Stay safe in Spain
In Spain, pickpockets are not imprisoned if they steal less than 400 euros. After their arrest, they are automatically released on bail to continue pickpocketing, so they can easily pay their 200 euro fine when they go to court. Many of them have been through the Spanish justice system hundreds of times. Spanish pickpockets are very skilled, but they compete with many others from South America.
- Policía Municipal” or “Local” (Metropolitan Police), in Barcelona: Guardia Urbana. The uniforms change from city to city, but usually they wear black or blue clothes with a light blue shirt and a blue cap (or a white helmet) with a white and blue checked band. This type of police keeps order and regulates traffic within the cities. They are the best thing to have in case you get lost and need directions. Although you cannot officially report a theft to them, they will accompany you to the “Policia Nacional” headquarters if necessary, and they will also accompany suspects to arrest them if necessary.
- The “Policía Nacional” wears dark blue clothes and a blue cap (sometimes replaced by a baseball cap). Unlike the Policía Municipal, they do not have a chequered flag around their cap/headgear. Within the cities, all misdemeanours and crimes must be reported to them, but other police forces will help anyone who needs to report a crime.
- The “Guardia Civil” keeps order outside the cities and inside the country and regulates traffic on the roads between the cities. You will probably see them watching official buildings or patrolling the streets. They wear plain green military clothes; some of them wear a strange black helmet (“tricornio”) that looks like a bullfighter’s cap, but most of them use green caps or white motorbike helmets.
- As Spain has granted a high degree of political autonomy to its regional governments, four of them have created regional forces of order: the Policía Foral in Navarre, the Ertzaintza in the Basque Country or the Mossos d’Esquadra in Catalonia. These forces have practically the same powers as the Policía Nacional in their respective territories.
All types of police also wear high-visibility clothing (“reflective” waistcoats) when directing traffic or on the road.
Some thieves impersonate police officers and ask to see your wallet for identification. If someone pretending to be a police officer approaches you, we recommend that you only show your ID and not your wallet or other valuables.
If you have been the victim of a crime, call 112. You can ask for a copy of the “denuncia” (police report) if you need it for insurance purposes or to request replacement documents. Make sure that it is a “una denuncia” and not an affidavit (una declaración judicial), as this cannot be accepted as proof of the crime for insurance purposes or to apply for your new passport.
You can make a police report in three different ways:
- in person. You can find a list of police stations in the different regions of Spain here. It is important to note that English-speaking interpreters are not always available at short notice: It may be advisable to be accompanied by a Spanish-speaking person.
- by telephone: You can make a telephone report to the police in English on 901 102 112. The service in English is available from 9:00 to 21:00 seven days a week. Once you have made your report, you must collect a signed copy of the report from the nearest police station. However, some crimes, especially more serious crimes or those involving violence, can only be reported in person.
- online: You can also make a police report online, but only in Spanish. Some crimes, especially more serious crimes involving physical violence, must be reported in person.
You can find more tips from the Spanish police on the following website: http://www.policia.es/consejos/consejos_in.html.
If you dial 112 on any phone, you will reach the emergency call centre. It can be used to call for police, fire, rescue, ambulance or other emergency assistance. Calls to this number are free of charge. The emergency call centre will ask you for your details and the nature of the emergency and then send the appropriate services to the scene. It can also be used free of charge from public telephones.
Permissions and documents
Spanish law [www] absolutely requires foreigners staying on Spanish territory to have documents proving their identity and the fact that they are in Spain legally. You must carry them with you at all times, as the police may ask you to show them at any time.
Spain is a safe country, but you should take some basic precautions that are recommended worldwide:
- Thieves can work in teams and one person may try to distract you so that an accomplice can steal from you more easily. Thefts, including violent thefts, occur at all times of the day and night and affect people of all ages.
- Thieves prefer stealth to direct confrontation, so you are unlikely to get hurt, but be careful anyway.
- Motorbike thieves are known to walk past women and take their handbags. Hold on to yours even if you don’t see anyone around.
- Try not to show the money you have in your wallet or purse.
- Always keep an eye on your bag or wallet in tourist places, on buses, trains and at meetings. A reminder announcement is played at most bus and train stations and airports.
- Especially big cities like Alicante, Barcelona, Madrid and Sevilla report numerous cases of pickpocketing, muggings and violent attacks, sometimes forcing the victims to see a doctor. Although the crimes take place at any time of the day or night and affect people of all ages, elderly and Asian tourists seem to be particularly at risk.
- Do not take large sums of money with you if you do not need it. Use your credit card (Spain is the leading country in terms of the number of outlets and most shops/restaurants accept them). Use it with caution, of course.
