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Costs, Money And Banks

 

Although still thought of as a budget destination, hotel prices in Spain have increased considerably over the last ten years, and if you're spending a lot of your time in the cities, you can expect to spend almost as much as you would at home. However, there are still few places in Europe where you'll get a better deal on the cost of simple meals and drink.

On average, if you're prepared to buy your own picnic lunch, stay in inexpensive pensiones and hotels, and stick to local restaurants and bars, you could get by on £15-20/US$20-27 a day. If you intend to upgrade your accommodation, experience the city nightlife and eat fancier meals, then you'll need more like £40/$55 a day. On £50-60/$68-80 a day and upwards you'll be limited only by your energy reserves - though of course if you're planning to stay in four- and five-star hotels or Spain's magnificent paradores , this figure often won't even cover your room.

Room prices vary considerably according to season. In the summer you'll find little below ¬12 (£8/$11) single, ¬15 (£9.50/$12.50) double, and ¬15 single, ¬21 double (£13.50/$18) might be a more realistic average. Campsites start at around ¬2.40 (£1.50/$2) a night per person (more like ¬3-4.20 in some of the major resorts), plus a similar charge for a tent and a car respectively.

The cost of eating can vary wildly, but in most towns there'll be restaurants offering a basic three-course meal for somewhere between ¬4.50-9 (£3-5.50/$4-7.50). As often as not, though, you'll end up wandering from one bar to the next sampling tapas without getting round to a real sit-down meal - this is certainly tastier though rarely any cheaper. Drink, and wine in particular, costs ridiculously little: ¬6 (£3.80/$5) will see you through a night's very substantial intake of the local vintage.

Long-distance transport , if used extensively, may prove a major expense; although prices compare well with the rest of Europe, Spain is a very large country. Madrid to Sevilla, for example - a journey of over 500km - costs around ¬18 (£10/$15.30) by bus or train. Urban transport almost always operates on a flat fare of ¬0.75-1.50 (50p-£1/$0.65-1.30).

All of the above, inevitably, are affected by where you are and when. The big cities and tourist resorts are invariably more expensive than remoter areas, and certain regions tend also to have higher prices - notably the industrialized north, Euskal Herria, Catalunya and Aragón, and the Balearic Islands. Prices are hiked up, too, to take advantage of special events. Despite official controls, you'd be lucky to find a room in Sevilla during its April feria , or in Pamplona for the running of the bulls, at less than double the usual rate. As always, if you're travelling alone you'll end up spending much more than you would in a group of two or more - sharing rooms saves greatly. An ISIC student card is worth having - it'll get you free or reduced entry to many museums and sites as well as occasional other discounts - and an FIYTO youth card (available to anyone under 26) is almost as good.

One thing to look out for on prices generally is the addition of sales tax - IVA (usually pronounced "iba") - which may come as an unexpected extra (currently seven percent for hotels and restaurants, sixteen percent for other goods and services) when you pay the bill for food or accommodation, especially in more expensive establishments.

Money and the exchange rate
Spain is one of twelve European Union countries which have changed over to a single currency, the euro (¬). Euro notes and coins were issued on January 1, 2002, with pesetas having remained in place for cash transactions, at a fixed rate of 166.386 pesetas to one euro, until they were scrapped entirely at the end of February, 2002. You can exchange your pesetas in banks until June 30 2002, after which date they may only be exchanged at the Banco de España (which has branches in all provincial capitals) for a further limited period.

All prices in this guide are given in euros. There has been some rounding off or, more precisely, up of prices in the first few months after the introduction of the euro. Notes will be issued in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 euros, and coins in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents and 1 and 2 euro.

At the time of writing the exchange rate for the euro was around ¬1.64 to the pound sterling (or £0.60 to one euro) and ¬1.16 to the dollar (or $0.85 to one euro). You can take into Spain as much money as you want (in any form), although amounts over ¬6000 must be declared, and you may only take amounts over ¬6000 out if you can prove that you brought more with you in the first place. Not, perhaps, a major holiday worry.

Travellers' cheques and credit cards
A safe and easy way to carry your funds is in travellers' cheques , though most Visa, Mastercard (Access) or British automatic bank cards, and US cards in the Cirrus or Plus systems, can be used for withdrawing cash from ATMs in Spain: check with your bank to find out about these reciprocal arrangements - the system is highly sophisticated and can usually give instructions in a variety of languages.

