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Brief Look at Spanish History
Brief Look at Spanish History

Spain is a beautiful, rich and culturally diverse country bordered by Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean on its western coastline and on its south and eastern sides by the Mediterranean. It also shares its northern border with France and Andorra as well as the Bay of Biscay.

Known officially as the Kingdom of Spain, the country is the second largest in the European Union and the fourth largest in all of Europe. Centuries of history, conquest, and war has shaped what we know as Spain today.

The official language of Spain is Spanish, but in certain sections of the country, you'll also hear Basque and Valencian dialects. Spain became a unified country in the 1400s, but before and since, has served as a major influence in European and World history.

Before traveling for business or pleasure, it's always a good idea to know a little something about the country that you're visiting. We'll offer a brief glimpse into the culturally diverse land known as España. We'll start with a very brief history of Spain's growth through the centuries and then focus on the type of documents that visitors may need to travel to Spain.

Throughout the article, we'll also offer information regarding business etiquette, and some travel do's and don'ts, for both business travelers and recreational travelers. Understanding the culture, attitudes, and behaviors of any culture focuses on its past.

No visit to Spain would be complete without knowing the most popular tourist destinations and options for entertainment. At the same time, students will receive a brief introduction into Spanish religion, customs, traditions, and values. Knowing such information will help you get along in the country as well as engage in business without risking behaviors that may prove offensive.

Finally, students will learn how the changing values and political landscape of Spain have created one of the most interesting yet diverse countries in Western Europe. So let's get started.

A Very Brief Glimpse into Spanish History

We're not going to offer a deep or involved history of Spain in this article, but we would like students to become familiar with several turning points in its history. Spain is rich in its history of Celts and Iberians; the Celts occupying the western half of the country, the Iberians on the Mediterranean side, and the Basques to the West and in the Pyrenees mountains.

Spain has always thrived in trade due to its location and proximity to both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. As with many other countries in Europe, she was at times under the control of the great Roman Empire. She also engaged in world battles, occupations, and wars with the Germans, the Visigoths, and the Moors, just to name a few.

Spain eventually came to its greatest power in the 16th and 17th centuries, one of Europe's most powerful countries when it came to its many colonies, trade routes, and global wealth. Eventually, the Spanish Empire extended to North and South America, the South Pacific islands, and sections of Europe, including Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, and areas of North Africa.

Spain was responsible for opening new trade routes by sea and by land. She enjoys a rich history of explorers and the power of its Spanish armadas. However, numerous wars leading into the 17th century decreased Spain's control and power, leading to a period of gradual decline.

The war of Spanish Succession, which raged between 1701 and 1714, divided Spain and weakened her global powers and influence. In 1793, Spain once again went to war against the New French Republic. Again, war literally divided the country until Spain made peace with France in 1795. Unfortunately, peace didn't last long, and in 1807, Spain once again declared war against Britain and Portugal. French troops occupied a large number of Spanish fortresses, which eventually led to several puppet monarchs.

Spain Today

Over the decades, and into the 19th and 20th century, Spain continued to see and experience strife and war. The brief-lived Spanish-American war, fought in the spring of 1898, further weakened the economic foundation of Spain. The Spanish Civil War of the mid- to late-1930s, led by General Francisco Franco, along with the support of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, led to more internal strife, loss of lives, and the emigration of hundreds of thousands of Spanish citizens.

Franco maintained power over Spain until the mid-1970s, when Juan Carlos succeeded him. Under Carlos, the Spanish Constitution of 1978 finally brought democracy to Spain. Today, Spain is broken down into autonomous communities and regions including:

  • Andalusia.
  • Castille and Leon.
  • Valencia.
  • Castille La Mancha.

Spain is further subdivided into 50 provinces, which also include the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands.

Tourism has long been economically beneficial to Spain, due to its climate, architectural, cultural, and historical monuments and its geography. High standards of hotels in Spain exceed those of neighboring countries, and transportation within Spain offers a network of highways and railways throughout the country.

Spain enjoys high-speed rail networks, and its tracks link major cities such as Seville, Barcelona, Valencia, and Madrid. Spain boasts nearly 50 public airports, the busiest of which is the airport of Madrid, known as Barajas. Other major airports are located in Las Palmas, Majorca, and Barcelona. Smaller airports in popular tourist destinations such as Tenerife, Seville, and Valencia also serve millions of travelers a year.
There are so many interesting facets of the history and development of Spain that we can't possibly fit them into this article content. However, we strongly encourage students to become familiar with aspects of Spanish history that have served to develop the country's culture, attitudes, and behaviors.
Preparing to Travel
Want to learn more? Take an online course in Spanish Culture.

