Spain Travel Tips
Banks: 09:30 to 14:00, M/F;
09:30 to 13:00, Sat
Post offices: 09:00 to 17:00 M/F;
09:00 to 12:30, Sat
Government dept.: 09:00 to 17:00, M/F
Business Centers: 09:00 to 17:30, M/F
Shops: 09:30 to 20:00, M/Sat
Many shops and public offices will close for siesta from 13:30 to 16:30 in lesser destinations although most tourist places stay open.
Spain, like all western countries, has its share of internal and internationally based problems. Tourists should always be on guard while in built up areas as it pertains to suspicious activity.
Madrid and Barcelona, as Spain's largest cities, have the standard crime expected of the typical Western city. Attacks against tourists are pretty rare, but steering clear of public parks and unsavory areas at night goes without saying. Remaining vigilant at bus and train stations will also pay dividends. Madrid’s main tourist areas of the Prado Museum, Sol, El Rastro flea market, and Plaza Mayor tend to see the worst petty crime, while places to be especially on your guard in Barcelona are Mont Juic, Parc Guell, Plaza Real, the Picasso Museum and in the Gothic Quarter.
Pickpockets are also a big problem in the holiday resorts throughout Spain and especially on the Costa del Sol. Torremolinos is particularly renowned for pickpockets who tend to work in pairs where one will distract you while the other makes off with your wallet. When carrying cash never leave a wallet in the back pocket and leave credit cards and passports in a hotel safe. Speaking a modicum of Spanish and showing politeness to police will help out if and when one gets caught up in theft.
220 volts, 50Hz – some older places may use 110v.
Spain is a first world country and doesn’t suffer from any exotic diseases while vaccinations are not required to enter the country for the vast majority of travellers. The main health threat comes from the sun and sea. More people suffer from heat-related ailments than from anything else here.
Temperatures in the summer on the mainland can creep into the 40s and being anywhere on a beach in this heat without sun block, or hi-factor sun cream, is asking for trouble. On the flip side, those visiting Spain out of season should beware that mountainous areas get bitterly cold, especially in the Pyrenees and Central Region, so bringing an adequate supply of clothing in this respect is a must.
Food hygiene is generally good but sticking to places that have a good throughput of customers is always a good rule of thumb as well as not eating any shellfish. Tap water is potable but buying bottled water is recommended to be sure.
Most towns have at least one 24-hour pharmacy but for those that don’t, make your way to any one as they are required by Spanish law to have the information of the nearest open one. Those on medication should carry enough medicine for their intended stay as well as the generic name of the drug they are using.
Although citizens from the EU travelling to Spain can make use of the public health system for emergencies without cost, having a good travel insurance policy while in Spain is a must. Coverage should include complete medical care, accidents, theft, missed travel connections and loss of luggage.
Castilian is the official language in Spain although regional dialects will be heard in the various provinces throughout the land. Catalán is also widely used in Barcelona, Catalonia, Valencia, and the Balearic Islands, while the Basque language will be heard in this region of northeast Spain and the Gallego language (a bit like Portuguese) is used in Galicia. Despite these many tongues, English is of course widely spoken in tourist areas including in hotels, restaurants, and shops.
Spain has adopted the euro as with most of the rest of the EU. Notes come in denominations of: €500, €200, €100, €50, €20, €10 and €5, while coins are available in: €2 and €1, and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 cent pieces. Visitors are permitted to import and export unlimited amounts of local and foreign currencies, yet must declare anything over €6010.12, or the equivalent.
One can change money at airports, banks, travel agencies, and at major hotels; the latter generally have the worst rates. It is always a good idea to travel with some foreign currency and picking up some euro before arriving in Spain, if you come from a country that hasn’t got the euro, is recommended.
Many tourists nowadays simply withdraw local currency via ATMs using their debit card, or even their credit card, and an increasing number of banks make this possible throughout Spain. Look for participating schemes, like Switch and Maestro, Visa, and MasterCard. Although you may be charged a nominal amount by your bank, and possibly the bank you are withdrawing cash from, the banks utilize the commercial exchange rates, meaning a better deal.
Credit cards are widely accepted in hotels and shops including Visa, American Express, Diners Club, and MasterCard. Euro check cards are also on the rise while travellers’ checks are still a viable form of safely obtaining cash overseas. Have your checks made in Euros, Pounds Sterling or US dollars.
Spanish immigration allow the usual limits on duty-free items for passengers arriving from outside the EU, including: 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 250g tobacco; one litre of spirits over 22 per cent proof, or two litres under 22 per cent proof; two litres of wine; 50g of perfume; 250ml of eau de toilette; 500g of coffee and gifts not exceeding €37. Passengers must be 17 years or older to carry through duty-free items and anything over and above these restrictions will need to be declared.
Spaniards are a patriotic bunch and making quips about king and country should be avoided. Also, asking locals from the Basque Country or Catalonia if they are Spaniards is not recommended.
Although it is generally the norm in highly touristic areas, such as the streets of Torremolinos, appearing drunk in public in Spain is frowned upon as is swearing in any language. Friends and family kiss each other on the cheeks but a firm handshake for Spanish male-to-male friends is quite appropriate.
You may find the Spanish people more affectionate than you are used to, but this is simply a sign of friendship.
Topless bathing on Spain’s beaches is fine but full nudity should only be practiced in those areas that have signboards saying nudity is permitted.
While out and about avoid making religious comments that are likely to offend, particularly during Holy Week and Christmas.
Dining Etiquette :
Dining is standard and informal in Spain as with most places in the world today although basic table manners should be observed even in the touristy places. If you happen to be dining with some locals only begin eating when everyone is seated and ready to eat, and likewise only leave the table when everyone has finished eating.
It is not obligatory to tip in Spain as most restaurants have a service charge included in the bill. Saying that, it is fairly common for diners to leave a tip for good service and quality but by no means should you feel obliged to tip American percentage style.
Visa and Passports:
Citizens from the UK, US, Canada, and Australian and New Zealand don’t need a visa if they are staying for less than three months. Visitors from other countries not listed should check with the Spanish embassy or consulate in their city for visa information. For more Spain Visa information (Spanish only) please visit http://www.mir.es/
Citizens of Andorra, Austria, Monaco, and Switzerland as well as those from the EU whose countries use national identification cards can enter Spain with just that. All other nationalities must ensure their passports are up to date and valid at least six months past their planned departure date.
Tourist Information Offices:
Tourist offices can be found in every city and tourist destination in Spain where free maps and information in English and Spanish are available. You may also find that these helpful tourist centers can offer discount cards to attractions in the area you are staying. The official website for tourism in Spain is www.okspain.or