Local Services in Spain


If you’re planning an extended visit to Spain, perhaps to work, study, or even relocate to this gorgeous European country, you will definitely want to become familiar with some of the local services here.  To help you adjust more quickly and easily to daily life in your new place of residence, below we have outlined and described some of the basic local services available in the country, across a broad number of sectors, including banking services; short and long-range transportation; postal services, including mail delivery and shipping; grocery and retail services and providers; and the various entertainment options throughout the country, from the restaurants, bars and nightclubs, to the variety of sightseeing attractions in Spain’s culturally-unique cities and communities.

Local Services in Spain

Banking Services
 
Spain is home to scores of banking institutions, ranging from the very large corporate banks to regional banks with only one or two branches.  The following is just a brief list of some of the many top banks, or bancos, in Spain, most of which offer web access, a broad ATM network and many English-language services:
 
Banco Santander
La Caixa
Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA)
Caja de Madrid
Banco Popular
Bancaja
Banco Sabadell
Caja de Ahorros del Mediterráneo
Caixa Catalunya
 
Banking services in Spain are not much different than what you’ll find in your home country.  However, when choosing a bank, you may want to take the following into consideration:
  • Location.  Location is an important consideration when choosing a Spanish bank with which to do business.  However, the closest branch may not always be the most advantageous.  For instance, if you plan to live in a smaller town or village, you may find the banks have limited operating hours or poor ATM service.  Therefore, try to consider all of the elements that are important to you in a bank (English-speaking staff, broad ATM service, etc.) and then choose the nearest bank that offers these advantages.
  • Distribution. If possible, try to choose a bank with a strong presence in Spain, as most banks charge a hefty commission for using ATMs that are not a part of their own ATM network.  This way, you can be assured that you will have easy access to your money as you travel to the various regions of the country.
  • Telephone/Internet Banking.  The Internet has made it increasingly simple for customers to perform a wide range of banking activities, including checking their balance and transferring money from one account to another.  However, some of the smaller banks may not offer this advantage, so if this service is important to you, it pays to ask before signing on the dotted line.
  • Free services.  Some banks tend to charge more than others for things like checks, ATM service, debit and credit cards.  Therefore, the best bank Is often the one that offers the greatest number of free perks.
 
Transportation Services
 
Most of Spain is well covered by air, bus and rail networks, allowing people to travel easily and in comfort whether within their city of residence, throughout the country or to other countries abroad.
 
Travel by Air
 
Iberia is the primary air carrier of Spain, offering an extensive schedule of flights at airports in most of the country’s major cities.  Iberia flies to countries throughout Europe, North America and other regions of the world.  Low cost flights are sometimes available through their website at www.iberia.com.  For additional flight options, you may want to check out the independent airline companies Vueling and AirEurope, both of which offer an extensive network of national flights  In addition to these companies, there is also a growing number of low-cost carriers to choose from—carriers that may be able to offer lower rates when traveling within the country or to Europe.
 
Travel By Train and Bus
 
AVE high-speed train. RENFE, the national Spanish rail company, operates a variety of railway services, broken down into three main categories:  Cercanias, which are local commuter trains that operate in and around Spain’s major cities; Regionales, trains that are equivalent to buses in speed and cost and run between cities (Regional Express and Delta Trains can usually cover longer distances, although they are slightly more expensive); and Largo Recorrido (Long-Distance) express trains. 
 
The largo recorrido, or long distance express trains, have a number of names, based primarily on the speed and luxury of the train. In ascending order, the names of these trains include:  Talgo, Talgo P(endular), Talgo 200 (T200), and Trenhotel.  There are also a growing number of super-high-speed rails, most originating in Madrid, including the AVE, which travels from Madrid to Seville; and the EuroMed, from Madrid to Alicante.  These trains can drastically reduce travel time for passengers who can afford their extra cost.

In recent years, many of the established train services in Spain have been gradually phased out in favor of buses operated jointly by RENFE and a private bus company. This is particularly true when the connection is either indirect or the daily train or trains leave at inconvenient times. On some routes the rail buses outnumber the conventional train departures by a ratio of four to one. Prices are the same as on the trains, and these services usually leave and arrive from the bus stations of the cities/towns concerned.

Madrid Metro Entrance. In addition to the buses that operate between cities, most of Spain’s larger cities have a well-developed commuter bus system—Metropolitan buses, with many convenient stops, which allow individuals to travel within their city of residence.
Many of the larger cities in Spain also have a Metro System, an underground subway system that makes getting around town very easy and convenient.  Currently you can find this service in the cities of Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, and Bilbao, in which the metro system extends further out than most other metro services and will take you all the way to the beaches in Getxo.

