The Spanish currency is the Euro, although you might find that bartering with a sheep or cow gets you further. Only joking! Spain is a very modern country with all the types of shops you might expect to find back home. Clothes are often cheaper than you'll find in other European cities, while the huge department store El Corte Ingles will sell just about anything you ever wanted.
Whether you just want to buy a stamp or you plan on bringing a whole leg of jamón back with you, you're going to shop for something while you're in Spain. Check out the advice on this page to make sure your shopping experiences go smoothly.
01 of 09
Get Your Stamp From a Tobacconist
The most likely thing you're going to want to buy: a stamp.
As in every other civilization on earth, each town, city or village in Spain has a post office. However, if all you are after is a stamp, it isn't worth waiting in line when there is a simpler (although slightly illogical) alternative—a tobacconist.
Tobacconist are called 'estancos' and have a burgundy and yellow sign. Ask for a 'sello' (Spanish for stamp). It is best to write on your postcard the destination country in both Spanish and English (see below for translations). Showing the postcard to the assistant and pointing to the name of the country will guarantee you get the correct postage.
Mailboxes in Spain are yellow and they can be found all over the city. If you want to send an old-fashioned letter, envelopes and writing paper can be bought in a 'papeleria', or in El Corte Inglés (the big department store that can be found in every big city in Spain).
To avoid confusion, use this Spanish... Post Price Calculator and then buy the exact quantity of stamps you need.
- Stamp - sello (seh-yo)
- Is there a tobacconist around here? ¿Hay un estanco por aquí? (Eye oon es-TANK-oh pour ack-EE)
- Letter - Carta (CAR-tah)
- Envelope - Sobre (SOB-reh)
- Mailbox - Buzón (Bu-THON)
- United States - Estados Unidos (Es-TAH-dos Oon-EE-doss)
- United Kingdom - Reina Unido (Ray-EE-na Oon-EE-doh)
- Australia - Australia (Ow-STRA-li-ah)
- New Zealand - Nueva Zealanda (Noo-EVEH Zeh-LAND-ah)
- South Africa - Sur Africa (Soor A-fri-ka)
02 of 09
Where to Buy Acetaminophen
If you have tried to buy acetaminophen in Spain and failed to come across it, that is because acetaminophen is the US-only name for the product.
In Spain, Acetaminophen is known as paracetamol.
Paracetamol can be found in all pharmacies in Spain. Look out for the illuminated green cross outside buildings. Note that the Spanish tend to take higher doses of paracetamol than in most countries, with 1g (that's 1000mg!) not uncommon. Ask for a lower dosage (200mg or 500mg should be available).
Another common drug with a different name outside the US is albuterol, which is called salbutamol in most countries.
Other drugs with different names in Spain compared to in the US are the following (the name in brackets is the American name): glibenclamide (glyburide), isoprenaline (isoproterenol), moracizine (moricizine), orciprenaline (metaproterenol), paracetamol (acetaminophen), pethidine (meperidine), rifampicin (rifampin), and torasemide (torsemide).
03 of 09
Where to Buy Traditional Goods in Spain
Looking to take a souvenir home? You won't find, say, a flamenco dress in Galicia (Seville is best for that). Check out some of the best places to buy traditional Spanish goods.
- Ham (jamón) - Alpujarras and Granada (which gets its ham from Alpujarras) has the best ham, though it is available nationwide. Also, other pork products - in particular chorizo (spicy pork sausage)
- Spices (especias) especially saffron (azafrán) - Valencia and Granada
- Tea (té) - Tea is not especially popular in Spain, except for in Granada. Pick up all sorts of great teas here - black, green, white or red. My favourite is 'Pakistani tea', which is black tea with cinnamon and vanilla, available only in Granada (and not in Pakistan, as far as I am aware!)
- Sherry (jerez) - Jerez, the home of sherry.
- Spanish Brandy (brandy español) - Available nationwide, but it is usually made in Jerez.
- Wine (vino) - especially from Rioja.
- Havana Club Rum (Ron de Havana Club) - real Havana Club rum is illegal... in the US (Bacardi managed to get the copyright off the Cubans through the Supreme Court) but the genuine article is available throughout Spain.
Arts & Crafts
- Leather (piel) - nationwide, particularly Andalusia. The Sol area of Madrid is good too.
- Lace (encaje) - Catalonia has a strong tradition in lace-making.
- Textiles (textil) - Catalonia is the best region for this
- Furniture (muebles) - Valencia.
- Toys (juegetes) - Alicante has a tradition of fine toymaking.
- Shoes (zapatos) - Alicante and the Balearics are the main sources of Spain's finest shoemakers.
- Handmade jewelry (joyas artesanas) - Cordoba has a tradition of excellent handmade jewelry.
- Pottery (alfarería) - Fajalauza in Granada has some beautiful pottery, made with old-fashioned techniques to create blue, green and purple glazes.
- Antiques Antigüidades - some great galleries in Madrid, near Plaza Santa Ana
- Rugs and Carpets (alfombras) - Cáceres, Granada and Murcia.
- Tiles (azulejos) - Triana, Seville, made by the local gyspy community.
04 of 09
Where Should You Get Your Euros?
