American Express -- The American Express number to call in Spain is tel. 90-210-09-56. A staff member will direct you to the nearest location to deal with your Amex needs.
Area Codes -- Dial 011, then the country code for Spain (34). Drop the zero before dialing the city area code.
Business Hours -- Banks are open Monday to Friday 9:30am to 2pm and Saturday 9:30am to 1pm. Most offices are open Monday to Friday 9am to 5 or 5:30pm; the longtime practice of early closings in summer seems to be dying out. In restaurants, lunch is usually 1 to 4pm and dinner 9 to 11:30pm or midnight. There are no set rules for the opening of bars and taverns; many open at 8am, others at noon. Most stay open until 1:30am or later. Major stores are open Monday to Saturday from 9:30am to 8pm; smaller establishments, however, often take a siesta, doing business 9:30am to 1:30pm and 4:30 to 8pm. Hours can vary from store to store.
Drinking Laws -- The legal drinking age is 18. Bars, taverns, and cafeterias usually open at 8am, and many serve alcohol to 1:30am or later. Generally, you can purchase alcoholic beverages at almost any market.
Drugstores -- To find an open pharmacy (farmacia) outside normal business hours, check the list of stores posted on the door of any drugstore. The law requires drugstores to operate on a rotating system of hours so that there's always a drugstore open somewhere, even Sunday at midnight.
Electricity -- The U.S. uses 110-volt electricity, Spain 220-volt. Most low-voltage electronics such as laptops, iPods, and cellphone chargers will do fine with 220-V. It's still smart to check with the manufacturer to determine how your appliance will handle a voltage switch. If it can't, a voltage converter can be used; these are available at such outlets as Radio Shack. Small adaptors change a plug from a U.S. flat prong to a Spanish round prong so you can fit it into a local socket, but they don't work as electrical converters. Adaptors are sold at most hardware stores (ferreteria) in Spain, but converters are hard to come by. Better purchase one before flying off to Spain.
Embassies & Consulates -- If you lose your passport, fall seriously ill, get into legal trouble, or have some other serious problem, your embassy or consulate can help. Regrettably, most of these offices are in Madrid. However, there is a U.S. Consulate in Seville and a British Consulate in Málaga. These are the Madrid addresses and hours: The United States Embassy, Calle Serrano 75 (tel. 91-587-22-00; Metro: Núñez de Balboa), is open Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm. The Canadian Embassy, Núñez de Balboa 35 (tel. 91-423-32-50; Metro: Velázquez), is open Monday to Thursday 8:30am to 5:30pm, and Friday 8:30am to 2:30pm. The British Embassy, Calle Fernando el Santo 16 (tel. 91-700-82-00; Metro: Colón), is open Monday to Friday 9am to 1:30pm and 3 to 6pm. The Republic of Ireland has an embassy at Paseo Castellana 46 (tel. 91-436-40-93; Metro: Serrano); it's open Monday to Friday 9am to 2pm. The Australian Embassy, Plaza Diego de Ordas 3, Edificio Santa Engracia 120 (tel. 91-353-66-00; Metro: Ríos Rosas), is open Monday to Thursday 8:30am to 5pm and Friday 8:30am to 2:15pm. Citizens of New Zealand have an embassy at Plaza de la Lealtad 2 (tel. 91-523-02-26; Metro: Banco de España); it's open Monday to Friday 9am to 2pm and 3 to 5:30pm.
Emergencies -- The national emergency number for Spain (except in the Basque country) is tel. 006; in the Basque country it is tel. 088.
Etiquette & Customs -- In Franco's day, many visitors would be arrested for the skimpy, revealing clothes worn around the city streets of Spain today. Nonetheless, it is considered extremely rude for men to go bare-chested except at the beach or poolside. Spaniards and church officials do object to you visiting churches and cathedrals scantily clad even on the hottest day of summer. Casual dress is acceptable, but you should "cover up" as much as possible.
In spite of what you've heard in days of yore, when Spaniards showed up for appointments 2 or 3 hours late, most nationals now show up on time as they do in the rest of the E.U. countries. It's always wise for men to wear a suit for business meetings. Spanish speakers should address strangers with the formal usted instead of the more familiar tú.
It is extremely offensive to make critical comments to Spaniards about their country -- politics, religion, customs, their approval of same-sex marriages, whatever. Spaniards are rather formal in social matters. Spaniards are addressed as Señor for Mr., Señora for Mrs., and Señorita for Ms. It is customary to eat late in Spain, at least after 8:30pm. If you arrive in a dining room at 6pm, you'll seem provincial. It is polite to keep both hands visible during the course of a meal.
Gasoline (Petrol) -- Service stations abound on the major arteries of Spain and in such big cities as Seville and Granada. They are open 24 hours a day. On secondary roads, most stations open at 7am daily, closing at 11pm or midnight, so plan accordingly. In today's Spain, stations are generally self-service. Prices are the same as at a full-service station. Newer models of automobiles take unleaded gas called gasoline sin plomo. The price of gasoline in Spain, especially in these uncertain times, varies from week to week, but always expect it to be expensive, far more so than in the States. Most stations will accept credit cards.
