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Money and Exchange in Seville, Spain

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Doing your best with money and exchange rates in Seville means you need to know about the Euro, banks, ATM's, credit cards and travelers checks. Understanding your best options and preparing for them before your trip can save you a significant amount of money. If you are looking for the current exchange rate you can find it through XE.com's currency converter or the graph to the left. Keep in mind that the rate will generally be a little worse than what you see on either of these examples. If you want to see more of what the Euro looks like you can do so below. Every bit counts, and below I'll cover the basics to saving those bits.

 
Topics in this section

Background

On January 1, 2002 Spain officially change to the Euro along with 12 other countries in the EU who decided to adopt the new currency. Those 12 countries are:
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Finland
  • France
  • Greece
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Luxemburg
  • The Netherlands
  • Portugal
  • Spain
Note the absence of the UK, Denmark and Sweden, which recently voted to keep their own currency rather than change to the Euro. Otherwise the Euro has made things a lot easier for travelers who now do not have to exchange money every time they cross a different border. While many miss the peseta few would disagree that coins are now easier to manage. Around 1992 Spain introduced a whole new set of coins for the peseta. Until the switch to the Euro you had to manage almost two of every coin (i.e.: two types and sizes of 25 peseta coins, two types and sizes of 50 peseta coins, etc.). To make it worse there were many machines for drinks, food, etc. which only took one type of coin.

Currency switch in Spain

In Spain there was a rush to convert pesetas earned in the black market (money not undeclared to the government) to Euros before the January 1st switch. Many chose real estate as a good way to "legitimize" their undeclared pesetas and this led to a steep increase in property values within the cities. The result has been prices of houses so high in the center of Seville that most average people cannot afford to buy a house. It's not uncommon to see the price of an apartment of 100 square meters (approx. 1075 sq. feet) in the center to go for 300,000€, or approximately $345,000. While Spain is officially using the Euro that doesn't mean the peseta has disappeared. Most Spaniards still think in pesetas. Some stores still show the price in both pesetas and euros, and the shopkeepers are even more likely to convert to pesetas when discussing the price of an item with you. In the overwhelming majority of my conversations with Spaniards about salaries, real estate, cars and a half dozen other topics they still refer to the amount in pesetas. The result is confusion for me as I tend to think in Euros and dollars. If you want to keep up with amounts as they talk about them here then familiarize yourself with the following calculations:
  • 1€ = 166 pesetas
  • 100 pesetas = 0.66 €

What does it look like?

So what does the Euro look like? All coins share the same front but there is a different design for each country on the back. There are also different sizes and thickness of each coin so they are easily distinguished from one another. Below are photos of each of the eight Euro coins. Place your mouse over each one and await a second to see what the back looks like in Spain.

1 ctmo 2 ctmo 5 ctmo 10 ctmo 20 ctmo 50 ctmo 1 Euro 2 Euro


Below is the set of seven Euros in bill form. There are different sizes for bills so they are easily distinguished from one another but unlike the coins they do not have a different reverse side for each country. I haven't seen too many of those 500€ bills yet!

5 Euro 10 Euro 20 Euro 50 Euro
100 Euro 200 Euro 500 Euro



typical ATM in SevilleThe day of the travelers check is over for me and a lot of people traveling abroad. However it is generally wise to maybe have a few checks with you, although my last 6 trips to Seville (before coming here to stay) were all with about $50 in cash (which I never spent) and my ATM card. There are ATMs almost everywhere in the center thanks to the '92 Expo, and most support Visa/Plus, Cirrus, MAC and other popular systems. Just look for the signs next to the ATM or on the display itself. You will get the best rates from ATMs and I have yet to be charged a fee for using them aside from what my bank charges me. In 2003 (ok, so it's an old story) when exchanging the last of my U.S. dollars here at a bank I received a rate of 1.14 and was charged a commission of $5 (I could have done a bit better had I looked around). When I used my ATM to withdraw money that same day I received a rate of 1.09 plus the $0.75 my bank charges for me to use an ATM outside of their own system. (Note: bank fees have now gone up, both back home and now, at times, in Spain. Some banks are charging a fee for withdrawal outside of their network) The lesson: if you like to walk around for half a day and look for the best exchange rate, wait in line at a bank, get charged commission and still get a rate worse than an ATM, then bring cash and traveler's checks. If you prefer convenience and a better rate take your ATM card.

ATMs are easy to use here and all offer English as well as other languages. Sometimes the language can be cryptic: many refer to your checking account as your "current account", but that's about as difficult as it gets. Don't expect to be able to access savings and other accounts as about 99% of the ATM networks seem to only offer access to the primary checking account. A family member did have some luck at Deutschbank accessing their savings account, but I am unsure whether this will work for everyone. A note: don't panic if one ATM doesn't work with your card - I have found several which advertise the Visa/Plus system that refuse my card for some reason. The next day the same machine may accept my card, so if it doesn't work the first time move on to the next ATM. There are network issues and one bank or one ATM may simply have a temporary problem. If I were traveling today knowing little about Seville I would recommend the following mix of credit cards, cash, traveler's checks, etc.: ATM systems on one teller

  • Visa, American Express and Master Card. You'll be just fine without the Master Card, though.
  • $100 in travelers checks in case you lose everything, but with careful planning and an emergency credit card tucked away somewhere, you could ditch the traveler's check all together.
  • $100 in cash, and plan to come back with all of it.
  • My personal checkbook...why? With an American Express green & white card you can go to the nearest American Express office and cash a personal check. UPDATE: The American Express Office has now closed. No plans for a new location in Seville! Still, the option exists in other cities in Spain. I did make the mistake once of bringing my American Express Blue card instead of the old green and white. Seems they will only cash your personal checks at the office with the green and white card, so keep that in mind if you plan to use this service.

Helpful Information & Links

Locate an American Express office
Locate any VISA/Plus ATM .
Locate any MasterCard ATM

 

Banks are generally open from Monday-Friday from 8:30am-2pm and sometimes on Saturday from 8:30am-1pm. Some banks also have afternoon banking hours on Thursday. From May to September they are often closed on Saturdays. Expect to wait in line much longer than banks in the U.S., and in some places you need to take a number and wait your turn. You need your passport to exchange money and some banks will allow you to use your credit card to make a cash advance. As I mentioned above, all banks will charge a commission when exchanging money or traveler's checks. If you need to exchange money at night or some odd hour try El Corte Inglés or a nicer hotel, although the rates will be less favorable. In every case it will be better to use an ATM than change money in a bank. In every case it will also be better to change money in a bank rather than an exchange house. For information on opening a bank account, even if you are not a resident in Spain, check out this part of the Living section.

 

When comparing places to exchange money always check the rate and the commission, especially in currency exchange houses. Some places offer better rates but charge a higher commission. You'll have to do the math yourself, but it is easy to see how a $6 commission on $100 exchange could outweigh the 0.2% difference in rate. Unless you desperately need Euros changing money at an exchange house, the train station or airport should be avoided. If you are looking for an approximate exchange rate for today check out XE.com's converter or the graph above. With the current rates it is no longer so "cheap" to travel in Spain and Seville. I miss the days of the peseta.

Helpful Information & Links

XE.com's converter

 

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Editor: Jeff Spielvogel
© 2004 JS