Belmonte Castle near La Mancha, Spain
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Belmonte Castle near La Mancha, Spain

© 123rf.com / Matt Trommer

Spain Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

505,990 sq km (195,363 sq miles). Includes Balearics, Canaries, Ceuta, and Melilla.

Population

46,733,038 (UN estimate 2018).

Population density

92 per sq km.

Capital

Madrid.

Government

Parliamentary monarchy.

Head of state

King Felipe VI of Spain since 2014.

Head of government

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez since 2018.

Electricity

230 volts AC, 50Hz. European plugs with two round pins are standard.

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, whiling 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 may 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.

Travel Advice

Before you travel

No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide and any specific travel advice that applies to you:

If you are planning to travel to Spain through France, check the travel advice for France before you start your journey.   

If you are planning to travel to Spain through Gibraltar, check the travel advice for Gibraltar before you start your journey. 

Travel insurance

If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency.

About FCDO travel advice

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions. Find out more about FCDO travel advice.

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this advice is updated.

This information is for people travelling on a full ‘British citizen’ passport from the UK. It is based on the UK government’s understanding of the current rules for the most common types of travel. 

The authorities in Spain set and enforce entry rules. If you’re not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact the Spanish Embassy in the UK.

COVID-19 rules

There are no COVID-19 testing or vaccination requirements for travellers entering Spain.

Passport validity requirements

Spain follows Schengen area rules. Your passport must: 

  • have a ‘date of issue’ less than 10 years before the date you arrive – if you renewed your passport before 1 October 2018, it may have a date of issue that is more than 10 years ago
  • have an ‘expiry date’ at least 3 months after the day you plan to leave the Schengen area

Check with your travel provider that your passport and other travel documents meet requirements. Renew your passport if you need to. 

You will be denied entry if you do not have a valid travel document or try to use a passport that has been reported lost or stolen. 

Visa requirements

You can travel without a visa to the Schengen area, which includes Spain, for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. This applies if you travel: 

  • as a tourist
  • to visit family or friends
  • to attend business meetings, cultural or sports events
  • for short-term studies or training

The requirements for working in Spain are different.  

If you’re travelling to other Schengen countries as well, make sure your whole visit is within the 90-day visa-free limit. Visits to Schengen countries in the 180 days before you travel count towards your 90 days. 

If you are visiting Spain and need to extend your visa-free stay for exceptional reasons, such as a medical emergency, you must apply to the immigration authorities (‘Extranjería’) (in Spanish).

Make sure you get your passport stamped on entry and exit.

If you’re a visitor, border guards will look at your entry and exit stamps to check you have not overstayed the 90-day visa-free limit for the Schengen area.

If your passport is missing a stamp, show evidence of when and where you entered or left the Schengen area (for example, boarding passes or tickets) and ask the border guards to add the date and location in your passport.

British nationals living in Spain do not need their passports to be stamped. Actively show your proof of residence, such as the foreigner’s identity card (‘la tarjeta de identidad de extranjero’ or ‘TIE’), when presenting your passport at Spanish border control. 

At Spanish border control, you may need to show:

  • a return or onward ticket
  • proof of your travel insurance
  • you have enough money for your stay - the amount varies depending on your accommodation
  • a hotel booking confirmation or proof of address if you’re staying at your own property
  • an invitation or proof of address if staying with a third party, friends or family, such as a ‘carta de invitation’ completed by your hosts

Using the e-gates

Use the desks staffed by border officers. If you’re aged 18 or over, and airport staff instruct you to, you may be able to use e-gates when they are working.

If you use an e-gate, make sure you get your passport stamped.

Staying longer than 90 days in a 180-day period 

To stay longer, you must meet the Spanish government’s entry requirements. If you’re in Spain with a residence permit or long-stay visa, this does not count towards your 90-day visa-free limit. 

Read more about passport stamping if you live in Spain

If you cannot return to the UK before your visa-free limit expires, contact the Spanish government’s national information service. Dial 060 from a Spanish phoneline (in Spanish, with English speaking operators available).

Travelling between Spain and Gibraltar

Spanish border checks can cause delays when crossing between Spain and Gibraltar. If you are travelling to Spain through Gibraltar, check the travel advice for entry requirements for Gibraltar.

