Security Briefing: Local Laws
The information below has been excerpted from the following: 1) the US Department of State's "International Travel" website (travel.state.gov/travel/), 2) the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's "Smartraveller" website (www.smartraveller.gov.au), and 3) the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office's "Foreign Travel Advice" website (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/). Additional information is available from these sources. World Trade Press annually assesses the information presented on this page.
United States: Department of State International Travel Information
While you are traveling in Spain and Andorra, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own and criminal penalties will vary from country to country. In Spain, driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States. You can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Spain and Andorra, your U.S. passport or citizenship won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not wherever you go.
Persons violating the laws of Spain and Andorra, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking illegal drugs in Spain and Andorra are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. The cities of Madrid and Barcelona and the Balearic Islands regional government have banned the consumption of alcohol in the street, other than in registered street cafes and bars. Visitors to Madrid, Barcelona, Mallorca, Ibiza, and Menorca should be aware that failure to respect this law might result in the imposition of fines. Throughout Spain and Andorra, driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail.
Spain takes illegal immigration seriously and police may stop people to ask for identification and proof of legal status. We recommend that you carry a copy of your U.S. passport at all times.
Arrest notifications in host country: While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in that country, others may not. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas.
U.S. citizens participating in the Ministry of Education’s Cultural Ambassador Program (Auxiliares de Conversación) should be aware of reports regarding delayed payment for services rendered. For more information please review the notice on the U.S. Embassy’s website.
If you are a woman traveling abroad, please review our travel tips for Women Travelers.
For more detailed information about LGBT rights in Spain, you may review the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012. For further information on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) travel, please read our LGBT Travel Information page.
While in Spain, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation different from what you find in the United States. Spain has laws that prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, access to information technology and communication, including social media, and the provision of other state services. The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities. While the government generally enforces these provisions, levels of assistance and accessibility differ between regions. Madrid, Barcelona, and many of the other major cities have made great strides in making public transportation, museums and other public buildings accessible to those with physical disabilities. Most buses have ramps to accommodate wheelchairs and many metro stations have elevators for the same purpose. Taxis that can accommodate wheelchairs are available, but must generally be called in advance. In historic areas and in some other areas, sidewalks can be narrow and have uneven surfaces. Tourists should take this into account when planning their visit.
Andorran law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, and the provision of other state services. These nondiscrimination laws help to protect travelers with disabilities. In practice, persons with disabilities have easy access to public buildings. The government continues to adapt infrastructure to the needs of disabled persons to ensure accessibility to public transportation, museums, commerce, restaurants, and other buildings in the country.
Australia: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Travel Advice
When you are in Spain, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.
Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.
Police officers may request to see identification. Police can detain you at a police station until your identity is confirmed. You should carry ID, for example your original driver’s licence and a photocopy of your passport, at all times.
It is illegal to photograph military installations in Spain.
It is a legal requirement for vehicles to be equipped with two red warning triangles and a reflective jacket to be used in an accident or breakdown. Drivers who do not have these items may be fined. When renting a vehicle, you should check with the rental company about traffic regulations and safety equipment.
Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.
Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.
Information for dual nationals
Spain does not recognise dual nationality. This may limit the ability of the Australian Government to provide consular assistance to Australian/Spanish dual nationals who are arrested or detained. We strongly recommend you travel on your Australian passport at all times.
Our Dual nationals page provides further information for dual nationals.
United Kingdom: Foreign and Commonwealth Office Foreign Travel Advice
Spanish law defines anyone under 18 to be a minor. Any unaccompanied minors that come to the attention of the Spanish authorities (for whatever reason, but particularly in connection with criminal incidents or when in hospital) are judged to be vulnerable and may be taken into a minors centre until a parent or guardian can be found.
You must provide ID (your passport) if requested by a Police Officer. The Police have the right to hold you at a police station until your identity is confirmed.
Possession of even a small quantity of drugs can lead to arrest and detention. Possession of large quantities will probably result in prosecution and a prison sentence if convicted. Some regional governments in Spain have banned the consumption of alcohol in the street.There are strict controls on drinking and sexual activity in public places, including beaches. Fines range from €30-€1,500.
In Barcelona it is against the law to be in the street wearing only a bikini or swimming shorts/trunks. Being bare-chested or going fully nude has also been banned. The only exception to this law is when you are on the beach, the seafront promenade or the adjacent streets.
For security reasons, some public authorities in Spain don’t allow the burka or niqab to be worn in their buildings. If you visit Town Councils wearing a burka or niqab, you may be asked to remove it while in the building.
Hotels have a legal duty to register the passport details of tourists on check-in. Wait until the hotel staff have registered your passport details or taken a photocopy of your passport. Don’t leave it in reception to collect later.
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