Passionate, sophisticated and devoted to living the good life, Spain is both a stereotype come to life and a country more diverse than you ever imagined.
VISAS & PASSPORT
Visitors from the United States need a passport valid for a minimum of six months to enter Spain.
Before your trip, make two copies of your passport’s data page (one for someone at home and another for you to carry separately). Or, scan the page and email it to someone at home and yourself.
Visas are not necessary for those with U.S. passports valid for a minimum of six months and who plan to stay in Spain for tourist or business purposes for up to 90 days.
Since 2002, Spain has used the European monetary unit, the euro (€). Euro bills come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500; coins are worth 1 cent of a euro, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, 1 euro, and 2 euros. Forgery is quite commonplace in parts of Spain, especially with 50-euro notes. You can generally tell a forgery by the feel of the paper: counterfeits tend to be smoother than the legal notes, and the metallic line down the middle is darker than those in real bills. Local merchants (even those with counterfeit-spotting equipment) may refuse to accept €200 and €500 bills.
Even if a currency-exchange booth has a sign promising no commission, rest assured that there’s some kind of huge, hidden fee. And as for rates, you’re almost always better off getting foreign currency at an ATM or exchanging money at a bank.
The most common types of illnesses are caused by contaminated food and water. Make sure food has been thoroughly cooked and is served to you fresh and hot; avoid vegetables and fruits that you haven’t washed (in bottled or purified water) or peeled yourself. If you have problems, mild cases of traveler’s diarrhea may respond to Imodium (known generically as loperamide) or Pepto-Bismol. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids; if you can’t keep fluids down, seek medical help immediately.
Infectious diseases can be airborne or passed via mosquitoes and ticks and through direct or indirect physical contact with animals or people. Some, including Norwalk-like viruses that affect your digestive tract, can be passed along through contaminated food. Speak with your physician and check the CDC or World Health Organization websites for health alerts, particularly if you’re pregnant, traveling with children, or have a chronic illness.
Petty crime is a huge problem in popular tourist destinations. The most frequent offenses are pickpocketing (particularly in Madrid and Barcelona) and theft from cars (all over the country). Never leave anything valuable in a parked car, no matter how friendly the area feels, how quickly you’ll return, or how invisible the item seems once you lock it in the trunk. Thieves can spot rental cars a mile away. In airports, laptop computers and smartphones are choice prey.
Distribute your cash and any valuables (including your credit cards and passport) between a deep front pocket and an inside jacket or vest pocket. Don’t wear a money belt or a waist pack, both of which peg you as a tourist. When walking the streets, particularly in large cities, carry as little cash as possible. Men should carry their wallets in their front pocket; women who need to carry purses should strap them across the front of their bodies. Leave the rest of your valuables in the safe at your hotel. On the beach, in cafés and restaurants always keep an eye on your belongings.
Be cautious of any odd or unnecessary human contact, verbal or physical, whether it’s a tap on the shoulder, someone asking you for a light, someone spilling a drink at your table, and so on. Thieves often work in teams, so while one distracts your attention, another swipes your wallet.
Aside from tipping waiters and taxi drivers, Spaniards tend not to leave extra in addition to the bill. Restaurant checks do not list a service charge on the bill but consider the tip included. If you want to leave a small tip in addition to the bill, tip between 5% and 10% of the bill (and only if you think the service was worth it), and leave less if you eat tapas or sandwiches at a bar—just enough to round out the bill to the nearest €1.
Tip taxi drivers about 10% of the total fare, plus a supplement to help with luggage. Note that rides from airports carry an official surcharge plus a small handling fee for each piece of luggage.
Tip hotel porters €0.50 a bag and the bearer of room service €0.50. A doorman who calls a taxi for you gets €0.50. If you stay in a hotel for more than two nights, you can tip the maid about €0.50 per night, although it isn’t generally expected
Tour guides should be tipped about €2, barbers €0.50 to €1, and women’s hairdressers at least €1 for a wash and style. Restroom attendants are tipped €0.50.
Spain’s electrical current is 220–240 volts, 50 cycles alternating current (AC); wall outlets take Continental-type plugs, with two round prongs.
Consider making a small investment in a universal adapter, which has several types of plugs in one lightweight, compact unit. Most laptops and cell-phone chargers are dual voltage (i.e., they operate equally well on 110 and 220 volts) and require only an adapter. These days the same is true of small appliances such as hair dryers. Always check labels and manufacturer instructions to be sure. Don’t use 110-volt outlets marked “For Shavers Only” for high-wattage appliances such as hair dryers.