Spain - Commercial Guide
Business Travel

Includes information on business customs, travel advisory, visa requirements, acceptable business etiquette, dress, business cards, gifts, etc.

Last published date: 2020-08-07

Business Customs

Spaniards tend to be more formal in personal relations than Americans are, but less rigid than they were 10 years ago. It is a mistake to assume doing business in Spain is just like doing business in Mexico and Latin America; Italy or France would be a better comparison. Traditionally, a handshake was customary upon initiating and closing a business meeting, accompanied by an appropriate greeting.  ‘Air’ kisses on each check has also been a traditional greeting between men and women, even if only a casual acquaintance (likely not for a first-time meeting).  It has yet to be determined how/if cultural norms will change as a result of the recent global health pandemic. Professional attire is expected: business dress is suit and tie, and business cards are required.

Spaniards expect a personal relationship with suppliers; there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings with Spanish business representatives to break into this market. It has yet to be determined how/if cultural norms will change as a result of the recent global health pandemic.  Traditionally, initial communication by phone or fax is far less effective than a personal meeting, and mail campaigns generally yield meager results. Less than 30 percent of local managers are fluent in English.

Spaniards tend to be "conservative" in their buying habits. Large government and private sector buyers generally are more comfortable dealing with other large, established organizations or with firms recognized as leaders within their sectors — so known brands do well.

Business travelers to Spain seeking appointments with U.S. Commercial Service officials at the Embassy in Madrid should contact the Commercial Section in advance. The Commercial Section can be reached by telephone at (34) 91-564-8976, and by e-mail.

Tipping

Tips are not obligatory in Spain. A service charge is not included in restaurant bills; however, waiters in Spain (unlike in the United States) are paid at least the minimum official wage and do not rely to the same extent on tips for their income. Tips are customarily left for good service (normally up to five percent of the bill). Taxi drivers may be tipped by rounding up the payment to include up to five percent of the fare.

Climate and Clothing

Due to the differences among various regions, it could be said that Spain has a Mediterranean-continental climate. The weather in the northern coastal regions (bordering the Atlantic and the Bay of Biscay) is temperate and often rainy throughout the year, and temperatures are neither very low in winter nor very high in summer. The climate on the Mediterranean coastline, including the Balearic Islands, is typically Mediterranean -- mild in the winter, and hot and dry in the summer. The differences are more extreme on the inland plateau, where Madrid is located, and which is the highest in Europe. The climate is dry, with cold winters and hot summers. The Canary Islands have a climate of their own, with pleasant temperatures all year and a short, milder winter.

While Spanish women tend to dress down in the summer, men still wear suits and ties, particularly in the cities. Air conditioning is common in all major hotels and business establishments.

Travel Advisory:

Please refer to the Department of State’s Country Specific Information for Spain for more information.

Embassy and Consulate Locations

The U.S. Embassy in Madrid is located at Serrano, 75. You must have an appointment to access the Consular Section for all services, including U.S. visa, passport, citizenship, and notarial services. For more information, see the Embassy’s website at es.usembassy.gov

There is a U.S. Consulate General in Barcelona, at Paseo Reina Elisenda, 23, telephone (34) 93-280-2227. You must have an appointment to access the Consular Section for all services. We do not provide U.S. visa services in Barcelona.

We also provide limited consular services at five Consular Agencies in Spain, by appointment only. We do not provide U.S. visa services at the consular agencies.

Visa requirements:

Check the Embassy of Spain website for the exact requirements on travel to Spain.

Entry requirements for the United States

For U.S. companies wishing to invite Spanish visitors to the United States, Spanish passport holders generally may enter the United States for tourist or business visits of 90 days or less under the Visa Waiver Program. They need, however, to register online for the advance travel authorization under Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).  ESTA Travel Authorization

The U.S.  Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), reminds travelers to allow 72 hours for ESTA. In normal conditions, consistent with existing requirements, international travelers using ESTA for travel to the Unites states should apply as soon as possible but not less than 72 hours before their international flight is scheduled to depart.  Due to changes in ESTA application processing, real-time approvals will no longer be available.  International travelers without an approved ESTA will not be authorized to board their flight.  