There is no charge to enter or leave Gibraltar. Do not hand over money to anybody claiming there is a charge.

Unaccompanied minors

Spanish law considers anyone aged 17 and under to be a minor. If an unaccompanied minor comes to the attention of the Spanish authorities (particularly in connection with criminal incidents or when in hospital), they will be considered vulnerable and may be taken to a minor’s centre until a parent or guardian is found.

Vaccine requirements

For details about medical entry requirements and recommended vaccinations, see TravelHealthPro’s Spain guide.

Customs rules

There are strict rules about what goods can be taken into and out of Spain (PDF). You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty.

Taking food into Spain

You cannot take meat, milk or products containing them into EU countries. There are some exceptions such as powdered baby milk, baby food and special foods or pet feed required for medical reasons. 

Taking money into Spain

Declare cash or travellers cheques if the value is 10,000 euros or more. You will get a certified declaration to show you brought it in with you. If you do not, your money could be seized when you leave.

Terrorism

There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. Stay aware of your surroundings at all times.

UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out how to reduce your risk from terrorism while abroad.

Terrorism in Spain

Terrorists are likely to try and carry out attacks in Spain.

Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreign nationals. Stay aware of your surroundings, keep up to date with local media reports and follow the advice of local authorities.

In January 2023, one person was killed and others injured in a machete attack at 2 churches in Cadiz

Political situation

Demonstrations, political gatherings or marches can take place with little or no warning, particularly in cities. Follow the advice of police and local authorities.

While most demonstrations are peaceful, there is a risk of unrest or violence. If you’re near areas where demonstrations are taking place, be aware of what is happening around you and move away if there are signs of disorder.

Lost or stolen passports

If your passport is lost or stolen, you must renew your passport or apply for an emergency travel document. You cannot use a police report to leave Spain.

Crime

Protecting your belongings

Be alert to the risk of street crime. Thieves use distraction techniques and often work in teams. Take care of your passports, money and personal belongings, particularly when collecting or checking in luggage at the airport, and while arranging car hire.

Do not carry all your valuables in one place. Keep a copy of the photo page of your passport somewhere safe.

Make sure your accommodation has adequate security. Keep all doors and windows locked. If you’re concerned about the security of your accommodation, speak to your travel operator or the property owner.

Vehicle crime

‘Highway pirates’ target foreign-registered and hire cars, especially those towing caravans. They may flag you down, claiming there is something wrong with your car or that you have damaged theirs. If you decide to stop to check the condition of a vehicle, stop in a public area with lights, such as a service station. Be wary of anyone offering help.

When driving, be wary of approaches from people posing as plainclothes police in unmarked cars. In all traffic-related matters, police officers will usually be in uniform.

Unmarked police vehicles have a flashing electronic sign on the rear window saying ‘Policía’ or ‘Guardia Civil’. Genuine police will only ask you to show vehicle documents – not to hand over your bag or wallet.

Attacks and sexual assault

Attacks, including sexual assaults, are rare but do occur. In an emergency call 112.

Avoid splitting up from your friends, do not leave drinks unattended and do not go off with people you do not know. Save the location of your accommodation on your maps app, so it’s easy to find. See TravelAware ‘Stick with your mates’ for tips and advice.

See advice on getting help if you are a victim of crime abroad.

British Consulates in Spain (+34 917 146 300 or +44 207 008 5000) can provide local information and support.

Drink spiking and alcohol

Be alert to the possible use of ‘date rape’ and other drugs including GHB and liquid ecstasy.

Buy your own drinks and always keep them in sight to avoid them being spiked. Alcohol and drugs can reduce your vigilance, making you less in control. If you drink, know your limit. Drinks served in bars in Spain are often stronger than those in the UK.

Scams

Thieves posing as police officers may ask to see your wallet, claiming they need to see it for identification. Genuine police officers will ask to see ID but will not ask for wallets or purses. All police officers, including those in plain clothes, carry official ID.

Timeshares and holiday clubs

Be cautious if you are planning to buy or sell a timeshare. There are companies who offer false incentives.