ATMs invariably offer the best exchange rate. It also means you don't have to take out stupid amounts of money in one go, which is big risk if you ever get robbed.
Check out this page for more on taking out money for your trip to Spain, as well as a list of banks that offer fee-free withdrawals. How Should I Buy My Euros for my Trip to SpainContinue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09
Tipping in Spain
Tipping is not obligatory in Spain. Usually, the Spanish will just round up a little: if the check comes to 19.50€, the 50c change from a 20€ bill is enough. I've seen an American leave a generous tip and get chased down the street by the bartender who thought he'd made a mistake!
Read more about Tipping in Spain.
06 of 09
Making a Complaint in a Spanish Shop
Every public place in Spain—be it a shop, restaurant, bank, information centre or even bus—has a sign on the wall that says "This establishment has a complaints book for any customers that require them" (in both English and Spanish, although occasionally the English is dropped in favor of Catalan or Basque). It is a legal requirement for them to have this and it carries a lot of weight in Spain.
So, if you receive bad service in a shop or bar, ask the assistant or barman for the complaints book (point at the sign on the wall if you don't speak Spanish). It might be better to ask a different assistant to the one you have a problem with.
The forms are bilingual, so you shouldn't have a problem filling it out. Keep the two copies indicated (usually the green and white ones) and hand in the other (usually pink).
Each form is followed up and the establishment can suffer heavily if the law sides with you - if two people make a similar complaint they are even more likely to find... in your favor.
You may be wondering how this will help you when you are only staying a few weeks in the country. Well, so seriously are these forms viewed, you often don't even need to fill one out; as soon as you ask for the book the service often changes instantaneously and you find you get what you want without having to go through with your complaint.
These complaint forms are a very powerful weapon for the consumer—don't be afraid to use them.
Before you fill out the form, though, check out this list of Common Restaurant 'Scams' in Spain and you might find that you don't actually have cause to complain.
07 of 09
Getting a SIM Card for Your Phone
If you have already have a SIM from the European Union: In 2016, roaming charges in the EU were capped (before a Europe-wide ban at the end of June 2017). If you have a phone from the EU, there is little point in getting a Spanish SIM.
However, check what data options you can get from your provider. Many mobile phone companies have reduced the cost of their internet price packages, but the EU-wide cap (even after June 2017) will still be 50 euros, which is quite high. Most providers provide better than that, but check before you upload lots of pictures to Instagram.
If you have an American phone: If your phone provider doesn't give you good roaming options, you'll need to get a SIM while you are in Spain.
First things first: find out if you have a compatible phone. Your phone needs to take ordinary SIM cards, be unlocked and GSM compatible.
If it is, these are your options:
Order an International SIM before you arrive. The Toggle Mobile service gives you nine international phone... numbers on a single SIM.
Buy a Spanish SIM when you arrive. The major phone companies in Spain are Telefonica, Orange, Vodafone and Yoigo. They usually have bilingual staff in the bigger stores, especially in Madrid and Barcelona. There are also smaller companies (that run off the major companies' networks) to consider. Popular providers for making international calls include Lebara and Happy Móvil, both of which are usually available from convenience stores and locutorios (public call box centers).
Get an STA cell phone with International Calling SIM. STA has a number of options available to you, starting with a Siemens phone and SIM card for under $30. Buy a STA Cell Phone with International SIM
Features of the STA phone and SIM package include:
- Use a Calling Card from a Phone Box or Hotel Room: These are on sale at most convenience stores and are a popular option. They might occasionally work out cheaper than a locutorio but often they don't. They have the advantage of working on any telephone, but they are not always reliable and if you don't use up all your minutes before you return home then you've wasted money.
- Visiting a Locutorio: Locutorios are public telephone centers that have private telephone booths from which you can call home. These are usually very cheap, although a very small minority try to rip you off - check the price before you make your call). You are billed when you leave and you are free to make as many calls as you like. These centers usually also have internet. This is the method I use personally as I only have to pay for the calls I have made.
- Rent or Buy a Phone: Go into any telephone shop in Spain and buy a phone. Phones can cost as little as 40€. Then either get a Happy Móbil SIM card or Eurodirect calling card. Companies such as OnSpanishTime.com will rent you a mobile if you'd prefer. They also provide 800 free minutes to call back to U.S.A. and Canada for each rental.
08 of 09
Electric Appliances - Will They Work Back Home?
Electric devices and appliances that you buy in Spain will work back home, though you may need a physical adapter so you can plug it in (these are cheap).
Slightly more complicated is bringing your own devices into Spain (though this is also getting easier). Read more about using your electric devices in Spain.Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09
Flamenco, Soccer, and Bullfighting Tickets
When it comes to live spectacles, soccer, flamenco, and bullfighting are the most popular events to see in Spain.
Madrid and Seville are the best cities to see bullfighting.
The best place to see flamenco is at a Flamenco Festival. Failing that, check out a show in Madrid, Barcelona or Andalusia. Many flamenco tablaos now have internet booking (you'd be amazed how recently this became possible). Read more about where to see Flamenco in Spain.
With two of Europe's most successful soccer teams in Spain (Real Madrid and Barcelona), going to see a La Liga match is high on many sports fans when they visit the country. Book tickets online, but be aware that the biggest matches sell out months in advance. Read more on soccer in Spain.