There are plenty of fun things to do and see when visiting Spain and other Latin American destinations. However, before you go, it's a good idea to understand what's involved and required when it comes to passports and visas.

In this section , students will be given information regarding what is required to travel, as well as how to obtain a passport or visa for travel to Spain and other Latin destinations. It's always a good idea to check with the closest Spanish embassy or consulate to your geographical location. Do the same for any Latin country you wish to visit.

In addition to understanding the passport and visa requirements for travel to Spain, you also need to be aware of what to expect when it comes to staying in that country. Learning about money and currency exchange, and whether you need to bring adapters for anything from a hair dryer to a computer will prevent difficulties along the way.

Let's Talk About Your Health while Traveling

At this time, let's talk about immunizations and vaccinations. Remember to plan ahead so that you have time to receive any vaccinations or vaccine preventable diseases that you may risk for destinations throughout Spain or Latin American destinations. Give yourself at least four to six weeks before you travel to allow vaccines enough time to take effect.

Information regarding suggested or recommended vaccines and immunizations are available through most travel agencies, your doctor's office, your local health department, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC website has ample resources for health information for travelers to countries around the World. The CDC offers information such as:

How to stay healthy while traveling.

Common diseases found in the region where you're traveling.

Travel notices and warnings (viruses, outbreaks, and so on).

How to prepare for your trip.

The most common vaccines that business and recreational travelers should be up to date with include vaccines for preventable diseases such as:

Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR vaccine).

Diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus (DPT vaccine).

Polio virus.

In addition, it is recommended that travelers receive a Hepatitis B vaccination to prevent infection caused by exposure to infected body fluids, or in the event of an accident, or exposure to any type of medical treatment in your country of destination.

Dealing with Passports and Visas

Any U.S. citizen traveling to Spain requires a passport. Passports must show validity for at least three to six months past your expected vacation or business stay in Spain. Your passport should also have at least one blank visa page (a visa is a stamp placed in the passport book to show permission to enter and leave the country, as well as the date that you are required to leave the country).

United States citizens entering Spain for tourist or business purposes may stay for up to 90 days without a visa. However, be prepared to show ample funds to support you during your stay, as well as a return (round trip) airline ticket for travel out of the country. Individuals entering Spain must also provide documentation of valid health or accident insurance with international coverage.

If you're traveling to Spain from a country other than the United States, contact your nearest consulate or embassy to determine specific passport and visa requirements for your country of origin.

The CDC also recommends that anyone who even remotely thinks they may be exposed to bats while traveling abroad is vaccinated against rabies. This is especially important for individuals traveling in rural or wilderness areas.

Obtaining a Passport

It's not difficult to apply for a United States passport. If you've never had a passport, lost your passport, or have a passport that was issued more than 15 years ago, it's time to get a new one.

Note: Keep in mind that any passport that is worn, torn, damaged or in any way mutilated may cause problems upon entry and exit to Spain (or any other country). Keep your passports in good shape. If pages are torn, falling apart, water damaged or in any other way show wear and tear, don't take chances. Just get a new one.

In order to obtain a U.S. passport, you need a copy of a certified birth certificate. You also need to complete form DS-11, which can be accessed at the State Department website, or most passport agencies (including the U.S. Post Office), and travel agencies. You can complete the form online and print it out, or print out the blank form and complete it by hand. Directions are clear and easy to follow (see screenshot below). The form must be submitted by hand to any acceptance facility or passport agency.

Instructions for filling out your passport are included with the application. Read and follow instructions carefully. Passports are good for 10 years.

An adult (16 years old and over) passport book and card will cost approximately $165 ($140 for the application fee, and $25 for the execution fee). Just an adult passport book will cost $110, with a $25 execution fee.

Note: Don't wait until the last minute to apply for your passport. Apply for passports at least eight weeks before you travel, earlier if possible. This way, you don't have to worry about the application not being processed in time, or wait impatiently for your passport to arrive in the mail at the last minute before your departure.

Follow all instructions for passport applications, whether you're filling out a passport for the first time or you're renewing a passport. Special rules also apply to individuals under 16 years of age.

Any time you travel to a foreign country, it's a good idea to know where your country's embassy and consulates are located. Diplomatic posts are found throughout Spain and Latin America. For example, the U.S. Embassy is located in Madrid, while the United States Consulate General is located in Barcelona. The U.S. Consulate General located in Barcelona may provide emergency passport services for those who have lost their passport or had them stolen.

Six consulates are scattered throughout Spain, and some provide limited services to United States citizens. The following consulates are not authorized to issue passports.

