Safety and security
Demonstrations, political gatherings, or marches may take place in Spain with little or no warning, particularly in cities. You should follow the advice of police and local authorities.
While the vast majority of demonstrations are peaceful, there is a risk of isolated incidents of unrest or violence. If you’re in and around areas where demonstrations are taking place, remain vigilant and move away quickly if there are signs of disorder.
Most visits to Spain are trouble-free, but you should be alert to the existence of street crime, especially thieves using distraction techniques. Thieves often work in teams of two or more people and tend to target money and passports. Don’t carry all your valuables in one place, and remember to keep a photocopy or scanned copy of your passport somewhere safe.
Take extra care to guard passports, money and personal belongings when collecting or checking in luggage at the airport, and while arranging car hire.
In some city centres and resorts, thieves posing as police officers may approach tourists and ask to see their wallets for identification purposes. If this happens to you, establish that the officers are genuine and if necessary show some other form of ID. Genuine police officers don’t ask to see wallets or purses.
Personal attacks, including sexual assaults, are rare but they do occur, and are often carried out by other British nationals. 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 aren’t spiked. 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 than those in the UK. Avoid splitting up from your friends, and don’t go off with people you don’t know. Check the TravelAware ‘Stick with your mates’ campaign for more helpful tips and advice.
Make sure your accommodation has adequate security measures in place and lock all doors and windows at night or when you aren’t in. If you’re a tourist and are concerned about the security of your accommodation, speak to your tour operator or the property owner. Make sure you know the contact details of the local emergency services and the location of the nearest police station.
Be aware of ‘highway pirates’ who target foreign-registered and hire cars, especially those towing caravans. Some will (forcefully) try to make you stop, claiming there is something wrong with your car or that you have damaged theirs. If you decide to stop to check the condition of your/their vehicle, stop in a public area with lights like a service station, and be extremely wary of anyone offering help.
When driving, be wary of approaches by bogus police officers in plain clothes travelling in unmarked cars. In all traffic-related matters, police officers will be in uniform, and all police officers, including those in plain clothes, carry official ID. Unmarked police vehicles have a flashing electronic sign on the rear window which reads Policía (Police) or Guardia Civil (Civil Guard), and normally have blue flashing lights. Genuine police officers will only ask you to show them your documents and will not ask for your bag or wallet/purse.
In any emergency, call 112.
To report a crime, including stolen property and lost or stolen passports, visit the nearest Policia Nacional, regional police (Ertzaintza in the Basque Country, Mossos d’Esquadra in Catalonia, and Policia Foral in Navarre) or Guardia Civil Station to file a police report (denuncia). Some Spanish cities also offer a ‘Foreign Tourist Assistance Service (SATE - Servicio de Atención al Turista Extranjero) run by the Town Hall and National Police where foreign tourists can report crimes in a variety of languages, including English.
While in Spain, you can also call a dedicated English-speaking police line on +34 90 210 2112 from 9am – 9pm Monday to Friday (service not available on public holidays or weekends), or file a police report online for minor offences such as bag or car theft.
Be aware that violent crime or sexual assault must be reported in person at the nearest police station. If you’ve had belongings stolen, you’ll need to keep the police report for insurance purposes.
If your passport is lost or stolen, you’ll also need the report to apply for an emergency travel document from the nearest British Consulate and to apply for a replacement passport when you return to the UK.
Falls from height
There have been a number of very serious accidents (some fatal) as a result of falls from height, including balconies. Many of these incidents have involved British nationals and have had a devastating impact on those involved and their loved ones. Don’t take unnecessary risks around balconies or other high places, particularly if you’re under the influence of drink or drugs. In some regions you may be evicted from your hotel if you are found to be behaving irresponsibly.
You should familiarise yourself with the layout of your hotel and accommodation block when you arrive. Always follow the safety advice of your hotel and/or tour operator if staying in a room with a balcony and watch out for friends who may be at risk.
Some local councils will impose fines to those caught behaving irresponsibly on balconies. Your travel insurance may not cover you for incidents that take place on a balcony or if you were under the influence of drink or drugs when it happened.
Festivals, concerts and processions
Many large events and public processions are held in Spain each year. You should follow the advice of police and local authorities when attending such events.
Be aware of local laws and customs, and take extra care of your valuables if attending a festival or large concert. See our festival travel checklist for more advice.
Take care when swimming in the sea. Some beaches, especially around Spanish Islands, may have strong undercurrents. Most of them have a flag system. Before swimming, make sure you understand the system and follow any warnings (a red flag means you mustn’t enter the water). You should take extra care if there are no lifeguards, flags or signs. Follow local advice if jellyfish are present.
You should avoid swimming at beaches that are close to rivers. Don’t dive into unknown water as hidden rocks or shallow depths can cause serious injury or death.
Take care when walking along unmanned beaches close to the water’s edge as some waves can be of an unpredictable size and come in further than expected with strong undertows. Further tips can be found on ABTA’s swim safe pages.
