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Spain, where cultures are as diverse as geography, continues to depend on tourism as a major source of revenue. This is good news for travellers because local businesses have adopted new technologies to keep up with changing times. What this basically means is you won’t have any significant problems using your credit card when you’re in Spain.
Visa and Mastercard credit cards find widespread acceptance, and you might be able to use your American Express card in some places too.
Several businesses 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.
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You’ll find ATMs linked to the Plus or Cirrus systems so using your Visa or Mastercard card will be easy. ATMs are in all Spanish cities and towns, at train and bus stations, petrol stations, shopping centres and popular tourist destinations. Bank-affiliated ATMs don’t usually impose additional fees to those your bank may levy, although there are exceptions such as the Catalunya Caixa Bank.
And the best news? You can use most ATMs in cities and large towns in English!
You’ll need to pay for most small purchases of around €10 to €20 in cash. Keep around €100 to €150 in cash to pay newspaper vendors, cafes, restaurants, bars and small souvenir shops. Don’t be surprised if you are looked at strangely when you ask to pay by card at a local bar when your bill is under €20. You may also come by shopkeepers who aren’t particularly comfortable using the card machines they have.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 23.9% (variable) p.a. with a fee of £3 per month, your representative rate is 29.8% APR (variable).
Spain has moved from magnetic-stripe to chip cards, and all banks in Spain now issue the latter. You’ll still be able to use your magnetic-stripe card in Spain, although you can expect some confusion. In the switching of technology, some retailers falsely believe that they can no longer accept magnetic-stripe cards while some others will not let you use them, to do their bit in reducing credit card fraud. All they basically need you to do is swipe your card instead of inserting it into the machine, and then get you to sign for the purchase.
If you use a chip-and-signature card, you can use it in Spain just about everywhere you find a manned credit card machine. However, some businesses are hesitant in accepting them because they are not sure if it’s allowed and some others don’t accept them to cut down on credit card fraud. If you are getting tickets from a machine, you will need to enter a PIN, in which case your chip-and-signature card won’t work.
By exercising some caution when using your credit card in Spain, you’ll have a relatively trouble-free experience.
Remain alert to street crime, especially where two or more people work in distracting victims before decamping with their valuables. 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 police and ask to see wallets for identification purposes. In such a scenario, make sure you are speaking with genuine police officers. It is very unlikely that a real officer will want to sift through your wallet.
Credit card fees can leave a noticeable dent in your pocket when you are travelling overseas, so know what you are up against well in advance and choose a card with no or low fees.
British credit card issuers typically charge a fee equivalent to 1% to 3% of your transaction, so carefully review your card’s fine print to avoid statement surprises. Some cards designed for travel come with no foreign transaction fees, so this could be a good time to switch.
If a retailer offers to bill your credit card in sterling, dynamic currency conversion comes into play. While this might sound like a good deal, you will actually end up getting a worse exchange rate, and you might also end up paying currency conversion fees. Whenever you are presented with an option, choose to pay in the local currency.
Using your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM may not make sense unless it’s a bona fide emergency. Each time you withdraw funds from an ATM, you’re likely to pay a cash advance fee. Your APR for cash advances is normally higher than your purchase APR, and you’ll typically get no grace period on interest – instead, you start paying interest immediately. Again, some cards designed for overseas spending will waive this fee.
The table below serves as an example of how much extra you may pay to use your credit card in Spain.
Ask yourself these simple questions before you leave so your spending in Spain does not hit any roadblocks.
When you’re in Spain, you don’t have to worry about where and when you can use your credit card. Just keep some cash handy to pay for small purchases.
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