Although people still think of Spain as a budget destination, Barcelona is no longer as inexpensive as it used to be. Hotel prices have increased considerably over the last decade, and if you do all your carousing in the modern city designer joints you can expect to spend easily as much as you would at home, if not more. However, when balanced with the cost of visiting core European countries, such as France or Germany, Barcelona and Spain still rate as extremely economical, especially when it comes to the cost of basic necessities like food and drink
On average, if you're prepared to buy your own picnic lunch, stay in inexpensive pensions and share bathrooms, and stick to local restaurants and bars, you could get by on £20-25/US$32-40 a day. If you intend to upgrade your accommodation, see all the museums, experience the Barcelona nightlife and eat fancier meals, then you'll need more like £50/$80 a day. On £75-90/$120-140 a day and upwards you'll only be limited by your energy reserves - though of course if you're planning to stay in a top-rank Ramblas hotel, this figure won't even cover your room.
Elsewhere in Catalunya, costs, inevitably, are affected by where you are and when. Barcelona, Girona and Tarragona are invariably more expensive than small towns, while in July and August you can expect room prices to be at their highest in Sitges and the main coastal tourist resorts. As always, if you're travelling alone you'll spend much more than you would in a group of two or more - sharing rooms and food saves greatly.
Various official and quasi-official youth/student ID cards soon pay for themselves in savings. Full-time students, for example, are eligible for the International Student ID Card (ISIC), which entitles the bearer to special air, rail and bus fares and discounts at museums and other attractions. A university photo ID might open some doors, too.
Money and the exchange rate
Spain is one of twelve European Union countries which have changed over to a single currency, the euro (?). Euro notes and coins were issued from January 1, 2002.
Euro notes are issued in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 euros, and coins in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents and 1 and 2 euros.
The exchange rate is currently ?1.65 to £1 (?1 equals 60 pence) and ?1.74 to US$1 (?1 equals 85 cents). For the most up-to-date exchange rates, consult the useful Currency Converter site: .
You can take as much money as you want into Spain (in any form), although amounts over ?6000 must be declared, and you can take up to ?36,000 out unless you can prove that you brought more with you in the first place.
To cancel lost or stolen credit cards while in Barcelona, call the following numbers in Madrid:
Access/MasterCard tel 915 192 100
American Express tel 915 720 303
Diners Club tel 915 474 000
Visa tel 913 152 512
Travellers' cheques, credit cards and ATMs
Although they are the traditional way to carry funds, travellers' cheques are no longer the cheapest nor most convenient option (bank cards are better, see below) - although they do offer safety against loss or theft. The usual fee for buying travellers' cheques is one or two percent, though this fee may be waived if you buy the cheques through a bank where you have an account. It pays to get a selection of denominations, especially bearing in mind the commission charged in Spain to change them. Be sure to keep the purchase agreement and a record of cheque serial numbers safe and separate from the cheques themselves. In the event that cheques are lost or stolen, the issuing company will expect you to report the loss immediately to their office; most companies claim to replace lost or stolen cheques within 24 hours. Obviously, buying cheques in Euros is the best option, since these can be cashed without incurring exchange service charges. Sterling and American dollars cheques will be accepted in all change establishments, but Canadian and Australian denominations may have their rates pegged to the US dollar (which means that two "exchanges" may be calculated).
Credit cards are a very handy backup source of funds, and can be used either in ATMs or over the counter. Mastercard, Visa and American Express are accepted just about everywhere. Remember that all cash advances are treated as loans, with interest accruing daily from the date of withdrawal; there may be a transaction fee on top of this. However, you can also make withdrawals from ATMs using your debit card, which is not liable to interest payments, and the flat transaction fee is usually quite small - your bank will be able to advise on this. Make sure you have a personal identification number (PIN) that's designed to work overseas.
Spanish banks have branches throughout Barcelona and Catalunya, in all but the smallest towns, and most of them should be prepared to change travellers' cheques. Watch out for occasionally outrageous commissions; ?3-3.60 per transaction isn't unusual, so plan to change a reasonable amount of money at a time. La Caixa and La Caixa de Catalunya are the two banks you will see the most of in Catalunya: both change most brands of travellers' cheques, and give cash advances on credit cards. Wherever you go, you'll almost certainly have to stand in line at two or three windows before getting your cash, a twenty- to thirty-minute process.
Normal banking hours in Barcelona are Mon-Fri 8.30am-2pm, although most institutions also open Thursday 4-6.30pm or Saturday 9am-1pm (except from June to Sept when banks open only Mon-Fri 8.30am-2pm). Outside the official hours you can use one of several exchange offices , as well as banks with special opening hours, all listed in the "Directory". If you're in difficulties, it's usually possible to change cash at larger hotels (generally bad rates) or with travel agents, who may initially grumble but will eventually give a rate with the commission built in - useful for small amounts in a hurry.
Having money wired from home using one of the companies we've listed is never convenient or cheap, and should be considered a last resort. It's also possible to have money wired directly from a bank in your home country to a bank in Barcelona, although this is somewhat less reliable because it involves two separate institutions. If you go this route, your home bank will need the address of the branch bank where you want to pick up the money and the address of the head office, which will act as the clearing house; money wired this way normally takes two working days to arrive, and costs around £25/$40 per transaction
Visa Travel Money
This is a disposable debit card prepaid with dedicated travel funds which you can access from over 457,000 Visa ATMs in 120 countries with a PIN that you select yourself. When your funds are depleted, you simply throw the card away. Since you can buy up to nine cards to access the same funds - useful for couples/families travelling together - it's recommended that you buy at least one extra as a back-up in case your first is lost or stolen. There is a 24-hour Visa global customer assistance services centre which you can call on 900 991 124. In the UK, many Thomas Cook outlets sell the card.
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