Spain Guide

Spain Guide

Spain City Guides

One of Barcelona’s main traits is the pride of its people, as a community which has...

Madrid is one of the world’s greatest cities and the capital of Spain. The city centre...

Valencia is the third-largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona, yet is catching up as one...



Getting out there

Spain is extremely easy to get to due to the vast amount of low cost airlines that have based themselves in the country. Airlines such as Easyjet, Ryanair, jet2 and Thomson Fly all fly to various locations in Spain from all over the UK, enabling you to visit any part of the country at relatively cheap prices.

Getting around

Once you arrive in Spain, it is really easy to get around. You will find a lot of the main cities have some kind of metro/underground which means you can travel around the city very cheaply. A lot of the main cities offer passes whereby you can buy a monthly ticket which allows you unlimited travel by metro, Cercanias (local trains) and bus.

When you want to venture between cities, the best way is via bus or train. ‘RENFE’ is Spain’s main train company and allows you to travel between cities all over Spain quickly and conveniently. Prices are reasonable; however, the bus service in Spain is also very good, and cheaper than rail. ‘Continental’ is one of the main bus companies out in Spain and tickets can be bought over the internet or at any Continental stand in the bus station.

Whilst on your year abroad, it is advisable to travel around the country you are in. You will often find that friends will be dotted around the country and so there’s no excuse not to go and visit them in their city. It’s a great way to see a new place as they will hopefully know where is best to go!

Life in general

The Spanish culture is very much different the UK, and I am sure it wont take you long to realise! It is advised to be open to any eventualities.

One of the main differences between Spain to England is the fact the Spanish have a siesta every day. Siestas vary from city to city but in general, all business and shops (except supermarkets and department stores) shut between the hours of 14.00 and 17.00. You will find that wherever you are, it becomes very quiet, especially in small towns. However, larger cities, such as Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia still remain bustling in these hours, despite many of the shops being shut. The Spaniards make the most of their siesta by going out for lunch and keeping in the shade away from the heat of the sun.

Due to the siesta, shops are open Monday to Saturday usually between the hours of 10.00 till 14.00 and then 17.00 till 20.00. On a Sunday, shops remain closed with the exception of supermarkets which open their doors once a month.

Food, Drink and Going out

In general, it can be said the Spanish love their hams and cheeses. Wherever you are in Spain, you will find Jamon everywhere. A lot of Spanish families have a large Jamon (leg of cured meat) in the house which lasts them for a good few months.

“Tapas” is also very popular across Spain and the type you can get varies from city to city. Usually in smaller towns Tapas consists of a small snack which you get for free with a drink. In larger cities it is a snack which you can buy with your drink. Tapas can also be bought in larger portion sizes, “media” or “racion”, and can be enjoyed as a complete meal.

If you want a larger meal, look out for the “Menu del Día”. You can get a 3 course meal including bread and drink for a very reasonable price. Wherever you go, you can choose from the set menu list with dishes ranging from Spanish specialities to tourist friendly steak and chips.

When it comes to drink the Spanish are not too fussy. However, one of their specialities is the well known Sangria. A lot of bars sell their sangria in jugs which often works out to be a great deal if you’re sharing with friends. “Cañas” are also very popular. This is basically just a beer, and caña is the name given to the size. A caña is usually just a small glass of beer, however the size does range from bar to bar. If you’re after a larger beer, ask for a “jarra” and you will be given something much more substantial.

Going out in Spain is great fun wherever you go. Clubs are open until as late as 7am/8am and the majority of bars open till 4am. The main difference in going out in Spain is that the nightlife doesn’t get going until about midnight. I recommend heading to the supermarkets and buying some cheap plonk to start off your night. Wine can be bought for as cheaply as 80cents and bottles of spirits from 4euros!
Drinks offers are always on in bars and clubs and you can often get deals whereby you receive free shots with your drink. Never a bad thing!

Telephone and Internet

The international dialling code for Spain is +34 and to make calls to England it is +44.

Mobile; once you arrive in Spain, it is a lot cheaper if you head to a phone shop and buy a Spanish ‘pay as you go’ sim card and put it in your existing phone. The main networks in Spain are Vodafone, Orange and Movistar. However, ‘The PhoneHouse’ (Spain’s equivalent to the UK’s ‘The Carphone Warehouse’) has recently introduced a new sim card called ‘Happy Movíl’ which allows you to call home from 5cents per minute. This works out to be a lot cheaper than other Spanish networks when it comes to calling back to the UK.
In general, it is recommended just to stick with pay as you go in Spain as the contracts you can get here are not yet anything like the deals you can get in the UK.

Landline; It is advisable to get a landline phone fitted in your apartment if you think you will make the most of it. Its best to get a deal with a company such as Telefonica, Orange or Webstar as these include broadband internet and digital TV. Deals are always changing but Orange, in particular, usually has some great ones on which you don’t need to sign a 12 month contract for, perfect if you aren’t going to be in Spain for a whole year. To see all the other deals you can get, head to The Phonehouse and pick up a brochure which will detail all the landline and internet packages available.