- Beware of pickpockets when visiting crowded places, e.g. crowded buses or Puerta del Sol (in Madrid). In metro stations, avoid boarding near the entrance/exit of the platform as pickpockets are often there.
- In Madrid and Barcelona, criminals particularly target people from East Asia (especially China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan) because they think they are carrying money and are easy prey.
- In Madrid, the places known to be high-risk spots for thieves are the Puerta del Sol neighbourhood and surrounding streets, Gran Vìa, Plaza Mayor, near the Prado Museum, Atocha train station, Retiro Park and the metro. In Barcelona, they are most often found at the airport and on the airport shuttle (Aerobus), on Las Ramblas (often in internet cafés), in Plaza Real and the surrounding streets of the old town, on the metro, on Barceloneta beach, at the Sagrada Familia church and at Sants train and bus station.
- Thefts from rental vehicles are numerous. Be vigilant at rest stops on coastal motorways. Avoid leaving luggage or valuables in the vehicle and use secure parking areas.
- Do not hesitate to report crimes to the local police, even if this usually takes a long time.
- In general, you should bear in mind that areas that receive many foreign visitors, such as some crowded holiday resorts on the east coast, are much more likely to attract thieves than areas that are less popular with tourists.
- Avoid Gypsy women who offer you rosemary, always refuse it; they will read your fortune, ask you for money and your bag will probably be searched. Some gypsy women will also approach you in the street and repeat “Buena suerte” (“good luck”) to distract another gypsy woman who might try to rob you. Avoid them at all costs.
- A big tourist attraction is Madrid’s flea market (el Rastro) at weekends. But since it’s practically standing room only, it’s also a magnet for pickpockets. They operate in groups… Be extremely careful in these confined market environments, as it is very common to be targeted… especially if you stand out as a tourist or a person with money. Try to blend in and not stand out and you will probably take fewer risks.
- Women carrying handbags should always place the straps across the body. Always hold the handbag close to you and keep it in front of your body. Keep one hand on the bottom, otherwise pickpockets can crack the bottom without your knowledge.
- Never put anything on the back of a chair or on the floor next to you, always keep it with you.
- If you need to use an ATM, don’t show the money you just picked up.
- Every year, more foreign passports are stolen in Spain than anywhere else in the world, especially in Barcelona. Make sure your passport is protected at all times.
- Be extremely careful in the event of a road traffic incident and do not accept help from anyone other than a uniformed Spanish police officer or a plain clothes officer. Thieves have been known to fake or cause a flat tyre and if a motorist stops to help, the thieves will steal the car or property. The reverse scenario has also occurred, where a fake Good Samaritan stops to help a motorist in distress and then steals the motorist’s car or property.
- Cases of alcohol abuse followed by theft and sexual assault were reported.
- Watch out for the possible use of ‘rape’ and other drugs, including GHB and liquid ecstasy. Buy your own drinks and keep an eye on them at all times to make sure they are not doped; women need to be particularly vigilant. Alcohol and drugs can make you less alert, less in control and less aware of your surroundings. If you drink, know your limits – remember that drinks served in bars are often stronger. Avoid separating from friends and don’t go out with strangers.
Some people might try to take advantage of your ignorance of local customs.
- In Spanish cities, all taxis must have a visible fare table. Do not agree on a fixed price for a ride from an airport to a city: in most cases, the taxi driver will earn more money than without a set fare. Many taxi drivers will also ask for a tip from foreign or even domestic customers on the way to the airport. However, you can round up to the nearest euro when paying.
- In many places in Madrid, especially near Atocha station, and also on the Ramblas in Barcelona, there are people (“trileros”) who play the “shell game”. They will “fish you out” when you play and they will most likely pick your pockets when you stop to watch other people play.
- Before paying the bill in bars and restaurants, always check the bill and examine it carefully. Some staff will often try to extort a few extra euros from unsuspecting tourists by charging for things they have not eaten or drunk, or by simply overcharging. This applies to both tourist and non-tourist areas. If you feel overcharged, draw attention to it and/or ask to see a menu. Sometimes it also says (in English only) at the bottom of the bill that a tip is not included: remember that tipping is optional in Spain and that Spaniards usually only leave change and no more than 5-8% of the price of what they have consumed (not 15-20% the American way), so don’t be tempted to leave more than you need.
- Many tourists have reported lottery scams where they are contacted via the internet or fax and informed that they have won a big prize in the Spanish lottery (El Gordo) when in fact they have never participated in the lottery. They are asked to deposit a sum of money in a bank account to pay taxes and other fees before they receive the prize or come to Spain to complete the transaction.