Postal Services

As is the case in the United States, the postal codes in Spain consist of five digits and there is an online search facility on the website of Correos, the national postal service in Spain.  If you plan to send a letter within Spain, keep in mind that the addresses should feature the name of the recipient on the first line, the street and building number on the second line, the post code followed by the town name on the third line and the name of the province on the final line. Apartment numbers should also feature on the second line, after the building number and street name.

The majority of mail sent within Spain will take around 3 days to arrive and post within Europe takes around 4 days. Stamps are sold at post offices as well as at a number of retail outlets, such as tobacconists and stationers. It is also possible to order stamps online.
There are more than 6000 post offices across Spain.  These can also be found in railway stations and airports. Some of the post offices in the larger cities are open 24 hours a day, while there may be only limited hours of operations in the country’s rural areas. Most small villages have a local post office in town, while the larger towns and cities will have several as well as a variety of private services.

Spanish mail box. Correos is not the only postal service in the country.  Offex Courier Services, for example, is another major provider of postal services and has been in operation for more than 10 years.

Below are just a couple useful postal resources that may come in handy during your stay in Spain:

Correos
www.correos.es
Tel: + 34 902 197 197
Offex Spain
http://www.offexspain.com/contact.htm (links to regional branches)

Television and Internet Services

Setting up television and Internet services is an important part of any move, and moving to Spain is no exception.  Fortunately, there are plenty of options to get you up and running in no time whatsoever.

Television

In Spain, digital television has all but phased out the aging analogue broadcasts of old.  Currently, the pay-TV market is dominated by the satellite package Canal+ (formerly known as Digital+.  It was rebranded in October 2011 and is owned by PRISA TV, Telecinco and Telefonica). The package was received by approx. 10% of homes at the end of 2011. Canal+ is trying to win back its subscribers by developing an extensive range of HD channels and offered 24 HD channels in November 2012. Its main competitor is the cable operator ONO, who had over a million subscribers in 2012.   Although there are still a large number of cable operators, they reach only about 8% of homes. The market for ADSL television services (IPTV) is dominated by the Imagenio platform (Telefónica de España), which had 760 000 subscribers in September 2012, and is thus Spain’s third most important pay-TV player. Canal+ launched the first Spanish 3D channel in 2011, Canal+ 3D, and in July 2011, Orange TV launched 3D trials for households connected to fiber optic.

Internet

When moving to Spain you’ll have many choices with regard to Internet services and providers.  According to surveys, four of the top providers in the country are Orange, Jazztel, Ono and Movistar. These companies are known for providing excellent technical service and tend to deliver the power and speed of Internet they promise.

The cost of your Internet package in Spain will depend on the type of speed you are looking for and how you are planning to use it. For example, if you only need about 20 MB of speed, enabling you to surf the web, check email etc., you may want to look into the two ADSL providers in the country, Orange and Jazztel, with monthly rates ranging from 30-35 Euros in the first year and 40-45 Euros after this introductory period.  Cable Internet, with speeds that can reach 50 to 100 MB if you purchase the most professional package, is available through Ono, and will range in price from 36 to 75 Euros depending on the package you’re looking for.  The most premium Internet package in the country—for those who can afford it—is the fiber optic services provided by Movistar through their “Movistar Fusion” package.  This package includes speeds of 100 MB, and includes 500 minutes and 1GB of data on your mobile phone.

In most public places throughout Spain’s major cities you’ll be able to connect to Wi-Fi Internet, with some businesses offering this service free to their customers.  Currently, 4G is being installed throughout the country, offering you fast connection speeds and the power to stream movies and videos right to your smart phone or tablet.

Grocery/Retail Services and Providers
 
Like most highly-developed countries, Spain is home to a wide range of retail stores and grocery outlets, where people can peruse and purchase the essential (and non-essential) goods needed to live and maintain their lifestyle.  Naturally, the larger metropolitan areas in Spain, such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and even Seville, play host to some of the country’s larger stores, with a greater variety of goods and services, but even in the smaller Spanish towns and villages you’ll always find the items you need to live a happy and healthy life.
 
Across the country there are a variety of stores and shops, both large and small.  This includes large supermarket chains; malls and department stores; apparel and footwear shops; small boutiques selling specialty items; and gigantic hypermarkets—stores that are essentially a cross between a supermarket and department store.
 
The largest supermarket chain and food distributor in Spain is Mercadona—a Valencia-based company with 1,431 stores on mainland Spain, the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands.  Mercadona employees roughly 74,000 people and last year boasted a net profit of 508 million Euros.  In 2009, it was ranked the 9 most reputable company in the world by the Reputation Institute as listed in Forbes Magazine.
 
