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:
Note the absence of the UK, Denmark and Sweden, which
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.
- The Netherlands
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 $400,000 (late 2011 exchange rate). 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.
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!
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
The days of traveling abroad with travelers checks is over for me. If you are a planner and feel better with several types of money options, then take a few checks with you. My last 6 trips to Seville
(before moving) were all with about $50 in
cash (which I never spent), my ATM card and no travelers checks. The difficulty with these checks is when it comes time to cash them. I have received several emails from people who have gone to banks only to find that they don't cash them. In some cases they didn't even know what they are! This makes the travelers check one of the most inconvenient forms of managing your money while traveling.
There are ATMs
almost everywhere in the center thanks to the '92 Expo,
and 99.9% of them support Visa/Plus, Cirrus, MAC and other popular systems.
Just look for the signs next to the ATM or on the display
itself if you have any doubts. ATMs generally distribute bills in denominations of 10, 20 and 50 Euros. They are also fairly easy to use and all offer English language option as
well as a few other languages. Sometimes the vocabulary can be a little cryptic:
many refer to your checking account as your "current
account", but that's about as difficult as it gets.You will get the best rates from ATMs and I have had little problems with being charged large fees 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
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. Also beware of different service fees depending on the machine you use: I have been charged up to 6 Euros for using an out of network ATM. This charge came from the bank in Spain and not my bank. Legally the ATMs have to inform you of any charge before you finish your transaction. This is not the case for any charges from your own bank (again, contact your bank to determine any charges)
It's also worth noting that there are several international banks in Seville which may offer advantages if you use the same bank in your home country. The banks include CitiBank, Barclays, Lloyds Bank and Deutschbank to name a few. If you have a bank account from one of these you can use the ATMs without any additional charge. There may be other benefits as well so check with your bank at home before you leave. With any other bank you can check to see if there are any advantages they can offer you: I have heard stories of people speaking with their banks and having the foreign transaction and/or service fees waived.
were traveling today knowing little about Seville I would
recommend the following mix of credit cards, cash, traveler's
- Visa, American Express and Master Card. You'll be just
fine without the Master Card, though.
- $100 in travelers checks in case you are a real worrier. If you lose everything maybe this comes in handy,
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.
The most accepted payment method is of course cash. I've never known a store to refuse cash! I think you always need a little cash on you even if many places accept credit cards. Why? A few simple reasons:
- Credit cards are widely accepted but by no means should you expect to be able to use them everywhere you go. Some small shops and places to eat don't accept them.
- The credit card machine isn't working? While some merchants will tell you they have a technical problem with their credit card terminal, it is often to avoid the extra 1-2% that Visa or Mastercard take as a commission.
- Cash is cheaper! Many stores and cheaper accomodations will have a 1-3% surchage when you use a credit card. Again this is to offset the commissions Visa and Mastercard charge the stores
- When paying for a meal if you want to leave a tip, there is no space to add this to the credit card slip. You should be prepared to leave some change.
- Transport: some taxis now take credit cards but many don't. You can't pay for a single bus ticket with a credit card either. Otherwise you can use credit cards to add credit to a bus pass or buy a metro ticket.
If you plan to use your credit card also be sure to know your PIN. I am terribly guilty of not knowing my PIN for any of my U.S. credit cards but I don't really use them in Spain. But I've had friends and family visit and when paying they were brought the wirelss credit card terminal and asked to enter their PIN. As they were used to swiping their card everywhere and then signing this was a surprise.
I really don't recommend exchanging money with the exception of perhaps changing a little in your home country if you want to arrive with cash in your pocket. The topic of getting ripped off at exchange counters seems to come up in just about every travel forum. If you do exchange money make sure to always check the
rate and the commission, especially in currency
exchange houses, airports, etc.. 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
converter or the graph above. After the change to the Euro and the current rates
against many currencies, it's no longer so "cheap" to travel in Spain
and Seville. I miss the days of the peseta when my beer was about 60 cents!
You can also calculate the exchange rate below: