In Spain, as in most European countries, rural areas are generally safe, but certain parts of cities are subject to petty crime. Carry cards and money in a belt, and never leave anything visible in your car. Taking out medical insurance cover is advisable, but pharmacists are good sources of assistance for minor health problems. If you lose your documents, contact the local police first to make a claim, then your consulate. Emergency phone numbers vary.
There are three types of police in Spain. The Guardia Civil (National Guard) police mainly rural areas. Their uniform is olive green, but there are local and regional variations. They impose fines for traffic offences outside the cities and police the borders.
The Policía Nacional , who mainly wear a blue uniform, operate in towns with a population of more than 30,000. They have been replaced with a regional force, the Ertzaintza , in the Basque Country, and with the Mossos d’Esquadra in Catalonia. These can be recognized by their respective red and blue berets.
The Policía Local , also called Policía Municipal or Guardia Urbana , dress in blue. They operate independently in each town and also have a separate branch for city traffic control. All three services will direct you to the relevant authority in the event of an incident requiring police help.
Policía Local patrol car, mainly seen in small towns
Violent crime is rare in Spain, but visitors should avoid walking alone in poorly lit areas. Wear bags and cameras across your body, not on your shoulder.
Holiday insurance is there to protect you financially from the loss or theft of your property, but it is always best to take obvious precautions.
Be aware of street scams in large cities, including unexpected offers to help with bags, to clean stains off your clothes or to participate in impromptu football games. Never leave a bag or handbag unattended anywhere, and do not place your purse or handbag on the tabletop in a café. Take particular care at markets, tourist sights and stations. Be especially careful of pickpockets when getting on or off a crowded train or metro.
The moment you discover a loss or theft, report it to the local police station. To claim insurance you must do this immediately, since many companies give you only 24 hours. Ask for a denuncia (written statement), which you need to make a claim. If your passport is stolen, or if you lose it, report it to your consulate, too.
While tourists remain targets for petty crime in Spanish cities, remember that it is common for Spanish people to approach you and strike up a conversation, and you should not let normal precautions stop you from interacting with the locals.
Men occasionally make complimentary remarks (piropos ) to women in public, particularly in the street. This is an old custom and is not intended to be intimidating.
The Policía Nacional operate a nationwide emergency phone number (091). Local emergency numbers are listed in telephone directories under Servicios de Urgencia ; they also appear on tourist maps and leaflets.
For emergency medical treatment, call the Cruz Roja (Red Cross) or go straight to the nearest hospital casualty department (Urgencias ).
Visit www.jointcommission.org for a list of hospitals vetted by the US-based NGO Joint Commission.
Patrol car of the Policía Nacional, Spain’s main urban police force
Sign identifying a Cruz Roja (Red Cross) emergency treatment centre
Cruz Roja (Red Cross) ambulance
Spanish pharmacists have wide responsibilities. They can advise and, in some cases, prescribe without consulting a doctor. In a non-emergency, a farmacéutico is a good option. It is easy to find one who speaks English.
The farmacia sign is a green or red illuminated cross. Those open at night are listed in the windows of all the local pharmacies. Do not confuse them with perfumerías , which sell toiletries only.
Spanish pharmacy sign
In general, the Spanish health system is modern and efficient, and it can be relied on for emergency treatment. There are two kinds of hospitals in Spain: public hospitals (públicos ) and private clinics (clínicas privadas ). For emergency treatment, go straight to Urgencias at any hospital; for less serious problems, head to a Centro de Atención Primaria or Ambulatorio and ask for the médico de urgencias .
If you have private health insurance, you can go to a private clinic for normal medical complaints.
Some insurance policies cover legal costs, for instance after an accident. If you are in need of assistance and are not covered, telephone your nearest consulate. The Colegio de Abogados (lawyers’ association) of the nearest city can also advise you on where to obtain legal advice or representation locally.
If you need an interpreter, consult the local Páginas Amarillas (Yellow Pages) under Traductores or Intérpretes . Both Traductores Oficiales and Traductores Jurados are qualified to translate legal and official documents.
All EU nationals are entitled to short term free emergency healthcare cover. To claim, you must obtain the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) from the UK Department of Health or a post office before you travel. The card gives you free health cover at all public Spanish hospitals. It comes with a booklet explaining exactly what health care you are entitled to and how to claim. You may have to pay and claim the money back later. Not all treatments are covered, so for more peace of mind, arrange medical cover in advance.
There is a wide range of medical insurance available for travellers to Spain. Shop around before deciding because prices vary greatly, as do the levels of cover offered, with some including aspects like emergency travel back home or the cost of relatives joining you. Many credit cards also offer limited health insurance for their users.
Public pay-toilets are rare in Spain. Try department stores, or bars and restaurants where you are a customer. You may have to ask for a key (la llave ), and it is best to bring your own tissues. There are also toilets at service stations on motorways. Toilets are most commonly known as los servicios .
Every summer Spain is prey to forest fires fanned by winds and fuelled by bone-dry vegetation. Be sensitive to fire hazards and use car ashtrays. Broken glass can also start a fire, so take your empty bottles away with you.
The sign coto de caza in woodland areas identifies a hunting reserve where you must follow the country codes. Toro bravo means “fighting bull” – do not approach. A camino particular sign indicates a private driveway. Do not approach dogs that are protecting country properties.
If you are climbing or hill-walking, make sure that you are properly equipped and let someone know when you expect to return.
EMERGENCY: ALL SERVICES
FIRE BRIGADE (BOMBEROS)
RED CROSS (CRUZ ROJA)