General Info about Madrid, Spain

Visa Requirements
Australian, Canadian, Japanese, New Zealand and US citizens can stay for a period of up to ninety days with a valid passport without a visa, as can residents of EU countries. If you intend staying for over ninety days you will need to obtain a visa before travelling. Citizens of South Africa are among the nationalities that need a visa to enter Spain and this can be obtained from the Spanish Embassy to the country.

Furthermore, if you are in any doubt as to whether or not you may need a visa to enter the country, you should also contact the Spanish Embassy in your home country.

The currency used in Spain is the Euro which is made up of 100 Cent. Notes come in denominations of €100, €50, €20, €10 and €5 and the coins in use are €2, €1, 0.50C, 0.20C, 0.10C, 0.05C, 0.02C and 0.01C.

The official language of Spain is Castillan (Spanish) but many other languages and dialects are used throughout the country. Of these the three most important are Basque, Galician and Catalan.

Being inland and also because of its elevation, Madrid’s climate is much more extreme than other cities in the country. It’s is hot in summer with temperatures reaching 32 degrees Celsius and cold in winter where they drop to below 10 degrees Celsius. During the spring and autumn months it enjoys a pleasant climate with average temperatures of about 15 degrees Celsius. It has an average 125 days of sunshine per year. In general, the best time to visit is between April and October although July and August can be very hot.

Medical Care
Visitors from EU countries are entitled to medical treatment under the EU Reciprocal Medical Treatment agreement. Before you travel you should collect an E111 form from your local social security office. This form may also be obtained in post offices also. For minor health problems visit the farmacia (pharmacy) where trained pharmacists should be able to assist you.

Natives of non-EU member states will have to pay for any medical treatment needed.

It is advised that you take out travel insurance before going. You can now purchase travel insurance on Youthhostelmadrid.com. Click here for further details.

Time Zone
Spain is one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time from the last Sunday in September to the last Sunday in March. During the rest of the year it is two hours ahead.

Opening Hours
Shops in Spain are generally open between 9.00am and 2.00pm and again from 4.30pm until 7.30pm from Monday to Saturday. It is worth noting, however, that in smaller towns and villages they only open until 2.00pm on Saturdays but in larger cities such as Madrid this is not the case. Furthermore many tourist shops also open on Sundays. Office hours are generally the same as the shops but they don’t open at all on Saturdays.

Tourist Offices
The main tourist office in Madrid is located at Calle del Duque de Medinaceli 2 and it is open between 9.00am and 7.00pm from Monday to Friday and between 9.00am and 1.00pm on Saturdays. There is also an office at Barajas Airport which opens between 8.00am and 8.00pm from Monday to Friday and between 8.00am and 1.00pm on Saturday and another at Chamartin Strain Station which opens at the same times. Finally, the Oficina de Turismo is located in the Centro Comercial de la Puerta de Toledo and this office opens between 9.00am and 7.00pm from Monday to Friday and between 9.30am and 1.30pm on Saturday.

In Spain value added tax (IVA – impuesto sobre el valor anadido) is calculated at a rate of between 7% and 16%. This is usually included on a quoted price but you should confirm this prior to purchasing anything to avoid any confusion when it comes to payment. With regard to accommodation and restaurants the flat rate is 7% whereas retail goods, alcohol and electrical appliances are all taxed at a rate of 16%. For non-EU residents, however, the good news is that you can get the tax back on any item for which you pay over 15,000. In order to avail of this incentive, you need to obtain a Europe Tax-Free Shopping Cheque when you purchase the item. When you are leaving the country, you present both the item and the cheque at customs, the officials will stamp it for you and you can then cash your cheque at any of the booths with the Tax-Free logo and Cash Refund sign. This is only applicable where you are leaving the country within three months.

Currency Exchange
While traveller’s cheques are widely accepted, there are some places which will refuse to do so, particularly in more remote parts of the country. Therefore, it is advised that you change them into euro as soon as you arrive in the country. For all currency exchange, banks are generally the most reliable and offer the best rates. There are also exchange offices at all major airports and train stations whose opening hours are usually more convenient but the commission is more expensive.

Electric current in Spain is 220 volts AC, 50 cycles.

The country code for Spain is 34 so if you are calling from abroad you need to dial 00, followed by 34, the local area code which is 91 for Madrid and the local number. The same instructions apply when you are making an international call from within the country. You should also note that you need to omit the 0 from the local area code where applicable.

Post Office
The main post office in the city is located in Palacio de Comunicaciones on Plaza de la Cibeles and opens between 8.00am and 9.30am from Monday to Friday and between 8.30am and 2.00pm on Saturday.

Because the service charge is normally included on most bills, tipping is not compulsory. If the service you receive is particularly good, however, it is customary to leave a small additional amount. With regard to taxi drivers, it is usual to round the payment up to include ten per cent of the fare.

Public Holidays
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel to a country as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day. In Spain they take place on January 1st and 6th, Good Friday, May 1st, August 15th, October 12th, November 1st and December 6th, 8th and 25th. It is a good idea to check the particular area too as certain towns and cities also shut down during special events.

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