Money in Spain: Banks, ATMs, cards & currency exchange

23.01.17
6 minute read

Sun, sea and sangría have made Spain a Mecca of sorts for tourists and those seeking a better life. With massive expat populations in all of its major cities, Spain is a perfect place for visitors - whether you’re planning on a long stay or a short stop over.

However, to make the most of Spain you’ll need some cash in your pocket. This guide gives you a quick overview of Spain’s currency and banking system and how to exchange your cash - either in Spain or before you leave.

Currency in Spain

Spain uses the euro and has been a member of the Eurozone since 1999.

Characteristics of the Euro (EUR)

Euro Symbols EUR, €
1 EUR One euro is made up of 100 cents.
EUR coins Coins are available in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents, as well as €1 and €2.
EUR banknotes Commonly used notes are 5, 10, 20 and 50 Euro denominations. Although €100, €200 and €500 notes are also available, they won’t be accepted by many businesses.

Euro coins have a standard image on one side and a design related to the country of issue on the other. You may, therefore, have coins of similar denominations which look quite different to one another. Current euro coins and notes are accepted anywhere in the Eurozone, regardless of the country of issue.

Other currencies aren’t widely accepted in Spain. Even if you’re offered the opportunity to pay in a different currency, the poor exchange rates you’ll get will likely offset any convenience.

Exchanging currency in Spain

Using a street vendor to exchange money unofficially is illegal in Spain. It’s also likely to be a rip-off. With euros so widely available, you can choose to exchange some money for your trip before you leave, or wait until you arrive in sunny Spain.

Avoid exchanging large amounts of cash in hotels and airports

If you need currency upon arrival, only exchange a small amount of cash at the airport - although the exchange rates are likely to be poorer than the rest of town. It’s usually best to exchange a bulk of your cash elsewhere.

It’s also quite likely that hotel exchange rates will also be poor and include higher fees. Choose a bank or dedicated currency exchange service instead, but be aware that banks are often closed on weekends and holidays and may even close their doors as early as 14:30 on weekdays.

Otherwise, find an ATM to withdraw your euros directly at a reasonable rate.

Don’t trust offers of ‘Zero Fees’ or ‘No commission’ - it’s almost always a lie

You should also watch out for hidden fees. Even if an exchange claims ‘Zero Commission’, they’ll make a profit somewhere. For example, many services offer a great rate upfront - but it only applies to large transactions. Make sure you’re clear on what you’re getting before you commit.

Understand the mid-market exchange rate and use it for comparison

Another way to protect yourself against exchange rate scams is to make sure you understand the mid market rate. This is the only real exchange rate and should be used to compare with the rate you’re offered. The rate changes all the time, but you can find it out easily by using a currency converter online to see if the deal you’re offered is actually fair.

Make sure your home currency cash is un-damaged

If you want to exchange cash, make sure that banknotes you’re carrying are in good condition. Some services may refuse the exchange if you bring damaged, marked or torn currency. Try to keep some crisp, clean notes for changing.

Using traveller's checks in Spain

Traveller’s Checks aren’t widely used in Spain. You might struggle to cash them, and even when you find a bank willing to do the exchange, the exchange rates and fees applied make them a poor deal.

If you’re stuck, in the tourist areas of Southern Spain there are several Eurochange locations that may exchange Traveller’s Checks for you.

In general, however, Traveller’s Checks aren’t worth the hassle. Wide acceptance of cards, as well as the proliferation of ATMs makes it easier to rely on cash and credit/debit cards to pay for your trip.

Using credit cards and debit cards in Spain

Most tourist area retailers accept credit and debit cards

Credit and debit cards are widely accepted in large towns and tourist areas. You might still find smaller independent retailers who do not accept card payment, however. It’s best to keep a small amount of euros on you, just in case.

Let your home bank know you’ll be travelling

If you’re planning to use your card abroad, it’s worth letting your bank know in advance. Some banks’ anti-fraud technology will block the use of cards if they suspect suspicious activity - and sudden spending overseas can trigger this.

Check the fees charged by your bank for spending abroad

Many banks add a premium to cover the costs of your spending abroad - generally it’s around 1 to 3% of the transaction. Despite this, for convenience and security, spending on cards when travelling is often a good choice.

Decline offers to be charged in your home currency

If you choose to pay for things during your trip on a credit or debit card, you might be asked by the waiter or shop assistant if you want to be charged in your home currency. This is called Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC).

DCC is described as a customer ‘service’ because you can choose to see the cost of the transaction in your home currency, rather than the more unfamiliar local currency. Though the thought sounds nice, it’s a notoriously bad idea. DCC transactions leave you exposed to hidden fees and poor exchange rates handed out by the foreign bank.

Always opt to pay in the local currency - euros - instead.

ATMs in Spain:

You won’t struggle to find an ATM in Spain. There’s an extensive bank network, and all but the most remote villages will be covered. Check out the locators below to make sure there’s an ATM somewhere convenient for your stay.

Visa ATM locator
MasterCard ATM locator
Amex ATM locator

Choose to be charged in the local currency

As with spending on credit and debit cards, DCC (explained in the previous section) means you might be asked by an ATM whether you’d like to be charged in your home currency for the withdrawal. Always select to be charged in local currency to avoid being ripped off by a foreign bank’s poor exchange rate.

As long as you avoid the DCC scam, withdrawing from an ATM is a convenient way to get reasonable rates for your Euro exchange. Because you can take out what you need, it should also mean that you don’t need to carry large amounts of cash at any one time - much safer.

Banks in Spain

If you’re taking a trip to Spain it is worth checking whether your bank at home has any partnerships with banks operating in Spain. If they do, you might be able to get some services at reduced rates - for example withdrawing or exchanging cash at networked banks.

Here are some of the more common local and international banks in Spain:

Five major retail banks in Spain

International banks operating in Spain

Banking in Spain isn’t difficult. But getting a good deal on your currency exchange might be. For simple access to your money abroad - with transparent fees for a fair deal - use TransferWise.

If you have a bank account in Spain, or know someone who does, you can transfer money between countries using the real mid-market exchange rate. It's a convenient way have your euros waiting for you, with no hidden fees.

TransferWise is the smart, new way to send money abroad.

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