- OPENING HOURS
Shops in Madrid open at 9 or 10am and close between 8 and 10pm, and most of them don’t close over lunch. Some – especially those far from the city centre – close from 2 to 4 or 5pm.
In Madrid, shops don’t have restricted opening hours, as local regulations governing shopping days and times grant retailers freedom to close or remain open. The shops and businesses in the districts on the tourist map, mostly Puerta del Sol and Gran Vía, will be open even on Sunday and bank holidays.
To have lunch at a restaurant table, it’s advisable to arrive before 3.30pm, or before 11pm for dinner. However, you can still find kitchens open later than this. And if you don’t, you can always have tapas, as tapas bars and restaurants have more flexible hours.
- MOBILE PHONE COVERAGE
Spain uses the GSM international coverage standard. American frequency ranges (850 and 1900MHz) are different from those in Europe (900 and 1800MHz), but the widespread use of 3G and 4G devices provides support for the entire range of bands in both continents. In addition, 3G terminals include a third band that supports the band of a region other than that of purchase. For instance, European tri-band phones typically cover 900, 1800 and 1900MHz, while American tri-band mobiles cover 850, 1900 and 1800MHz.
If you have another type of mobile phone, ask your service provider to check for coverage.
- ELECTRICAL ADAPTORS
Electricity supply in Spain is 220V. Plugs have two round pins and an additional ground pin. A standard travel adaptor plug will enable you to use appliances from abroad. Most hotels will supply you with one.
In Madrid, you’ll find one of the safest tap waters in Spain. The capital’s excellent drinking water comes directly from Sierra Norte to the points of consumption.
- EXCHANGING MONEY
During your stay in Madrid, you’ll need euros, the single European currency of the euro area whose notes and coins were introduced in 2002. The euro has eight coin denominations: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents, and 1 and 2 euros, while bank notes come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 euros.
- TRAIN STATIONS
Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport, Atocha and Chamartín train stations, and the main transport hubs – Avenida de América, Méndez Álvaro and Moncloa – are dotted with foreign currency exchange offices. There are several foreign exchange outlets in central Madrid, especially in Puerta del Sol. Most banks and some hotels offer currency exchange services as well. Market conditions usually cause price fluctuations, so you should check the euro’s exchange rates beforehand on the day of the transaction.
- CREDIT CARDS AND ATMS
Running out of cash isn’t a problem in Madrid, since chances are you’ll find an ATM within walking distance wherever you are. Also, most establishments accept credit cards, which you can even use to purchase your tickets to get around Madrid on the underground.
Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted cards, American Express and Diners are less common. You should contact your bank if you wish to find out what commission they’ll charge you for using your card in Spain.
- TIPPING ETIQUETTE
In Madrid, you may tip or not depending exclusively on how happy you are with the service you get. Among the locals, at least, it’s always been up to the consumer to decide whether and how much to tip. Your waiter won’t protest if you just get up and leave.
Some restaurants may add a 2- or 3-euro charge to the bill for bread and appetizers, a service which they have the obligation to tell you about and which you can refuse. As a general rule, it’s you who decides whether to reward the quality of the service and the kindness of the staff with a gratuity.
The same rule applies in hotels, taxis, beauty or hair salons, and other one-on-one services.
Remember that in all establishments, service is included in the price. This isn’t the case in hotels and restaurants, where the legend ‘IVA NO INCLUIDO’ (VAT NOT INCLUDED) usually comes next to the price. This means you should add 10%.
- TAX FREE SHOPPING
If you come from a non-EU country, you can reclaim VAT on items worth over 90.15 euros. Show your tickets or receipts for the goods at the tax refund counters at Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport.
Once customs officials have gone through your purchases and stamped your tickets, you can choose to post them back to the retailer in order to have the money credited to your credit card or bank account. Alternatively, you can get paid on the spot by registered VAT refund agents, which usually charge handling fees.
In order to get VAT refund in cash at the airport, you should buy in shops displaying a ‘Tax Free for Tourists’ sign and ask the sales assistant for a tax-free form showing the refund amount. The VAT refund agent will ask you to hand in your forms before they give you the money.
In case of emergency (ambulance, fire and rescue, police), call 112, a toll-free number that works 24/7 across the EU, Spain included. The 112 call centre immediately identifies the caller’s location. It has interpreting services covering as many as 80 languages.
- FOREIGN TOURIST ASSISTANCE SERVICE
The Foreign Tourist Assistance Service (SATE) offers personal assistance to tourists who need to visit a police station for whatever reason.
Assistance is provided by a qualified team at the official tourism agency or by police officers. They help tourists lodge complaints or fill in forms.