barcelona

Money

Barcelona has long been Spain’s most expensive city, but prices are still lower than they are an hour north across the French border. Coffee in a bar generally costs €1.30 (standing) or €1.50 (seated). Beer in a bar: €1.30 standing, €1.50 seated. Small glass of wine in a bar: around €1.50. Soft drink: €1.80-€2 a bottle. Ham-and-cheese sandwich: €3.50-€5. Two-km (1-mi) taxi ride: €5, but the meter keeps ticking in traffic jams. Local bus or subway ride: €1.35. Movie ticket: €7.75. Foreign newspaper: €3.50-4.50.

Banks never have every foreign currency on hand, and it may take as long as a week to order. If you’re planning to exchange funds before leaving home, don’t wait till the last minute.

Credit Cards

It’s a good idea to inform your credit-card company before you travel. Otherwise, the credit-card company might put a hold on your card owing to unusual activity. Record all your credit-card numbers—as well as the phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen—in a safe place. Both MasterCard and Visa have general numbers you can call (collect if you’re abroad) if your card is lost, but you’re better off calling the number of your issuing bank; your bank’s number is usually printed on your card.

If you plan to use your credit card for cash advances, you’ll need to apply for a PIN at least two weeks before your trip. Although it’s usually cheaper (and safer) to use a credit card abroad for large purchases, note that some credit-card companies and the banks that issue them add substantial percentages to all foreign transactions, whether they’re in a foreign currency or not. Check on these fees before leaving home.

Before you charge something, ask the merchant whether or not he or she plans to do a dynamic currency conversion (DCC). In such a transaction the credit-card processor (shop, restaurant, or hotel, not Visa or MasterCard) converts the currency and charges you in dollars. In most cases you’ll pay the merchant a 3% fee for this service in addition to any credit-card company and issuing-bank foreign-transaction surcharges.

Dynamic currency conversion programs are becoming increasingly widespread. Merchants who participate in them are supposed to ask whether you want to be charged in dollars or the local currency, but they don’t always do so. And even if they do offer you a choice, they may well avoid mentioning the additional surcharges. The good news is that you do have a choice. And if this practice really gets your goat, you can avoid it entirely: with American Express cards, DCC simply isn’t an option.

But note that in Spain, many restaurants don’t accept American Express.

Reporting Lost Cards

American Express (800/528-4800 in U.S.; 336/393-1111 collect from abroad. www.americanexpress.com.)

Diners Club (1-800/234-6377 in U.S.; 1-303/799-1504 collect from abroad. www.dinersclub.com.)

MasterCard (800/627-8372 in U.S.; 636/722-7111 collect from abroad. www.mastercard.com.)

Visa (800/847-2911 in U.S.; 410/581-9994 collect from abroad. www.visa.com.)

Toll-free Numbers in Spain

American Express (900/941413.)

Diners Club (901/101011. www.dinersclub.es.)

MasterCard (900/974445.)

Visa (900/971231.)

Currency and Exchange

On January 1, 2002, the European monetary unit, the euro (€), went into circulation in Spain and the other countries that have adopted it (Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Portugal). Euro notes come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 euros; coins are worth 1 cent of a euro, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, 1 euro, and 2 euros. All coins have one side with the value of the euro on it; the other side has each country’s own national symbol. There are seven banknotes, or bills, in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 euros. Banknotes are the same for all European Union countries. At press time exchange rates were U.S. $1.42, U.K. £0.86, Australian $1.69, Canadian $1.54, New Zealand $2.09, and 11.48 South African rands to the euro.

Even if a currency-exchange booth has a sign promising no commission, rest assured that there’s some kind of huge, hidden fee. (Oh … that’s right. The sign didn’t say no fee.). And as for rates, you’re almost always better off getting foreign currency at an ATM or exchanging money at a bank.

Currency Conversion

Google (www.google.com.)

Oanda.com (www.oanda.com.)

XE.com (www.xe.com.)

Traveler’s Checks

Avoid taking traveler’s checks to Barcelona, because few vendors accept them.

Passports

Visitors from the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom need a valid passport to enter Spain. No visa is required for U.S. passport holders for a stay of up to three months; for stays exceeding three months, contact the Consulate of Spain nearest you. Australians require a visa for stays of over a month. You should obtain it from the Spanish Embassy before you leave.

Restrooms

The easiest restroom option is to use the facilities at a bar or cafeteria; it is customary, though not required, to order a drink if you plan to do so. Hotel lobbies and public rooms also have excellent bathroom facilities. The cleanliness of the establishment is a good indication of the conditions of their toilets. Gas stations have restrooms, but you sometimes have to request the key to use them. Large department stores such as El Corte Inglés or FNAC are also well endowed with restrooms.

Find a Loo

The Bathroom Diaries. The Bathroom Diaries is flush with unsanitized info on restrooms the world over—each one located, reviewed, and rated. www.thebathroomdiaries.com.

Taxes

Value-added tax (similar to sales tax) is called IVA (for Impuesto sobre el valor añadido) in Spain. It is levied on services, such as hotels and restaurants, and on consumer products. When in doubt about whether tax is included, ask, “Está incluido el IVA (“ee-vah”)?”

The IVA rate for hotels and restaurants is 7%. Menus will generally say at the bottom whether tax is included (IVA incluido) or not (más 7% IVA). While food and basic necessities are taxed at the lowest rate, most consumer goods are taxed at 16%. Non-EU citizens can request a Tax-Free Cheque on purchases of €90.15 and over in shops displaying the Tax-Free Shopping sticker. This Cheque must be stamped at the customs office to the right of the arrivals exit in Barcelona Airport’s Terminal A. After this is done, present it to one of the Caixa or Banco de España offices in the airport. The bank issues a certified check or credits the amount to your credit card.

Global Refund is a Europe-wide service with 225,000 affiliated stores and more than 700 refund counters at major airports and border crossings. Its refund form, called a Tax-Free Cheque, is the most common across the European continent. The service issues refunds in the form of cash, check, or credit-card adjustment.

V.A.T. Refunds

Global Refund (800/566-9828. www.globalrefund.com.)