Stay safe & healthy
In Spain, pickpockets are not jailed if they steal less than €400. After they are arrested, they are automatically bailed to carry on pickpocketing so they can easily pay their €200 fine when they go to court. Many have been around the Spanish justice merry-go-round hundreds of times. Spanish pickpockets are really skilful but they are in competition with many more from South America.
There are four kinds of police:
- 'Policía Municipal' or 'Local' (metropolitan police), In Barcelona: Guardia Urbana. Uniforms change from town to town, but they usually wear black or blue clothes with pale blue shirt and a blue cap (or white helmet) with a checkered white-and-blue strip. This kind of police keeps order and rules the traffic inside cities, and they are the best people in case you are lost and need some directions. Although you can't officially report theft to them, they will escort you to 'Policia Nacional' headquarters if required, and they will escort the suspects to be arrested also, if needed.
- 'Policía Nacional' wear dark blue clothes and blue cap (sometimes replaced by a baseball-like cap), unlike Policía Municipal, they do not have a checkered flag around their cap/helmet. Inside cities, all offenses/crimes should be reported to them, although the other police corps would help anyone who needs to report an offense.
- 'Guardia Civil' keeps the order outside cities, in the country, and regulates traffic in the roads between cities. You would probably see them guarding official buildings, or patrolling the roads. They wear plain green military-like clothes; some of them wear a strange black helmet ('tricornio') resembling a toreador cap, but most of them use green caps or white motorcycle helmets.
- Given that Spain has a high grade of political autonomy released to its regional governments, four of them have created regional law forces: the Policía Foral in Navarre, the Ertzaintza in the Basque Country or the Mossos d'Esquadra in Catalonia. These forces have the almost the same competences as the Policía Nacional in their respective territories.
All kinds of police also wear high-visibility clothing ("reflective" jackets) while directing traffic, or in the road.
Some thieves have been known to pose as police officers, asking to see wallets for identification purposes. If approached by someone claiming to be a police officer we recommend you show only your ID and not your wallet or other valuables.
If you are a victim of crime call 112. You can ask for a copy of the “denuncia” (police report) if you need it for insurance purposes, or to apply for replacement documents. Make sure that it is a “una denuncia” not a sworn declaration (una declaración judicial), as the latter may not be accepted as evidence of the crime for insurance purposes, or when applying for your new passport.
Making a police report
You can make a police report in three different ways:
1. In person. A list of police stations in the different regions of Spain is available here. It is important to note that English language interpreters are not always available at short notice: it may be advisable to bring a Spanish-speaking person with you.
2. By phone: You can make a police report by phone in English by phoning 901 102 112. The English language service is available from 9am - 9pm, seven days a week. Once you have made your report, you will be instructed to pick up a signed copy of the report at your nearest police station. However, some crimes, particularly more serious crimes or those involving violence, can only be reported in person.
3. Online: You can also make a police report online, but in Spanish only. Some crimes, especially more serious crimes involving physical violence, must be reported in person.
You can read further advice from the Spanish police on the following webpage: http://www.policia.es/consejos/consejos_in.html
Dialing 112 on any telephone will reach the emergency central. It can be used to request Police, Firemen, Rescue, Ambulance or other emergency assistance. Calls to that number are free. The emergency operator will ask you for your data and the nature of the emergency and so will send the appropriate services to the place. It can be also used freely from public payphones.
Permissions and documentation
Spanish law [www] strictly requires foreigners who are in Spanish territory to have documentation proving their identity and the fact of being legally in Spain. You must have that with you all the time because you may be asked by the Police to show those at any moment.
Spain is a safe country, but you should take some basic precautions encouraged in the entire world:
- Thieves may work in teams and a person may attempt to distract you in order that an accomplice can rob you more easily. Theft, including violent theft, occurs at all times of day and night and to people of all ages.
- Thieves prefer stealth to direct confrontation so it is unlikely that you will be hurt in the process, but exercise caution all the same.
- There have been instances where thieves on motorbikes drive by women and grab their purses, so keep a tight hold on yours even if you don't see anyone around.
- Try not to show the money you have in your wallet or purse.
- Always watch your bag or purse in touristic places, buses, trains and meetings. A voice message reminding that is played in most of the bus/train stations and airports.
- Large cities like Alicante, Barcelona, Madrid, and Sevilla, in particular, report many incidents of pick-pocketing, mugging, and violent attacks, some of which require the victim to seek medical attention. Although crimes occur at all times of day and night and to people of all ages, older and Asian tourists seem to be particularly at risk.
