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Cash and credit cards on the camino...

Year of past OR future Camino
See signature. Too many to list here.
This is just meant to give some hopeful perigrinos some hopeful advice on their spiritual journey. Its about how to pay for the stuff you'll need along the way. Mainly meant for US visitors. Might be obvious but I had to learn the hard way.

Again, this is based on personal experience. Your mileage may vary.

So every time before I go to Spain I tell the credit card companies I am going. If you don't, well, enjoy a phone call in the middle of whatever you are doing to get that card authorized. What's funny is that when i use an airline travel card to purchase my flight they already know I'll be traveling, but just to make sure I check in and let them know anyway. In my experience there is a web interface to do so.

I always use credit cards to stay at any hotel or other place that takes them. I have 2 "no foreign transaction fees" credit cards... (more on this later)

I like to have cash tho too, usually like 50 - 200 euros always. This is very useful when that tienda doesn't take credit cards and you really want that apple.

Getting cash at an ATM is just like in the US.... put your card in and enter your pin and get your money. Mostly... now sometimes that ATM rejects my card and quite frankly its a bummer. I have no clue why but maybe my card isn't connected to whatever network they are attached to. So I kinda figure out which banks work and which don't and go to the ATMs with a bank that does. This has never been a problem for me. In most places where you plan to get cash there will be multiple banks available, and one will work.

There is also the omnipresent question about exchange rates. I pay in local currency. There will be a choice. Not sure if this is the best route and more experienced travelers may have opinions.

Now, about those credit cards... I like to use them because they have an "anti-fraud" guarantee. See, sadly, on my last two caminos I came home to some suprises! Like a $5000 bed and breakfast charge in Germany. WTF? Wasn't me.

Wiped out by my friendly cc company.

I order new cc numbers when I get back now. Might be overkill.
 
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henrythedog

Loved and fed by David
Year of past OR future Camino
Frances 2017, 2018, 2019, Ingles 2018, (Madrid 2019 partial - retired hurt!) (more planned)
Always take the ‘pay in local currency’ option when paying by card and not in your home-county. The exchange rate is then calculated by your card-issuer not the payment-processor and 99/100 that’s in your favour.

If anyone knows of a credit card provider who will not refund a proven fraud, I’d be grateful to hear of them. Changing your cc numbers proactively on your return does sound excessive to me.

I prefer to use a cc with a known low (that’s a very relative statement) credit limit and no non-sterling transaction charges.

My bank and cc companies used to be interested if I was outside the country. Not now. it’s becoming more common to use two-part authentication and get a text or email to confirm a payment.

The vast majority of my Camino transactions are still cash. I bought a significant quantity of euros and dollars on Brexit night when sterling spiked. Probably my only positive spin on that event - anyway, I’m still spending them.
 
Year of past OR future Camino
CF SJPdP to SdC
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VdlP (2022?)
All good advice.
Whist I carry a credit card, it's really just a backup.
My main 'card' is a Euro account debit card. That can be used to pay for stuff like any other card or used in the ATM to get cash.
It just avoids currency conversion charges.
I top up my Euro account now and again as I save for my next Camino.
 
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Doughnut NZ

From Aotearoa New Zealand
Year of past OR future Camino
2022
This is just meant to give some hopeful perigrinos some hopeful advice on their spiritual journey. Its about how to pay for the stuff you'll need along the way. Mainly meant for US visitors. Might be obvious but I had to learn the hard way.

Again, this is based on personal experience. Your mileage may vary.

So every time before I go to Spain I tell the credit card companies I am going. If you don't, well, enjoy a phone call in the middle of whatever you are doing to get that card authorized. What's funny is that when i use an airline travel card to purchase my flight they already know I'll be traveling, but just to make sure I check in and let them know anyway. In my experience there is a web interface to do so.

I always use credit cards to stay at any hotel or other place that takes them. I have 2 "no foreign transaction fees" credit cards... (more on this later)

I like to have cash tho too, usually like 50 - 200 euros always. This is very useful when that tienda doesn't take credit cards and you really want that apple.

Getting cash at an ATM is just like in the US.... put your card in and enter your pin and get your money. Mostly... now sometimes that ATM rejects my card and quite frankly its a bummer. I have no clue why but maybe my card isn't connected to whatever network they are attached to. So I kinda figure out which banks work and which don't and go to the ATMs with a bank that does. This has never been a problem for me. In most places where you plan to get cash there will be multiple banks available, and one will work.

There is also the omnipresent question about exchange rates. I pay in local currency. There will be a choice. Not sure if this is the best route and more experienced travelers may have opinions.

Now, about those credit cards... I like to use them because they have an "anti-fraud" guarantee. See, sadly, on my last two caminos I came home to some suprises! Like a $5000 bed and breakfast charge in Germany. WTF? Wasn't me.

Wiped out by my friendly cc company.

