If you’re looking for the best credit card to use in Spain, there are a few factors to consider: acceptance, foreign exchange fees, exchange rates, rental car protections, and rewards.
Want the TLDR? The Chase Sapphire Reserve, Capital One Quicksilver, Capital One Venture X, or a Citi Premier are all good options. I personally recommend the Venture X as a good all-around card, but the Citi Premier is another solid option, especially if you don’t need a CDW waiver. And if you are taking your wallet with you on excursions, be very, very careful of pickpockets, especially in cities like Madrid and Barcelona
If you are planning to live in Spain, you will require a US mailing address, phone number, and bank account in order establish and maintain your card account. You cannot pay US credit card bills via a Spanish bank account.
Typically, Visa and Mastercard credit cards are accepted nearly everywhere. Here and there, some merchants won’t accept American Express cards, which is a nontrivial consideration. You can also — obviously — always use Apple Pay that’s connected to above-mentioned cards. However, not all metro kiosks have NFC capabilities, so you may need to carry an actual card on your person (carefully!).
Foreign Exchange Fees
Most premium level (read: annual fee) US cards don’t charge foreign exchange fees. Cards like the Capital One Venture and Venture X, Chase Sapphire Preferred and Reserve, Citi Premier, and American Express Gold Card do not charge fees for international usage.
Visa and Mastercard offer rates that are pretty close to the spot rate. Although it’s not perfect, you’ll typically get a good rate, and much, much better than whatever you would get if you were to exchange dollars for euro. When given the option to pay via dollars or in the local currency, always choose the local currency.
Rental Car Protections
If you intend to rent a car in Spain and want a CDW waiver, the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Capital One Venture X both offer that. The Citi Premier, unfortunately, does not.
Spanish establishments code more or less the way you would expect. Restaurants will all code as dining, in exactly the same way that Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts do, in the US. Services like the metro will code as travel, and Lidl and Aldi will code as supermarkets.
Pickpockets: A Word for the Wise
Madrid and Barcelona are notorious for pickpocketing. Be extremely vigilant about what you carry on your person. I strongly recommend that visitors:
1. Leave important things in your hotel room or Airbnb
2. Keep your phone on a lanyard around your neck. Thieves have been known to ride past on a bicycle and snatch phones our of the hands of unsuspecting tourists.
3. Wear a fanny pack on the front of your body or across your chest.
4. Be exceedingly vigilant, especially on public or transportation or crowded areas.
So, which card should I use?
If you already have a credit card that you’re happy with, it’s likely not worth getting a new card just for traveling to Spain. If, however, you are in the market for a new credit card anyway, there are a few good options:
As always, do you own due diligence into what your needs are, your appetite for annual fees, and the exact perks you most value.