Spain travel guide
From riotous fiestas and sizzling cuisine to world-class museums and cutting-edge art galleries, there’s a reason why Spain endures as one of the world’s most popular destinations. Like the country’s famous tapas, Spain itself is a tempting smorgasbord of bustling cities, scenic countryside and sunny islands, which visitors can nibble away at on repeat trips or consume in one giant feast. Either way, it is one appetising nation.
In spite of its myriad attractions, most come to Spain for sun, sand and self-indulgence, flocking to the likes of the Costa del Sol and Costa Brava to while away days on beaches and nights in clubs. An early pioneer of package holidays, Spain’s leading resorts have long been geared up for the mass market – from the Balearics to the Canary Islands – but it’s not all sprawling hotel complexes; quaint fishing villages, bijou retreats and secluded beaches abound if you’re looking to veer off the tourist trail.
Spain is much more than holidays in the sun, though. Away from the beach there’s an extraordinary variety of things to do; from climbing snow-capped peaks in the Pyrénées to hiking the ancient pilgrimage route of St James’s Way; from diving in the protected Medes Islands to stargazing in Tenerife. Alternatively, you could drop in on one of the country’s many festivals (think Running of the Bulls, La Tomatina and the Baby Jumping Festival) which are madder than a box of frogs.
And then there are the cities; Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Seville, Valencia, the list goes on. Each one of these vibrant metropolises has their own distinct flavour; the Dali architecture and sweeping beaches of Barcelona seem a long way from the wide boulevards and soaring skyscrapers of Madrid (though the Catalans wish it was further).
But for all their disparities, these cities are bound by Spain’s remarkable history and enviable cultural feats, which are proudly displayed in the country’s museums, galleries and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Suffice to say, its popularity shows no sign of waning.
504,782 sq km (194,897 sq miles). Includes Balearics, Canaries, Ceuta, and Melilla.
46,064,604 (UN estimate 2016).
95.4 per sq km.
King Felipe VI of Spain since 2014.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy since 2011.
Last updated: 18 February 2018
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
There will be no change to the rights and status of EU nationals living in the UK, nor UK nationals living in the EU, while the UK remains in the EU.
There have been large gatherings of people in Barcelona and other areas of the Catalonia region in relation to the political developments there. Further gatherings and demonstrations are very likely to take place in the coming days. They may occur with little or no warning and even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can escalate and turn confrontational. You should exercise caution if you’re in the vicinity. Demonstrations may also cause some disruption and delays to transport services.
Temporary restrictions may apply to car use in Madrid on days when air pollution levels are high. When in force, only cars with a number plate ending in an even number are allowed to circulate on even dates, and cars with number plates ending in an odd number on odd dates. Restrictions apply within the city boundaries (within the M30 inner ring road) between 6:30am and 9pm.
Exemptions may apply to cars with multiple occupants (3 people or more), motorbikes and mopeds, hybrid and zero-emission vehicles, those with a disabled badge and taxis. For more information you can follow Madrid Town Hall on Facebook and Twitter, or call the ‘Línea Madrid’ citizen information and support line (in English) on 010 (from Madrid) or +34 915 298 210 (from outside Madrid).
Over 12 million British nationals visit Spain every year. Most visits are trouble-free.
There have been several deaths as a result of falls from balconies. Don’t take any unnecessary risks, especially when under the influence of drink or drugs.
There have been reports of an increase in holidaymakers being encouraged to submit a claim for personal injury if they have experienced gastric illness during their stay. You can find more information about the action you can take if you have suffered a personal injury on the Citizens Advice website. You should only consider pursuing a complaint or claim if you have genuinely suffered from injury or illness. If you make a false or fraudulent claim, you may face legal proceedings in the UK or Spain.
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Spain.
You should apply for a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before you travel. If you already have an EHIC, make sure it hasn’t expired.
Some medical costs aren’t covered by the EHIC. Take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before you travel.
Be alert to the existence of street crime. Thieves tend to target money and passports so don’t keep them all in one place. Keep a copy of your passport somewhere safe.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.
Safety and security
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.
Many people have their passports stolen while passing through airports, either on arrival in or departure from Spain. Take extra care to guard passports, money and personal belongings when collecting or checking in luggage at the airport, and while arranging car hire. There has been an increase in the number of thefts from hire cars. Remove all valuables from the vehicle when you park or store items out of sight.