- There are also reports of a scam where a person is informed that they are the beneficiary of a large inheritance and that the funds must be deposited into a Spanish bank account in order for the inheritance to be processed.
- In another common scam, some tourists have received a fake email supposedly sent by someone they know well, claiming to be in trouble and in need of money.
Other things you need to know
- Spanish cities can be noisy at night, especially at weekends, but the streets are generally safe, even for women.
- All companies should have a formal complaint form available if you need one. It is illegal for a business to deny you this form.
- In some cases, police in Spain may target people belonging to ethnic minorities for identity checks. People who do not “look European” can be stopped several times a day to have their papers checked under the pretext of “migration control”.
- The Spanish government’s alert level indicates a “probable risk” of a terrorist attack. Possible targets are places frequented by expatriates and tourists, as well as public transport. A serious attack occurred in 2004 when bombs exploded on suburban trains in Madrid in March 2004, killing 192 people. This attack was attributed to the Al Qaeda terrorist network. In 2007, a Spanish court found 21 people guilty of involvement in the bombings. Although the likelihood of being involved in a terrorist attack is EXTREMELY low anywhere, it is only in Madrid or Barcelona that you should be careful.
- Political actions and public demonstrations have steadily increased throughout Spain. Demonstrations occur and sometimes turn violent, mainly against the police. Avoid demonstrations and large gatherings, follow the advice of local authorities and watch the local media. Strikes can sometimes disrupt traffic and public transport. If a demonstration is planned or in progress, be aware of the demonstrators’ planned routes and avoid them. You should also make sure to check for travel updates or transport delays before and during your trip to Spain.
- Driving in Spain can be dangerous due to traffic congestion in urban areas, although the driving is not particularly aggressive, except for the usual speeding offences. Be careful when driving in Spain. Driving at night can be particularly dangerous. Using a mobile phone without a hands-free device can result in a fine and a driving ban in Spain. All drivers are required to wear a reflective waistcoat in the vehicle and use a reflective warning triangle if they have to stop at the side of the road.
- Be careful if you are approached by someone claiming to be a police officer. You will always be stopped in traffic by a uniformed police officer. Unmarked vehicles have an electronic flashing sign on the rear window with the words Policía or Guardia Civil, or Ertzaintza in the Basque Country, Mossos d’Esquadra in Catalonia, or Foruzaingoa/Policía Foral in Navarre. In most cases, the headlights are equipped with blue flashing lights. For non-traffic related matters, police may appear in casual dress. Police officers are not obliged to show identification directly unless you ask them to do so. If they ask for identification, they must show a photo ID. Your passport or driving licence is sufficient, or your national identity card if you are from the European Union, although a passport is always preferable. If you do not carry ID, you may get into trouble or be fined. If in doubt, drivers should speak through the car window and contact the Guardia Civil on 062 or the Spanish National Police on 112 to confirm that the vehicle’s registration number corresponds to an official police vehicle.
In Spain, the possession and use of illegal drugs in private places is not prosecuted. The use and possession of drugs in public, for personal use, is punishable by a fine of 300 to 3000 euros, depending on the drug and the quantity you have on you. You will not be arrested unless you have large quantities for sale on the street.
Stay healthy in Spain
- Pharmaceutical products are not sold in supermarkets, but only in “farmacias” (pharmacies/chemist’s shops) marked with a green cross or a hygeia cup. Almost all towns have at least one pharmacy open 24 hours a day; for those that close at night, the law requires a sign with the address of the nearest pharmacy, possibly in one of the surrounding streets or towns.
- Citizens of the European Union and some other European countries can use the public health system freely if they have the corresponding European Health Insurance Card. This card does not cover treatment in private hospitals. There are agreements for the treatment of people from some American countries; see the Tourspain link below for more information.
- However, do not hesitate to go to a health facility if you are injured or seriously ill, as it would be illegal for them not to treat you, even if you are not insured. However, you (or your country if Spain has an agreement) will have to pay for this service later.
- Although many visitors come to Spain for the warm climate, it can be cold in winter, especially in the central and northern regions, and in some places it rains even in summer. Remember to travel with appropriate clothing.
- Avoid direct sunlight for long periods in summer to prevent sunburn and sunstroke. Drink water, walk on the shady side of the road and have a container of sunscreen (sunscreen) ready.
- Most cities have a good water supply, especially Madrid, but you may prefer bottled water to the alkaline taste of water in the east and south.
Smoking is prohibited in all enclosed public places and workplaces, on public transport and in outdoor public places near hospitals and in playgrounds. Smoking is also prohibited in the outdoor areas of bars and restaurants. Smoking is also prohibited during television broadcasts.