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Cash vs Credit Cards in Spain

How easy is it to use American Credit Cards in Spain? We plan on taking taxis in both Seville and Madrid and, of course, dining out a lot. Will we need cash?

Posted by
353 posts

We were in Spain for three weeks last year and used credit cards for almost everything, except buying fruit at a farmer's market. You should always have some cash in case your card gets rejected at a toll booth or something like that, though.

Posted by
379 posts

Many of the smaller businesses would not accept our AMEX card, which we found to be quite common in Europe. No problem with our VISA unless we were in a smaller village, then we used cash.

Posted by
129 posts

You can use your credit card anywhere, basically, but many bars will not accept credit cards for those drinks had at the bar, as they are normally small amounts. Transport cards, entry fees, pharmacies, hotels, restaurants...will naturally take your credit card. The only issues may arise from American Express, due to the high commission they charge to small establishments.

Posted by
4516 posts

Contactless is widespread although the limit at €20 is low.

Posted by
963 posts

Visa & Mastercard are accepted readily, though it's always good to have cash for smaller purchases.
Be sure to say you want to be charged in euro, and make sure to push the correct button on the handheld card reader.

Posted by
497 posts

Hopefully you have a card that doesn’t charge a foreign exchange fee. If you don’t have one of these, you may be better off just using a debit card to get cash at ATMs and using that. That way you are only charged the fee a few times, rather than each time you use a credit card

Posted by
3041 posts

Ditto the others’ responses. Widely accepted in most places. Some smaller establishments and markets are cash only. We use CCs with no foreign transactions fees for most purchases and cash for those midday snacks and small purchases. As already stated, AmEx is the least accepted card in Europe. Visa and M/C are widely accepted. Nobody has even heard of a Discover card, so if you have one, leave it home.

Posted by
119 posts

Thanks for the advice. It sounds very similar to other parts of Europe and frankly, here in the US. I do have a good Visa card with no foreign transaction fees so it looks like we're set. I'll just bring a back up card and a bank card for ATM's.

Posted by
2554 posts

You can use ccard everywhere and locals do.

Having said that, note that NOT all US-issued ccards adhere to international standards, therefore you might encounter places where your card isn't accepted. Also, ensure you let know your bank you're going to be using your card abroad, so they don't block your transactions.

Also, note that ccards are not normally used for small payments -say under 10€. This is not to say it can't be used, but it's not "usual". Saying so because some merchants might require a minimum expenditure if you intend to pay using your ccard.

Lastly, in some restaurants, shops and supermarkets, if you use a foreign ccard, you might be asked to present your passport in order to prove your ID, albeit these days, this requirement is declining with the use of pin and chip ccards.

Posted by
5873 posts

Spain is notorious for stealthy infliction of dynamic conversation whereby you are charged several times for conversation. Always look carefully at anything on an ATM that asked you to agree to something -- often it is an adroitly worded dynamic conversation -- and of course make sure the merchant doesn't 'helpfully' push the button to charge in 'dollars instead of Euros' which again adds another exchange cost. This is spreading all over Europe -- we got screwed once or twice in Paris where this was less common, but it is pretty much the norm in Spain.

Posted by
2554 posts

Here comes again... another "everyone in the world wants to screw us Americans". Please, that's a pathetic attitude and denotes a lot of prejudice.

The "norm" in Spain is to ask every customer using a ccard linked to a non-euro bank account whether he wants to be charged in his/her home country currency or in euros. The merchant doesn't care what currency you choose to pay because he's getting the same exact amount whether you choose to pay in euros, in dollars or in Martian shillings. It's the bank (or another financial intermediary) the one that charges a fee for converting that transaction if you decide to use a 'foreign' currency -whatever it is- to make that purchase. And the merchant, don't forget, DOESN'T work for the bank, so your choice it's to no consequence to him

Some find it easier or clearer to have their bank statements showing transactions only in their home country currency, but that has an extra cost when the ccard is used abroad. For this reason, is always best to ask to be charged in the local currency wherever in the world you are and, if not asked, you should be the one telling.

Some visitors, fruit of their financial ignorance and/or lack of travel acumen, either don't pay much attention to this fact or just feel more comfortable being charge in US$... but then that, obviously, carries an extra cost in the form of a conversion fee into the local currency.

Posted by
5017 posts

Since the topic of DCC has come up, worth passing on a few points on it:

  • DCC is a feature of Visa and MC, offered as an option, but not administrated by them, but rather a third party. If you can use American Express (Hotel for example) you can assure no DCC.
  • The choice to utilize DCC is up to the Merchant in conjunction with their Transaction Processor (Bank maybe) or a Third party service that provides terminals, processing, etc.
  • The "rate" has to be based on a Market rate plus any Service charge. The service charge part is where you get stung, that, and if your card issuer also charges fees for conversion, they are not obligated to rescind those fees.
  • According to MC/Visa, the rate for conversion (or amount of the transaction) must be disclosed to the customer, and it is implied that consent is needed for the transaction to continue...though that part can get sketchy.

As for who makes the money off the deal...Certainly whomever handles the DCC transaction is collecting the fee, either the Merchants Bank or a Third party. (MC/Visa does not Benefit, your Card Issuer does not). It is reasonable to assume that the Merchant benefits somehow, either directly (% of the fee applied to their account) or indirectly (waiving of transaction fees, POS terminals provided at no cost, etc). Unless the owner of the business puts pressure on the employees, I do not think that the employee benefits directly, or at least most to me seem indifferent, some even have recommended doing the transaction in euros...but yeah some take over and indicate consent for you, either out of indifference or intent. Others have reported that even if you handle the entire transaction, there is no option to decline in some cases.

Posted by
80 posts

The only trouble we've had with cards is the renfe ticket machines. They won't accept any of the 7 debit and credit cards our family tried. If you are buying train tickets, get them online in advance or arrive early enough to buy them from the ticket window. The ticket window had no trouble with our cards, they'll also accept cash which those machines will not.

Posted by
5017 posts

Yes, at unmanned kiosks/machines, especially for transactions over the range of $50, you would need a chip card with a PIN.

Posted by
18349 posts

I always forget that there may be a price-cap on the usage of some American credit cards in European vending machines. As a solo traveler taking mostly short bus or train rides, my expenditures are usually rather low, and I have rarely had a problem with acceptance of my chip-and-signature cards.

Posted by
203 posts

We used our CC with no transaction fee for all but taxis and small purchases. We were always asked whether we wanted to pay in dollars or euros and always chose Euros. We spent about $400 in cash during a 2 week trip. We took 100 Euros from our Spring trip to Europe and got another $300 using a bank card. Check to see whether your bank had international partners to avoid bank fees when getting cash.