Read timeshare fraud advice from Action Fraud.

Laws and cultural differences

Personal ID

You must provide photo ID if asked 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 they have confirmed your identity.

Ignoring direct requests of a police officer can be considered as ‘disobedience’, which is a criminal offence.

Hotels, tourist accommodation and car rental companies have a legal duty to register passport details of tourists who check in or collect a vehicle.

When checking in to your accommodation, wait until hotel staff have registered your passport details, or taken a copy of your passport. Do not leave your passport at reception to collect later.

You may need to show ID when buying goods with credit or debit cards. Some shops will accept your driving licence or a copy of your passport, but some may ask for your passport.

Alcohol laws and bans

It’s illegal to drink alcohol in the street in some areas of Spain. You can get an on-the-spot fine. There are strict controls on drinking and sexual activity in public places, including on beaches.

Alcohol laws in the Balearic Islands

Local laws limit the sale and availability of alcohol in areas of some resorts on the Balearic Islands, including:

  • Magaluf (Calvià), Mallorca
  • Playa de Palma, Mallorca
  • San Antonio (San Antoni de Portmany), Ibiza

This bans:

  • happy hours
  • open bars (such as ‘all you can drink in one hour’ offers)
  • the sale of alcohol from vending machines
  • self-service alcohol dispensers
  • organising pub crawls and party boat trips
  • ‘off-licence’ sales between 9:30pm and 8am

Hotels and other establishments will evict you if you behave dangerously on balconies. You could also get a fine.

Illegal drugs and prison sentences

Possession of even a small quantity of drugs can lead to arrest and detention. Possession of large quantities will usually result in prosecution and a prison sentence.

Illegal commercial parties in villas and private homes

There have been a number of serious accidents involving people attending illegal commercially promoted parties in villas and private homes on the islands of Ibiza and Mallorca.

Licensed clubs and bars have to meet safety and security standards, including emergency exits and capacity limits, and have trained, licensed security staff. Illegal commercial parties may not meet these standards. Take care of your belongings, make sure you know where emergency exits are and do not take unnecessary risks.

You may get a fine for attending illegal commercially promoted parties.

Dress code

In some parts of Spain it’s illegal to be in the street wearing only a bikini or swimming shorts. Being bare-chested is also illegal in some areas in Spain. You could be fined if you’re caught wearing swimwear on the seafront promenade or adjacent streets.

For security reasons, some public authorities in Spain do not allow the burka or niqab to be worn in their buildings. If you visit town council buildings wearing a burka or niqab, you may be asked to remove it while inside.

Changing money

Always use official money exchange offices or banks because unofficial money changers may give you counterfeit money. Possession or use of counterfeit money is considered a serious crime in Spain and may lead to prosecution.

LGBT+

Spain is a generally tolerant and progressive place for LGBT+ travellers. There are active LGBT+ communities and social venues, particularly in big cities. Same-sex marriage is legal. Transgender people can register under their preferred sex in public documents such as birth certificates, identity cards and passports without undergoing prior gender reassignment surgery.

Read more advice for LGBT+ travellers.

Outdoor activities and adventure tourism

Falls from height

There have been a number of serious accidents, some fatal, involving British nationals falling from height, including from balconies.

Do not take unnecessary risks around balconies or other high places, particularly if you’re under the influence of drink or drugs. If you are staying in a room with a balcony, follow the safety advice at the hotel or apartment, and watch out for friends who may be at risk.

In some regions you may be fined or evicted from your hotel if you are found to be behaving irresponsibly around 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 the incident happened.

Festivals, concerts and processions

Many large events and public processions are held in Spain each year. Follow the advice of police and local authorities when attending events.

Take care of your valuables if attending a festival or large concert. See the festival travel checklist for more advice.

Swimming and beaches

Every year, people drown in the sea and in swimming pools in Spain. Always supervise children, even if they can swim or there is a lifeguard present.

Take care when swimming in the sea. Some beaches, especially around Spanish islands, may have strong undercurrents.

Hidden rocks or shallow depths can cause serious injury or death. Do not dive into unknown water and do not swim at beaches where a river runs into the sea.

