Spaniards tend to be more formal in personal relations than U.S. citizens 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. A handshake is customary upon initiating and closing a business meeting, accompanied by an appropriate greeting. Professional attire is expected. Business dress is suit and tie, and business cards are required.
There is no substitute for face-to-face meetings with Spanish business representatives to break into this market. Spaniards expect a personal relationship with suppliers. Initial communication by phone or fax is far less effective than a personal meeting. 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. Known brands do well. Large government and private sector buyers appear more comfortable dealing with other large, established organizations or with firms recognized as leaders within their sectors.
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, dial 00+1+area code+ telephone number. Public phones in Spain accept coins and Telefonica debit cards. Some public phones also accept commercial credit cards.
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. 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. Intercity buses are usually comfortable and inexpensive. U.S. citizens are encouraged to obtain International Driving Permits if they plan to drive in Spain.
While an increasing number of business people speak English, product literature, correspondence and negotiations in Spanish – particularly Castilian, rather than Western Hemisphere, Spanish - provide a distinct advantage over competitors who use only English. Certain regions in Spain have second official languages: Catalan in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands; Valenciano in Valencia; Galician/Portuguese in Galicia; and Basque in the Basque Country.
Good medical care is available. 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 Center for Disease Control's international travelers’ hotline can provide further information on health matters: (404) 332-4559.
Local Time, Business Hours, and Holidays
The Government of Spain publishes a list of official holidays every year. The holidays authorized for 2009 include:
January 1 New Year's Day
January 6 Epiphany
April 10 Good Friday
May 1 Labor Day
August 15 The Assumption
October 12 National Day
December 6 Constitution Day
December 8 Feast of the Immaculate Conception
December 25 Christmas
In addition to these national holidays there are other local holidays that vary by region
March 19 St. Joseph´s Day
April 9 Holy Thursday
May 2 Madrid Regional Holiday
June 11 Corpus Christi
April 13 Easter Monday
May 12 Whit Monday
June 24 Saint John
September 11 Catalan Regional Holiday
September 24 La Merced – Patron of Barcelona
December 26 St. Stephen’s Day
The Embassy and Consulate in Barcelona also observe official U.S. holidays.
Workdays abutting Spanish holidays and vacation periods are not good times to schedule business meetings. Neither is the month of August nor 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 lunch-time, 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. It is not uncommon for Spanish business lunches to last two hours. Dinner begins not earlier than 9:30 p.m. and again meals may last until midnight.
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. On the inland plateau, where Madrid is located, and which is the highest in Europe, the most extreme differences take place. The climate is dry, with cold winters and hot summers. The Canary Islands have a climate of their own, with temperatures constantly around 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) and little variation between summer and winter or day and night.
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.
A service charge is not included in restaurant bills; however, waiters in Spain (unlike in the United States) are paid reasonable salaries and do not rely 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. Tips are not obligatory in Spain.
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 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.
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 in to Spanish current. U.S. cell phones, unless they are triband 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 prepaid phone cards as needed.