Please note that due to matters related to the global health pandemic starting in early 2020, the admission of foreign nationals to the US has been restricted by Presidential Proclamations that could affect the use of the Visa Waiver Program and the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) to gain admission to the US.   Seeing that this is an evolving situation, travelers are encouraged to monitor the CBP website for changes.

Emergency Information

The Embassy has a Duty Officer to assist U.S. citizens only outside of normal business hours. The Duty Officer will cannot assist with U.S. visa questions or issues. The Duty Officer can provide information on medical facilities, on obtaining emergency funds from home, on dealing with and replacing lost/stolen passports, and on reporting crimes. However, most activities, like obtaining an emergency passport to replace a lost/stolen one, can only be performed during normal working hours.

The Duty Officer can be reached at tel. (34) 91-587-2200.

Please consult this website regarding emergency assistance.

From the United States, the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at the Department of State can be reached by calling 1-888-404-4747.

From outside the United States, this office can be reached through (1) 317-472-2328.

Currency:

Spain is part of the Euro zone and uses the euro as the local currency.

Credit cards are a widely used method of payment in Spain  The number of credit cards circulating in Spain at the end of 2019 was 85 million, of which 48 million were debit cards, up 4.27 percent over 2018 Some of the most commonly used credit cards in Spain include  Mastercard, and Visa. Debit cards including Maestro, Visa Debit and Debit Mastercard are accepted. Many banks are investing in innovative products and new technologies to rebuild their images. Spanish banks BBVA, Grupo Santander, and Caixabank have been the leaders in the innovation process of contactless cards and devices, mobile payments, and digital wallets. Spain is one of the European countries with the highest rate of penetration for such products.  Vendors may require additional identification such as a passport or other form of accepted picture identification.  

ATMs are commonplace in cities and towns both on the street, in retail outlets and some gas stations and visitors should be aware that bank transaction fees may apply, including foreign transaction fees and conversion fees.  Traveler’s checks are not generally accepted for purchases.  Visitors should inquire about the policy of the bank, hotel, or store before seeking to cash a personal check. 

For currency or other numerical quantities, a decimal point (period) is commonly used to mark off the thousands position and a comma to denote decimal amounts – unlike the practice in the United States; for example, 1.234.456,78 EUR.

Telecommunications/Electronics:    

Telecommunications to and from Spain, compare favorably with similar services found throughout the European Union.  A direct-dial telephone system links Spain to the United States and most of the world. Calls to the United States may be charged to international telephone cards such as AT&T (900-99-00-11), Sprint (900-99-00-13), and Verizon (900-99-00-16). These numbers can be used to place collect calls to the United States.

All landline numbers in Spain start with 9. Mobile phone numbers start with 6. To place a call to Spain, dial 011+34+ telephone number. To place a call to the United States from Spain, dial 00+1+area code+ telephone number.

Public phones in Spain accept coins and Telefónica (main Spanish telephone company) debit cards. Some public phones also accept commercial credit cards, however, given the rise in the use of cellphones fewer public phones are currently available.

Transportation:

Frequent direct air service is available to major U.S. cities from Madrid and Barcelona. Airports in both Madrid and Barcelona have good public transportation service to downtown.  There is a flat rate of Euros 30 from the Madrid Airport to the city center.  All major cities have metered taxis, and extra charges must be posted in the vehicle. Travelers are advised to use only clearly identified cabs and to ensure that taxi drivers always switch on the meter. A green light on the roof indicates that the taxi is available.

Public transportation in large cities is generally excellent. Rail service is comfortable and reliable but varies in quality and speed. High-speed trains are available to Seville, Cordoba, Malaga, Valencia, Alicante, Saragossa, Barcelona, Granada and Leon.  Work has started on extending the Madrid-Leon route to connect with the north-western region of Galicia.  Intercity buses are usually comfortable and inexpensive. International Driving Permits are required for non-EU drivers planning to drive in Spain.

For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, please see the Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs home page.