- Do not carry large amounts of money with you, unless needed. Use your credit card (Spain is the first country in number of cash points and most shops/restaurants accept it). Of course, use it with caution.
- Beware of pickpockets when visiting areas with large numbers of people, like crowded buses or the Puerta del Sol(in Madrid). In metro stations, avoid boarding the train near the exit/entrance to the platform, as this is often where pickpockets position themselves.
- In Madrid and also in Barcelona, criminals target particularly people from the East Asia (especially China, S. Korea, Japan, and Taiwan ), thinking they carry money and are easy prey.
- In Madrid, known high-risk locations for thieves are the Puerta del Sol area and surrounding streets, Gran Vìa, Plaza Mayor, near the Prado Museum, the Atocha train station, Retiro Park and on the subway. In Barcelona, thefts occur most frequently at the airport and on the airport shuttle bus (Aerobus), on Las Ramblas (often in Internet cafés), in Plaza Real and surrounding streets of the old city, on the subway, Barceloneta beach, Sagrada Familia church, and at the Sants train and bus station.
- Theft from rental vehicles is high. Be vigilant in service areas on the highways along the coast. Avoid leaving any luggage or valuables in the vehicle and use secure parking facilities.
- Don't hesitate to report crimes to local police, though the processing time is usually long.
- In general, you must bear in mind that those areas with a larger number of foreign visitors, like some crowded vacation resorts in the East Coast, are much more likely to attract thieves than places which are not so popular among tourists.
- Avoid gypsy women offering rosemary, refuse it always; they will read your future, ask for some money, and your pocket will probably be picked. Some gypsy women will also approach you on the street repeating "Buena suerte" ("good luck") as a distraction for another gypsy woman to try to pickpocket you. Avoid them at all costs.
- A great tourist attraction is the Flea Market (el Rastro) in Madrid on the weekends. However, as it is nearly standing room only - it is also an attraction for pickpockets. They operate in groups... be extremely cautious in these tight market type environments as it is very common to be targeted... especially if you stand out as a tourist or someone with money. Try to blend in and not stand out and you will likely not be at as much risk.
- Women who carry purses should always put the straps across their bodies. Always hold on to the purse itself and keep it in front of your body. Keep one hand on the bottom, as pickpockets can otherwise slit the bottom without you ever knowing.
- Never place anything on the back of a chair or on the floor next to you, keep it on your person always.
- If you must use an ATM, do not flash the money you have just picked up.
- More foreign passports are stolen each year in Spain than anywhere else in the world, especially in Barcelona. Ensure that your passport is protected at all times.
- In the event of a road-related incident, be extremely cautious about accepting help from anyone other than a uniformed Spanish police officer or Civil Guard. Thieves have been known to fake or provoke a flat tire, and when a motorist stops to help, the thieves steal the motorist’s car or belongings. The reverse scenario has also occurred, whereby a fake Good Samaritan stops to help a motorist in distress, only to steal the motorist’s car or belongings.
- Incidents of drink spiking, followed by theft and sexual assault, have been reported.
- Be alert to the possible use of ‘date rape’ and other drugs including ‘GHB’ and liquid ecstasy. Buy your own drinks and keep sight of them at all times to make sure they are not spiked; female travellers should be particularly watchful. Alcohol and drugs can make you less vigilant, less in control and less aware of your environment. If you drink, know your limit - remember that drinks served in bars are often stronger. Avoid splitting up from your friends, and don't go off with people you don't know.
Some people could try to take advantage of your ignorance of local customs.
- In Spanish cities, all taxis should have a visible fare table. Do not agree a fixed price to go from an airport to a city: in most cases, the taxi driver will be earning more money than without a preagreed tariff. Many taxi drivers will also demand a tip from foreign customers or even from national ones on the way to and from the airport. You might round up to the nearest euro when paying though.
- In many places of Madrid, especially near Atocha station, and also in the Ramblas of Barcelona, there are people ('trileros') who play the "shell game". They will "fish" you if you play, and they will most likely pick your pocket if you stop to see other people play.
- Before paying the bill in bars and restaurants, always check the bill and carefully scrutinize it. Some staff will often attempt to squeeze a few extra euros out of unsuspecting tourists by charging for things they did not eat or drink, or simply overcharging. This is true in both touristy and non-touristy areas. If you feel overcharged, bring it to their attention and/or ask to see a menu. It is also sometimes written (in English only) at the bottom of a bill that a tip is not included: remember that tipping is optional in Spain and Spanish people commonly leave loose change only and no more than a 5%-8% of the price of what they have consumed (not an American-style 15-20%), so avoid being fooled into leaving more than you have to.
