Harry King retired from corporate life in Britain to live in Spain. He would do so all over again if faced with the same decision and now lives near Alicante. He is the author of a number of books on Spain.
The yellow signs outside each post office best identify Correos, the national postal service of Spain. Yellow is also the colour of mail vans, delivery scooters and mailboxes. Normal mail to and from Europe is automatically sent airmail. Heavier packages can be sent by surface mail, which should take around four weeks. Delivery of mail in Spain is within three or four days from the UK. But it can be slow in large cities, rural communities and on urbanisations with only a twice-weekly service.
Try to avoid the inside of some Spanish post offices. They can be small and dark with long, slow-moving queues. Go to the Tabac for stamps. The cost of a stamp is the same for all EU countries, although the pricing structure for various envelope sizes seems unnecessarily complex. Spaniards still distrust what was once a diabolical service and send their mail by certified or registered post or seek a receipt for each item sent.
The post office offers a range of services. Registered or express mail, parcel post, redirection, private boxes and banking are all available. Letters are delivered to the door, or to a driveway box. On urbanisations all the post boxes are grouped together besides a focal point such as the swimming pool. It is necessary to go to the post office to collect parcels or registered mail and personal identification may be required.
All is not well with the Spanish postal system. Delays and strikes are common. Mail Boxes Etc a USA company has a number of offices in Spain. Although still dependent on the services of Correos it operates independently for overnight international parcel delivery through companies such as UPS and FedEx. It also offers a mailbox service, shipping and packing, fax and photocopying. It sells office supplies and stamps. This enlightened company is refreshing to deal with but its activities are restricted by protectionism offered to the state postal system which is set to be denationalised in a few years.
Name and address
Spanish names are important. A mother’s maiden name is added to the end of a full name; women do not change their name when they marry; the formal prefix of Don or Dona is introduced at the start of a name.
Senor Don John Frederick Smith King is simply Mr John Smith with a middle name Frederick and a mother’s maiden name King. He is married to Senora Dona Maria Dolores Sanchez Vicario. Got it? Who is Conchita Smith Sanchez? Yes, correct their daughter Conchita. Telephone books can be fun!
An accurate address is also important:
Calle Madrid 27, 2
03189 Orihuela Costa
Translated this means:
Number, street, floor
27 Madrid St. 2nd Floor
Post code, town
03189 Orihuela Costa
The zip code 03189 is made up of 03 as the province number and 189 the post office number.
This medium is now dominated by digital TV. Most ex-pats want to tune into English language programmes. These can be found on Sky digital systems via a satellite dish. To enjoy the marvels of this technology a set top box is installed, together with an appropriate satellite receiving dish, to have access to hundreds of channels of television and radio. Television companies who supply the cards, such as Sky, cannot legally send cards direct to an address abroad since they have copyright only for a UK audience. However, there are numerous satellite dish installation companies in Spain who can supply cards.
Urbanisations may offer a better selection of English, French, German, Scandinavian and Spanish channels through an underground cable system.
There are several Spanish television stations, but Spanish television is dominated by pay-as-you-view programming of films and football, together with standard news, documentaries, music, soaps and old films.
Spanish stations are available by the dozen, all featuring music and chatter. Popular UK-based radio stations are available by satellite or cable. To complement all this activity are a number of new 24-hour English language radio stations giving a unique blend of local news, chat and music.
COMPUTER AND INTERNET
Computer stores are popping up everywhere. A computer bought in Spain will probably come loaded with Spanish software and there are also slight changes to the Spanish keyboard, as the keys have to deal with a language which has accents over some letters.
One accessory worth installing for your computer and television equipment is a surge protector. Spain does experience occasional surges in the electricity supply and this can damage sensitive equipment. Broadband is widely available throughout Spain.
Telefonica, the Spanish telecommunications company, has improved its service since it was digitised in 1995, and the state monopoly removed in 1998. It is a well-respected company within the European marketplace in which it operates. Its shares are widely traded in stock exchanges and no portfolio is complete without a holding in this blue chip company.
There are no city codes in Spain, each area having its own two- or three-digit code number:
Madrid – 91
Barcelona – 93
Malaga – 95
Valencia – 96
Asturias – 98
followed by a seven or six digit number.
Charges are among the highest in Europe but have been reducing steadily in recent years. Telephone charges include the cost of the calls, line, telephone and other equipment rental, and the cost of any subscriber discount packages. There are six tariffs, metropolitan (local and internet), provincial, inter provincial, international, mobiles and 90 numbers (rastro). Peak tariff hours are from 08.00 to 17.00 from Monday to Friday and 08.00 to 14.00 on Saturdays. Normal tariff hours are from 17.00 to 22.00, Monday to Friday. Reduced tariff hours are from 22.00 to 08.00 Monday to Friday, 14.00 to 24.00 on Saturdays, all day on Sundays and national public holidays. There are numerous discount packages aimed at moving demand from peak periods and, conversely, additional charges for operator-connected calls and other services.
The factura (bill) is sent every two months allowing 20 days for payment. It is itemised providing a listing of each number called (except for metropolitan and internet calls) with the date and time, duration, number of units and the charge. Bills can be paid in cash at certain banks, but more usually via a bank account, which is advisable for non-resident homeowners as it ensures the phone line is not disconnected for non-payment.
Telephone directories are published per province. The first few pages contain useful information.
- Emergency and important local numbers for police, ambulance, fire brigade, etc.
- Telefonica numbers and the services offered.
- National and international codes.
- Tariffs and explanation of the factura (bill).
The main section is an alphabetical list of subscribers under the town or village name and not alphabetically for the whole of a province. A new subscriber is automatically included in the next edition of the telephone directory unless choosing to have an unlisted number.
As well as public telephones (cabinas), which allow international direct dialling, there are usually payphones in bars, cafés and restaurants. Phone cards can be bought at news stands and tobacconists (estancos). There are also public telephone offices called locutorios, containing multiple phone booths and a fax service.
Sales of mobile telephones in Spain have rocketed. They appear everywhere, although sparsely populated areas are not served by either landline or mobile systems. The main players are Telefonica (with their brand Movistar), Amena and Vodafone.
Local, national and international; daily, weekly and monthly; Spanish and English; expensive, cheap and free publications: all clog the news stands. Spanish daily newspapers are mainly middle class. El Pais (The Country) and El Mundo (The World) have lots of pages aimed at the serious reader and are good value for money. At the bottom end of the Spanish daily press, the content is devoted solely to football.
All the European daily newspapers are available. They are printed in Spain but cost three times more than the national edition. Weekend newspapers also have some sections missing. The best reads for the expat are the locally printed English-language weekly newspapers. They are a good blend of national and local news, gossip, information and advertisements. Indeed some small ads are reminiscent of those in a central London telephone box.
Popular English books are difficult to find, but large and small English bookshops do exist. Second-hand exchange libraries exist too. However a wide choice of books is quickly available via the internet with Amazon providing an excellent service from both the UK and USA.