Language:

While an increasing number of businesspeople speak English, having product literature, correspondence, and negotiations in Spanish provides a distinct advantage over competitors who use only English. Certain regions in Spain have second official languages: Catalan in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands; Valencian in Valencia; Galician in Galicia; and Basque in the Basque Country.

Health:

Good medical care in Spain is available, though U.S. medical insurance is not usually valid outside the United States. Travelers have found supplemental medical insurance with specific overseas coverage to be useful since doctors in Spain expect up-front payment.

The hotline for the Center for Disease Control for international travelers can provide further information on health matters: (404) 332-4559.

For more details, please check this website.

Local time, business hours, and holidays:

Local Time

Spain follows Central European Time (CET).  The time difference between Madrid and the U.S. east coast is six hours during daylight savings time, and 5 hours otherwise.

Work Week and Business Hours

Workdays on either side of a Spanish holiday are not good times to schedule business meetings, nor is the month of August or the vacation periods around Christmas and Easter.

Business hours in Spain are generally 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. To ensure availability, appointments are recommended. Banking hours are 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. during the week, and sometimes Saturday morning. Department stores are generally open 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Many small shops and businesses close at lunchtime, generally from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. but stay open until 8:00 p.m.

Spaniards are receptive to breakfast invitations starting not earlier than 8:00 a.m. A Spanish breakfast typically consists of juice, rolls and coffee. Lunch normally starts at 2:00 p.m.  Spanish business lunches can last up to last two hours. Dinner starts late, i.e., around 9:30 p.m. and may last until midnight.

Spanish National Holidays

The Government of Spain publishes a list of official holidays every year. The holidays authorized for 2020 are:

January 1               New Year

January 7                Epiphany (Wise Kings’ Day)

April 9                     Easter Thursday

April 10                   Easter Friday

May 1                      Labor Day

August 15               Our Lady’s Assumption

October 12             National Holiday

November 2            All Saints’ Day

December 6            Constitution Day

December 8            Day of the Immaculate Conception

December 25          Christmas Day

In addition to these national holidays, other local holidays vary by region and city.

In Madrid:

May 2,                     Regional Holiday-Madrid

May 15,                   St. Isidro- Patron of Madrid

November 2 All Saints´Day

November 9 Our Lady of Almudena

December 9 Day of the Immaculate Conception

In Barcelona:

April 13                    Easter Monday

June 1                      Whit Monday

June 24                    St John’s Day

September 11        Regional Holiday - Catalonia

September 24        La Merce – Patron of Barcelona

December 26         St. Stephen’s Day

The Embassy and Consulates also observe official U.S. holidays:

January 1,                New Year’s Day

January 20, 1          Martin Luther King’s Birthday

February 17 Presidents’ Day

May 25,                   Memorial Day

July 3 (observed) 4 Independence Day

September 7           Labor Day

October 12   Columbus Day

November 11         Veterans Day

November 26         Thanksgiving Day

December 25          Christmas Day

Please check the Embassy website for a full listing of official holidays observed by the Embassy.

Temporary Entry of Materials and Personal Belongings:

Laptop computers for personal/business use do not require any special documentation. Occasionally, the Customs service at Madrid’s Barajas airport [tel. (34) 91- 393-7552] decides shipping a laptop constitutes as a temporary importation requiring the presentation of a warrant: a cash deposit or a statement from a Spanish bank stating an import tax will be paid if the equipment is sold in Spain. Before leaving Spain, the equipment and necessary forms should be taken to the Customs Office at Barajas airport for reimbursement of the deposit.

Electrical Characteristics

Electric current in Spain is 220 volts AC, 50 cycles. Most U.S. electrical equipment and appliances need a transformer and plug adapter. Although laptops today are often dual voltage, it is advisable to verify this before plugging one into Spanish current.

U.S. cell phones, unless they are tri-band and the U.S. wireless carrier works on the GSM standard, will not work in Spain or the rest of Europe. Additionally, the carrier plan should allow for international roaming. Phones, which work in the United States as well as in European countries, can be purchased at cell phone retail stores in the United States. Cell phone rental is also available in Spain, although some travelers find it cheaper to purchase a basic pay-as-you-go phone upon arrival and charge it with pre-paid phone cards as needed.