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2018 Travel Safety Tips for Spain By the FBI’s Former Top Special Agent in Spain

Marc Varri is a retired FBI Special Agent and a former Legal Attaché in Madrid, Spain. He currently serves as the in-country Point of Contact for Salus Security Services in Spain.

1. Do Your Research

Prepare by learning as much as you can about your destination before arriving. There’s a wealth of information available online and in guidebooks that can help you anticipate specific risks. For starters, be sure to obtain specific pre-travel risk assessments. There may be specific issues you should be aware of that will prepare you and ensure your safety and peace of mind.

2. Stay Connected

Take your U.S. cell phone abroad, and be sure to look into your international phone plan options (you don’t want to get hit by hundreds of dollars in roaming fees when you get back). Also, 911 doesn’t work outside of the US, so familiarize yourself with the local emergency hotlines – Spain’s is 112. And don’t forget your European outlet adapter, so you can charge your phone!!  

3. Familiarize Yourself with Local Laws and Customs

Don’t assume the rules are the same as back home. In Spain private consumption of marijuana is decriminalized, but consumption or minor personal possession in public places is deemed a serious order offense with fines from 600 to 30,000 Euros. Also it’s illegal to photograph military installations. As a traveler, you’re a guest in someone else’s country, so make sure that you behave like one.

4. Travel Smart

There’s no need to go out for a walk in the city with all of your credit cards, your passport, and the equivalent of $500 in cash. Take only what you need for the day, and keep the rest locked up in your accommodation. You should always carry a form of identification though such as your original driver’s license or a photocopy of your passport at all times. Police officers may request to see identification and can detain you at a police station until your identity is confirmed – make sure the person asking is an actual officer before handing over you ID. Also, leave a copy of your itinerary with at least a few friends or family members, and tell them the best way to contact you. U.S. citizens should register all international travel using the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) through the U.S. Department of State.

5. Be Aware at All times

In today’s environment, the threat of terrorism is prevalent even in some of the safest cities in Europe. The real terrorist threat to a traveler is that of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and becoming an inadvertent victim of a terrorist act. As terrorist attacks, political upheaval, and violence often take place without any warning, travelers are reminded to maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness.

6. Never Lose Sight of Your Items

Leave behind anything of value (sentimental or monetary) that you’re worried about losing. Keep your luggage and personal belongings close at all times, especially while in transit. If possible bring a smaller bag for everyday use, and try to keep your items in separate locations. For example, keep your cash in a different spot than where you keep your your ID. This safety tip prevents you from losing everything should someone steal your wallet. Also, do not keep anything in your back pocket including your wallet, as it’s an easy target for pickpockets.

7. Watch Out for Thieves

Beware of pickpockets and thieves – especially in Barcelona. Don’t engage with women offering you flowers or a rosemary. Many of these women are Romanian gypsies and will demand payment if you accept the “gift”, and many are expert pickpockets. Also avoid engaging with young adults who carry clipboards and ask for signatures in support of seemingly good cause. Many work in groups and while one is distracting you by explaining their cause, the other may be stealing your money and/or valuables. If you need to withdraw money, use an ATM machine inside a bank and not one on a busy sidewalk – this is to prevent thieves from rushing to you in a group and grabbing the money as it comes out of the machine. Thieves also often masquerade as undercover policemen and approach people on the street asking for their wallet and documentation, under the ruse that they’re looking for counterfeit notes. Always trust your intuition – if something seems fishy, it probably is.

9. Avoid Demonstrations

Public protests and demonstrations are a common occurrence in most of the large cities in Spain, but they can be very dangerous. Be aware of the increased police presence throughout Catalonia. Even demonstrations or protests intended to be peaceful can turn turn confrontational and escalate into violence.

8. Exercise Caution Everywhere You Go

Personal attacks and sexual assaults against tourists are rare, but they can happen. Other tourists can be perpetrators, so don’t assume you can trust someone just because they claim to be a tourist as well. Also, be aware of drink spiking and date rape drugs while out in public. If you’re at a bar, buy all your own drinks directly from the bartender, and don’t leave them unattended. The bartenders in Spain are rather generous with their measurements, so be careful not to overdo it.

10. Again, Remain Alert to Your Surroundings

Any person traveling abroad on business should be aware of the fact that they could be targeted by an intelligence agency, security service, or even a competitor if they are knowledgeable of, or carrying, sensitive or proprietary information. In your hotel, assume that the room and telephone are being monitored.


When traveling abroad, US Traveler Assist is an invaluable aid, providing contacts, trusted advice and assistance when needs arise. Learn more at https://www.ustravelerassist.com Follow us on Twitter @us_assist

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