El Corte Ingles is Spain’s largest department store, while Inditex is the country’s largest provider of apparel and footwear.  However, if you’re looking for a one-stop shop—a place where you can find a wide range of products under one roof, you may want to head to one of the country’s giant hypermarkets, such as Supersol, Hiperdino, Eroski, Hipercor, Alcampo, Gadisa or Haley.  These shops (and more like them) allow you to satisfy all of your routine shopping needs at one convenient location.
 
Medical Services
 
To learn about Spain’s National Healthcare System and the medical services available to foreign nationals, please refer to the section on “Health and Safety” for Spain.
 
Restaurants, Bars and Entertainment
 
Spain is one of the most oft-visited countries in Europe and the world.  Millions of tourists flock to this breathtaking country each year to bask in the warm Mediterranean sun and take advantage of the literally thousands of entertainment options available to locals and tourists. 
 
Some of the restaurants in Spain are ranked among the best in the world, serving up both the local fare of the specific region as well as international favorites.  From the traditional treats found in the heart of the country, in places such as Madrid, to the seafood-heavy dishes popular on the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, there is always something pleasing on the menu for everyone’s particular tastes.
 
Bars are also plentiful in Spain and offer a cool oasis from the blazing heat of the Spanish summers.  In the larger cities in particular—Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia—there are hundreds of bars from which to choose, and the locals are always more than happy to point the way to the nearest watering hole.  Bars in Spain are seen more as social clubs, where talking and catching up with old friends becomes just as important as the ice-cold cervezas on tap and the uniquely tasty Spanish cocktails.  Collectively, these havens tend to fill up quickly once the work day has finally run its course, and because the final evening meal in Spain isn’t served until between 10 PM and Midnight, the bars also represent places where people can quell their pesky hunger pangs with traditional appetizers known as tapas.

Unlike in the United States and some other western countries, happy hour in Spain is not a half price drink hour. It's a time when you can have small tapas—small plates of food—with every drink you purchase, sometimes at no extra cost. Tapas are at the very core of the Spanish lifestyle and culture. In almost every corner of Spain, you will find lively, bustling bars serving small plates of superb flavors and local delicacies.  The tradition is essentially a style of eating rather than a form of cooking. To the locals, taps represent sociability, friends and family, and in general, the Spanish don’t typically engage in drinking without eating something as well.  Finding a tapas bar is never a difficult proposition, and when you do find a spot that adheres to this local custom, you simply won’t believe how unbelievably scrumptious these treats can be.

In addition to its thousands of bars and restaurants, Spain has much in the way of entertainment and recreation.  Casinos can be found throughout the country, with more than 30 in Madrid alone, including the Gran Madrid—the largest casino in Spain.  This casino sports a gaming area of nearly 10,000 square meters, with nearly 200 slot machines and 20 tables of traditional games.

Also prevalent in Spain’s larger cities are nightclubs, where locals and tourists alike can drink and dance to their hearts content. Often the guests are treated to live music performed by local and international bands.  Some of these local hotspots include:
  • Sala el Sol.  Opened in Madrid in 1979, just in time for la movida, this trendy nightclub quickly established itself as a leading stage for all the icons of the era, such as Nacha Pop and Alaska y Pegamoides.
  • La Boca del Lobo. Also located in Madrid, this club has traditionally offered mostly rock and alternative concerts.  However, La Boca del Lobo, which translates literally to (The Wolf’s Mouth) and is as dark as its name suggests, has recently broadened its horizons to include just about any type of music under the sun, including roots, reggae, jazz, soul, ska, flamenco, funk and fusion.
  • Café Bar Las Teresas. Located in beautiful Seville, Spain, this local bar is always busy and boasts an invitingly cool and beautifully tiled inner décor.  The bar can be found at the nexus of the Santa Cruz district and, according to reviews, its tapas are not bad either.
If wine is your thing, Spain has many famous wineries where you can taste and purchase a wide variety of wines.  The largest winery in the country, Enocircuit Club, is located on the west side of the capital and offers a program in which the traditional wines of Spain are elegantly presented, including Tempranillo and Granacha wines.

Spain has a number of cultural festivals held at various times of the year, including the Semana Santa Cáceres, the Easter Holy Week Festival held in Cáceres, Spain every March or April. This festival is marked by numerous concerts and processions, with religious icons paraded through the city center as people sing their praises. Additionally, the International Folk Festival in El Segura, held annually in Cieza, Spain, brings people from all races and religions together to promote a message of tolerance and respect. Here you’ll find a large craft market, plenty of street entertainment and a variety of concerts.

Finally, if you’re looking for family entertainment in Spain, try heading to one of the country’s many aquariums, zoos or amusement parks.  Summer fun can be had by both young and old at Barcelona’s famous park known as Water World, the largest theme park in Spain, where you’ll find scores of exhilarating water slides of all sizes, 2 miniature golf courses, swimming pools, picnic areas and more.

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