1. Banking and Money Matters
The official unit of currency in Spain, Italy, Germany and Austria is the Euro (abbreviated € or EUR). In the United Kingdom, it is the Pound (GBP or £). In Morocco, the currency is the Moroccan Dirham (MAD or Dhs). In Hungary, it is the Hungarian Forint (HUF). In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the currency is the Bosnian Mark (KM/BAM). A good currency conversion tool can be found at www.xe.com.
Credit cards are useful for emergencies, travel expenses, and purchases. Most stores and restaurants in Spain honor major credit cards. VISA is the most widely accepted credit card in Europe followed by MasterCard. American Express is not widely accepted, but can be used to purchase travelers checks overseas. The Discover Card is not widely accepted outside the U.S. and is not worth taking to Spain.
Bring at least two international credit cards from different banks (always leave one at home while in Spain; if one is lost or stolen, you will have an immediate backup). These credit cards must be in your name (not a parent’s).
Before departure, write down contact numbers you can call while abroad to report a lost or stolen credit card and to obtain a replacement. In addition, you may want to notify your bank and/or credit card companies that you will be traveling overseas. This will prevent them from questioning unusual activity.
Before departure, ask your bank and credit card companies how to contact them from abroad if necessary. Many banks and credit cards offer online services, which will allow you to check account balances and pay bills quickly while abroad. Check with your bank and credit card providers before departure to make any necessary arrangements. Most large U.S. banks maintain affiliate relations with prominent Spanish banks. In order to make check cashing and money transferring easier, you should find out which Spanish bank your U.S. bank is affiliated with and what services may be available.
While in Alcalá
Plan on using a combination of methods to handle money in case one doesn’t work (e.g., a local ATM is temporarily out of service). Do not rely solely on one form of accessing money! You will have to cover the costs of daily transportation, books and school supplies, and personal items, among others. Many past students found that their living costs were much greater than expected. The cost of living in Spain, and especially Madrid, is quite high.
• You should have more than one way to access money while abroad.
• Arrive in Spain with at least 200 euros (some in small bills). Euros can be obtained from a local U.S. bank. Some banks require at least a week or two to obtain foreign currency. It may be too late after you land in Spain to do any banking; banks close at 2 p.m. The best option is obtaining euros in the U.S. It is not recommended to take dollars to Spain; changing money is very expensive for Americans, due to the price of the Euro.
• Take two international credit cards (in your name) and two ATM cards (if possible) from your home U.S. bank account.
• Do not plan to have checks (financial aid, money from family, etc.) sent to Spain.
• Leave your Power of Attorney with someone you absolutely trust.
Using an ATM card is by far the easiest way to access your money overseas, and the exchange rate is the most favorable. ATMs are widely available in Spain and you will receive cash in local currency (euros). You may also have financial aid or other support funds deposited directly into your U.S. checking account by a relative or reliable friend. You can then withdraw these funds (in euros) via an ATM. Before departure, check with your home bank to see if your ATM card has international access (Cirrus and Plus systems are common throughout Europe) and whether it can be used in Spain.
In addition, ask your bank if there is a daily withdrawal limit (there may be European ATM withdrawal limitations) and obtain information on any fees your bank may charge for using an international ATM. The ATMs in Spain may also charge a small usage fee.
Avoid carrying large amounts of cash and do not withdraw money from an ATM at night. An ATM card can be lost or stolen, or might not work. For this reason, we recommend that you bring two ATM cards (from different banks, if possible) to Spain.
For everyday purchases, traveller checks are almost obsolete; you are better off relying on cash, an ATM card, and credit cards. However, travelers checks can be useful in an emergency or as an alternate source of money should you lose your wallet, or if your ATM card does not work.
Purchase the checks in U.S. dollars before you depart; American Express Travelers Checks are the most widely accepted. Be sure to make two copies of the check numbers, and give one copy to a family member or friend before you leave home. Keep the other copy for yourself, separate from the actual checks. Should your checks be lost or stolen, you will need to provide these numbers and corresponding receipts in order to obtain replacements. Traveller checks can be exchanged for local currency (euros) at any bank marked Cambio or at exchange offices (oficinas de cambio) conveniently located throughout Madrid. A transaction fee will be charged and some banks may insist on exchanging a minimum amount.
Western Union can be used to have money sent from home in a very short amount of time (sometimes within minutes). In most instances, you can receive local currency at competitive foreign exchange rates. Your local telephone book should have the number and address of the nearest office or check westernunion.com.
Exercising common sense in everyday situations is the best way to ensure your own safety and protect your belongings during your time abroad.
We recommend that you divide your money in half and carry it in separate places on your body when in public. A good place to keep it is in a money pouch, draped around the neck and worn on the inside of clothing. Another option is to put it in a fabric “wallet” pinned to the inside waist seam of your jeans, slacks or shorts. In addition to money, other valuables such as your credit cards and passport should be kept in similar locations.
Carry only the funds you anticipate needing during the day. Clean out your wallet and take only the absolute essentials. Leave your purse at home, as it makes you a target when you are out in crowded areas such as a bus station, a busy market, entertainment centers, movies, etc.
We recommend that you wrap a rubber band around money if you are planning to keep it in your front pocket, and then keep it underneath another item in your pocket. In other words, make it difficult for pickpockets to take your hard-earned cash from you. Purses should always be in front of you when shopping or in crowded places. Remember to immediately notify the police of any robberies or serious incidents.
Use e-mail, faxes, and private couriers (for example, Federal Express or DHL) for critical communications and shipments.
Try to minimize the use of mail while studying abroad. When necessary, warn friends and family at home to send small packages only. Large packages are not delivered and you must pick them up at a distant facility or at the cargo airport. In addition, daily storage charges often are imposed on packages that are not retrieved immediately. Warn friends and family about not sending food in the packages.
Do not plan to ship items to Spain. Shipped items can take several months to arrive, and are subject to very high duties and other fees, which will be charged upon arrival. Students can receive mail at the Institute address:
Colegio de Trinitarios
28801 Alcala de Henares
Again, we recommend that you do not get a lot of mail and that it is sent allowing enough time to get to Spain before the end of the program, because we cannot guarantee that it will be shipped to another address outside of Spain. The time it takes to ship mail from the U.S. can vary, but it is usually about two weeks.
3. Electrical Requirements
The electrical current used in Europe is 50 cycles AC rather than the 60-cycle current used in the U.S. and voltage is 220-240 rather than the standard U.S. 110 volts for small appliances. Most electrical sockets have round holes. Most all computers come with a built in voltage converter.
Travel irons, curling irons, blow dryers, and electric razors with built-in converters for all currents can be purchased in the U.S. or abroad. Because the cost of electricity abroad is very high, and since improper use of appliances may damage electrical outlets and the appliances themselves, it is a good policy to ask before using the outlets.
4. E-mail and Internet
Students will be provided with a student LIU account while studying at the center, which will facilitate communication with the Center’s faculty, staff and other LIU Global centers in the world. You will also get a computer card to use the computer lab during weekdays. University buildings are closed at weekends.