Many beaches have a flag system. Make sure you understand the system and follow any warnings (a red flag means you must not enter the water). Take extra care and get local knowledge if there are no lifeguards, flags or signs.

If you are walking along unmonitored beaches, be aware that waves can come in further than expected and have strong undertows.

See further tips on ABTA’s swim safe pages and Water Safety on Holiday from the Royal Life Saving Society. 

Follow local advice if jellyfish are present.

Hill walking, skiing and mountain activities

Temperatures in some parts of Spain can change very quickly. Take extra care when planning a hike or walk. Check local weather reports for warnings of extreme heat or cold temperatures.

Altitude sickness may be a risk in some of the higher mountain ranges in Spain, particularly in the regions of Granada, Huesca and Tenerife. See Health.

For advice on safety and weather conditions for skiing or other outdoor activities you can:

If an accident happens while mountaineering, canoeing, potholing or climbing, or if you become lost in the mountains and need mountain rescue, call:

  • 112 for the emergency services
  • 062 for the Civil Guard

The Catalonia region has started billing climbers, skiers and other adventurers whose negligent behaviour causes them to need rescue.

Transport risks

Check with your airline, tour operator or transport company whether there is any planned strike action which might disrupt your journey.

Road travel

You can use a UK photocard driving licence to drive in Spain. If you still have a paper driving licence, you may need to update it to a photocard licence. Provisional licences are not valid for driving in Spain.

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 and ID.  

If you are using UK insurance, always carry your certificate with you in case you are stopped. Check that your UK insurance will cover you to drive in Spain, and for how long. This certificate is generally only valid for a stay of less than 3 months.

Check the requirements for driving if you live in Spain.

Driving a British car abroad

You may need a UK sticker to drive your car outside the UK.

Driving regulations

If you are planning to drive in Spain, see information on driving abroad and check the rules of the road in the RAC’s Spain guide. The guide lists driving regulations and other legal requirements you need to be aware of.

Spain has strict drink-driving laws. Police regularly carry out roadside checks for alcohol and drugs. Penalties include fines, loss of licence and a prison sentence.

The police can give you on-the-spot fines for a variety of driving offences including speeding. If you 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.

Seatbelts are compulsory for all passengers in the front and back seats. Children under 1.35m in height must use an approved child safety seat secured on 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 seatbelt can be considered a serious offence and met with fines. 

It is illegal to use a mobile phone when driving, 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 illegal. Only completely hands-free units are allowed.

Low emission zones

Some inner-city areas in Spain have introduced permanent low emission zones (‘Zonas de bajas emisiones’ – ZBE) where Spanish vehicles must meet specific exhaust emission standards and display an air pollution sticker. The stickers are not issued to vehicles with foreign registration plates, but some cities require you to register your vehicle in advance – for example, Barcelona.

The Spanish government’s general information helpline 060 (if calling in Spain) or +34 902 887 060 (if calling from UK) may be able to provide further information.

Taxis

Only use official 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 euros. Make sure you book your taxi or airport transfer through a licensed firm.

Extreme weather and natural disasters

Find out what you can do to prepare for and respond to extreme weather and natural hazards.

Extreme temperatures

Extreme temperatures can affect many areas of Spain over the summer months. Follow the Spanish Meteorological Office (AEMET) and European Meteorological Services for severe weather warnings.

The NHS has information on how to cope in hot weather. You can also follow guidance from the Spanish Ministry of Health (in Spanish).

Check with your travel provider and follow the advice of local authorities.

Wildfires

Wildfires happen often in Spain, including on the islands, during the summer months.

Be aware of your environment when visiting or driving through woodland areas. For information on wildfire risk visit the Spanish Meteorological Office (AEMET).

Causing a wildfire is a criminal offence in Spain, even if unintentional. Make sure cigarette ends are properly extinguished, do not light barbecues and do not leave empty bottles behind. You can be heavily fined for not following the rules against lighting outdoor barbecues in forest areas. Make sure you know the rules if considering a barbeque.

For information on what to do in the event of a wildfire, visit Civil Protection (website in Spanish). Immediately report any fire you see to the emergency services on 112. In the case of wildfires, the situation can change quickly, so you should stay up to date with official advice.