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.
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). While in Spain, you can also call a dedicated English-speaking police line on +34 90 210 2112. 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.
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.
There has been an increase in reports of burglaries in areas with holiday accommodation and residential areas in major cities. 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 owner. Make sure you know the contact details of the local emergency services and the location of the nearest police station.
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.
If in any doubt, you should talk through the car window and contact the Civil Guard on 062 or Police on 112 and ask them to confirm that the registration number of the vehicle corresponds to an official police vehicle.
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.
Only use officially registered or licensed taxis.
There have been reports of lottery scams in Spain. A person receives what appears to be official notification from the Spanish Inland Revenue office (Hacienda) that they’ve won the Spanish lottery and should deposit money in a bank account to receive their winnings. It’s likely to be a scam if you haven’t entered a lottery, you’re asked to pay anything up-front and the contact telephone number is for a mobile phone.
Balcony falls (and balconing)
There have been a number of very serious accidents (some fatal) as a result of falls from balconies. Many of these incidents have involved British nationals under the influence of drink or drugs. Your travel insurance may not cover you for incidents that take place while you’re under the influence of drink or drugs.
Some local councils will impose fines to those caught behaving irresponsibly on balconies or practising ‘balconing’.
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 life-guards, 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.
Crossing between Spain and Gibraltar
Spanish border checks can cause delays when crossing between Spain and Gibraltar. There is no charge to enter or leave Gibraltar. Don’t hand over money if you’re approached by anyone claiming that there is a charge.
Driving is on the right. Driving rules and customs are different from those in the UK and the accident rate is higher, especially on motorways. In 2015 there were 36 road deaths per one million inhabitants in Spain as compared to 29 road deaths per one million inhabitants in the UK (Source: European Commission).
You must carry two red warning triangles which should be placed, in the event of an accident or breakdown, in front of and behind 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. UK provisional licences are not valid for driving in Spain.
Carry a certificate of insurance in case you’re stopped. If you are using UK insurance, always carry your certificate with you. Remember that this certificate is generally only valid for a stay of less than 3 months - contact your insurer if you are staying longer.
Spain has strict drink driving laws. Penalties include heavy fines, loss of licence and imprisonment.
On the spot fines can be issued 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 required for all passengers in the front and back seats. No children under the age of 12 should be in the front seat and small children must be in an approved child safety seat in the back seat. Your car hire agency will be able to provide a seat so let them know you need one when you reserve the car.
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.
Unlicensed taxi drivers
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.
Avoid all demonstrations and follow the advice of police and local authorities.
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. Further information and advice is available from the Timeshare Consumers Association (TCA) and on the British Embassy website.
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Spain. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners. The Spanish authorities take measures to protect visitors, but you should be vigilant and follow the instructions of the local authorities.
On 17/18 August 2017, there were 2 terrorist-related incidents where vehicles were driven directly at pedestrians, resulting in injuries and loss of life. These were in the Las Ramblas area of Barcelona and Cambrils, near Salou (100km southwest of Barcelona). These incidents are now concluded, and the suspects detained.
The British Embassy in Madrid and Consulate General in Barcelona are in contact with local authorities and supporting British nationals affected by these incidents. There may be restrictions in place; you should follow the advice of the local authorities.
The Spanish authorities have set up a helpline for people affected by the incidents. The number is 0034 93 214 21 24. You can also find out more about support available to you in this information and advice page.
The Basque terrorist organisation ETA hasn’t mounted any attacks since 2009. In October 2011 ETA announced a “definitive cessation of armed activity”. In April 2017 they declared a “unilateral disarmament” and claimed to have handed in all of their weapons. ETA’s last major attack was in 2006. British nationals have not been a target of ETA terrorism.
Spanish police have disrupted a number of groups suspected of recruiting individuals to travel to Syria and Iraq from 2015 to the present date. Some of them expressed an intention to carry out attacks in Europe.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Local laws and customs
Spanish law defines anyone under 18 to be a minor. Any unaccompanied minors that come to the attention of the Spanish authorities (for whatever reason, but particularly in connection with criminal incidents or when in hospital) are judged to be vulnerable and may be taken into a minors centre until a parent or guardian can be found.