I order new cc numbers when I get back now. Might be overkill.
There is a list of Spanish ATM banks with the lowest fees on the Forum at https://www.caminodesantiago.me/com...atm-cash-machine-fee-cheat-sheet.749/download
Thanks to @Ungawawa 😍
 

mspath

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Frances, autumn/winter; 2004, 2005-2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015
Like many other pilgrims I slept with any valuables within my sleeping bag in a pouch beneath my feet and NEVER told anyone where and what they were!! Years ago in Trinidad de Arre an actor from LA who was bunked next to me asked anxiously "Where do you have your money?" As if on cue I rolled my eyes and answered "Why in the bank! And you?"

For further advice read this earlier thread with still useful tips on camino security
 

Doughnut NZ

From Aotearoa New Zealand
Year of past OR future Camino
2022
Debit vs credit is the issue. See, at least where I’m from debit doesn’t have the same protections as credit. Someone steals your debt account and you are screwed. Am I wrong?
Clearly, where you are from either Visa/MasterCard provide less service or you missed something. Where I am from there is no difference in terms of fraud protection.

In addition, for my personal protection I maintain a separate account with a relatively low balance and use the debit card for that account when I travel. I usually only hold up to $500 in the balance and top it up using electronic banking on my phone. It is not possible for someone to make a fraudulent charge of $5,000 from this account.
 

henrythedog

Loved and fed by David
Year of past OR future Camino
Frances 2017, 2018, 2019, Ingles 2018, (Madrid 2019 partial - retired hurt!) (more planned)
Debit vs credit is the issue. See, at least where I’m from debit doesn’t have the same protections as credit. Someone steals your debt account and you are screwed. Am I wrong?
You are generally correct - at least in the UK a credit card offers more protection in that your transaction is with the credit card issuer not the (purported) vendor. A debit card facilitates the direct transaction between you and the vendor. Getting the credit card issuer to actually take action isn’t as simple as it ought to be though.
 
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This is just meant to give some hopeful perigrinos some hopeful advice on their spiritual journey. Its about how to pay for the stuff you'll need along the way. Mainly meant for US visitors. Might be obvious but I had to learn the hard way.

Again, this is based on personal experience. Your mileage may vary.

So every time before I go to Spain I tell the credit card companies I am going. If you don't, well, enjoy a phone call in the middle of whatever you are doing to get that card authorized. What's funny is that when i use an airline travel card to purchase my flight they already know I'll be traveling, but just to make sure I check in and let them know anyway. In my experience there is a web interface to do so.

I always use credit cards to stay at any hotel or other place that takes them. I have 2 "no foreign transaction fees" credit cards... (more on this later)

I like to have cash tho too, usually like 50 - 200 euros always. This is very useful when that tienda doesn't take credit cards and you really want that apple.

Getting cash at an ATM is just like in the US.... put your card in and enter your pin and get your money. Mostly... now sometimes that ATM rejects my card and quite frankly its a bummer. I have no clue why but maybe my card isn't connected to whatever network they are attached to. So I kinda figure out which banks work and which don't and go to the ATMs with a bank that does. This has never been a problem for me. In most places where you plan to get cash there will be multiple banks available, and one will work.

There is also the omnipresent question about exchange rates. I pay in local currency. There will be a choice. Not sure if this is the best route and more experienced travelers may have opinions.

Now, about those credit cards... I like to use them because they have an "anti-fraud" guarantee. See, sadly, on my last two caminos I came home to some suprises! Like a $5000 bed and breakfast charge in Germany. WTF? Wasn't me.

Wiped out by my friendly cc company.

I order new cc numbers when I get back now. Might be overkill.
All good advice. Sadly most guides do not have ATM'S indicated and I got in trouble more than once. I was late and tired and trudged into Roncesvalles penniless, another three kilometers to the nearest machine and paying for private lodging was educational. ALWAYS have extra cash!
 

Albertagirl

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Frances (2015); Aragones-Frances (2016); VdlP-Sanabres (2017); Madrid-Frances-Invierno (2019)Levante
On my first camino, I went from my albergue to the town centre in Sahagun to find a restaurant for my evening meal. On my way, I noted the location of a bank, where I planned to withdraw cash the next morning. In the town centre, I was accosted and followed by a local man who was trying to pick me up. I managed, with some effort, to avoid him and return to the albergue alone. The next morning, I took a different route than I had planned out of town, not going by the bank which I had passed the day before and where I had planned to withdraw money. Although I only met the persistent man who was attempting a pick-up shortly after I passed the bank the day before, there was no telling for how long he had been following me and I did not want to meet him while, or after, I was withdrawing money. It is important for solitary pilgrims to be aware of their security, especially while planning or carrying out financial transactions.
 

Robert Long

Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances Sept 2016
Camino Portuguse Oct 2018
I always carry two credit cards and two ATM cards. WHY? I have had to report false charges on a credit card while on a trip only to have the cc company cancel my card and mail a new one -- TO MY HOME ADDRESS. Doesn't do me much good in Spain. So I always have a backup. As for ATM cards, I have had my card eaten by the machine. I am always careful to only use ATMs in the wall of a bank. I never use standalone ATMs. And I only withdraw cash at the ATM when the bank is open, in order to be able to get it back if eaten.

Buen Camino
 

MisterH

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2017, 2018 neither successful
All good advice. Sadly most guides do not have ATM'S indicated and I got in trouble more than once. I was late and tired and trudged into Roncesvalles penniless, another three kilometers to the nearest machine and paying for private lodging was educational. ALWAYS have extra cash!
There are additional problems with cash when traveling.

