Business Hours -- Banks are open Monday to Friday 9:30am to 2pm and Saturday 9:30am to 1pm. Most other 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.
Credit Cards -- SmartChips are embedded in most European credit cards and in very few cards issued in North America. But merchants in Spain use credit card terminals that read the chips but can also accept a magnetic strip like those used on U.S. cards. You will need a 4-digit PIN to complete the purchase, so get a 4-digit PIN from your credit card’s issuing bank before leaving home, or call the number on the back of each card and ask for one. Your American Express card will work where an Amex logo is displayed, but it is not as widely accepted as Visa and MasterCard. Of course, you could make sure you have enough cash to cover your purchase.
Customs -- You can bring into Spain most personal effects along with reasonable amounts of alcohol and tobacco products. For sports equipment you are allowed fishing gear, one bicycle, skis, tennis or squash racquets, and golf clubs.
Disabled Travelers -- Because of Spain’s many hills and endless flights of stairs, visitors with mobility issues may have difficulty getting around the country, but conditions are slowly improving. Newer hotels are more sensitive to the needs of those with disabilities, and the more expensive restaurants, in general, are wheelchair accessible.
Organizations that offer a vast range of resources and assistance to travelers with disabilities include MossRehab ([tel] 800-CALL-MOSS [225-5667]; www.mossresourcenet.org); the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB; [tel] 800-232-5463; www.afb.org); and SATH (Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality; [tel] 212-447-7284; www.sath.org). AirAmbulanceCard.com ([tel] 877-424-7633) is now partnered with SATH and allows you to preselect top-notch hospitals in case of an emergency.
Many travel agencies offer customized tours and itineraries for travelers with disabilities. Among them are Flying Wheels Travel ([tel] 877-451-5006 or 507-451-5005; www.flyingwheelstravel.com) and Accessible Journeys ([tel] 800-846-4537 or 610-521-0339; www.disabilitytravel.com).
Flying with Disability (www.flying-with-disability.org) is a comprehensive information source on airplane travel.
British travelers should contact Tourism for All ([tel] 0845-124-9971 in the U.K. only; www.tourismforall.org.uk) to access a wide range of travel information and resources for seniors and those with disabilities.
Doctors -- All hotel front desks keep a list of doctors available in their area; most of them are fluent in English.
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, do fine with 220-volt. Spain uses the European standard rounded two-prong plug.
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. These are the Madrid addresses and contact information:
Australia: Torre Espacio, Paseo de la Castellana 259D; [tel] 91-353-66-00; www.spain.embassy.gov.au; Canada:Torre Espacio, Paseo de la Castellana 259D; [tel] 91-382-84-00;www.canadainternational.gc.ca; Ireland:Paseo de la Castellana 46, Ireland House; [tel] 91-436-40-93;www.irlanda.es; New Zealand:Calle Pinar 7, 3rd Floor; [tel] 91-523-02-26;www.nzembassy.com/spain; United Kingdom:Torre Espacio, Paseo de la Castellana 259D; [tel] 91-714-63-00; www.gov.uk/government/world/organisations/british-embassy-madrid; United States:Calle Serrano 75; [tel] 91-587-22-00;http://madrid.usembassy.gov.
Emergencies -- Call [tel] 112 for fire, police, and ambulance services.
Health -- Spain should not pose any major health hazards. Tap water is safe to drink. Sushi and sashimi from Atlantic fish are safe to be eaten raw. During the summer, limit your exposure to the sun. Use a sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF) and apply it liberally.
Insurance -- For information on traveler’s insurance, trip cancellation insurance, and medical insurance while traveling, please visit www.frommers.com/tips.
Internet & Wi-Fi -- Wi-Fi—pronounced “wee-fee” in Spanish—is becoming ubiquitous in Spain. Most lodgings offer free Wi-Fi, at least in public areas. Some hotels give away basic Wi-Fi but charge for faster access. For Wi-Fi on a phone or tablet, download the GOWEX Free Wi-Fi app from the Apple Store. Internet cafes are vanishing, but if you find one, expect to pay 2€ to 4€ per hour.
Language -- The official language in Spain is Castilian Spanish(or Castellano). Although Spanish is spoken in every province of Spain, local tongues reasserted themselves with the restoration of democracy in 1975. After years of being outlawed during the Franco dictatorship, Catalanhas returned to Barcelona and Catalunya, even appearing on street signs; this language and its derivatives are also spoken in the Valencia area and in the Balearic Islands, including Mallorca (even though natives there will tell you they speak Mallorquín). Basque is widely spoken in the Basque region (the northeast, near France). Likewise, Galego, which sounds and looks very much like Portuguese, has enjoyed a renaissance in Galicia (the northwest). English is spoken in most hotels, restaurants, and shops.
Legal Aid -- In case of trouble with the authorities, contact your local embassy or consulate, which will recommend an English-speaking lawyer in your area. You will, of course, be charged a typical attorney’s fee for representation.