U.S. Embassy in Spain

American Embassy
Calle Serrano 75
28006 Madrid
Tel: 91 587 2240 Fax: 91 587 2243

The Consulate General located in Barcelona offers a number of U.S. citizen's services units (including passport services and notary services), and can assist in emergency situations, including illness or death, arrests, or in the event of a political crisis. When contacting the consulate or any embassy for non-emergency situations, try to call and make an appointment ahead of time.

Additional U.S. consulates in Spain are located in:

Fuengirola (also known as Malaga).
Las Palmas.
Palma de Mallorca.

Business travelers or vacationers who plan on staying in Spain for more than three months may need to supply a number of documents to local authorities. Additional documentation may include but is not limited to:

Official criminal records or background check from their original state of residence.
Background check documentation provided by the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Office.
U.S. citizens and travelers may also need to provide fingerprints. (You can obtain a letter from your local United States embassy requesting the local police to take the fingerprints).

Travelers should also be aware (in light of increased incidents of child abductions and kidnappings, even by parents) that Spain as well as other Latin American governments may also require proof of relationship to children accompanying adults, as well as permission for children to travel abroad in the case of divorced parents.


Traveling to Spain can be one of the greatest experiences of your life, but only if you plan it carefully. Be aware of the climate in Spain during the dates of travel. Avoid over- packing. Many of us, whether we're tourists or business people, tend to pack more than we need when traveling.

Spain is generally warm. The central and southern regions of Spain enjoy a warm, Mediterranean climate. The country is relatively dry during summer and winter (except in some of the higher elevations), though certain areas, including central Spain, can experience very cold winters. Did you know that in Spain, you'll enjoy near year round sunshine? However, Spain is also a country of geographical variances. In northern Spain, the climate is more mild and wet.

Summertime temperatures typically stay under 25°C (77°F) and winters are mild. In higher locations throughout Spain, the climate can be a bit diverse. The mountains of the Sierra Nevada, the Pyrenees, and the central and Iberian sections of the country may be a bit cooler.

Dress according to the season. Know where you're going and research typical climate and weather patterns in the area before you go. In warm, summer weather, pack an extra sweater or light jacket to have on hand, just in case.


The main currency of Spain is the euro (€). The euro is broken down into eight coins and seven types of bank notes. It's recommended that you exchange foreign currency at banks, but you can also exchange your currency at certain hotels within major cities, and in some travel agencies (although you may end up paying higher fees for the convenience). You can also exchange foreign currency at a number of international airports. Check the exchange rates and fees associated with such exchanges in different locations around your destinations to make sure you get the best deal.

Most businesses in Spain take credit cards, and most Spanish shops, restaurants, and hotels will have signs that indicate which credit cards they take. Be prepared to show identification or your passport (carry a photocopy of your passport when out on the town, more on this later) when using a credit card. Traveler's checks are also accepted. When using a traveler's check, be prepared to show your passport.

Keep in mind that in smaller, less traveled regions of Spain, credit card or travelers check transactions may prove more difficult. For this reason, carry adequate amounts of cash when traveling to such locations.

In Spain, it's not mandatory to tip, as such services are typically included in the price of your drink or meal. However, some hotels, bars, taxis, and restaurants will more than appreciate a tip. Allowing roughly 5% to 10% of the total cost of service, food, or lodging is considered adequate.

Electricity and Appliance Adapters

Whether you're traveling for business or pleasure, you may be packing a laptop, a digital camera, and your cell phone. When traveling in Spain, remember that power comes through 220 V at 50 Hz lines. This is different than you're used to in North America, which services 110 to 120 V at 60 Hz.

Outlets in Spain take rounded European plugs rather than the pronged and flat North American plugs. However, you also need to adjust for frequency, voltage, and grounding capabilities to protect your laptop, hair dryer, electric razor, or any other electrical appliance or device that you're packing.

Business as well as recreational travelers to Spain can purchase an inexpensive (under $20) global electric power converter kit online. These kits work very well for travelers that utilize high wattage devices.

Take the time to research the type of electric power adapters that travelers from the United States need for travel in Spain and other Latin American countries. Don't risk permanent damage to your laptop or cell phone because you're unprepared.

Reduce your need for converters, adapters, and surge protectors by leaving the hair dryer at home. Most hotels offer in-room hairdryers, and in lieu of electric razors, pack "an old-fashioned one," which will take up less space anyway.


Now that you're familiar with how to prepare to travel to Spain, including how to obtain a passport (and a visa if you need one), as well as packing information, it's time to become familiar with a few basics regarding business etiquette, protocols, and negotiations in Spain. After that, we'll move on to several family and business friendly travel tips and safety issues and then dive into the rich and diverse Spanish culture.

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