you for usage except for Catalunya Caixa Bank, who will charge a couple of eruros. Most ATMs, and almost all in larger towns and cities will have an English option.
- Tip: Bank of America cardholders can avoid the international ATM fee by making withdrawals from Deutsche Bank in Spain.