LGBT Travelers -- In 1978, Spain legalized homosexuality among consenting adults and in 1995 banned discrimination based on sexual orientation. Madrid and Barcelona are major centers of gay life in Spain. The most popular resorts for gay travelers are Sitges (south of Barcelona), Torremolinos, and Ibiza.
Lost & Found -- To report a lost credit card, contact the following toll-free in Spain: American Express at [tel] 91-572-03-03; Diners Club at [tel] 91-547-40-00; MasterCard at [tel] 90-097-12-31; or Visa at [tel] 90-099-11-24.
Mail -- Sending a postcard or letter to the U.S. starts at 0.90€. To calculate the price, visit http://correos.es. You can also buy stamps at any place that sells tobacco.
Mobile Phones -- You’ll likely not be able to use a North American cellphone in Spain unless it’s GSM/GPRS-compatible and unless it operates with a SIM card. Virtually all cellphones in Spain operate with this system, as do AT&T and T-Mobile cellphones from North America. Most mobile phones from the U.K. are compatible.
Many travelers opt to simply buy a pre-paid cell phone on location. Vodafone (www.vodafone.com); Movistar (aka Telefónica, www.moviestar.com); Orange (www.orange.es); and Yoigo (www.yoigo.com) are the four largest and most reliable mobile phone service providers in Spain. Movistar is the oldest and most established.
Money & Costs -- Many prices for children—generally defined as ages 6 to 17—are lower than for adults. Fees for children 5 and under are generally waived. Admission prices for seniors (over 60, 62, or 65, depending on venue) are the same as for children. Exchange enough petty cash to cover airport incidentals, tipping, and transportation to your hotel before you leave home, or withdraw money upon arrival at an airport ATM. Best exchange rates are usually from ATMs. Avoid exchanging money at commercial exchange bureaus and hotels, which generally have the highest transaction fees.
Newspapers & Magazines -- All cities and towns, of course, have Spanish-language newspapers and magazines. However, in the tourist areas of big cities, many kiosks sell editions of the International New York Times along with Time.
Safety -- Spain has not been targeted by jihadists since 2004 and Basque nationalists have foresworn violence. U.S. State Department's Worldwide Caution public announcements are available at http://travel.state.gov, but take them with a grain of salt, as the same conditions that prompt a travel advisory are everyday realities in most American cities and towns.
Spain’s crime rate more closely resembles Canada’s than the U.S. That said, muggings and robberies do occur, so be careful. Stay out of dark alleys and don't go off with strangers. Exercise caution by carrying limited cash and credit cards. Leave extra cash, credit cards, passports, and personal documents in a safe location. Don’t leave anything visible in a parked car. Loss or theft abroad of a passport should be reported immediately to the local police and your nearest embassy or consulate.
Safety can be a concern for women exploring the world on their own. Avoid deserted streets and do not hitchhike. Dress conservatively, especially in remote towns. Some solo women travelers carry an alarm whistle on a keychain. If you’re a victim of catcalls and vulgar suggestions, look straight ahead and just keep walking. If followed, seek out the nearest police officer.
Senior Travel -- Major discounts are available to seniors in Spain, including reduced rates on most admissions and reduced fares on public conveyances. Special room rates are also available at the national parador network.
Smoking -- On January 1, 2006, Spain banned smoking in the workplace, and on January 1, 2011, included restaurants, bars, and nightclubs in the ban. 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 8% to 33%, depending on the commodity being sold. Food, wine, and basic necessities are taxed at 8%; most goods and services (including car rentals), at 18%; luxury items (jewelry, all tobacco, imported liquors), at 33%; and hotels, at 8%.
Telephones -- To call Spain:
- Dial the international access code: 011 from the U.S.; 00 from the U.K., Ireland, or New Zealand; or 0011 from Australia.
- Dial the country code 34.
- Dial the city code, and then the number.
To make international calls from Spain, first dial 00 and then the country code (U.S. or Canada 1, U.K. 44, Ireland 353, Australia 61, New Zealand 64). Next dial the area code and number. For example, if you wanted to call the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., you would dial 00-1-202-588-7800.
For directory assistance: Dial [tel] 1003 in Spain.
For operator assistance: If you need operator assistance in making an international call, dial [tel] 025.
Toll-free numbers: Numbers beginning with 900 in Spain are toll-free.
Time -- Spain is 6 hours ahead of Eastern 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 1€ per bag. Chambermaids should be given 1€ per day, more if you’re generous. Tip doormen 1€ for assisting with baggage and 1€ for calling a cab.
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—in fact, the waiter will expect a tip.
Barbers and hairdressers expect a 10% to 15% tip. Tour guides expect 2€, although a tip is not mandatory. Theater and bullfight ushers get from 1€.
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.
Visas -- For visits of less than 3 months, visas are not needed for citizens of the U.S., Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K. For information on obtaining a visa, see your consulate or embassy.
Visitor Information -- The Tourist Office of Spain’s official website can be found at www.spain.info.