To cancel lost or stolen credit cards, call the following numbers:

American Express tel 915 720 303

Diners Club tel 915 474 000

Mastercard tel 900 971 231

Visa tel 900 974 445

Leading credit cards are recognized, too, and are useful for car rental, hotels and restaurants, as well as for cash advances at banks. American Express and Visa, which has an arrangement with the Banco de Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, are the most useful; Mastercard is less widely accepted.

Visa Travel Money (www.visa.com)
This is a disposable debit card prepaid with dedicated travel funds which you can access from over 457,000 Visa ATMs in 120 countries with a PIN that you select yourself. When your funds are depleted, you simply throw the card away. Since you can buy up to nine cards to access the same funds - useful for couples/families travelling together - it's recommended that you buy at least one extra as a back up in case your first is lost or stolen. There is a 24-hour visa global customer assistance services centre which you can call from any of the 120 countries toll-free. The number to call from Spain is 900 99 1124. In the UK, many Thomas Cook outlets sell the card

Changing money
Spanish bancos (banks) and cajas de ahorros (savings banks) have branches in all but the smallest villages, and most of them should be prepared to change travellers' cheques (albeit occasionally with reluctance for certain brands, and often with hefty commissions). The Banco Santander Central Hispano (BSCH) and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA) are two of the most efficient and widespread; both can change most brands of travellers' cheques, and give cash advances on credit cards; commissions at the Banco Central Hispano are generally the lowest.

ATM cash machines ( cajeros automaticos ) are now widespread throughout the country in cities, towns and even many villages and you only need a valid card with PIN number to use them; this is probably the most convenient way to get cash when you need it, although you would be wise not to rely on this method exclusively - it's not uncommon for cards to be swallowed up or, indeed, lost or stolen. Moneychanging machines now feature also in many larger cities and feeding in pounds or dollars will give you instant cash.

Banking hours are generally Mon-Fri 8.30am-2pm, with some city branches open Sat 8.30am-1pm (except from June to September when all banks close on Saturday), although times can vary from bank to bank. Outside these times, it's usually possible to change cash at larger hotels (generally bad rates, low commission) or with travel agents, who may initially grumble but will eventually give a rate with the commission built in - useful for small amounts in a hurry.

In tourist areas you'll also find specialist casas de cambio , with more convenient hours (though rates vary), and most branches of El Corte Inglés, a major department store found throughout Spain, have efficient exchange facilities open throughout store hours, offering competitive rates and generally a much lower commission than the banks (though they're worse for cash).

Wiring money
Having money wired from home using one of the companies we've listed is never convenient or cheap, and should be considered a last resort. It's also possible to have money wired directly from a bank in your home country to a bank in Spain, although this is somewhat less reliable because it involves two separate institutions. If you go this route, your home bank will need the address of the branch bank where you want to pick up the money and the address and telex number of the Madrid head office, which will act as the clearing house; money wired this way normally takes two working days to arrive, and costs around £25/$40 per transaction

Youth and student discounts
Various official and quasi-official youth/student ID cards soon pay for themselves in savings. Full-time students are eligible for the International Student ID Card (ISIC), which entitles the bearer to special air, rail and bus fares and discounts at museums, theatres and other attractions. For Americans there's also a health benefit, providing up to $3000 in emergency medical coverage and $100 a day for 60 days in the hospital, plus a 24-hour hotline to call in the event of a medical, legal or financial emergency. The card costs £6 in the UK; $22 for Americans; Can$16 for Canadians; AUS$16.50 for Australians; and $NZ21 for New Zealanders.

You have to be 26 or younger to qualify for the International Youth Travel Card , which costs £7/US$22 and carries the same benefits. All these cards are available in the UK from Usit Campus and STA; in the US from Council Travel, STA, Travel Cuts and, in Canada, Hostelling International; in Australia and New Zealand from STA or Campus Travel.

Several other travel organizations and accommodation groups also sell their own cards, good for various discounts. A university photo ID might open some doors, but is not as easily recognizable as the ISIC card, although the latter is often not accepted as valid proof of age, for example in bars or clubs.

 

Also See:
 
• When To Go
• Red Tape And Visas
• Health
• Costs, Money And Banks
• Getting Around
• Communications: Post, Phones, Internet And Media
• Eating And Drinking
• Gay And Lesbian Travellers
• Spanish Time
• Best Of
• Bullfights
• Books
• Fiestas
• Explore Spain
 


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