Flooding

Flash flooding can cause travel disruption and damage to property and infrastructure. Check weather warnings from Spain’s meteorological office (AEMET) before travel and follow the advice of the local authorities.

Before you travel check that:

  • your destination can provide the healthcare you may need
  • you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation

This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant.

Emergency medical number

Dial 112 and ask for an ambulance.

Contact your insurance or medical assistance company quickly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.

Vaccine recommendations and health risks

At least 8 weeks before your trip:

See what health risks you’ll face in Spain, including:

  • dengue
  • biting insects and ticks

Altitude sickness is a risk in parts of Spain. Read more about altitude sickness on TravelHealthPro.

Medication

The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries. There are details in the guide to getting healthcare in Spain.

Read best practice when travelling with medicines on TravelHealthPro.

Healthcare in Spain

FCDO has a list of medical providers in Spain where some staff will speak English.

Health insurance cards

To get medically necessary state healthcare in Spain, you need a Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) or a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). 

The NHS’s getting healthcare abroad webpage has details about:

  • how to apply for a GHIC
  • how to get temporary cover if you lose your card or it does not arrive in time
  • who qualifies for a new EHIC instead of a GHIC
  • what treatment counts as medically necessary

A GHIC or EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance. You may have costs your GHIC or EHIC does not cover, including:

  • changes to travel and accommodation bookings
  • additional standard costs for treatment
  • medical repatriation to the UK
  • treatment that is ruled non-urgent

There is more guidance on healthcare if you’re visiting Spain. There is also guidance on healthcare if you’re living in Spain.

Hospital treatment

If you need hospital treatment in Spain, you’re more likely to receive appropriate care in public healthcare facilities. However, in some tourist areas there may not be any public healthcare facilities nearby. Your insurance or medical assistance company will be able to provide further details.

Some hotels may call private doctors or ambulances to take patients to private hospitals. The GHIC or EHIC will not be accepted there.

Use of face masks

Due to an increase in respiratory infections such as flu and COVID-19, you may have to wear a face mask at doctors’ surgeries, hospitals and pharmacies. Rules on face masks may vary by region. Follow the advice of the local authorities and make sure you are aware of the measures in place.

Travel and mental health

Read FCDO guidance on travel and mental health. There is also guidance on TravelHealthPro.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. Read this travel advice and carry out your own research before deciding whether to travel.

Emergency services in Spain

Telephone: 112 (ambulance, fire, police)

Reporting crime

To report a crime, including stolen property and lost or stolen passports, you can file a police report (‘denuncia’) at the nearest station of the:

  • National Police (‘Policia Nacional’)
  • regional police (‘Ertzaintza’ in the Basque Country, ‘Mossos d’Esquadra’ in Catalonia and ‘Policia Foral’ in Navarre)
  • Civil Guard (‘Guardia Civil’)

Some Spanish cities also offer a Foreign Tourist Assistance Service (‘Servicio de Atención al Turista Extranjero’ or ‘SATE’) where you can report crimes in English.

While in Spain, you can file a police report online for minor offences such as stolen bags or thefts from your car. If you’ve had belongings stolen, you may need to get a police report for insurance purposes.

If you want to report a violent crime or sexual assault, you must go in person to the nearest police station. 

Contact your travel provider and insurer

Contact your travel provider and your insurer if you are involved in a serious incident or emergency abroad. They will tell you if they can help and what you need to do.

Refunds and changes to travel

For refunds or changes to travel, contact your travel provider. You may also be able to make a claim through insurance. However, insurers usually require you to talk to your travel provider first.

Find out more about changing or cancelling travel plans, including:

  • where to get advice if you are in a dispute with a provider
  • how to access previous versions of travel advice to support a claim

Support from FCDO

FCDO has guidance on staying safe and what to do if you need help or support abroad, including:

Contacting FCDO

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this travel advice is updated.

You can also contact FCDO online.

Help abroad in an emergency

If you are in Spain and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the British Embassy in Madrid or your nearest consulate.

FCDO in London

You can call FCDO in London if you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad.

Telephone 020 7008 5000 (24 hours)

Find out about call charges

Risk information for British companies

The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating in Spain on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.