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Safety Travel Safety: Europe: Spain

Spain: Kingdom of Spain
Capital: Madrid
Population: 40,077,100
Currency: euro (EUR)
Languages: Castilian Spanish (official) 74%, Catalan 17%, Galician 7%, Basque 2%
Religions: Roman Catholic 94%, other 6%
Borders: Andorra 63.7 km, France 623 km, Gibraltar 1.2 km, Portugal 1,214 km, Morocco (Ceuta) 6.3 km, Morocco (Melilla) 9.6 km

Spain and Andorra are both highly developed and stable democracies with modern economies. Spain is a member of the European Union. Additional information on Spain may be obtained from the Tourist Office of Spain, telephone (212) 265-8822, or via the Internet at The website of the Spanish Embassy in the United States is Additional information on Andorra may be obtained from the Andorran Mission to the U.N., 2 U.N. Plaza, 25th Floor, New York, New York 10018, telephone (212) 750-8064 or via the Internet at

Spain and Andorra share with the rest of the world an increased threat of international Islamic terrorist incidents. On March 11, 2004, terrorists bombed four commuter trains coming into Madrid causing close to 200 deaths and over 1,400 injuries.

The ETA terrorist organization remains active in Spain; historically, ETA attacks have been directed against the police, military, local politicians, and Spanish government targets. However, in February 2004, ETA reiterated its intention to target Spanish tourist areas, advising that foreign nationals could be among the victims. In December 2003, Spanish police thwarted an ETA attempt to bomb a train loaded with pre-holiday travelers. On March 1, 2004, Spanish authorities intercepted 500 kilograms of explosives, which suspected ETA terrorists were taking to Madrid. Since 2001, ETA attacks have included a number of car-bomb incidents, some occurring in areas frequented by tourists, including the Madrid and Malaga airports. While there were no American fatalities from these incidents, there have been a number of injuries. U.S. tourists traveling to Spain should remain vigilant, exercise caution, monitor local developments, and avoid demonstrations and other potentially violent situations.

While most of Spain has a moderate rate of crime and most of the estimated one million American tourists have trouble free visits to Spain each year, street crimes against tourists occur in the principal tourist areas. Madrid and Barcelona, in particular, report increasing incidents of muggings and violent attacks, some of which have been so violent that victims have needed medical attention. Although crimes occur at all times of day and night and to people of all ages, older tourists and Asian Americans seem to be particularly at risk. Criminals frequent tourist areas and major attractions such as museums, monuments, restaurants, outdoor cafes, Internet cafes, hotel lobbies, beach resorts, city buses, subways, trains, train stations, airports, and ATM machines.

In Barcelona, a number of attacks have been reported on Las Ramblas, near the Picasso Museum, in the Gothic Quarter, in Parc G�ell, in Plaza Real and on Montjuic. In Madrid, incidents have been reported in major tourist areas, including the area near the Prado Museum, near Atocha train station, in Retiro Park, in areas of old Madrid including Sol and El Rastro flea market, near the Royal Palace and in Plaza Mayor.

Travelers should remain alert to their personal security and exercise caution. Travelers are encouraged to carry limited cash, only one credit card, and a copy of their passport; leaving extra cash, extra credit cards, passports and personal documents in a safe location. When carrying documents, credit cards or cash, you are encouraged to secure them in a hard-to-reach place and not to carry all valuables together in a purse or backpack.

Thieves often work in teams or pairs. In most cases, one person distracts a victim while the accomplice performs the robbery. For example, someone might wave a map in your face and ask for directions or �inadvertently� spill something on you. While your attention is diverted, an accomplice makes off with the valuables. Thieves may drop coins or keys at your feet to distract you and try to take your belongings while you are trying to help. Attacks are sometimes initiated from behind, with the victim being grabbed around the neck and choked by one assailant while others rifle through or grab the belongings. A group of assailants may surround the victim in a crowded popular tourist area or on public transportation, and only after the group has departed does the person discover he/she has been robbed. Purse-snatchers may grab purses or wallets and run away, or immediately pass the stolen item to an accomplice. A passenger on a passing motorcycle sometimes robs pedestrians. There have been several reports of thieves posing as plainclothes police officers sometimes beckoning to pedestrians from cars and sometimes confronting them on the street and asking for documents. American citizens are encouraged to deal with uniformed law enforcement personnel only.

Theft from vehicles is also common. Items high in value like luggage, cameras, laptop computers, or briefcases are often stolen from cars. Travelers are advised not to leave valuables in parked cars, and to keep doors locked, windows rolled up and valuables out of sight when driving. �Good Samaritan" scams are unfortunately common, where a passing car or �helpful� stranger will attempt to divert the driver�s attention by indicating there is a flat tire or mechanical problem. When the driver stops to check the vehicle, the �Good Samaritan� will appear to help the driver and passengers while the accomplice steals from the unlocked car. Drivers should be cautious about accepting help from anyone other than a uniformed Spanish police officer or Civil Guard.

While the incidence of sexual assault is statistically very low, attacks do occur. Spanish authorities have warned of availability of so-called "date-rape" drugs and other drugs, including "GBH" and liquid ecstasy. Americans should not lower their personal security awareness because they are on vacation.

A number of American citizens have been victims of lottery or advance fee scams in which a person is lured to Spain to finalize a financial transaction. Often the victims are initially contacted via internet or fax and informed they have won the Spanish Lottery (El Gordo), inherited money from a distant relative, or are needed to assist in a major financial transaction from one country to another. For more information, please see the information sheet on the Bureau of Consular Affairs website at

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country�s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Spanish law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs in Spain are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and fines. The Madrid City and Balearics Regional Governments have banned the consumption of alcohol in the street, other than in registered street cafes and bars. Visitors to Madrid, Mallorca, Ibiza and Menorca should be aware that failure to respect this law might result in the imposition of fines.

Good medical care is available.

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Spain and Andorra is provided for general reference only, and it may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: Good
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Excellent
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Good

Traffic in Madrid and Barcelona is faster-paced than in U.S. cities and can be unnerving due to unfamiliar signs or motorbikes weaving between traffic lanes. Drivers should always obey the closest traffic light, as there are separate pedestrian lights in the city. Drivers should be alert when driving at night in urban areas, due to the possibility of encountering drivers or pedestrians under the influence of alcohol. Night driving in isolated rural areas can be dangerous, because of farm animals and poorly marked roads. Rural traffic is generally heavier in July and August as well as during the Christmas and Easter seasons. New traffic regulations went into effect in Spain on January 30, 2004. Of particular note is the prohibition on the use of a mobile phone without a hands-free device while driving a car. There is a fine of 150 euros for violation of this regulation and loss of driving privileges. Pedestrians should use designated crossing areas when crossing streets and obey traffic lights.

Public transportation in large cities is generally excellent. All major cities have metered taxis, and extra charges must be posted in the vehicle. Travelers are advised to use only clearly identified cabs and to ensure that taxi drivers always switch on the meter. A green light on the roof indicates that the taxi is available. Rail service is comfortable and reliable, but varies in quality and speed. Intercity buses are usually comfortable and inexpensive.

For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, please see the Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at For specific information concerning Spanish driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact the Spanish National Tourist Organization offices in New York via the Internet at

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Spain's civil aviation authority as Category 1 -- in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Spain's air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA�s Internet website at

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at telephone (618) 229-4801.

Please also refer to the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

March 12, 2004

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