Public; If you chose not to take out a landline and internet package, finding a place where you can call home or use the internet can be pretty tricky.

If you don't have internet where you are staying your best bet are the “Locutorio” which can be found on many street corners in most Spanish cities. Here, you can use the telephone and then pay afterwards for what calls you have made. These phones are generally a lot cheaper than normal street pay phones. You can usually use the internet in Locutorios too. Other facilities such as photocopying and a fax machine are also available.

Gas and Electricity

The largest gas and electricity company in Spain is Endesa. Prices are similar to the UK and you can request a gas or electricity connection by visiting their website. If you’re moving into a student flat then your landlord will probably sort these out for you and you will have to pay the bills on a quarterly basis.

Remember that in order to use British appliances you will need an adaptor as the power supply sockets in Spain are for 2-pin plugs.


As soon as you arrive in Spain, we suggest you head to a local bank to open a basic account. This will mean you will avoid paying any withdrawal charges when using your English account. It will also make bill paying easier as a lot of the main companies (such as gas and electric) often arrange a direct debit type of payment for bills.

Opening an account; opening an account in Spain is relatively easy. If you are coming to Spain to study, some banks do special accounts for students, so ask beforehand. To open an account, you will need:

• Your passport
• Proof of address
• Student registration form (only needed if you are studying at a Spanish university and wanting to open a student account)

Most students open accounts with Santander bank as they offer a special account just for students and they also give you help with managing your account online. It is quick and easy to open an account; you just need to go to simply go into a local branch with I.D. (such as a passport). Try to withdraw money at Santander branches as there is a small fee for withdrawing it from cash points belonging to other banks. Other banks include:

• La Caixa
• Ibercaja

Banking hours; The majority of banks are open from 10.00 till 14.00 Monday to Friday. The banks are not usually open in an evening so make sure you go before they shut for the siesta. Between the months of September and April, banks are also open every Saturday from 10.00-13.00. However, as soon as summer comes, the banks shut their doors every Saturday and only work Monday to Friday.

Bank statements and other services; The majority of banks in Spain do not send bank statements to your home address. When opening your account, you will receive a bank book whereby you are required to update it in the ‘Libreta’ machine. Simply put it in the machine and it will print out all your latest transactions in a few seconds. Spanish banks do have online and telephone banking too so it is possible for you to use these services if required.

Once you open your account, you will have your debit card sent to your address within a couple of weeks. You will then be required to call up your bank to activate it. If you’re unsure about the language barrier don’t worry, as most of the major banks do have English speaking operators. Just ask when you call.

Transferring Money; if you want to transfer money from your UK account to a Spanish account, the quickest and easiest way is via traveler's cheques. This also avoids any charge. However, another way to transfer money is via a transfer with your UK bank account. With a bank, such as HSBC, this usually takes 4-5 working days and there is a one off fee of £9. It is worth doing this type of money transfer if you want to transfer large amounts. This type of transfer can be done simply over the telephone and all that is needed is the SWIFT code of your Spanish account.
Also, on the website you can set up an account and they transfer the money for you for a small fee. This is useful for if you receive money from and english account on a monthly basis.

If you’re only going away for a short while then it’s a good idea to open an account with Nationwide as they don’t charge a fee for withdrawals made abroad.


EU Citizens; For all EU Citizens (members of one of the 27 EU countries) you will be able to receive emergency treatment in Spain with your European Health Insurance Card. This replaced the E111. This will mean that if you do need any treatment, you will not have to pay. However, this card will not cover you for non-urgent treatments such as vaccinations. You can apply for a European Health Insurance Card via the Internet.

If you do not want to rely on your European Health Insurance Card whilst here in Spain, there are various other options for people who plan to stay for a short while. Information can be found in the pack which comes with your European Health Insurance Card.

Forms are not needed to buy medicines in a pharmacy in Spain. Some medicines can be expensive and it may well be cheaper if you buy them after receiving a prescription from a doctor.The ‘Farmacias’ here in Spain are open during normal shop hours. However, in most cities there will be the odd pharmacy which is open 24hours a day.

You will find that in most towns, there will be a ‘Casa de Socorro’. This is similar to a drop in centre and you will not need an appointment. They will see you in minutes and provide you with a prescription if needed. This will be free of charge, but obviously you will have to pay for your prescription.

Emergency; In an emergency, head straight to the hospital. Doctors will see you and depending on how much of an emergency they think it is will depend on how long you will have to wait to be seen. Just like the UK!
In an emergency, you can dial the following numbers,

  • 112 (the equivalent to 999 in the UK)
  • 091 (National Police)

Guide written by Sarah Wilson, English exchange student Madrid, 2006/2007.