Tourism accounts for a huge slice of Spain’s GDP - in fact, it’s said to be the third largest industry sector in the country. Huge numbers of visitors arrive in Spain every year, and many of them dream of settling down in Spain to live, work, retire or study.
If you’re one of the lucky ones who has made Spain your home - or if you’re visiting Spain soon for a holiday - you’ll need euro cash to spend while you’re there. Getting your euros from ATMs once you arrive is a popular choice. It’s convenient and means you can get the money you need, when you need it, instead of carrying around large sums of cash while you travel.
If you’re planning on using ATMs in Spain, here’s all you need to know.
Spain has a developed banking sector, and many of the bank brands you see there will be familiar global names. You won’t have any difficulty finding an ATM in towns and cities - it’s only really if you go well off the beaten track into rural areas, that you’ll find it becomes trickier to locate an ATM to use. If you’re planning on spending time in a more isolated area, then it’s worth carrying extra cash just in case.
To find a convenient ATM, use these ATM locators for local and global banks:
- Santander ATM locator
- BBVA ATM locator
- CaixaBank ATM locator
- Banco de Sabadell ATM locator
- Bankia ATM locator
Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted networks in Spain. However, if you have a Discover card, you’ll find it a bit harder to find a merchant or ATM which will accept your card.¹ Because there are relatively few ATMs to choose from, it’s worth getting familiar with the Discover ATM locator below, and considering carrying a backup card in case you can’t find a convenient location.¹
Amex cards are reasonably common and can be used in ATMs run by several local banks.²
Find a handy ATM to suit your needs using one of the following locators:
- Maestro ATM locator
- Mastercard and Cirrus ATM locator
- Visa, Plus, and Plus Alliance ATM locator
- Discover ATM locator
- American Express ATM locator
Bank cards issued in Spain - like most other countries in Europe - have 4 digit PINs. That means that longer 5 or 6 digit PINs issued elsewhere in the world don’t usually work in Spanish ATMs.
If you have a chip and PIN card with a 4 digit PIN, like those issued elsewhere in Europe, the UK or Australia, you shouldn’t have any problem. If you don’t usually use a PIN with your bank card, for example, because you have an American-issued magnetic stripe card, you’ll need to request a 4 digit PIN for the card from your bank before you travel.
If you have a maximum daily cash withdrawal limit set up on your bank card for local use, then it’ll apply when you travel too. Often these limits are set automatically by your bank, and you can change them if you wish to.
However, if you don’t have a daily limit then the limits imposed by the ATM will apply. You can expect to find that withdrawals are capped at around EUR300, although different banks can set their limits as they wish. It might also be possible to take out cash in several separate transactions from the same ATM - although you might then pay more in fees.
Because of concerns about fraud and theft, banks monitor spending patterns for all of their customers. If something out of the ordinary happens - like a sudden spike in spending overseas - they can block or limit the bank card while checking there is no foul play.
To make sure you can use your credit or debit card while you travel it’s a good idea to tell your bank your plans before you go. If you don’t, you could find your card is blocked, leaving you out of cash. Simply call into your local branch to make sure your travel plans are recorded in your account details before you go.
Chances are that if you’re using a foreign debit or credit card in Spain, you’ll have to pay a fee to use the ATMs there. Even local account holders are often charged to use an ATM that’s not run by their own bank.
Here are the fees - and scams - to watch out for if you use your foreign card in an ATM in Spain.
The biggest thing to watch out for while you travel is dynamic currency conversion (also called DCC for short). This is a headache for tourists and expats using overseas credit and debit cards and can mean you get a very raw deal.
DCC is where you’re offered the choice of paying for a transaction or cash withdrawal in your home currency instead of the local one. If you say yes, the exchange rate used to calculate the cost of your transaction is selected by the merchant or ATM operator. Often it’s not the real, mid-market rate, which you’d find on google. Instead, the merchant will add a markup to the exchange rate and then pocket the difference. You’ll get a better deal if you always choose to pay in the local currency instead.
Unless you’re very lucky - or very organised - there’s a good chance you’ll have charges for international ATM usage added to your transactions by your own home bank. There are a small number of specialist bank accounts which do not add charges - but aside from these, it’s common practise to find fees for the privilege of accessing your cash overseas. If you’re the organised type, consider opening a new account specifically for travel, if you can find one which offers a better deal on ATM use abroad.
Some banks in Spain also add their own charge for using an ATM. Luckily, most ATMs have the option of carrying out the transaction in English, so you can check the charges before completing the transaction. If you’re unhappy about the charge that is made, simply cancel the withdrawal and find another ATM.
This depends on who you bank with at home. If you have an account with a global name like Santander, then it’s worth checking if your account type qualifies for free or reduced fee cash withdrawals from Spanish branches of the bank.
But even if you don’t bank with an institution which has a presence in Spain, it’s still worth asking your home bank if they have a partner institution based there. Often banks work together across borders to offer their customers free or reduced fee cash withdrawals, from specific ATMs overseas. Check out the options from your own bank before you travel, to make sure you get the best deal.
Even if you can’t get rid of fees altogether, you can reduce ATM fees in Spain with a few simple tricks.
All bank accounts have their own fee structures for international ATM use. Some are reasonably priced. Some less so.
A little research goes a long way. If you have more than one credit or debit card to choose from, it’s worth checking out which offers the best deal for overseas cash withdrawals. Or, as we mentioned above, if you travel often, you could even open a new account specifically for use when you’re abroad, with a bank which offers a good deal on overseas cash withdrawals.
Remember DCC? Don’t let the ATM operator take a slice of your cash without you even realising it. Avoid this by choosing to pay in local currency, to dodge DCC’s high fees and poor exchange rates.
If you’re sick of paying ATM fees, there is another way. You could beat unfair fees if you transfer some cash to a local bank account before your trip. That gives you access to fee-free ATMs, and you can simply take out when you need as and when you need it.
If you have a bank account in Spain, or if you have a friend or family member who does, you might be able to save even more, if you make your international money transfer with Wise. That’s because Wise only uses the real, mid-market exchange rate for transfers, with just a small fee per transaction. You pay less and have more euros to play with on your trip to Spain.
If you’re a frequent traveller, you should check out the borderless multi-currency account from Wise. You can keep your cash in any one of dozens of different currencies, and there’s no monthly fee to maintain your account. If you set up your debit card for the account and spend using that, you might even be able to avoid ATM fees, and rip-off exchange rates, entirely.
Using ATMs in Spain is a convenient choice. And as long as you’re careful about DCC, it can be pretty good value, too. Alternatively, why not give Wise a try. Send money to a local account, and avoid international ATM fees altogether.
¹https://www.discover.com/credit-cards/help-center/account/international-use.html (March 6 2018)
²https://network.americanexpress.com/globalnetwork/atm_locator/en/#search/51.5412621/-0.08813879999999999 (March 6 2018)
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