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Ten Laws to Be Aware of If You’re Studying Abroad in Spain


If you’re planning to study abroad in Spain, you’ll want it to be an experience that you remember for the rest of your life – but not because you fell victim to Spain’s laws.  While it might be obvious that some actions are going to get you in strife, as they would in any other country, some of Spain’s laws may come as a shock. Here’s ten important ones to know.

You need to carry ID

The police in Spain have the right to ask for your ID.  If you can’t provide it, or ignore a request to hand it over, you may very well find yourself looking at the inside of a police cell.  Make sure you carry some form of photographic ID at all times, such as a passport, and never ever give a police officer reason to charge you with “disobedience”.

You can’t drink everywhere

Though it might seem that Spain is fairly relaxed when it comes to alcohol (compared to the United States, where the legal drinking age is 21), you can’t drink everywhere.  A glass of vino tinto over dinner?  Absolutely fine.  Swigging from a bottle on the street?  Often a problem.

Be advised: the law is not consistent across Spain, so what might be acceptable in one city might not be in another.  It’s not wise to copy local behavior as this is one rule that is often flouted – but that doesn’t make it legal. From Barcelona to Madrid make sure you’re aware of the drinking restrictions.

No place for drugs

As with most European countries, Spain is intolerant to substance abuse.  Possessing even a tiny amount of drugs can lead to your arrest and depending on the quantities involved, you could be looking at a hefty prison sentence.  It’s just not worth it.

Don’t flip flop and drive

No matter how great the place is that you’ve chosen to study, you’ll want to explore the surrounding area too and that may well involve renting a car.  If you wear glasses, then you’ll also need to have a spare pair in the car with you.  But most importantly, did you know you should never get behind the wheel wearing flip flops?  It’s against the law in Spain to drive in footwear that doesn’t fully cover your feet.

No thieving – and that means your pet too

It should be obvious that “Thou shalt not steal” applies everywhere, not just in Spain.  But if you decide to get a pet for some company while you’re studying, know that in Spain, the law applies to them too.  In 1983, a German Shepherd dog was arrested in Seville for snatching handbags from shoppers.

No fresh air, for your underwear

Seville, Spain,  situated at the tip of Spain,  is hot on laundry and specifically, where you air your under garments.  With summer temperatures soaring in the city they nickname it, “the frying pan of Spain”, and it can be tempting to dry your underwear from a balcony.  But city laws state that you cannot hang anything “indecent” outside, so keep your draws out of sight.

Keep your shirt on

What you wear outside the house is also important and decency is still valued highly in Spain.  In some places, Palma de Mallorca for example, wandering into the city centre in beachwear can land you with a substantial fine under its Ordenanza Civica (Good Citizen Plan).  And yes, that’s men as well as women, so keep your shirt on.  

No spitting in Barcelona

While spitting on the street is likely to result in dirty looks anywhere in Europe, in Barcelona it could land you with a fine as well.  It’s not only considered gross in the Catalan city, it’s officially illegal.

A skateboard is not public transport

Barcelona’s also not that keen on skateboarders.  For the past decade, the city has banned skateboarders from its streets – though their use is still permitted in skate parks.  Though in practice you’re often going to be applauded, ignore the rules and technically, you could be looking at a fine of up to 3000 euros if someone’s having a bad day.  

There’s no time  to ask for the time

Some laws just languish forgotten on the statute books.  If you’re in the Spanish capital and it’s between the hours of 3.29pm and 6.47pm, don’t ask a passer by what the time is.  You’d be breaking the law.  Though how you’re supposed to know that it’s not 6.48pm and legal is anyone’s guess.

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