Spain uses the euro. It is one of the many European countries that use this common currency. All euro banknotes and coins are legal tender in all countries.
One euro is divided into 100 cents.
The official symbol of the euro is € and its ISO code is EUR. There is no official symbol for the cent.
- Banknotes: The euro banknotes have the same design in all countries.
- Standard coins: All euro area countries issue coins that have a distinctive national design on one side and a common standard design on the other. The coins can be used in any euro area country, regardless of the design used (e.g. a one-euro coin from Finland can be used in Portugal).
- Commemorative €2 coins: These differ from normal €2 coins only in their “national” side and circulate freely as legal tender. Each country can produce a certain amount of these coins as part of its normal coin production, and sometimes “European” 2-euro coins are produced to commemorate special events (e.g. anniversaries of important treaties).
- Other commemorative coins: Commemorative coins with other amounts (e.g. ten euros or more) are much rarer, have very special designs and often contain significant amounts of gold, silver or platinum. Although they are technically legal tender at face value, their material or collector’s value is usually much higher and therefore you are unlikely to find them in circulation.
The euro replaced the Spanish peseta in 2002. Some people may still use the old national currency (166 386 pts = €1, 1 000 pts = €6) and convert to euros later. This is mainly due to the massive presence of the peseta and “its” many nicknames in Spanish slang.
Euro cash: 500 euro banknotes are not accepted in many shops – replacement notes are always available.
Other currencies: Do not expect anyone to accept other types of currencies or be willing to exchange currencies. The exception to this rule are airport shops and restaurants. They usually accept at least US dollars at a slightly lower exchange rate.
If you want to exchange money, you can do so at any bank (some require you to have an account there before you exchange your money), where you can also cash your travellers’ cheques. Exchange offices, once commonplace, have virtually disappeared since the introduction of the euro. Again, international airports are an exception to this rule; the tourist areas of major cities (Barcelona, Madrid) are another exception.
Credit cards: Credit cards are well accepted: even at a stall in La Boqueria market in Barcelona, at an average motorway service station in the middle of the countryside or in small towns like Alquezar. It is more difficult to find a place where credit cards are not accepted in Spain.
You can withdraw money from most ATMs with your credit card, but you need to know your card’s PIN code to do so. Most Spanish shops will ask you for identification before accepting your credit card. Some shops do not accept foreign driving licences or identity cards and you will need to show your passport. This is to avoid credit card fraud.
Tipping, or “propina” in Spanish, is not obligatory or considered customary in Spain unless the service is absolutely exceptional. Therefore, you may find that waiters are not as attentive or courteous as you are used to, as they do not work for tips. If you decide to tip, the amount you tip in restaurants will depend on your economic status, the location and the type of establishment. If you feel you have been served well, leave some change on the table – maybe 1 or 2 euros. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter.
The bars are just waiting for tourists, especially American tourists, to leave a tip. They know that in the United States it is customary to tip for every drink or meal. It is rare for people other than Americans to tip in Spain. Note that it may be customary to tip at large resorts; look around at other restaurants to see if tipping is appropriate.
Outside of restaurants, some service providers, such as taxi drivers, hairdressers and hotel staff, may expect to be tipped in an upscale environment.
Most shops (including most shops, but not restaurants) close in the afternoon around 13.30-14.00 and reopen in the evening around 16.30-17.00. The exceptions are large shopping centres or big chain stores.
For most Spaniards, lunch is the main meal of the day and you will find bars and restaurants open during this time. On Saturdays, shops often don’t open in the evening and on Sundays they are closed almost everywhere. The exception is the month of December, when most shops in Madrid and Barcelona are also open on Sundays to catch the Christmas and New Year revenues. In addition, many offices and banks no longer open on weekday evenings either. If you have important business to do, don’t forget to check the opening hours.
If you plan to shop in small shops all day, the following rule can work: A closed shop should remind you that it is also your own lunch break. And when you have finished your lunch, some shops will probably be open again.
Clothes and shoes
In addition to the world-famous mass brands (Zara, Mango, Bershka, Camper, Desigual), there are many designer brands in Spain that are harder to find outside of Spain – and it can be worth looking for them if you want to buy designer clothes while travelling. Here are some of these brands:
- CustoBarcelona. The company is based in Barcelona and has branches in Bilbao, Ibiza, A Coruña, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, León, Madrid, Marbella, Palma de Mallorca, Salamanca and Tenerife.
- Kowalski, head office: Ctra. del Leon, km, 2; 03293 Elche, +34 966 630 612. Branded shoes and trainers (Herman Monster and others) for women, men and unisex.
- El Corte Ingles. Large national chain found in almost every city. Enjoys a central location in most cities, but resides in purpose-built and uninspired buildings. Has a department for everything, but is not good enough for most purposes, except perhaps for buying gastronomic products and local food specialities. Unlike most other shops in Spain, tax refunds for purchases at El Corte Ingles can only be made with a debit/credit card, even if you originally paid cash.
- Casas. A chain of shoe shops that selects the most popular models (?) from a dozen mid-range brands.
- Campers. Camping shoes can be seen in most cities across the country. Although they seem to be sold everywhere, it can be difficult to find the right model and size. When you find what you need, don’t delay buying. Camping shoes are sold both in independent brand shops and in local shoe shops, where they are mixed with other brands. Independent shops usually offer a wider range of styles and sizes; local shops can help you if you need to look for a specific model and size.
- For. Private national fashion chain with many high-end brands. The main location is in Bilbao; some shops in San Sebastian and Zaragoza.