You must provide photographic ID (your passport) if requested by a police officer. This includes the Guardia Civil and national, regional and local police forces. The police have the right to hold you at a police station until your identity is confirmed. Ignoring direct requests or challenging a police officer may be viewed as ‘disobedience’, which is a criminal offence.
Possession of even a small quantity of drugs can lead to arrest and detention. Possession of large quantities will probably result in prosecution and a prison sentence if convicted.
Some local councils in Spain have banned the consumption of alcohol in the street and on-the-spot fines may be issued. There are strict controls on drinking and sexual activity in public places, including beaches.
Spain is tolerant and socially progressive on attitudes towards the LGBT community. Madrid held the World Pride celebrations in 2017 and same-sex marriage has been legal in Spain since 2005. for the LGBT community before you travel.
In some parts of Spain it’s against the law to be in the street wearing only a bikini or swimming shorts/trunks. Being bare-chested has also been banned. Some local councils will impose fines if you’re caught wearing swimwear on the seafront promenade or the adjacent streets.
For security reasons, some public authorities in Spain don’t allow the burka or niqab to be worn in their buildings. If you visit Town Councils wearing a burka or niqab, you may be asked to remove it while in the building.
Hotels have a legal duty to register the passport details of tourists on check-in. Wait until the hotel staff have registered your passport details or taken a photocopy of your passport. Don’t leave it in reception to collect later.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
If your passport describes you as a British Citizen or a British Subject with Right of Abode in the United Kingdom, you don’t need a visa to enter Spain. If you have another type of British nationality, you should check entry requirements with their nearest Spanish Embassy or Consulate.
Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay; you don’t need any additional period of validity on your passport beyond this. This applies to the whole of Spain, including the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands (Majorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera).
Staying for longer than 3 months
If you’re planning to stay in Spain for longer than 3 months you must register in person at the nearest Office for Foreigners (Oficina de Extranjeros) which is normally part of the Town Hall (Ayuntamiento), or at designated Police stations.
If you plan to live in Spain, visit the British Embassy website for advice and information.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK ETDs are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Spain.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
If you’re visiting Spain, you should get a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before leaving the UK. The EHIC isn’t a substitute for medical and travel insurance, but it will cover you for any necessary treatment you receive at a public healthcare centre or hospital during your trip. Any treatment provided is on the same terms as Spanish nationals.
You should produce your EHIC prior to treatment. If you don’t have your EHIC with you or you’ve lost it, you can call the Department of Health Overseas Healthcare Team (+44 191 218 1999) to get a Provisional Replacement Certificate. You’re under no obligation to provide travel insurance as payment for necessary treatment in a public healthcare facility and you can insist that your EHIC is accepted. Some hotels may call private doctors or ambulances to take patients to private hospitals; the EHIC won’t be accepted there. For more information visit Healthcare in Spain.
The EHIC won’t cover medical repatriation, or any private care. Private hospitals won’t accept the EHIC and will ask you to pay for your treatment or provide evidence of adequate insurance.
Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation. If you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment you should contact your insurance/medical assistance company immediately. As a general rule, if you need hospital treatment in Spain you’re more likely to receive appropriate care in a public healthcare facility (although in some tourist areas there may be no public healthcare facility nearby). Your insurance/medical assistance company will be able to provide further details.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 112 and ask for an ambulance.
If you plan to live in Spain, you should look at alternative forms of health cover and visit the British Embassy website for more information.
Further information on accessing healthcare in Spain for visitors is available at Healthcare in Spain.
Forest fires occur frequently in Spain (including Spanish islands) during the summer months. Take care when visiting or driving through woodland areas. Make sure cigarette ends are properly extinguished, don’t light barbecues and don’t leave empty bottles behind. You should be aware that causing a forest fire is treated as a criminal offence in Spain even if unintentional. If you see the on-set of a forest fire, call the emergency services on 112.
The currency in Spain is the Euro.
When changing money, you should always use official money exchange offices or banks, as possession and use of counterfeit money is considered a very serious crime in Spain and may lead to prosecution.
When buying goods in Spain with credit or debit cards, you may need to show ID. You may be able to use a driving licence or a photocopy of your passport, but you may be required to show your passport
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.