- Many tourists have reported lottery scams whereby they are contacted via the Internet or fax and informed that they have won a substantial prize in the Spanish lottery (El Gordo), when in fact they have never participated in the lottery. They are asked to deposit an amount of money in a bank account to pay taxes and other fees before collecting the prize or coming to Spain to close the transaction.
- There have also been reports of a scam whereby a person is informed that he or she is the recipient of a large inheritance, and that funds must be deposited into a Spanish bank account so the inheritance can be processed.
- In another common scam, some tourists have received a bogus email purportedly sent from an individual well known to them and claiming that he or she is in trouble and needs funds.
Other things you should know
- Spanish cities can be loud at night, especially on weekends, but the streets are generally safe even for women.
- All businesses should have an official complaint form, in case you need it. 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 are not "European-looking" can be stopped several times a day to have their papers checked on the pretext of "migration control".
- The Spanish Government’s threat alert level indicates a ‘probable risk’ of terrorist attack. Potential targets include places frequented by expatriates and tourists and public transport facilities. A serious attack happened in 2004, bombs exploded on commuter trains in Madrid in March 2004, killing 192 people. This attack was attributed to Al Qaeda terrorist network. In 2007, a Spanish court found 21 people guilty of involvement in the bombings. Even though the chance of being in a terrorist attack is EXTREMELY low anywhere, you should only watch out in Madrid or Barcelona.
- There has been an increase in political action and public demonstrations on a rolling basis throughout Spain. Demonstrations occur and have sometimes turned violent, mostly to police officers. Avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings, follow the advice of local authorities and monitor local media. Strikes may occasionally lead to disruptions to traffic and public transportation. When a demonstration is planned or in progress you should seek advice on and avoid the routes marchers plan to take. You should also ensure 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 driving is not particularly aggressive with the exception of common speeding. Be cautious when driving in Spain. Night driving can be particularly dangerous. The use of a mobile phone without a hands-free device can result in a fine and you being banned from driving in Spain. All drivers are required to carry, in the vehicle, a reflective vest and to use a reflective triangle warning sign if they need to stop at the roadside.
- Be cautious when approached by someone who claims to be a police officer. On the road, you will always be stopped by an officer in a uniform. Unmarked vehicles will have a flashing electronic sign on the rear window which reads Policía or Guardia Civil, or Ertzaintza in the Basque Country, Mossos d'Esquadra in Catalonia, or Foruzaingoa/Policía Foral in Navarre. Most times they will have blue flashing lights incorporated into the headlights. In non-traffic-related matters police officers may be in casual clothes. Police officers do not have to directly identify themselves unless you ask them to. Should they request identification, they should be shown photographic ID. Your passport or your driver's license will do, or your national ID card if you are from the European Union, though a passport is always preferred. You can get in trouble or be fined for not having any identification on you. If in any doubt, drivers should converse through the car window and contact the Guardia Civil on 062 or the Spanish National Police on 112 and ask them to confirm that the registration number of the vehicle corresponds to an official police vehicle.
In Spain possession and consumption of illegal drugs at private places is not prosecuted. Taking drugs in public and possession, for personal use, will be fined from €300 to €3000 depending of the drug and the quantity that you carry on, you will not get arrested unless you have large quantities destined for street sale.
- Pharmaceuticals are not sold at supermarkets, only at 'farmacias' (pharmacies / chemistries), identified with a green cross or a Hygeia's cup. Nearly every city and town has at least one 24 hour pharmacy; for those that close at night, the law requires a poster with the address of the nearest pharmacy, possibly in one of the nearby streets or towns.
- People from the European Union and a few more European countries can freely use the public health system, if they have the appropriate European Health Insurance Card. The card does not cover treatment in private hospitals. Agreements are established to treat people from a few American countries; see the Tourspain link below for more info.
- However, do not hesitate to go to any healthcare facility should you be injured or seriously ill, as it would be illegal for them not to treat you, even if you are uninsured. You (or your country if Spain has a Treaty on the matter) will have to pay for the service later, however.
- Although many visitors travel to Spain for the warm climate, it can be cold in winter, especially in the Central Region and in the North, and in some places it is also rainy in summer. Remember to travel with adequate clothes.
- In summer, avoid direct exposure to sunlight for long periods of time to prevent sunburn and heatstroke. Drink water, walk on the shady side of street and keep a container of sun cream (suntan lotion) handy.
- 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 banned in all enclosed public spaces and places of work, in public transportation, and in outdoor public places near hospitals and in playgrounds. Smoking is also banned in outdoor sections of bars and restaurants. Smoking is banned in television broadcasts as well.