Holidays -- Holidays include January 1 (New Year's Day), January 6 (Feast of the Epiphany), March 19 (Feast of St. Joseph), Good Friday, Easter Monday, May 1 (May Day), June 10 (Corpus Christi), June 29 (Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul), July 25 (Feast of St. James), August 15 (Feast of the Assumption), October 12 (Spain's National Day), November 1 (All Saints' Day), December 8 (Immaculate Conception), and December 25 (Christmas).
No matter how large or small, every city or town in Spain also celebrates its local saint's day. In Madrid it's May 15 (St. Isidro). You'll rarely know what the local holidays are in your next destination in Spain. Try to keep money on hand, because you may arrive in town only to find banks and stores closed. In some cases, intercity bus services are suspended on holidays.
Language -- The official language in Spain is Castilian Spanish (or Castellano). Andalusians speak it with a southern accent. In shops, restaurants, hotels, and nightclubs catering to visitors, English is commonly spoken.
Lost & Found -- Be sure to tell all of your credit card companies the minute you discover your wallet has been lost or stolen and file a report at the nearest police precinct. Your credit card company or insurer may require a police report number or record of the loss.
To report a lost credit card, contact the following toll-free in Spain:
American Express (tel.91-743-70-00)
Diners Club (tel. 90-110-10-11)
MasterCard (tel. 90-097-12-31)
Visa (tel. 90-099-11-24)
If you need emergency cash over the weekend when all banks and American Express offices are closed, you can have money wired to you via Western Union (tel. 800/325-6000; www.westernunion.com).
Mail -- Airmail letters to the United States and Canada cost .78€ ($1.30) up to 15 grams, and letters to Britain or other E.U. countries cost .58€ (85¢) up to 20 grams. Letters within Spain cost .29€ (45¢). Postcards have the same rates as letters. Allow about 8 days for delivery to North America, generally less to the United Kingdom; in some cases, letters take 2 weeks to reach North America. Rates change frequently, so check at your local hotel before mailing anything. As for surface mail to North America, forget it. Chances are you'll be home long before your letter arrives.
Police -- The national emergency number is 006 throughout Spain, except in the Basque country, where it is 088.
Smoking -- On January 1, 2006, Spain banned smoking in the workplace. Restaurants, bars, and nightclubs of a certain size have to designate certain areas as nonsmoking, and smoking is also banned on public transportation and in other areas such as cultural centers.
Taxes -- The internal sales tax (known in Spain as IVA) ranges from 7% to 33%, depending on the commodity being sold. Food, wine, and basic necessities are taxed at 7%; most goods and services (including car rentals) at 13%; luxury items (jewelry, all tobacco, imported liquors) at 33%; and hotels at 7%.
If you are not a European Union resident and make purchases in Spain worth more than 90€ ($144), you can get a tax refund. To get this refund, you must complete three copies of a form that the store will give you, detailing the nature of your purchase and its value. Citizens of non-E.U. countries show the purchase and the form to the Spanish Customs Office. The shop is supposed to refund the amount due you. Inquire at the time of purchase how they will do so and discuss in what currency your refund will arrive.
Time -- Spain is 6 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in the United States. Daylight saving time is in effect from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in September.
Tipping -- Don't overtip. The government requires that restaurant and hotel bills include their service charges -- usually 15% of the bill. However, that doesn't mean you should skip out of a place without dispensing an extra euro or two. Some guidelines:
Your hotel porter should get .80€ ($1.30) per bag. Maids should be given 1€ ($1.60) per day, more if you're generous. Tip doormen .75€ ($1.20) for assisting with baggage and .50€ (80¢) for calling a cab. Tipping a concierge depends on how much you have used his or her services. For example, some visitors never ask for anything from a concierge. In that case, you can tip nothing. Sometimes a concierge will submit a bill for services rendered, including making restaurant reservations, arranging a bus tour, or securing theater tickets. In that case, you can pay the bill and check out.
Should a concierge not submit a bill, and you have used his services only a couple of times, 5€ ($8) is a sufficient tip in most deluxe and first-class hotels. If you've used concierge services a lot, 20€ ($32) would be an appropriate tip. In less expensive hotels, you generally tip much less, perhaps 1€ or 2€ ($1.60 or $3.20) for some minor service rendered.
For cabdrivers, add about 10% to the fare as shown on the meter. At airports, such as Barajas in Madrid and major terminals, the porter who handles your luggage will present you with a fixed-charge bill.
Service is included in restaurant bills. But it is the custom to tip extra. Some Spanish diners leave nothing if the service was outright bad. Other, more generous diners tip as much as 5% to 10% if the service was good.
Barbers and hairdressers expect a 10% to 15% tip. Tour guides expect 2€ ($3.20), although a tip is not mandatory. Theater and bullfight ushers get from .50€ (80¢).
Toilets -- In Spain they're called aseos, servicios or lavabos, and are labeled caballeros for men and damas or señoras for women. If you can't find any, go into a bar, but you should order something.
Useful Phone Numbers -- U.S. Dept. of State Travel Advisory tel. 202/647-5225 (manned 24 hr.)
U.S. Passport Agency tel. 202/647-0518, and U.S. Centers for Disease Control International Traveler's Hotline tel. 404/332-4559.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.