Temperatures in some parts of Spain can change very quickly. Take extra care when planning a hike or walk to check local weather reports for warnings of extreme heat or cold temperatures.
If an accident occurs whilst mountaineering, canoeing, potholing or climbing, or if you become lost in the mountains or other areas requiring mountain rescue, call 112 for the emergency services or 062 for the Civil Guard.
For advice on safety and weather conditions for skiing or other outdoor activities call the Spanish National Tourist Office in London on 020 7317 2028 or see the European Avalanche Warning Services.
The Catalonia region has started billing negligent climbers, skiers and other adventurers who have to be rescued.
In 2020 there were 1,366 road deaths in Spain (source: Department for Transport. This equates to 2.9 road deaths per 100,000 population and compares to the UK average of 2.3 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2020.
If you are planning to drive in Spain, see information on Driving Abroad.
Licences and documentation
To drive a car or a motorcycle over 125cc in Spain you must be 18 years of age or above, and at least 16 years old to ride a motorcycle up to 125cc. You must carry a valid driving licence, proof of insurance and proof of identity at all times.
If you are visiting Spain, you can drive on your full, valid, UK driving licence (provisional licences are not valid for driving in Spain).
If you’re living in Spain, check the Living in Guide for information on requirements for residents.
If you are using UK insurance, always carry your certificate with you in case you are stopped. This certificate is generally only valid for a stay of less than 3 months - contact your insurer if you’re staying longer.
Driving a British car abroad
You may need a UK sticker to drive your car outside the UK. From 28 September 2021 UK stickers have replaced GB stickers. Check the GOV.UK Displaying number plates website for more information on what to do if you are driving outside the UK.
Driving is on the right. Driving rules and customs are different from those in the UK.
You must carry two red warning triangles which, in the event of an accident or breakdown, should be placed in front of and behind the vehicle at least 50 metres away from the vehicle. You must have a spare wheel and the tools to change it. If at any time you have to leave your vehicle due to an accident or breakdown or while waiting for the arrival of the emergency services, you must wear a reflective vest or you may face a heavy fine.
Spain has strict drink driving laws. Police regularly carry out roadside checks for alcohol and drugs. Penalties include heavy fines, loss of licence and imprisonment.
Police can impose on-the-spot fines for a variety of driving offences including exceeding the speed limit. Should you choose to accept the fine and pay within 20 days, it will be reduced by 50%. More information on how to pay is available on the Spanish driving agency website.
Seat belts are compulsory for all passengers in the front and back seats. Children under the age of 12 or under 1.35m in height are required by law to use an approved child safety seat and must be positioned in the back seat. Children are only permitted to travel in the front seat of the car if the rear seats are already occupied by other children or if the vehicle does not have rear seats. Car hire agencies can provide child seats, so let them know you need one when you reserve the car. Incorrect installation of a child seat or not wearing a seat belt can be considered a serious offence and met with heavy fines.
Motorcyclists (including drivers of mopeds and quads) must wear an approved safety helmet and other protective clothing. Not wearing one is considered a serious offence and can result in a fine.
Talking on a mobile phone when driving is forbidden, even if you have pulled over to the side of the road. You must be completely away from the road. Using an earpiece is also prohibited but you’re allowed to use a mobile phone with a completely hands-free unit.
See the European Commission, AA and RAC guides for more information on driving in Spain.
Some cities in Spain have introduced emergency anti-pollution protocols to limit exhaust emissions when air pollution levels are high. When activated, vehicle access is restricted and speed limits are imposed. Follow the instructions of the local authorities.
Madrid and Barcelona operate permanent low emission zones which require all vehicles (including foreign registrations) to meet specific exhaust emission standards in order to be granted entry. Vehicles that comply will be issued an eco-sticker (‘distintivo ambiental’) or equivalent from the Spanish Traffic Authority (DGT) which determines its ability to circulate and park in the zone. Access requirements vary and foreign number plated vehicles may be required to register or accredit their exhaust emissions with the local authorities prior to accessing the zone. Unregistered vehicles who do not meet emission standards will be issued a penalty notice. If your hotel or accommodation is located in a low emission zone, check which access provisions are available to guests (i.e. car park, one-day passes etc.).
See the MadridCentral and Barcelona Ring Roads Low Emission Zone websites for further information.
Only use officially registered or licensed taxis, or reputable transport companies you recognise. Licensing regulations differ across Spain and in certain cities pre-booking is required.
Passengers caught using unlicensed taxi services are liable for fines of up to 600€. Make sure you book your taxi or airport transfer through a licensed firm.
Timeshare and holiday clubs
Timeshare ownership is well established in Spain with many respected companies, agents and resorts operating legally and fairly. However, there are also many unscrupulous companies, some of which claim to provide various incentives, which don’t always materialise.
You may find it useful to read the timeshare fraud advice from Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre, run by the National Fraud Authority.