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 sthe 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.
Our picks for traveling to Spain
Our pick for travel credit card
American Express® Gold Card
Finder rating: 4.6/5
Our pick for multi-currency debit card
Finder rating: 4.5/5
Our pick for 0% transaction fee debit card
Finder rating: 4.6/5
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.
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.
These are your options for spending money in Spain
Using a credit card
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.
- Protected by PIN & chip
- Accepted worldwide
- May come with benefits like travel insurance
- Interest-free days when you pay your account in full
- Emergency card replacement
- You’ll pay a lot for a cash advance
- Rewards program may cost more than they are worth
Using a debit card
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.
- Use at stores and hotels, online and ATMs
- Protected by PIN & chip
- Spending your own money means avoiding interest charges
- No back-up card if you lose it on your trip
- Some charge currency conversion and ATM fees
Using a prepaid travel card
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.
- Tip: When you get a travel card, you’ll get two for the same account. This can come in handy if your first card is lost or stolen, so make sure to keep the second card in a safe place.
- Lock in exchange rate when you convert USD to EUR
- Protected by PIN & chip
- Emergency card replacement and backup cards.
- Reloadable online
- Pay a currency conversion fee to use USD
- Often charge ATM fees
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.
- Greater payment flexibility
- More difficult to manage expenses
- Higher risk of theft
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.
- Accepted at most banks and hotels
- Can be costly with initial purchase charges
- Not all merchants accept traveler’s checks
Compare travel credit cards
The main banks in Spain are:
- Banco Santander
- Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, S.A.
- Banco de Sabadell
- Banco Popular Español
- Caja Rural Group
- Unicaja Banco
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.
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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.
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.
ATMS in Spain
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.
Cash pickup services in Spain
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.
|Meals||Street food and tapas|
|Seafood paella and wine|
|Seafood dinner with wine|
$50 per person
$15–$125 per night
|4 star hotel in the city center|
|5 star hotel with a view|
|Activities||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
Case study: Interview with Michael about travel money on his trip to 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%.