1. In Europe many coin operated machines take 1 and 2e coins. In the USA very few coin operated machines take anything other than quarters (.25 cent coins). Additionally many of the European machines accept paper money too. Again this is rare in the USA.
2. When returning, be sure to keep a reasonable amount of your home country currency with you. There are very few, if any, places where euros are accepted for anything in the USA. I was surprised by this when I wanted to get a bottle of water in the Chicago airport.
 
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CalgaryLynn

Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
You are generally correct - at least in the UK a credit card offers more protection in that your transaction is with the credit card issuer not the (purported) vendor. A debit card facilitates the direct transaction between you and the vendor. Getting the credit card issuer to actually take action isn’t as simple as it ought to be though.
Yes, same as in Canada. I have always found them to be quite good in giving money back BUT it has never been as large amount as $5,000.
 

jcat

Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2016
For those of us in the USA, a Charles Schwab debit card is a great travel option as they refund all (domestic and international) ATM charges. I also carry another ATM and credit card as backups.
 
Something to be aware of - if you have a pin longer than 4 digits you should change it before travelling to Europe - certainly Spain. I found that out when an ATM in Pamplona would not accept my 6 digit pin. Also a good idea to use numbers for your pin, not letters unless you also know the corresponding numbers. Many keypads have numbers only.
 

peregrina2000

Moderator
Staff member
Another tip that was just made real to me. When you are making a purchase in Spain, using a credit card, if they ask you which currency you want it in, always choose Euros.

I just purchased something in Spain for about 117 euros. After putting in my CC info, the page asked if I wanted to pay in euros or dollars (about $151 or 2, I think it was). I am currently in the US. I chose euros, and as soon as I made my purchase, my bank notified me that I had just made a purchase of $143. That is a non-trivial difference if you multiply it out over the cost of a camino. The advice has been given before, but to repeat — always use the currency of the country where you make the purchase!
 

Camino Chrissy

Take one step forward...then keep on walking..
Year of past OR future Camino
Frances 2015;
Norte/Primitivo 2016;
Frances 2017;
Le Puy 2018;
Portuguese/FishermanTr. 2019
Like many other pilgrims I slept with any valuables within my sleeping bag in a pouch beneath my feet and NEVER told anyone where and what they were!!
I have always done exactly the same as you.
 
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mspath

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Frances, autumn/winter; 2004, 2005-2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015
Another tip that was just made real to me. When you are making a purchase in Spain, using a credit card, if they ask you which currency you want it in, always choose Euros.

I just purchased something in Spain for about 117 euros. After putting in my CC info, the page asked if I wanted to pay in euros or dollars (about $151 or 2, I think it was). I am currently in the US. I chose euros, and as soon as I made my purchase, my bank notified me that I had just made a purchase of $143. That is a non-trivial difference if you multiply it out over the cost of a camino. The advice has been given before, but to repeat — always use the currency of the country where you make the purchase!
Laurie,

Also do make sure well before leaving home that your CC is not about to expire!!

April 1, 2006 in Cee on the Finistère camino I walked with 3 British pilgrims. At the local bank ATM my CC would not work, it had expired. Was this some crazy April Fools joke? While I wondered one British pilgrim, who by chance had the same last name as mine, kindly offered to lend me funds. Ouf!

Since then, of course, I always carried 2 up to date cards plus a stash of hidden cash.
 
Last edited:

David with new Kit!

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
When booking a return flight from the UK to Spain its normal to get charged in £ sterling for the whole booking. But, last trip I booked a single ticket, returning from Spain with Vueling (booked while in the UK) and was automatically charged in Euros. It wasn't a problem as I use a Monzo debit card specifically for my holidays as its got no bank transaction charges, just the Mastercard base rate, which everyone has to pay.

So, if you book a single to Spain as you are unsure of your return date, watch out for the unexpected Euro charge on the return booking if using a European plane
 
Year of past OR future Camino
Frances. 2001
Via de la plata 2008
Arles -Piemonte-Frances-Cee 2014
(Bastan-Francés) 2019
Another tip that was just made real to me. When you are making a purchase in Spain, using a credit card, if they ask you which currency you want it in, always choose Euros.

I just purchased something in Spain for about 117 euros. After putting in my CC info, the page asked if I wanted to pay in euros or dollars (about $151 or 2, I think it was). I am currently in the US. I chose euros, and as soon as I made my purchase, my bank notified me that I had just made a purchase of $143. That is a non-trivial difference if you multiply it out over the cost of a camino. The advice has been given before, but to repeat — always use the currency of the country where you make the purchase!
You got this right and it’s super important. Be careful to always insist on paying the local currency when making a purchase. A similar situation can come up when you are using a ATM. Recently in Mexico I was offered an exchange rate and Ask if I would accept that rate. The rate that was offered turned out to be about 8% less favorable than what my home bank gave me. Just refuse to accept that rate. You will still get your cash.
I hadn’t run into this problem before but it looks like it’s possible for some banks to add 12% to the total cost of your whole trip.
 
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